LeBron James and Dwyane Wade need each other now more than ever

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When LeBron James stole the ball, three Pacers were closer to the Indiana basket than Dwyane Wade.

LeBron – arguably the greatest athlete in NBA history – took off in the open court, using his unique blend of speed and power to create space for a layup.

Wade – 32 years old and battling perpetual knee injuries that would make you think he’s 37 – ran just as hard.

It paid off. LeBron missed his shot, and Wade followed with a putback dunk.

“Usually, D Wade don’t even chase me down. He know if it’s a one-on-one matchup with me, most of the time I’m going to score,” LeBron said smiling. “But I was glad that he did.”

That was part of a decisive 10-0 run that propelled the Heat to an 87-83 win over the Pacers in Game 2 Tuesday. LeBron or Wade scored or assisted Miami’s final 33 points, including scoring the final 20 themselves.

“That’s what we want,” Wade said. “We came here, and that’s what we envisioned – having two guys that is able to be dynamic at the same time.”

Neither LeBron nor Wade are playing their best right now, which is precisely why they must lean on each other. The Heat aren’t playing their best either, making them especially reliant on their biggest stars, and there’s only one way LeBron and Wade can meet that dependence – together.

In the final 16 minutes – a full third of the game – LeBron (14 of 22 points) and Wade (10 of 23 points) absolutely dominated. They had to. Here was the production in that span of Miami’s other three starters:

  • Chris Bosh: three points,  one rebound, one block, one steal
  • Mario Chalmers: did not play
  • Udonis Haslem: did not play

Erik Spoelstra changed his starting lineup from Game 1, inserting Haslem for Shane Battier, but the the switch didn’t really pay dividends. Haslem proved ineffective against Roy Hibbert and didn’t help enough on the glass. Credit the Heat coach for having the guts to bench Haslem and Chalmers, who didn’t provide the spark Norris Cole did.

Meanwhile, Bosh is not producing while battling Indiana’s behemoths. He has just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting and eight rebounds in the series.

Chris Andersen came off the bench to grab 12 rebounds and produce a stunning +25 plus-minus in a four-point game, but he’s just one of several Miami role players. the Heat can’t rely on a single one of them on a nightly basis.

As the Heat have aged, their talent gap over the rest of the league has shrunk. The Pacers are absolutely good enough to win this series, and there are several Western Conference teams – including both still playing – capable of beating Miami, too.

That leaves a lot on the plates of LeBron and Wade.

The four-year examination of how LeBron and Wade fit together has been overblown. Let’s get that out of the way. LeBron and Wade are both tremendously skilled and versatile players. They fit with everyone.

But LeBron and Wade aren’t a perfect fit together. There’s give and take with two players used to dominating the ball, and a surprisingly low number of Heat plays this far into their current incarnation use both in key spots simultaneously.

That said, they’re better off together than they would be separately with lesser, better-fitting teammates. Their talent outweighs fit concerns.

LeBron once again played passively early and averaged a touch just once every 44 seconds – narrowly topping a season high set yesterday. His defense was also lacking, even though Paul George shot poorly.

Enter Wade.

Wade took the ball and also guarded George late, freeing the burden from LeBron. In Game 3, nobody would be shocked to see LeBron help Wade.

LeBron and Wade pick each other up, and despite some unavoidable fit issues, they’re trying to jell even more.

“Obviously, I always know where No. 6 is on the floor,” Wade said. “And he knows where I am on the floor.”

That includes Wade’s putback slam. Wade admitted “99.9 percent of the time,” he’d hang back as LeBron surged in the open court. But Wade was perceptive to a LeBron flaw.

“I actually noticed he didn’t really get the acceleration that he needed,” Wade said. “He took a step, and he didn’t get up. So, that allowed me to just keep following. Normally, he just explodes, and there aren’t many people that can beat him at the top.”

There aren’t many teams that can beat the Heat when LeBron and Wade are at their top levels, but neither is there right now. As long as they keep boosting each other, though, they can get close – and give Miami a chance to win.

Meyers Leonard delivers all-time out-of-nowhere playoff performance

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In 1967, Richie Guerin retired. The former Knicks star had been the St. Louis Hawks’ player-coach a few years, and he shifted fully into coaching. He even won Coach of the Year that season. As the Hawks moved to Atlanta the next year, he occasionally returned to the lineup, but played sparingly while focused on coaching. He played even less the following season, scoring just seven points in eight games.

