NBA Playoffs: Heat destroy Pacers, take 3-2 series lead

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The Miami Heat are just one road loss away from facing a Game 7 in the 2nd round of the NBA Playoffs, but they sure did look like a championship team on Tuesday night, when they absolutely dominated the Indiana Pacers en route to a 115-83 win.

There’s really only one way to describe this game: everything went exactly right for the Heat. The Heat haven’t been getting much help from their supporting cast or been able to implement their “Pace and Space” offense throughout this series, but they got contributions from all of their rotation players, made their threes, got out on the break, played great defense, and got great performances from both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade while playing suffocating defense. This is the Miami Heat team that we all imagined when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade announced that they were joining forces. This is the team that looked like an absolute juggernaut. Even though the Heat have a long way to go before they get out of this series, let alone get to the Finals, but on Tuesday night the Heat looked like they can beat either the Spurs or the Thunder.

Let’s go through it: The game started off with the slumping Shane Battier hitting a few wide-open threes, which was the best possible thing that could have happened for them. Battier was in full “No-Stats All-Star” mode on Tuesday, making 4 of his 5 three-point attempts and playing great defense on David West, which allowed the Heat to effectively mitigate the loss of Chris Bosh for at least one night.

LeBron James was in MVP mode once again — he had every aspect of his game working, and finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists on 12-19 shooting from the field. He made outside shots, he worked in the post, he punished the Pacers on the fast-break, he made pinpoint passes, and he crashed the boards hard on both ends. He also made what could be the best pass of the playoffs when he grabbed an outlet pass one-handed, and, while falling out of bounds, hit Wade with an absolute laser beam pass right on the numbers for an easy fast-break dunk.

Dwyane Wade was in rare form as well — he slithered to the basket at will, made some impossible shots around the basket, and even mixed in some outside shots.

There are times when it looks like the offensively challenged Joel Anthony looks like a waste of a roster spot for the Heat, let alone deserving of the 5-year contract they gave him, and there are times when Anthony looks like one of the best bargains in basketball. Tuesday night was an instance of the latter. Anthony showed and recovered brilliantly on pick-and-rolls, kept the Pacers from getting the ball to their bigs in good positions, got 4 blocks, and even made 3 of his 4 shots from the field.

Udonis Haslem has his mid-range shot working again, and gave the Heat great energy, but was a source of controversy after the game. In the 1st half, Haslem delivered an extremely hard foul on Tyler Hansborough shortly after “Psycho T” was called for a Flagrant-1 foul on Dwyane Wade. Haslem was called for a Flagrant-1 foul and was not ejected, but if his foul on Hansborough wasn’t a Flagrant-2, then I’ve frankly never seen a Flagrant-2 foul in my life, and there may be a possibility that Haslem will be suspended for Game 6.

It was a physical game all-around — Dexter Pittman will almost certainly be suspended for a brutal elbow on the Pacers’ Lance Stephenson in the waning moments of the game, and Danny Granger missed most of the 2nd half after he twisted his ankle after landing on LeBron James’ foot after launching a jump shot. (Some Pacer fans may say that LeBron pulled a “Bowen” on Granger to cause the injury, but it certainly looked unintentional to me — if LeBron slipped his foot under Granger’s foot intentionally, he’s the league’s best actor as well as its best player.)

The Heat shot 61% while holding the Pacers to 34% shooting from the field — the Pacers kept themselves in the game early by making some long jumpers, but they were never able to establish their big men against the Heat’s swarming defense, and the offense fell apart completely after Granger had to go to the trainer’s room.

One game can change everything in the playoffs, and the Heat aren’t done with the Pacers yet, and there are no such thing as “statement games” in the playoffs. Still, this was a darn impressive performance from the Heat, and the Pacers definitely need to find some answers before Game 6.

Are plans for a play-in tournament just to get Zion Williamson in the bubble?

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The cleanest, most straightforward, fewest extra people in the “bubble” way for the NBA to return to play is to invite the 16 teams already in the playoffs — eight from each conference — and skip right to the postseason.

However, there is a lot of momentum around the league for a play-in tournament with 20 teams (or more). Specifically, one that brings in the four teams in the West clumped three-and-a-half to four games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, and San Antonio).

Why those teams? Because they had a real chance to catch the Grizzlies if play had not stopped?

Or, is it because the league wants Zion Williamson — its bright young star who spiked ratings and interest when he returned from injury mid-season — in the bubble? On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Brian Windhorst said some other teams seem to think the play-in plan is all about Williamson.

“Let me just say how do you get to 20 [teams in the bubble] though? Because if you just go by the straight records, because to me, this is what I’ve already heard, alright. I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble…

“I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in.”

Windhorst is very well connected and I don’t know who his sources were for this, but if you’re with the Wizards or Hornets (or maybe even Bulls and Knicks), you would push for the nine and 10 seed in each conference to be in the bubble, not the next four best records (which are all in the West).

The NBA is a star-based league, of course getting its hottest new property into more televised games is a discussion taking place. You’d be naive to think otherwise. Whether Zion and the Pelicans end up in Orlando ultimately is another question.

All the lobbying and leaking of restart plans to the media — and even the pronouncements of Damian Lillard saying he will play if there’s no shot at the postseason — are spin. This is teams lobbying for what is best for them and their chances. Elite teams like the Lakers and Bucks want no part of a soccer-style group stage that is more likely to produce upsets, they want something more traditional. The Bucks are no fans of 1-16 seedings because then they would have to go through both the Clippers and Lakers to win it all (while the Lakers should love that plan, it sets up perfectly for LeBron James and company). Teams back different play-in plans that better lineup for them. It’s all politicking.

