ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Miami Heat

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Last season: A fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals resulted in disappointment, as the Heat were steamrolled by the Spurs in five games. The ease with which Miami was dispatched was troubling, so much so that LeBron James re-signing — something most believed to be a foregone conclusion — was suddenly thrown into question. And as the team scrambled to show a willingness to improve by signing guys like Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in the early days of free agency, the underwhelming nature of those additions ultimately saw James expedite his plan to return home to Cleveland to once again play for the Cavaliers.

Signature highlight from last season: It was tempting to go with the pair of alley-ops Dwyane Wade and LeBron James connected on in the Christmas Day win over the Lakers, because the way the two consistently got out on the break like this for easy buckets in transition during their four years together was about as signature as it gets. But with a nod to the upcoming season where James won’t be present, it felt fitting to go with Wade’s drive and dish to Chris Bosh for a game-winning three against the Blazers — a contest in which James sat out due to injury.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_Dip5JL3cI&w=560&h=315]

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Heat season:

Life after LeBron: Having the game’s best player on the roster definitely has its advantages, and it isn’t something anyone in the Heat organization would choose to change about the last four seasons. But now that James has moved on, everything is immediately different on both ends of the floor. The continuity in place with Wade and Bosh being the team’s leaders, and with the highly competent Erik Spoelstra on the sidelines should ease the transition to a certain extent. But Miami will need to reinvent itself from an Xs and Os standpoint, and just how quickly the players get acclimated to those changes will largely determine their success, especially in the early parts of the upcoming season.

The health of Dwyane Wade: Wade was on a strict maintenance program last season to keep his knee from flaring up during the playoffs as it did the year prior, and that left him a gametime decision most nights. It was part of the reason he was limited to participating in just 54 regular season contests, and for the Heat to be successful in the post-LeBron era, they’re going to need a lot more than that out of Wade — not only in terms of minutes played, but also in terms of increased production. The good news for Heat fans is that Wade is planning on doing exactly that, but it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up while pushing himself to play more than he has in any of his previous three seasons.

The return of CB4: Chris Bosh is a perennial All-Star, but since coming to Miami, his numbers have dipped due to having to change his role, while sacrificing personal levels of production for the greater good of the franchise. Thankfully for the Heat, he has proven to be capable of doing so much more. In his final season in Toronto, Bosh averaged a career-high 24 points and 10.8 rebounds, and was unquestionably the team’s best player every single night. Bosh may have to return to his Raptors form for Miami to achieve postseason success, especially in light of Wade’s recent injury history — and he may be more ready than ever to do so.

Why you should watch: Wade and Bosh are still All-Star caliber players, and the addition of another one in Deng should make the Heat consistently competitive most nights. Spoelstra is one of the game’s top coaches at the professional level, and you can bet that he’s relishing the chance to lead his team to success in spite of the loss of Lebron James.

Prediction: With LeBron out of the picture, there are no longer championship expectations placed on this Miami team, which should be a weight off of their collective shoulders. The Heat can be in an underdog role for the first time in a long time, and there’s still more than enough talent in place to make a run at the postseason.

Miami is definitely a playoff team in the East, but is probably not deep enough to claw itself into one of the three top spots in the standings. A ceiling of fourth place in the conference feels about right, with an opportunity to surprise someone in the first (and possibly second) round of the playoffs if Wade, Bosh and Spoelstra find a way to have things clicking by the time the regular season is finished.

Watch Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic dunk all over Bol Bol

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Bol Bol had some impressive blocked shots during exhibition games at the NBA’s restart, but he hadn’t gotten one in his 16 limited minutes since the seeding games started. He wanted one.

So Bol tried to get in front of Jusuf Nurkic of Denver on Thursday and… that did not go well.

Bol did later get a blocked shot on Hassan Whiteside.

Nurkic, however, ended the night with 22 points, seven rebounds, and the Trail Blazers got a 125-115 win that has Portland comfortably as the ninth seed, just half-a-game back of eight-seed Memphis. Portland is setting itself up with a better-than-average chance make the playoffs

Kawhi Leonard’s 29 leads Clippers past Mavericks in potential first-round preview

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.

Paul George scored 24 points and Ivica Zubac added 21 points on 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds for the Clippers, who strengthened their hold on the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings.

The Clippers entered the night a just half game ahead of Denver, but they shot 54% against the Mavericks to improve to 2-2 in the restart.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 30 points and Luka Doncic added 29 for Dallas, which fell to 1-3 in the restart.

Dallas likely will finish as the No. 7 seed, making a first-round matchup with the Clippers a strong possibility.

“That’s obviously going to be a tough matchup,” Porzingis said. “They’re one of the favorites to win it all. They have multiple guys that have been there already. But we’re looking forward to the challenge and getting experience in that.”

Doncic was coming off a monster game — 34 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. He made 10 of 21 shots against the Clippers, including 6 of 13 3-pointers.

“Luka’s just a handful,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It takes a whole team to guard him. I thought our guys did a pretty good job overall. We lost him a couple times, which you can never do. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

The Clippers led Dallas by 12 in the third quarter before the Mavericks rallied and tied the game at 101 midway through the fourth. Los Angeles responded with a 9-0 run to regain control. The Clippers shot 62% in the fourth quarter to pull away.

“I just liked how we played overall,” Rivers said. “We played like a team tonight, on both ends.”

Though the Mavericks fell to 1-3 in the restart, Doncic remained confident.

“We’re a great team,” he said. “We’ve always got chances, no matter what. I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. We’ll give our max.”

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win ‘Kobe’s with me every day’

Devin Booker Kobe
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.