LeBron, Heat follow familiar pattern to 27th straight victory

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There are some more interesting tests ahead on the schedule this week — Chicago, a New Orleans team that just ended the Nuggets win streak, then San Antonio. Games where the Heat can’t just coast along and flip a switch.

But they did follow that pattern again Monday — and it worked again. The Heat cruised to their 27th straight win following the pattern of recent games:

The other team comes out fired up, Miami doesn’t match their intensity and the opponent take an early lead. Then Miami follows LeBron James on a big run, pulls away in the second half and wins handily.

Monday night that pattern led to a 108-94 win for the Heat that extended their winning streak to 27 games. As has been drummed into your head by now that is the second longest in NBA history and six games short of the NBA record of 33 from the 1972 Lakers.

The Heat players really don’t want to talk about it, but it’s an amazing feat. And it’s a streak kept alive Monday not so much because the Heat were focused on the game — LeBron was decidedly unfocused for much of the night — but because the Heat (even with Dwyane Wade sitting out his second straight game to rest his knee) had much more talent on the court than a banged-up Magic team.

Jameer Nelson was the key to Orlando getting out to an early lead (which never reached double digits but was steady). Nelson knocked down shots (he finished with 27 points on 20 shots) and was making the quick, smart pass when the Heat started trapping him. Orlando took care of the ball, Miami turned it over and the Magic had the lead.

That lead was at 42-37 midway through the second quarter when the Heat flipped the switch for the first time that night — Miami closed the half on n an 18-4 run. The Magic shot 2-of-19 to close out the half and Miami led by nine, in part because they were 8-of-15 from three in the first 24 minutes.

The third quarter started out pretty much like the first half of the game (and really the first half of the Heat season — they coasted again. And Nelson was making plays again — he capped a 15-4 Magic run to tie the game 68-68 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter.

Then LeBron woke up — he started with a monster dunk that ignited a 10-0 Heat run to close out the third quarter. That run grew to 20-2 into the fourth. The Magic were turning the ball over against the pressure defense, and when you do that against the Heat you get Ray Allen threes in transition and LeBron alley-oop finishes.

It became a rout; before you could blink it was 88-70 Miami. Orlando put on some little runs in the fourth (they play hard for Jacque Vaughn), but the Heat pushed them back, expanded their lead and won handily.

LeBron James feigned frustration (or, maybe not so feigned) when taken out of the game one rebound short of a triple-double — 24 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds. Allen and Chris Bosh each chipped in a dozen, Mario Chalmers had 17.

Miami’s streak is going to get put to a tougher test the rest of the week, but the flip side is they may be more focused from the opening tip. To keep their streak alive from here on out, they are going to have to change the pattern.

Watch the video: How many times was James Harden fouled by the Lakers?

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James Harden has attempted 235 free throws this season, second most in the NBA (Joel Embiid, to answer your question about the most). He averages 9.8 free throws a game, again second most in the NBA.

Every team complains about how he draws fouls — driving into players bodies then selling it by throwing his head back, flailing his arms and going to the ground. Last night the Lakers were so frustrated they played with their hands behind their backs for a while.

How many fouls did Harden really draw? Watch this and decide for yourself.

The NBA referees think he was fouled more than you do. That includes a foul on Kyle Kuzma.

That second one is the correct call — Lonzo Ball has his hands down but he as the defender initiates the contact and drives into Harden. That’s a foul. Other ones are as well, the Lakers slid under him as he went up on a number of plays.

A lot of NBA fans complaining about the calls Harden gets may want to watch their own team more closely — a lot of players do the same thing. Not as often or as convincingly as Harden, but it’s the same idea, a lot of players do the same thing.

Harden is the master of drawing fouls, with his herky-jerky, old man at the Y game which includes a lot of stepbacks and flailing. It’s frustrated everyone, including Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when they had to guard him as teammates.

Why does he do it? Because it works. It throws defenders off. Same reason Marcus Smart and others flop on defense, he gets calls and gets in opponents heads.

And it’s not going to stop.

No, the Heat are not going to tank, you can stop asking

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At the season’s end, if no trades or moves are made, the Miami Heat would pay nearly $6.3 million in tax. They have the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA.

The Miami Heat are 11-16 and right now out of the playoffs in the East. Even if they get it together, this is not a roster ready to compete with the top four in the East.

There is a lot of context is needed here: Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Dion Waiters all gave missed time this season (Waiters has yet to play), it’s not simply that this is a bad team asking too much of Josh Richardson. But it is an unimpressive team.

