Miami Heat fans were hurt when LeBron left, they may let him hear it. Somewhat.

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Miami fans were hurt when LeBron James left.

When LeBron chose the Heat in 2010 it wasn’t just bitter Clevelanders that turned on him and burned his jerseys — although Northeast Ohio did it with more venom — but the entire nation or sports fans called out LeBron for perceived betrayal. He handled the exit about as poorly as one could with the televised “Decision” followed by a pep rally in Miami and that turned off much of the country. LeBron’s popularity plummeted (at least at first, until the titles rolled in).

And Heat fans had his back the entire time. They were the people in his corner. They cheered him loudly at games… well, once they got there and got seated. They embraced him in the community. They shared in the four trips to the Finals in four years and two NBA titles. They celebrated with him.

Then he bolted them, too.

So yes, Heat fans are feeling betrayed — and LeBron’s going to hear a little of that on Christmas Day when his Cleveland Cavaliers come to downtown Miami for a game broadcast on ABC (5 ET).

Dwyane Wade may not want it but there will be boos — but they will be mixed with cheers. Unlike his return to Cleveland there will not be that kind of raw negative emotion overwhelming the arena. Part of it is a different culture in Miami, a more laid back lifestyle, one where the sun, the beach, the beautiful people and spicy food provide another identity for the city so theirs is not so wrapped up in the fate of sports teams. Plus, Heat fans do feel appreciative for the years they had from LeBron. For the banners hanging in AmericanAirlines Arena (near the retired Dan Marino jersey… seriously).

But LeBron is going to remind them on Christmas just what they are missing.

Miami has struggled this season to a 13-16 record (still good enough for the seven seed in the East). The Heat have dropped three of their last four and that includes an ugly loss to the Sixers Tuesday where they gave up a 23-point lead. Through it all the Heat have battled injuries including losing Josh McRoberts for the season, and with that their space-and-pace offense has been pedestrian (103 points per 100 possessions, 17th in the NBA).

But the big problem in Miami has been the defense, ranked 25th in the league surrendering 106.3 points per 100 possessions. Eric Spoelstra still has them playing an aggressive, pressuring style on that end and they are third best in the league in forcing turnovers (16.8 percent of opponent possessions end that way) but they lack the athletes and discipline to cover for when that goes wrong now, and teams are getting good looks. The Heat are 28th in the league in opponent eFG% at 52.6 percent.

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Once again the Heat will be without Chris Bosh, who is suffering from a calf strain and had hoped to be back by this game but Heat coach Eric Spoelstra ruled him out on Wednesday at practice.

That’s a blow. Bosh is averaging 21.6 points a game and the Heat offense improves 3.4 points per 100 when he is on the court. They really needed him because Miami will be without Anderson Varejao, who suffered a torn Achilles and is done for the season. Tristan Thompson will start but Miami’s defense is weak, particularly in the paint. Miami just doesn’t have the size to exploit it.

However, the bigger problem for the Heat in this game comes back to defense. They are going to learn what so many of their opponents learned the four previous seasons — you just can’t contain LeBron.

The Heat have a solid wing defender in Luol Deng but he will be overmatched against LeBron. More and more in recent games David Blatt has put the ball in LeBron’s hands as a defacto point guard and the Cavaliers offense has thrived because of it — despite the rough start the fourth best offense in the NBA this young season, scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions. LeBron makes good decisions and the Heat are scoring 113.3 points per 100 when their big three are on the court together.

That improved supporting cast is part of the reason LeBron returned to Miami — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are each matchup nightmares. Love is getting more touches in the post (expect to see that early in the game in particular) but is still dangerous from three. The at the point some combination of Norris Cole/Shabazz Napier/Mario Chalmers has to stay with Irving, a gifted penetrator who also can shoot from distance.

There was a Miami Heat team we saw the opening weeks of the season that looked like it could be a threat to a team like Cleveland, but that version of the Heat has been AWOL for a while now. Maybe the return of Bosh to the lineup and the emotion of the moment can reawaken that squad and make this game interesting. I expect it can for the first half or so.

But at some point Cleveland is going to shift into a gear Miami just doesn’t have.

That should look familiar to Heat fans.

And remind them what they are missing this season.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.