This Friday, in a conference call with owners, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is going to lay out a series of return-to-play options. A week or two after that, the owners will get on a conference call again and vote. Until then, everyone is going to lobby for their own self-interest.

That restart likely has teams reporting to Orlando for training camps in mid-July with games starting in late July or early August. How long the season runs depends on the format chosen. Next season almost certainly will start around Christmas (or maybe a week or two earlier, at most).

When a retired Michael Jordan showed up, dominated a Warriors practice

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It was the winter of 1995, major league baseball was on strike and Michael Jordan — at that time still a member of the Chicago White Sox organization — refused to be a scab and cross the picket lines.

“Mike was thinking about coming back (to the NBA), he was getting that itch again, it was a lockout in baseball, and he just wanted to play some basketball,” NBA legend Tim Hardaway told NBC Sports.

The Last Dance documentary covered how Jordan was secretly taking part in Bulls’ practices at that time. What it didn’t cover was the time Jordan flew out to California to see his friend, Rod Higgins (a Warriors assistant coach), and absolutely dominated a Warriors practice.

“It was kind of embarrassing for a guy to take that many months off then to come into our practice and dominate the way he did,” Hardaway said. “But of course, he’s MJ.”

Warriors players tell the story on The Sports Uncovered podcast, which launched today by NBC and takes a unique look at some of the most significant moments in sports. Like Jordan saying, “I’m back.” You can listen to the podcast below or download it at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your pods.

Jordan was always looking for a test, and the Warriors at the time provided one: Hardaway was one of the game’s great scorers (but was still coming off a torn ACL) and trash talkers, and Golden State had the game’s “it” up-and-coming player in Latrell Sprewell.

Hardaway takes the story from there.

“[Jordan] and [then Warriors assistant coach] Rod Higgins are really good friends, he just came to visit Rod and said, ‘Hey, Rod, you think [Don Nelson] would let me just come to practice and with y’all?’ And Rod asked him and coach was like, ‘s ***, why not, of course.’

“He just wanted to see where he was at, where his skills was at — and of course they was still there. The same skills, without much rust, that he left with. He was practicing with us, and I came up and was egging him on, ‘Let’s see what you got, s***, let’s see it.’ He said, ‘Alright, now, I’m still MJ.’ And I was like, ‘You had guys throwing balls at you, you been out two years, I heard you been shooting around but this here, this is the real deal now, you got to come and lace your s*** up.”

“It was him, Rony Seikaly, Chris Mullin, some other point guard, against me, Sprewell, some other guys, and man, we was playing for like two hours, and I wanted to go some more because he was bustin’ our a**. He wouldn’t let Sprewell dribble the ball at all — he kinda knew exactly what Sprewell could do, what he couldn’t do, his weaknesses and his strengths.

“It was like he never missed a beat, man. He was out there shooting fadeaways, dunking, playing defense, getting through screens, denying, jumping through passing lanes. It was a little rust, of course, but once he got going each game he got stronger and stronger, his timing got better, you could just tell. He was kinda tired at the end, but it was something to see.”

Hardaway, always the competitor, didn’t want to stop.

“I was kinda upset because I think his team took it more seriously than our team,” Hardaway said. “But he came in and put on a show in practice…

“He said ‘I can play all night, but you all have a game tomorrow and I don’t want to wear you out.’ I was not playing that much anyway so I wanted to get as much run as I can.”

Find out more about that legendary practice, and Jordan’s return, on The Sports Uncovered podcast.

 

NBA veteran Jason Terry takes job as assistant coach at Arizona

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Jason Terry played four years for the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona, winning a national championship in 1997 and averaging 21.9 points a game his senior year. The Jet went on from there to play 19 years in the NBA, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009, and he was part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.

Terry had moved into the front office side of the business and was serving as the assistant GM of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate. Now, however, he is jumping back to his alma mater, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a smart hire by Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. High schoolers going to a major D-1 school all have NBA dreams and having a respected NBA veteran who can say “this is what it takes” on staff is a big plus. Besides, Terry was a smart player who knows the game and had a mentality suited to coaching.

For Terry, he’s back in a place he likes, he’s young (42) and has a world of options ahead of him.

Scott Foster says it’s going to be different officiating without fans in building

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The noise from 18,000 people can cover up a lot of sounds in an NBA arena. So when a back-bench assistant coach yells “bulls****” after a call he doesn’t like, the official never hears it and the game moves on.

Not when NBA games restart in fan-less facilities in Orlando in a couple of months. Without those fans, referees are going to get to hear that coach. And a whole lot more.

It’s going to be weird for referees in Orlando, just like for players, veteran official Scott Foster said recently on NBA TV.

I know I don’t want everything that we normally say to each other going out. But normally we’re all in a professional manner out there. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be some assistant coaches that we haven’t really heard from before sitting in the second row that we’ll be able to hear now, so there’s going to be some adjustment there. And then I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.

But it’s definitely going to be a different thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience for the referees, players, coaches, everybody who’s going to go through this.”

It is going to be unique. Everybody is going to hear everything, and that is going to be very different from most nights when coaches have to go to hand signals because it’s too loud just to call out a play. It’s going to lead to some awkward and tense moments.

Everyone is going to have to adjust to the new reality, and that includes the referees, too.