Heat start hot then hang on to beat Clippers

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This was a nationally televised against a top-four team in the West in the Clippers — these are the kind of games that shake the Heat out of their mid-season malaise.

And when the Heat play like they did early Wednesday night it is a beautiful thing.

Miami’s first quarter was as good as they have played all season — they pushed the pace, had fantastic ball movement that picked apart the Clippers defense, and started the game shooting 14-17 from field. LeBron James had five first quarter assists, Dwyane Wade had four, the Heat were getting points in the paint and knocking down jumpers. Miami was up 12 in the first quarter, by 19 at points in the second.

That proved to be enough, despite the ball movement fading away late. The Clippers mounted a furious fourth quarter comeback behind Blake Griffin and his 43 points on the night — Los Angeles whittled the lead down to two. Then it was a familiar story: Ray Allen drains a corner three and that proves to be the big play, the dagger.

Miami hung on to win 116-112 Wednesday night in Los Angeles in one of the more entertaining games of the season.

LeBron finished with 31 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, leading six Heat players in double figures on the night. Miami played its game much of the night, sharing the ball, and they were out and running on the 20 Clipper turnovers. Live ball turnovers against the Heat become easy buckets and impressive dunks going the other way, and the Clippers did that too often. Of course, Los Angeles had plenty of dunks of its own — this team still puts on a show.

The Clippers want to be elite but once again inconsistent defense did them in — they allowed an offensive rating of 119 (points per 100 possessions) and they let the Heat shoot 52 percent on the night. As a team the Clippers have matured on that end, yet the trust on defense is not consistently where it needs to be, something Doc Rivers has admitted.

The Clippers stayed within striking distance because of a two-man show — Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin either scored or assisted on 53 of the Clippers 55 first half points.

Still the Heat maintained a double-digit lead through the bulk of the third quarter and looked like they might coast in for the win. It wasn’t to be. The Clippers put together a 10-0 run in the fourth (Crawford was a big part of that, he finished with 31 points of the night).

As the score got tight the Heat’s ball movement died as well. Yet the Heat were still getting good looks with LeBron attacking — Miami started having the point guard come set the screen to force the Darren Collison to hedge out and LeBron exploited that badly (that is where the return of Chris Paul will change things).

The Clippers kept coming. Inside of a minute left in the game the Clippers got the Heat lead down to two points. Miami had the ball and good 20 seconds of a strong possession, but when Wade drove the lane Crawford watched the ball and lost sight of his man in the corner. His man was Ray Allen. You don’t want to lose Ray Allen, and he promptly buried a three that ended up being the dagger.

Don’t read too much into a February game where both teams were battling injuries (none as serious as CP3 being out), but it’s a good thing to see the Clippers show some fight like that — they may have grown with while their best player has been sidelined. That could benefit them once the playoffs start.

What this game can do is remind us just how good the Heat can be when they are on — and that this season they don’t hold that focus quite as long it seems.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.

 

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.