Heat overcome slow start, run away with Game 3 win over Pacers

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The Indiana Pacers may have struggled late in the regular season, but they were built with the specific intent of beating this Miami Heat team. And they’ve been largely up to that challenge, including in Game 3, where the combination of the league’s top defense and a size advantage on the offensive end bullied Miami in the early going, with the Pacers looking every bit like legitimate contenders in building a 15-point lead that held late into the second quarter.

But the Heat adjusted, and didn’t just mount a comeback — they exploited every advantage possible. Behind efficient performances from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, along with a devastating fourth quarter from Ray Allen, Miami cruised to a 99-87 victory that gave the team a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

In the first half, it was David West, Roy Hibbert and Luis Scola punishing the Heat inside. The trio combined for 27 of Indiana’s 42 points, 24 of which were scored in the paint as the Pacers shot better than 53 percent over the game’s first 24 minutes. Miami, meanwhile, couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, scoring just five points in the first nine and a half minutes, while turning the ball over seven times during that span.

In the second half, however, the Heat stabilized. They implemented a full-court press that forced the issue for an offensively-challenged Pacers team, and were able to get rolling offensively thanks to Wade’s 10 points in the third, and Allen’s 13 points in the fourth.

That was largely the difference. Indiana can defend for only so long, before the matchups begin to fail and the Heat find ways to work them to their advantage. David West was assigned to Allen for much of the final period, and you just can’t have one of the game’s most historically deadly shooters being left open on rotations if you expect to compete with the defending champs. Allen was 4-of-4 from three-point distance in the fourth, and those shots were all back-breakers that helped push the Heat’s advantage to an insurmountable margin.

Wade continued his extremely efficient series in finishing with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and Chris Bosh continued to be largely ineffective while finishing with just nine points and four rebounds, on just 4-of-12 shooting in only 23 minutes of action.

The Pacers were constructed properly, and undoubtedly have the talent and the personnel to compete with this Heat team. But they’ll need to execute at maximum levels on both ends of the floor for more than half the game in order to have a chance in this series. And right now, after two consecutive comeback wins, Miami seems to be gaining all kinds of confidence in realizing it has simply too much for Indiana to deal with for extended stretches.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”