Which always leads to the “will the Heat sell off their good players and tank” question? A question the franchise is weary of hearing.

No. That’s not the way Pat Riley sees the world. That’s what everyone told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

“This is what pro sports is supposed to be about,” Spoelstra told The Crossover. “Competing every night. To try to win. Not the opposite. Obviously not every year you are going to have a realistic chance to compete for a title. Since I have been here, working for Pat, from day 1, that has always been the directive. For me, that brings great clarity. Keep the main thing the main thing. And everything else is just b*******….

“Do the history on it,” Spoelstra said. “What franchises have had the most enduring sustainable success over the last 24 years? We’re up there with the top three or four. The teams that constantly tank, I don’t know where they are. It would make for a pretty good discussion. But if you are hardwired to find a way to get it done without any excuses, you will find different pathways. There’s no one way to do it.”

Miami has advantages — the nightlife, the weather, no state taxes — that allows it to get free agents other franchises can only dream of. Miami is a destination. Build a core and try to attract free agents is a legitimate strategy for Miami in a way it is not for other franchises.

Building a core is just not that easy. Miami is a team is set to be over the tax this season and next, and their 2021 first-round pick is owed to Philadelphia unprotected (via Phoenix). Is the goal to stick around in the East and overachieve as Spoelstra teams tend to do the Heat are set up to go for it, but should they take a step back to try and take a step forward.

That’s not the way the Heat operate.

 

Report: Suns owner Robert Sarver overruled draft-night trade for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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On draft night, the Suns traded the No. 16 pick and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick to the 76ers for No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went to the Clippers with the No. 11 pick (via the Hornets).

Phoenix is now an NBA-worst 5-24 and lacks even a decent point guard.

Bob Young of The Athletic:

It’s worth noting that the Suns wouldn’t be in this fix if Robert Sarver, the club’s managing partner, had not reportedly overruled his then-general manager, Ryan McDonough, on draft night.

McDonough reportedly planned to package the club’s pick from Milwaukee and a player taken with the 16th pick to move up and draft Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a point guard from Kentucky.

When Philadelphia offered the rights to Mikal Bridges for the rights to Zhaire Smith and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick, Sarver pushed for that deal. So the Suns moved up six spots to add their fourth young wing player.

I didn’t like the trade the Suns made. I ranked Bridges No. 6 on my draft board, and he’s having a fine rookie year. But part of Bridges’ appeal was his NBA-readiness. Phoenix isn’t good enough to take advantage of that. The Heat pick is also too valuable.

McDonough’s preferred trade would have been better. The Bucks pick – 1-3 and 17-30 protected, in 2019, 1-7 protected in 2020, unprotected in 2021 – is less valuable than the Miami pick. Gilgeous-Alexander has looked promising in L.A.

Importantly, Gilgeous-Alexander would have given the Suns a much-needed point guard.

As owner, Sarver can step in where he sees fit. It’s his team after all. But this makes it all the more ludicrous he fired McDonough shortly before the season due, in part, to not having a quality point guard.

That said, if Gilgeous-Alexander were struggling, I’m not sure we’d hear this story. Only the near-hits, never the near-misses, get leaked.

David West: “I would say Kevin Durant is back with the Warriors next season”

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Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer.

It is entirely possible he chooses to remain a Golden State Warrior, on a team that has dominated the West since his arrival and remains the clear favorite to win it all again (despite some stumbles early in the season). Plus, they can offer more money than any other team.

That’s not what is expected around the league — most sources think he is bolting. Where is unknown — the Clippers and the Knicks are the most mentioned but the Lakers and other teams come up — but the consensus is he will be in a new jersey next season.

Former teammate David West is in the first camp, as he told Steinmetz and Guru on 95.7 the Game, the Warriors radio flagship.

Kevin Durant is not the most decisive person in the world — what he thinks about free agency today may not be what he’s going to think about it in a week, or a month. Or, more importantly, next July.

West doesn’t see what others do, but then again West left $11 million on the table to chase a ring. He’s not the norm that way. His biases may cloud what he expects from the superstar.

Durant is having another in-the-MVP-conversation season, averaging 28.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game, and he carried the team while Stephen Curry was out. Durant is the two-time Finals MVP and in the conversation for the best player on the planet. There are 29 teams that would bend over backward to get him on their roster.

What Durant wants in the mystery. Maybe West is right.