Amar’e Stoudemire giving Heat a lift when they’ve needed it most

Associated Press
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MIAMI (AP) — This is what the Miami Heat envisioned when they got Amare Stoudemire to agree to a free agent deal last summer. In short, they would use him when needed.

And right now, he’s needed.

Miami’s season was teetering on the brink a week ago, with losses and injuries piling up. But the Heat have since won four straight games, Stoudemire starting them all in place of injured center Hassan Whiteside and helping Miami get back on track. Stoudemire posted season-highs of 13 points, 12 rebounds and three steals in Miami’s most recent win, a 105-87 romp over Atlanta on Sunday night.

“He knows how to play,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

Stoudemire has averaged 22 minutes in Miami’s last six games, after averaging about 10 in his first 14 appearances. He’s not the rim protector that Whiteside is, but his pick-and-roll game – he and Dwyane Wade kept effectively running it on Sunday – and ability to finish has given the Heat offense a clear boost.

“Amar’e can be who he was in his 20’s in short bursts if we’re all smart about it and control the minutes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the hardest thing for me to do. When we manage and bottle them up those minutes, he’s fresh. He spends a great deal of time … so much time training, working on his strength, doing corrective exercises, treatment, just to get himself ready to play. He just gives you a highly decorated talent.”

He’s also been highly patient.

Stoudemire played in only three of Miami’s first 28 games, logging a total of 27 minutes in that span. The Heat didn’t see a spot for him in the nightly rotation, but Stoudemire never openly complained. He kept up on his long daily routines, taking care of himself on and off the floor and knowing at some point he would play a key role.

That time has arrived.

“I just stayed humble, knowing eventually all the hard work would pay off,” Stoudemire said. “Patience is a virtue. Stay humble. Stay ready.”

He said he found “joy in training” and did so while getting lost in music – Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye mostly – much of the time during workouts to keep his spirits high and mood calm. During games, even when he wasn’t playing, Stoudemire was usually one of the first off the bench to greet teammates or one of the most animated when celebrating someone else’s highlight.

He’s fit into the Heat locker room with ease. And when Whiteside comes back, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stoudemire remained somehow in the rotation.

“I’m here to support Hassan 100 percent,” Stoudemire said. “He’s going through an injury right now. I’m here to support him. There’s no pressure on myself, no pressure on the coaches. My job is to help this team win.”

NOTES: Wade won the Eastern Conference’s player of the week award, averaging 24 points in Miami’s 4-0 week. It’s the 11th different season in which Wade has won the weekly honor. … The Heat said G Tyler Johnson will have surgery to repair an issue with his left rotator cuff on Wednesday. Johnson has had the problem since his college days, and he and the team were hoping to hold off on the procedure until the offseason. Johnson said he expects to be sidelined around two months. … Whiteside is listed as questionable for Tuesday in Houston because of his strained left hip.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.