What does it take to beat Miami? Three keys… then pray a lot

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As we watch the Heat during this streak of 27 straight wins, we keep thinking, “Sure the Heat are good, but somebody can beat them one night and end this run.” It’s almost happened a couple times and the Heat have three games this week — at Chicago, against New Orleans (who just ended Denver’s streak) and at San Antonio — that could well be the end.

But does anybody think another team can pull that all together for four out of seven games in a playoff series?

This run has the Heat focused and thinking about their legacy, which makes them tougher come the playoffs. But they can be beat on any given night, and after reading what other players are saying about the Heat at NBA.com three areas leap out:

Match or beat Miami’s intensity. Maybe the most impressive thing about Miami’s streak is that they bring it every night. Rockets coach Kevin McHale talked about how his legendary 1980s Celtics teams would win double digits then just get bored one night and lose to a non-playoff team — Miami has had a couple close calls in those situations but were able to fight back (the 27-point comeback against the Cavaliers being the most obvious). They find enough energy to get the win every night, even with Dwyane Wade out the last two games.

This is the easiest of the three — everybody is up to face the Heat now. But energy and playing with a belief that the Heat can be beat is the start.

Don’t turn the ball over. According to Tom Haberstoh at ESPN, during this 27-game winning streak 18 percent of opponent possessions have ended in a turnover. That would be nearly one in five possessions and the highest percentage in the league.

We know what happens when you turn the ball over against the Heat, it’s LeBron alley-oop dunks in transition over poor Goran Dragic. Or Jason Terry. Or… you get the idea. You have to take away the Heat’s easy buckets and that starts by taking care of the ball.

Which is easier said than done — Miami’s entire defense is predicated on athleticism, pressure, taking away your strengths and forcing turnovers or bad shots. Because of their personnel the Heat can switch a lot of pick-and-rolls or other rubs trying to free a guy up — normally teams want to get their point guard switched on to a forward, but when it is LeBron or Shane Battier it isn’t an advantage. The way to defuse that pressure is with ball movement and player movement off the ball — which is why some basketball people think the Spurs are the team with the best shot against Miami.

But to beat the Heat you have to take care of the ball and make them work for their buckets.

Knock down your threes. As you know from watching the NCAA Tournament lately, the three ball can be the great equalizer — for one game you can beat a team knocking down threes. During this win streak Miami is closing out on shooters at the arc, not letting those easy buckets fall — in their last 20 games teams are shooting just 32.7 percent from three against the Heat.

In the same way a team will need to stop the Heat from getting easy buckets, they will need easy buckets of their own. That means lots of threes.

Miami is going to have to help you out. Miami creates so many problems for a defense. LeBron and Dwyane Wade cam pretty much get to the basket and force help rotations whenever they want. So you double them to take the ball out of their hands and you find they swing the ball well and have guys in Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers (among others) who space the floor and knock down threes. Their bigs — Chris Bosh in particular — can roll to the rim or just space the floor 15 feet away and make it hard to help off them. Defenses have to pick their poison against the Heat.

That’s why the “Miami struggles to rebound” argument holds little water — if they are making their shots, who cares? Plus, they have guys in Wade and LeBron who are very good rebounders for their positions.

Teams need help against Miami — they need guys to just miss shots, throw a couple errant passes, just have an off night. Look at the end of Denver’s streak Monday — not to take anything away from a great New Orleans effort, but a Nuggets team that scores more points in the paint than any other squad in the NBA shot just 42 percent on those looks for a night. Denver got their shots and missed them. It happens. Teams need a little of that against Miami.

But do you think that’s going to happen four out of seven nights?

Pelicans Elfrid Payton returns, starts, injured again

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) —The New Orleans Pelicans say point guard Elfrid Payton has a fractured finger on his left hand.

Payton injured his finger in the first quarter of his first game back on Friday night after he’d missed New Orleans’ nine previous games with a right ankle sprain.

Soon after, Payton was ruled out for the remainder of the game against the New York Knicks.

Acquired as a free agent this past offseason, Payton has played in six games for New Orleans. He entered Friday night’s games with averages 11.6 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games, but did not have a point or assist in eight minutes against New York before his latest injury.

 

Kyrie Irving scores 43, Celtics beat Raptors 123-116 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 11 straight Boston points down the stretch and scored 17 in all in the last 8:06 of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime, he really turned it on.

The Celtics guard made or assisted on every basket in the extra period, finishing with 11 assists and a season-high 43 points on Friday night to lead Boston to a 123-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

“Man, he made some shots tonight where you’re just like, `Wow,”‘ forward Gordon Hayward said. “You catch yourself being a fan. When he gets into that mode, the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors. They just couldn’t stop him.”

It was the first time Irving has scored at least 40 points with 10 or more assists in a game. He was the first player do it in the NBA this year, and the first Celtics player since Antoine Walker in 2001.

“Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. “We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”

Jayson Tatum had 21 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who evened the season series at one game apiece against the only team to finish above them in the Eastern Conference last season. The home team has won nine straight matchups.

Serge Ibaka scored 21 and Pascal Siakam had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost three straight since opening the season with 12 victories in their first 13 games. Toronto never led in overtime.

“It was just a veteran game out there, just great competition for a Friday night in the NBA,” Irving said. “You’ve got to appreciate that, two great teams going at it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see them down the road.”

 

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.