Heat get 14th straight victory, come back from 16-point deficit to beat Knicks

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The Knicks had beaten the Heat twice already this season, so coming into this one in New York, one would have guessed that Miami would have it dialed in from the very start.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way, as the Heat trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half. But by the time it was over, Miami had earned its 14th straight victory with a 99-93 win, courtesy of yet another dominant performance from LeBron James.

James finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists, but it was Carmelo Anthony who started off hot and helped the Knicks take control early.

Anthony had 17 first quarter points, and scored them on just five shots. He was active and aggressive in getting to the free throw line, but didn’t get the help he needed for the Knicks to gain any separation. His teammates were just 2-11 from the field in the opening period, so the Knicks lead was just a single point when it was finished.

Miami struggled early by turning the ball over and couldn’t really find any flow in its offense. James was active from the start, and finished a couple of monster alley-oop dunks at the rim, but his outside shot wasn’t falling just yet.

The second quarter was a work of perfection by the Knicks, and the way they shared the ball and hit open shots from seemingly everywhere allowed them to blow the game open, if only temporarily. Jason Kidd, fresh off of being removed from the starting lineup for his recent stretch of dismal shooting, came out on fire in the second, hitting his first four attempts from three-point distance to help his team increase the lead.

New York’s ball movement was insane in the second, as it consistently whipped around the perimeter until it landed in the open man’s hands. Thanks to the passing and the clean looks that it created, the Knicks made 14 of their 19 shots in the period, including 5-of-9 from three-point distance, for a blistering shooting mark of 73.7 percent.

It’s possible the Heat simply aren’t a morning team, but they seemed to collectively wake up after halftime.

The sense of urgency on the defensive end of the floor was evident once the third quarter began, and Miami cut the Knicks’ lead down to four a little more than five minutes in. The Knicks briefly ran it back up to 11, capped off by a three-pointer from J.R. Smith, which was one of only two shots he made out of 11 second half attempts. The Heat cut it to four once again by the end of the third, thanks to a three-pointer from Shane Battier that went down just before the buzzer.

The game was tight the rest of the way, and James was the difference. He defended Anthony the majority of the second half, and helped hold him to 3-11 shooting over the final two periods;  after Anthony had gotten loose for 24 points on just eight shots in the first half, he finished with 32.

The back-to-back threes that James knocked down pulled the Heat even at 79 with 10 minutes to play, and his overall effort the rest of the way helped bring it home.

James sealed the victory with a steal and an uncontested one-man fast break that he finished with a powerful slam dunk, before stopping briefly to pose for the New York crowd in attendance.

On the Knicks side, in addition to what Kidd gave them offensively, they got an above average performance out of Amar’e Stoudemire, who was active and converted a couple of big plays inside. Tyson Chandler has seen better games, especially defensively, and Smith’s dismal shooting seemed to come at the worst possible time.

The game was close, however, until LeBron took over — both with his defensive effort on Anthony, as well as with his fourth quarter performance that netted him 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a blocked shot over the game’s final 12 minutes.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch in NBA’s MVP race

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It was difficult to limit this list to just five.

The NBA’s race for the MVP award seems wide open this season. LeBron James is the favorite of the Las Vegas books (thank Lakers’ fans for that) and James Harden has been first or second three of the past four years, so he cannot be counted out. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have each won it before, although they tend to cancel each other out on the same team.

This year feels like we could see new blood winning the award. Maybe Anthony Davis of the Pelicans. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks. Maybe Kawhi Leonard is back to form in Toronto and we shouldn’t count him out. Joel Embiid is touting himself in Philly.

I make my prediction and talk about the players to watch in this new PBT Extra video.

Warriors reveal reversible championship rings

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The Golden State Warriors received their championship rings on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, even with Patrick McCaw not in attendance.

The 2017-18 NBA champions have grabbed three titles in four years, and as such you’d expect them to get inventive with their hardware at this point.

Enter this season’s championship ring.

The Warriors revealed the ring’s design on social media on Tuesday, and it has one very specific feature. Specifically, the center area of the ring is completely reversible.

Check it out:

Championship rings are objectively ugly, gaudy things. But if someone offered you one, you certainly wouldn’t turn it down. Everyone wants to have a championship under their belt, and having a ridiculous ring with 74 diamonds in it and a twist-off top is just wild.

Glen Taylor says Tom Thibodeau’s job isn’t in danger

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Jimmy Butler is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, at least until the team finds a suitable trade partner. It seems the talks between the Wolves and the Miami Heat have gone dormant, and there isn’t an openly-interested party in sight.

Meanwhile, Butler is attending practices and is expected to play in the first game of the year for Minnesota against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. As the team looks for trade partners, the question remains what will happen with head coach Tom Thibodeau. Things have quickly gone south under his watch, and many are calling for his firing from the outside.

In a conversation with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which Taylor owns, Taylor said that Thibodeau’s job is safe.

Via Star-Tribune:

Thibodeau has three years left on a five-year contract worth about $40 million. Is he coaching for his job?

