Improving Lakers get moral victory. Heat get impressive actual victory.

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A week ago, with Los Angeles’ big men sitting in suits on the sideline, the Thunder routed the Lakers.

Since that game the Lakers have played better, particularly on defense. Dwight Howard had become more active, the offense has been more crisp. The defensive improvement happened again for the most part on Thursday — Los Angeles held the Miami Heat to 40.9 percent shooting in the first half, plus Kobe Bryant and teammates hit key shots down the stretch and tied the game 90-90 with 2:30 left.

But that’s when the Heat put it in another gear — one of defensive pressure and good execution of their sets — that the Lakers simply could not match. Not even close.

Miami looked like a champion, closed the game on a 9-0 run behind five points and two assists from LeBron James and won 99-90.

The Lakers looked like a team that could once again not overcome their self-inflicted wounds.

The game was a reminder that when the Heat are focused on defense they are more than just contenders, they are the reigning title holders and you are going to have to rip that trophy from their hands if you want it. They still have the best player in the game in LeBron James.

It also was a reminder that the Lakers limitations as they get to know each other. It was a moral victory for a 17-22 team that is past the point of having time for moral victories. They need actual ones and they are going to have to get a bunch on the road (10 of next 13 are away from Staples).

LeBron had a “might want to think about making me MVP again” type game with 39 points on 17-of-25 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and three steals thrown in for good measure. He had 10 of those points in the fourth quarter and hit the dagger shots down the stretch. Kobe Bryant was good (22 points but on 8-of-25 shooting with six turnovers) but LeBron switched on to him defensively near the end and made Kobe’s life very difficult.

Early on, it felt like this could be a Heat runaway — Miami’s first eight points came off four Lakers turnovers and four Heat highlight transition dunks. The Lakers wanted to move the ball quickly, away from the Heat’s pressure, but the result was rushed and errant passes.

The trend continued. Los Angeles had 9 first-quarter turnovers, 16 for the half and 20 for the game. It plays right into the Heat’s hands — easy transition buckets fuel the Heat. LeBron started 7-of-9 from the floor and 14 points before he sat the first time. Miami had 13 steals at half (Chris Bosh had five by himself). Steve Nash had four first-half turnovers under intense Heat ball pressure (they went hard at him).

But Miami never pulled away. The Lakers made a few shots, got a couple of stops and hung around, and eventually they caught and passed the Heat, leading 45-44 at the half.

The reason is the book on the Heat is right — size can give them trouble. The presence of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (returned from a concussion) forced Miami away from its preferred small-lineups and three point shooting for a while. When Miami did go small they struggled a little with their shooting. Miami had no good answer for Howard, but the Lakers only got him four first-half shots.

The problem is Howard only got 7 shots, finishing with 13 points. The Lakers didn’t go to their strength.

The game remained close in the second half, with the Heat taking little leads and the Lakers making runs to get back in it. The last of those included a Steve Nash three, then a vintage Kobe three coming off a baseline screen. That shot tied the game at 90-90 with 2:32 left.

It was the last points the Lakers would score — Miami has switched to put LeBron on Kobe, Dwyane Wade on Steve Nash, and fouling Dwight Howard before he shot. It worked.

First Miami took the lead back with an elbow action that had Wade curling in for a clean look. Then Shane Battier fouled Howard in the paint rather than giving up the easy bucket and Howard obliged missing both free throws. Then the Heat took a four point lead off a Ray Allen rainbow shot, a catch-and-shoot he got off a curl.

Next trip down Wade smothered Steve Nash and then blocked his shot. Miami got its chance, LeBron drove hard then pulled up at the elbow and nailed it, at this point there were just :49 seconds left and the Heat were up 96-60. The Lakers needed a big shot but Metta World Peace and Kobe missed threes on the same possession (but you need to credit LeBron for part of that as he smothered Kobe and took away a lot of good options).

After that, there was a LeBron slam that put a cap on it.

It was an impressive last few minutes by the Heat that reminds you how good they can be.

