Hornets snap 14-year playoff winless drought, beat Heat 96-80

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jeremy Lin scored 18 points, Kemba Walker had 17 and the Charlotte Hornets beat the Miami Heat 96-80 on Saturday night to snap a 12-game playoff losing streak and earn their first postseason victory in 14 years.

Rookie Frank Kaminsky, who got the starting nod, scored eight of his 15 points during an 18-0 run in the third quarter that broke open a 53-all game.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Monday night.

Marvin Williams, a non-factor in the first two games, had 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Hornets.

Luol Deng scored 19 points on five 3-pointers, and Dwyane Wade added 17 for Miami. Hassan Whiteside had 13 points and 18 rebounds but battled foul trouble.

Miami, which shot 58 percent from the field in the first two games, was limited to 34 percent shooting.

The Hornets outscored the Heat 52-28 in the paint and had four turnovers to Miami’s 15.

Looking to combat the Heat’s height advantage on the perimeter, Hornets coach Steve Clifford moved Williams to small forward – in place of the injured Nicolas Batum – and inserted Kaminsky and Al Jefferson into the starting lineup.

It didn’t help early on.

Miami started off Game 3 similar to the previous two, with Deng hitting four 3-point attempts in the first six minutes for an early 20-15 lead.

But Charlotte withstood the early Heat assault and took the lead near the end of the first quarter behind eight points from Lin, who found his way to the basket repeatedly and drew a second foul on Whiteside.

Charlotte opened a 49-44 halftime lead after Miami cooled off significantly, shooting just 36.6 percent from the field. That was a remarkable turnaround from Game 2, when Miami shot 74.4 percent from the field in the opening half and scored 73 points.

Kaminsky gave the Hornets a spark in the third quarter with 11 points, including two spin moves against Wade and a turnaround jumper over Joe Johnson. Lin followed with a 3-pointer from the right wing to push the lead to 14, raising the fans clad in black “Enter the swarm” T-shirts and white Hornets headbands off their seats.

The Hornets would push the lead to 24 in the fourth quarter with Lin scoring and creating off the fast break.

Charlotte was 31-10 at home in the regular season.

TIP-INS

Heat: After making 5 of 7 3-pointers to start the game, Miami made just 1 of its next 13 attempts.

Hornets: Were 21 of 22 from the foul line led by Walker, who was 8 of 8. … Had Charlotte lost, it would have matched the New York Knicks’ record of 13 straight postseason defeats. … Batum’s status for Game 4 remains up in the air.

BOSH ON THE SIDELINE

For the first time since the All-Star break, Chris Bosh was with the Heat for a road game.

“He brings a steadying influence, a leadership at all levels – even when he’s not on the floor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That is why I always lean on him. He’s like another coach. He has been through our system and sees the game through a different lens than most players. All of that helps.”

JORDAN ON HAND

Hornets owner Michael Jordan took his regular seat at the end of the team’s bench for the playoff game.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.

Magic reveal orange uniforms

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It’s already difficult enough to flip on an NBA game and quickly determine which team is which. The home team could be wearing any color, so the same is true of road teams. Each team has had so many alternate jerseys in recent years. It’s disorienting.

Now, the Magic – whose primary colors have always been and remain blue, black, white and gray – might be wearing orange?

At least Orlando, because of the fruit (and, I guess, if you want to stretch it, sunshine), has a real connection to orange. That’s why these are the “orange uniforms,” even though they’re mostly gray.

I just beg of the powers that be: Please don’t have the Magic wear these against the Suns. I’ll never figure out which team is which.