Heat blowout win doesn’t define series, but it might win it

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Even for the Miami Heat, this game was an outlier.

They scored 70 points on 63 percent shooting with one turnover in the first half. Udonis Haslem hit 8-of-9 to lead Heat players outside the “big three” shooting 55 percent. Haslem’s shooting eventually pulled Roy Hibbert away from the paint and opened everything inside. LeBron James did damage in the post, Dwyane Wade hit 8-of-14 and pretty much anything the Heat did went right.

Come Game 4 Tuesday night it is unlikely the Heat will put together that amazing an effort.

But the fact they can once or twice in a seven game series — that for one game they can be so dominant that the best defense in the NBA looks helpless — is part of why it is so hard to beat them four out of seven. Miami just took one game off the board, saying to the Pacers “in a tightly contested series now you have to beat us four out of six, we’re just going to own this one.”

It stacks the deck against the team in the other uniform, whether it be yellow pinstripes or any other color.

“If you are not perfect guarding them they will do what they did to us tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages they find ways to make baskets.”

Haslem jumped in the hot tub time machine back to 2005 and was the key for Miami. There was a time years ago when Haslem was automatic from 15 feet out along the baseline, he was that guy again Sunday night.

It put Hibbert in an impossible position. In Game 2 Indiana was able to park Hibbert near the paint and let him alter drives and grab rebounds because neither Haslem nor anyone else made him pay. Sunday, Haslem made him pay. By the second half Hibbert had to step out of the paint to respect that shot and things opened up for LeBron James to post up on the left block. Indiana left Paul George on an island with him one-on-one on the block and, as great a defender as George is, that was not going to work.

It was more than that. It was an up-tempo first half that played to Miami’s strengths. It was Dwyane Wade driving the lane and breaking down the Pacers defense in the first half (six assists before the break). It was Miami getting 32 points in the paint in the first half. To quote Dawes, it was a little bit of everything.

Miami overwhelms even good teams teams sometimes. It happens.

It doesn’t mean Game 4 will look like that — I expect it will not. Indiana’s defense will be sharper and they will have some adjustments. In Game 3 the Pacers continued to have good offensive success against the Heat’s defense.

I expect Game 4 will be close, more like games one and two. Indiana may or may not get the win.

But you can’t beat the Heat in a series playing them to a tie most nights then occasionally getting blown out. Game 3 does not define this series. But it makes it a whole lot harder for Indiana to win it.

LeBron James on consideration given to signing with Rockets: ‘Not much’

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For a while, it seemed LeBron Jamesfinalists in free agency last summer were the Lakers, Cavaliers, 76ers and Rockets.

LeBron obviously signed with the Lakers. Cleveland remains special to him. His agent met with Philadelphia.

And then there’s Houston.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Rockets – led by Chris Paul – reportedly recruited LeBron hard.

But LeBron reportedly previously said he didn’t like Houston as a city, and at this point, it’s impossible escape lifestyle as a key consideration for the superstar. He clearly enjoys Los Angeles.

I doubt LeBron regrets dropping the Rockets from consideration early. The main appeal would have been their direction path to championship contention, but they’ve been the NBA’s most disappointing team this season.

Which makes it even easier for LeBron to dismiss his Houston consideration.

2018 NBA playoff teams get new alternate jerseys (photos)

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Did your favorite team or player make the playoffs last season?

Well, someone thinks that might have you invested enough to buy yet another jersey.

Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated:

The Bucks jersey is the best – despite the advertisement patch intruding on the otherwise minimalist look. Milwaukee would be the runaway winner without the ad.

As is, I also really like the Pelicans, Pacers and Heat. I suspect Miami’s fuchsia Miami Vice edition will draw the most attention.

A few of these are rather plain, and that’s always disappointing in an alternate jersey. But I particularly dislike the Cavaliers and Spurs jerseys.

Report: Pelicans, Pistons, Kings NBA’s most active buyers in trade market

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The Pelicans are likely in a make-or-break season.

They can offer Anthony Davis a super-max extension next off season. If he signs it, he’d be locked up for five more years. If not, he’d head toward 2020 unrestricted free agency. New Orleans could keep an un-extended Davis through the 2019-20 season and hope for the best, but a trade seems inevitable if he’s not willing to sign the largest-possible extension next summer.

So, this season is the last before that moment of truth. And the Pelicans are just 15-15, tied for 10th in the Western Conference.

That’s why they’re on the far end of the trade spectrum.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

But what about the buyers? League executives report the New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings lead the list of teams calling around looking for ways to upgrade their rosters in recent weeks.

All three of these teams are understandable buyers:

Pelicans

New Orleans needs to upgrade around Davis before it’s too late. He has set high standards and placed the burden on himself, but he might eventually look around and realize it shouldn’t be this hard.

The Pelicans have drafted in the first round only once since 2012 (when they picked Davis), and they traded that pick – Buddy Hield – during his rookie year. They have all their future first-round picks and could again use one to get immediate help.

New Orleans could also move Solomon Hill (making $12,252,928 this season, $12,758,781 next season) to match salary, though he holds negative value on that contract. Several smaller expiring contracts could also prove useful.

Unloading yet another first-rounder could come back to bite the Pelicans, but they must impress Davis first. Secure him, and worry about everything else later.

Pistons

The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in 11 years. They’ve missed the postseason entirely the last two seasons. At 13-13, they could fall out again.

Or they could bolster their roster to become more competitive in April.

Detroit is fairly locked into this expensive team, led by Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The Pistons are stuck, somewhat by choice, playing for the present. They might as well make it count.

They could dangle Stanley Johnson if they don’t plan to re-sign him in restricted free agency this summer. The 22-year-old could fetch a better, older player.

Detroit has little breathing room below the luxury-tax line, and as much as owner Tom Gores wants to make the playoffs, I doubt he’d pay the tax on this team.

Kings

Sacramento (15-12) is the NBA’s brightest surprise. After missing the playoffs 12 straight seasons – the NBA’s longest active postseason drought – the Kings are eighth in the Western Conference. They also already traded their 2019 first-round pick.

It’s time to go for it.

Sacramento’s priority should be building long-term around a young core led by De'Aaron Fox. But there’s still room to focus on satisfying this season, especially with no first-round-pick fallback if the team slips.

The Kings are the only team still with cap space, and they have $11,024,578 of it. They also have several veterans on expiring contracts – Zach Randolph ($11,692,308), Iman Shumpert ($11,011,234), Kosta Koufos ($8,739,500) and Ben McLemore ($5,460,000). That opens a lot of possibilities.

Maybe Sacramento can get a helpful and not-too-old, but overpaid, player on a multi-year deal from a team looking to shed salary? Prime example: Wizards forward Otto Porter.

Bradley Beal foils Celtics’ foul-up-three plan, forces OT (video)

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Foul or defend?

Though it’s always worth it for teams to consider how they can incrementally improve their odds of winning, the debate over strategy when leading by three points late probably gets too much attention. Teams up by three points late almost always win, regardless.

But the rare cases of a team overcoming a late 3-point deficit are so memorable.

Take last night, when the Celtics – up three – intentionally fouled Bradley Beal with 13 seconds left. Beal made the first free throw, missed the second, grabbed the offensive rebound and scored. It was a heck of a play that forced overtime.

It didn’t pay off for the Wizards, who lost in overtime. But it paid off for us, as the extra period produced this awesome sequence.