And was a reminder to Lakers fans how far they are from that level right now

Report: Doc Rivers accepts deal to become Philadelphia 76ers head coach

Doc Rivers philadelphia
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Doc Rivers was not out of a job long.

Considered an elite coach and true leader of men — someone pushed out the door in Los Angeles by a frustrated owner in Steve Ballmer after the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets — Doc Rivers has accepted a deal to become the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. It has since been confirmed by multiple sources.

Joel Embiid welcomed his new coach on Twitter.

This hiring was expected, and it came together fast. Rivers was let go by the Clippers on Monday and by Thursday had agreed to the deal with Philly.

Rivers will sign a five-year contract and will not have any front office responsibilities, according to multiple reports. However, Philadelphia was looking to add more voices underneath GM Elton Brand and Rivers comes out of a collaborative front office situation with a lot of voices having a say. Brand and Rivers instantly clicked, according to reports.

Rivers jumps from one franchise with expectations of contending for a title but having fit and chemistry issues on the roster, to another.

Doc Rivers needs to find an offensive system in Philadelphia where both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can thrive next to each other, along with Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford in some capacity. There’s not much spacing or shooting there, which is why Shake Milton was getting a lot of run from former coach Brett Brown late in the season. That said, Harris played his best basketball in Los Angeles under Rivers and if he can find a way to better utilize players it will be a plus for Philly.

Roster tweaks would be coming, but with Rivers the idea will be finding a way to build around the stars they have in Embiid and Simmons. The plan is not to break everything up.

The buzz around the league is that Tyronn Lue will take the Clippers job, which leaves Mike D’Antoni looking at places such as Indiana and New Orleans.

Vince Carter wins NBA Sportsmanship Award

Hawks forward Vince Carter
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Vince Carter’s 22-year NBA career ended amid the chaos of coronavirus, preventing him from getting the deserved fanfare.

But fellow players will send Carter into retirement with the NBA Sportsmanship Award.

NBA release:

NBA players have selected Vince Carter as the recipient of the 2019-20 NBA Sportsmanship Award, the NBA announced today.

Carter, who spent the 2019-20 season with the Atlanta Hawks, announced his retirement from the NBA in June after playing a league-record 22 seasons.  He receives the Joe Dumars Trophy as the winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.  Dumars, a two-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, played 14 NBA seasons and won the inaugural Sportsmanship Award in the 1995-96 season.

Each NBA team nominated one of its players for the NBA Sportsmanship Award, which is designed to honor a player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.  From the list of 30 team nominees, a panel of league executives selected one finalist from each of the NBA’s six divisions.  Current NBA players selected the winner from the list of six finalists, with more than 250 players submitting their votes through confidential balloting conducted by the league office.

Full voting (with first-, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place votes and voting points):

1. Vince Carter (Hawks): 143-70-34-13-4-2-2,520

2. Garrett Temple (Nets): 22-78-63-52-25-26-1,746

3. Steven Adams (Thunder): 34-57-41-52-58-24-1,632

4. Harrison Barnes (Kings): 24-25-75-48-35-59-1,418

5. Langston Galloway (Pistons): 23-22-29-60-79-53-1,244

7. Tyus Jones (Grizzlies): 20-14-24-41-65-102-1,016

What a nice honor for Carter, who gracefully aged from high-profile star to veteran mentor.

Heat: Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic doubtful for Game 2 of NBA Finals

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic
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Bam Adebayo‘s and Goran Dragic‘s injuries… not looking great for the Heat approaching Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Heat:

This is a disaster for Miami. The Lakers dominated Game 1, and now the Heat have two starters hobbled at best. At worst and more likely, Adebayo and Dragic are out.

Adebayo would be the bigger loss. Miami was completely overmatched when facing Anthony Davis without a center. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard can try to keep up, but they’re far from great solutions.

At least the Heat have more options at point guard. Kendrick Nunn can get an elevated role (especially after excelling in garbage time of Game 1). Jimmy Butler can become the de facto point guard. Tyler Herro can also play the position. But Dragic was playing so well during Miami’s run through the Eastern Conference. This is also a major setback.

 

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.