But when the Hawks were facing injuries, inexperience and a 3-0 deficit to the Lakers 1970 Western Division finals, a 37-year-old Guerin stepped up on the court. He scored 31 points in Game 4, though Los Angeles completed the sweep.

Afterward, Hawks publicity director Tom McCollister called in the game’s stats to the league office:

”Guerin played 35 minutes,” reported McCollister, quietly, ”made 12 of 17 field goal attempts, 7 for 7 free throws, had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 personal fouls. Thirty-one points.” Pause. ”They are burying him tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”

That was a rare time someone with a lower scoring average than Meyers Leonard scored 30 points in a playoff game.

Leonard – who averaged 5.9 points per game in the regular season – scored 30 points in the Trail Blazers’ Game 4 loss to the Warriors last night. He scored 25 in the first half!

This was the same Leonard who was in and out of the rotation all season, who had a DNP-CD in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, who had a previous career high of 24 points. That came in 2015, preceding a much-maligned four-year, $41 million contract.

But when Portland needed a more-mobile defender at center, Leonard started. He played well in Game 3, scoring 16 points and dishing four assists. That wad already an unexpectedly good night for him.

Yet, Leonard upped the ante yesterday. For a while, he was going shot-for-shot with Stephen Curry. Though he couldn’t keep up with Curry (37 points), Leonard went 12-of-16, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.

Here are the players to score 30 points in a playoff game with the lowest regular-season scoring averages:

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The only other player besides Guerin to drop 30 in a playoff game after scoring so little in the regular season was Daniel Gibson. Boobie averaged 4.6 points per game his rookie year then scored 31 points on 5-of-5 3-point shooting in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons, helping send the Cavs to their first NBA Finals.

“If I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up,” Gibson said. “This was perfect, to win it for Cleveland.”

The most recent player to crack the leaderboard was CJ McCollum, who averaged 6.8 points per game in 2014-15 then scored 33 in a season-ending Game 5 loss to the Grizzlies in the first round. McCollum won Most Improved Player the next year and has remained a near-star ever since.

Could Leonard make a similar jump for the Trail Blazers? Don’t count on it. McCollum was in only his second season. Leonard, who just finished his seventh season, has been in the league even longer than McCollum now.

But appreciate Leonard’s scoring binge for what it was – one heck of an outlier.

Giannis Antetokounmpo pays for basketball court in fire-ravaged Greece

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo has agreed to fund the construction of an indoor basketball court in a fire-ravaged area outside Athens where at least 100 people were killed last year.

The mayor of the Rafina area where the fire occurred last July said on Monday the local authority accepted the offer from the Milwaukee Bucks player to build the court at a new recycling park that is being planned. The mayor, Vangelis Bournous, gave no details of the construction cost but said the venue would ready at the end of this summer.

The blaze gutted the seaside resort of Mati, east of Athens, and other coastal areas, destroying more than a thousand homes.

Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are leading in the NBA Eastern Conference finals 2-1 over the Toronto Raptors.

Report: Dallas’ Dwight Powell to turn down $10.2 million player option

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Dwight Powell came to Dallas as a seeming throw-in with the Rajon Rondo trade back in 2014, but he evolved and grew into a solid rotation player for Rick Carlisle’s team. Last season he averaged more than 21 minutes a night off the bench, averaging an efficient 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.

Now he’s going to be a free agent, turning down the $10.2 million player option on the final year of his contract, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t expect him to leave Dallas, they want to keep him and now will have even more cap space to do so (Dallas already has enough cap space to re-sign Kristaps Porzingis and look for a max or near-max player to put next to KP and Luka Doncic). This is most likely a situation where Powell will make a little less than the $10.2 million he would have made next season but will get more money locked in over three or four years.

Dallas wants to keep him, not only is he a trusted part of their rotation but also he is very active in the Dallas community. He’s an excellent ambassador for the Mavericks.

That said, other teams likely will inquire about a solid rotational big man, Powell will have some options.

 

 

 

Warriors hit new heights with 5th straight conference title

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Presenting the Western Conference-championship trophy in 2015, former Warriors coach Al Attles worried about dropping it. He told Stephen Curry to pick it up directly, avoiding a potentially troublesome lift and handoff. Curry raised the trophy to a jubilant Oakland crowd.

Golden State hasn’t lost control of the trophy since.

The Warriors won their fifth straight conference title – the longest streak of all-time – with a 119-117 Game 4 win over the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals Monday. Only the Boston Celtics, who won 10 straight division titles 1957-1966 before the NBA adopted conferences in 1971, have gone to so many consecutive NBA Finals.

Here are the longest streaks of NBA Finals appearances:

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