“No, no, the only thing now is that we are starting to play games and I am asking him to concentrate on coaching,” Taylor said. “GM Scott Layden will help to see if any trades are available.”

Is Taylor still happy he hired Thibodeau in April 2016?

“Yes, yes, he is a good coach and I have faith in him,” he said.

Meanwhile Taylor says that he’s not thinking about selling the team, and that they will try to grit themselves through from here on out.

It’s a tougher Western Conference this year, and it was already up in the air whether the Timberwolves were going to be a playoff team. Now, it seems as though they are destined to miss the postseason yet again after making it last year.

Three Things to Know: Jayson Tatum is a star. Markelle Fultz…

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. It’s good to have real basketball back — let’s get to it.

1) Kyrie who? Jayson Tatum is the star Boston was waiting for on opening night. So… anyone still want to argue Danny Ainge didn’t own the Sixers when he traded away the No. 1 pick to move back two spots and get Jayson Tatum?

Boston had stumbled its way through the preseason (to put it kindly) and the main issue then followed the team into the regular season: Adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into the lineup was not going to be simple plug-and-play. Irving missed his first eight shots and ended the night 2-of-14 from the floor. Hayward was 4-of-12 and it’s clear he still lacks explosion on his first step. Those two will be fine, eventually, but there is a lot of work to do.

What the Celtics have is depth. And Jayson Tatum.

Tatum picked up right where he left off in last season’s playoffs dropping 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and showing off his improved handles. Just ask Joel Embiid.

Boston leaned on Tatum (28.6 percent usage rate, higher than he ever had playing with Irving last year) and the fact they were willing to go to him is a good sign. Not only will the Celtics need Tatum while Irving and Hayward settle back in, but if Boston really is going to be a threat to Golden State they will need him to be elite.

It wasn’t just Tatum that was working in Boston. Marcus Morris had 16 points off the bench, and Terry Rozier was fantastic with 11 points and a +22. Al Horford is not Boston’s best player but he is their most important — he played great defense in the paint with five blocks, scored nine points, and just did whatever needed to be done to get the win. He is the glue that makes the whole thing work.

Don’t read much into Game 1 of 82, but for Celtics fans this was the kind of win that can fuel very big dreams.

2) Can the Sixers just blame everything on the China trip? Off-the-record (and occasionally on it), every team that does the NBA’s annual preseason trip to China complains when they get back about how it throws them off for weeks into the regular season. The Warriors felt that way last season, but I’ve had that conversation with a lot of teams who have made that trip. NBA owners love the idea of going (and expanding their franchise brand in that massive market) until they do it once and see the impact on their team when the games matter.

It would be nice to blame the Sixers struggles opening night on that.. but their problems against the Celtics were bigger than frequent flier miles in the preseason.

It starts with Markelle Fultz — his jumper is simply not a threat, defenders are backing off of him because of it, and Fultz is not yet confident attacking into that space. What that leads to is a clogged halfcourt offense. This isn’t a new concern, a lot of people (myself included) wondered before the season how the Sixers starting lineup would work having Fultz, Ben Simmons (not a jump shooter) and Joel Embiid (he can hit threes but needs to be in the paint primarily) on the court together. We saw it a lot in the first half — it was tough to make post entry passes to Embiid because defenders backed off Simmons and Fultz and took away the pass, daring them to shoot.

Fultz, Embiid, and Simmons were on the court for 14.3 minutes in this game and during that time the Sixers shot 38.7 percent overall and 18.2 percent from three. To be fair, they were +1 as a team in those minutes, but the offense struggled. It’s just one game, but Fultz showed that while he has made strides in improving his jumper, he’s not yet back to where he was.

The Sixers need another shot creator off the dribble besides Simmons and the underrated T.J. McConnell. By the fourth quarter Tuesday it seemed Landry Shamet was getting minutes that could have gone to Fultz — and he should have. Shamet played well.

It’s a long season and what matters is where Fultz is come March and April, not October. That’s a long time from now, but he has a long way to go.

3) Dennis Schroder may be what Oklahoma City needs off the bench. Schroder, in his first game for the Thunder (after five seasons in Atlanta), was thrust into the starting lineup Tuesday night because Russell Westbrook isn’t yet cleared after having his knee scoped in the offseason. In that starting role, Schroder was up and down — defensively he was asked to track Stephen Curry at times and Steph dropped 32 on the night.

But offensively, once he is coming off the bench with the second unit, this may be a fantastic fit. Schroder finished with 21 points (on 19 shots) and had nine assists on opening night, showing his value as a shot creator.

Things were not perfect — he shot 4-of-12 from the midrange, which is both a low percentage and too many shots from there — but the potential is there. He was hitting spot-up looks and played defense at times.

Westbrook will be back soon (possibly even Friday against the Clippers in Los Angeles) and when he is Schroder goes to the bench. If he accepts that role and creates shots the same way with the second unit (and just shoots a little better, something that will come, he had a solid 51.5 true shooting percentage last year) he could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate leading that unit.