Heat bring the defending champs to Dallas, have no trouble dismantling the Mavericks

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The Miami Heat are the defending champions for a reason. The overall talent on the roster, which includes the league’s best player in LeBron James, is enough to beat most teams in the league with ease, but only when everyone is engaged, and interested in defending to the level that they have proven to be capable of during last June’s run at the title.

On Thursday night in Dallas, Miami brought that championship-caliber effort, and made quick work of a shorthanded Mavericks team while cruising to a 110-95 victory, the Heat’s third straight.

James set the tone for his team from the very start. He had 13 first-quarter points on 6-of-7 shooting while playing all 12 minutes, to go along with four rebounds, three assists, and a blocked shot in the game’s opening period. Miami led by 11 after one, and never looked back, seeing their lead balloon to as many as 36 points in the third before Dallas closed the gap a bit in extended garbage time.

The Mavericks were without Elton Brand and Brandan Wright in this one due to injury, but it wouldn’t have made a difference had they been able to go. Miami was dialed in, perhaps motivated by the 2011 championship banner that hangs at the American Airlines Center that came at the expense of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the NBA Finals just two seasons ago.

O.J. Mayo has been taking the load of carrying the Mavericks’ offense on his shoulders thus far with Dirk Nowitzki still sidelined, and has put up All-Star level numbers to this point in the season while doing so. But he couldn’t get anything going in this one, and finished with just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, while missing all five of his attempts from three-point distance.

Dallas was forced to go small with its lineups given its available players, and had very limited success. The team finished the night shooting just 38.5 percent from the field, while making just three of its 22 three-point attempts.

The defense was more of a problem than the offense for Dallas, however, with the Heat getting what they wanted when and how they wanted it on virtually every meaningful possession.

We’ll never know for sure if seeing the Mavericks and that banner was the reason for Miami’s breakout performance, or if it was simply the circumstances surrounding the lineups Dallas was forced to go with given its list of available players. But the Heat brought the intensity with which it was able to win last year’s title, and when they do that, there are only a very limited number of teams that even have a chance.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markell Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice:

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.