Dwyane Wade scores 26, Heat beat Knicks in Joe Johnson’s debut

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Johnson jumped right into Miami’s starting lineup and right into the playoff race.

He looked completely comfortable in both.

Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Johnson made a 3-pointer on his first shot in a Heat uniform during a big game-opening run, and Miami beat the New York Knicks 98-81 on Sunday night.

Johnson was in the starting lineup a day after signing with the Heat and contributed to their 13-2 burst to start the game, a lead they never relinquished.

“You get a guy a caliber of, a player like him, you normally get that in the offseason,” Wade said. “So to be able to get it right now, as you’re going into a playoff run, is very important for this team, especially with everything that we’ve been dealing with.”

Hassan Whiteside added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who matched a franchise record with their fifth straight victory in New York. Luol Deng scored 15 points and Johnson finished with 12.

Miami had dropped two in a row but made a nice pickup during that stretch Saturday with the signing of Johnson, a seven-time All-Star who had been waived by the Brooklyn Nets after agreeing to a contract buyout.

Playing on one of the worst teams in the league a few days ago, his first time changing teams in midseason puts him on one battling for home-court advantage in the postseason.

“This is kind of new, but I’m up for it, man,” Johnson said. “It’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to it, and every game from here on out is going to be a playoff-type game for us. We’ve got to have that mentality.”

Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for the Knicks, who have lost 14 of 17. Robin Lopez had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“We just couldn’t get any sort of consistent rhythm because we couldn’t make the shots we normally make,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “It breaks your momentum, it breaks your confidence and guys couldn’t just get momentum, get the fans involved in the ballgame.”

Johnson picked the Heat in part because of his relationships with fellow veterans such as Wade and Amare Stoudemire, and because Wade talked to him about a future with the team beyond this season. Johnson fit nicely in the lineup with them while the bench got big contributions from Whiteside and Justise Winslow, who grabbed 13 rebounds.

Some loud “Let’s go Heat!” chants broke out at Madison Square Garden, where the Heat built a few big leads, let it get close a couple times, and finally pulled away to improve to 14-0 when holding opponents below 90 points.

The Knicks shot 37 percent and thought they put too much pressure on Anthony, who shot 9 for 24. Anthony said that’s understandable when players are missing shots.

“A lot of them (were) wide open that they missed,” Anthony said. “But when you’re not making, who else is there to look to to make shots and try to make shots and try to make plays? I don’t look at it as putting too much on me.”

TIP-INS

Heat: Stoudemire had eight points and seven rebounds while playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Knicks bought him out at last year’s All-Star break. Signed in 2010, he received a mixed reception, which matched what he called mixed emotions. “So many familiar faces,” he said before the game. “So kind of don’t want to beat them too bad, but then again I do.”

Knicks: Starting guard Arron Afflalo sat out with a bruised right thigh. … Stoudemire’s take on the Knicks: “It’s hard for me to watch from the outside looking in because I was so involved with creating a positive atmosphere around the Knicks, but now it seems that it went the opposite way.”

STATISTICS

Johnson’s first shot gave him 19,000 career points. He is six behind Reggie Theus for 50th place on the career list. … Wade has scored in double figures in 39 straight games against the Knicks, counting playoffs, his longest active streak against any team.

COURTSIDE CROWD

Among those choosing hardwood over Hollywood on Oscars night: Director Spike Lee, as he said he would, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Tracy Morgan, seated a few seats away in the front row.

 

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

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.