Associated Press

Miami Heat push win streak to 8, top Nets 104-96

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MIAMI (AP) — It might still seem unrealistic to talk about Miami Heat playoff possibilities.

History says otherwise.

Goran Dragic scored 20 points, Dion Waiters added 19 and the Heat pushed the NBA’s longest current winning streak to eight games by beating the woebegone Brooklyn Nets 104-96 on Monday night. The streak is the fourth-longest in the league so far this season, topped only by Golden State (12 games), Houston (10) and San Antonio (9).

“Stay humble. Stay hungry. Continue to keep working,” Waiters said. “Get better day by day. Keep putting in the work and you see results … and along the way have fun, just enjoy it.”

Miami (19-30) occupies 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 4 1/2 games from the eighth and final playoff spot. But out of the last 80 teams that had winning streaks of at least eight games, 77 went on to make the playoffs – with New York in 2013-14, Portland in 2007-08 and Orlando in 2005-06 being the exceptions.

“We’re not looking at standings right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re concentrating on us.”

James Johnson had 17, Rodney McGruder scored 13 and Hassan Whiteside added 12 for Miami. Waiters and Dragic combined to hand out 17 assists for the Heat, who took the lead for good with a 17-0 run late in the first half.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 16 points for Brooklyn (9-39), which has lost six straight and 17 of its last 18. The Nets blew an 18-point lead at home against Miami last week, and had an 11-point lead late in the first half of this one.

Brook Lopez scored 14, while Trevor Booker and Isaiah Whitehead each had 13 for the Nets.

“We were physical,” Lopez said. “I thought there were a lot of positives out there.”

Miami outscored Brooklyn 33-12 from 3-point range.

“Give them credit,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They’re on a good roll.”

TIP-INS

Nets: Brooklyn has allowed 100 points in 45 of its 48 games, including the last 24. … This was the Nets’ only trip to Miami this season. … The Nets now have 532 3-pointers, one more than in all of last season. … Villanova ties: Nets guard Randy Foye chatted with Rollie Massimino, who was in attendance.

Heat: After losing records in October (1-2), November (5-10) and December (4-12), the Heat had a winning January (9-6). … Tyler Johnson (shoulder) returned and scored three points in 20 minutes. … The game was the 700th regular-season contest at AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Heat have played since Jan. 2, 2000.

WAITERS HONORED

Waiters was announced earlier Monday as the Eastern Conference’s player of the week, after averaging 23.3 points as Miami went 4-0. He becomes the 12th player to win the award as a member of the Heat, and the first since Dwyane Wade – 52 weeks ago.

JANUARY TO FORGET

Brooklyn went 1-15 in January. That’s the most losses ever for the Nets franchise in a month, breaking the mark of 14 set on four other occasions – most recently November 2009.

ORANGE NATION

A fan made a halfcourt shot to win a lifetime gym membership – and it proves how well things are going for Waiters right now. The shooter was none other than Brandon Reese , Waiters’ roommate as a freshman at Syracuse. “That was Reese? Man, I haven’t seen him in a couple years,” Waiters said.

 

Kendrick Perkins: “Pelicans better lock Zion in the House” because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.

Report: Ben Simmons contract extension allows him to hit super-max triggers

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Ben Simmons signed a max contract extension with the 76ers.

It could turn into a super-max contract extension.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The exact value of Simmons’ contract extension won’t be determined until the salary cap set next year. That’s when the extension kicks in. The current projection has it worth about $170 million over five years.

If Simmons makes an All-NBA team next season, it could be worth 20% more – bringing the projected total to about $204 million.

Whether Simmons gets the full bump if he makes an All-NBA team was a matter of negotiation between him and Philadelphia. They could have agreed to pay different amounts depending whether he makes the first, second or third team. (Simmons could also trigger the super max by winning Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year next season, again contingent on the terms of the extension.)

We don’t yet know the specifics of Simmons’ super-max eligibility. But they’re in his contract now.

There will be a lot riding on his performance next season. We’ll eventually learn how much

The 76ers did well to avoid a player option in the deal. That was likely an advantage of signing Simmons to an extension now rather than forcing him to wait until restricted free agency next summer. Simmons is just 22. He should provide positive value to his team six seasons from now.

Simmons’ trade kicker won’t matter now. A trade kicker can’t take a player above his max salary, and Simmons is starting at his max. But if he struggles to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid, Simmons could be in line for a nice bonus if traded in a few years.

Report: Before Paul George trade, Thunder were already preparing to trade Russell Westbrook next year

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The Thunder are starting over in an unprecedented way.

By sending Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets, Oklahoma City is becoming the first team ever to trade two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason. The Thunder are the first team in decades to trade even two reigning All-Stars in the same offseason.

The sequence appears clear: George requested a trade. Oklahoma City granted it. With one star gone, the Thunder had less ability to win with Westbrook. So, they dealt him, too.

But if George didn’t request a trade this summer, Westbrook might have been moved soon, anyway.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The clock was already ticking loudly on the Westbrook era, with team officials quietly preparing to hit the reset button next summer, per sources, after one more run.

George’s trade request was a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. They got a massive haul from the Clippers and clearance to trade Westbrook, a franchise icon. The Westbrook trade netted even more draft strong draft considerations from Houston. Oklahoma City has a great head start on its rebuild.

The Thunder had probably peaked. They’ve been good the last few years, but not good enough to win a playoff series. The supporting cast was expensive, and further upgrades would’ve likely been too costly. Westbrook is too good to tank. The four years and $171,139,920 remaining on his contract are a major liability.

However, Westbrook has meant so much to Oklahoma City. His loyalty after Kevin Durant left was so huge.

It would have been difficult to handle the politics of trading him if George didn’t ask out first. That made it so Westbrook was ready to leave. Thunder fans seem supportive of both Westbrook and the organization.

I believe Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti believes he would’ve traded Westbrook soon, regardless. That was clearly the right move for getting past this era of stagnation.

But it’s another thing to pull the trigger on moving such a beloved player. It wouldn’t have necessarily happened, especially not smoothly.