Pat Riley says Heat growth will be up to the players

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MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley has a trip to his California home awaiting, followed by a vacation with his wife.

He can now relax a little.

The 2017-18 Miami Heat are going to look a lot like the 2016-17 Miami Heat, and the team president is just fine with that arrangement. Riley said Monday he thinks bringing back now-former free agents Dion Waiters and James Johnson and signing them to four-year deals, combined with the surprise addition of Kelly Olynyk, gives Miami a real shot at picking up where it left off last season.

The way he sees it, now it’s up to those signees to deliver on promises.

“I think in training camp, they have to look at it with great foresight for the future – but also they have to back up their words somewhat with their play,” Riley said Monday. “So it’ll be very interesting this year when we go to training camp to see where their heads are, and I’m convinced they’ll come ready. They think they’re a good team and they’ll get it together. I’m excited about it.”

Even in a summer where Miami swung and missed at landing Gordon Hayward, Riley thinks the Heat got better in the last few days. Miami went through one of the most unique seasons in NBA history last year – it lost franchise cornerstone Dwyane Wade in the summer, started 11-30 to fall super-close to the NBA basement, then went 30-11 in the second half and still missed the playoffs.

It was a painful ending.

Riley wants that pain to permeate for a while.

“As good as we were in the second half of the year, we didn’t finish the job and get that one shot at the first round,” Riley said.

There are more details for Miami to handle before the offseason business truly slows to a trickle. The Heat are still talking with forward Luke Babbitt about a return, plus have been in discussions with captain Udonis Haslem – who has been approached by other clubs, including Cleveland, to gauge his interest in lending his veteran expertise elsewhere.

“We hopefully will get Udonis back,” Riley said.

Anything Miami does now would almost certainly have to be a minimum deal. Riley said the Heat spent every dollar available under its salary cap, lauding Heat senior vice president of basketball operations and general manager Andy Elisburg – considered one of the NBA’s top cap gurus – for his expertise there in not only helping Miami land Olynyk but keep Waiters, Johnson and Wayne Ellington.

“His number-crunching … he’s the star of this whole thing,” Riley said, adding that the Heat intend to hang onto their $4.3 million exception – for now.

Miami had Plan A and Plan B going into free agency. Plan A was to land Hayward and figure everything else out on the fly. Plan B was, if Hayward decided to play elsewhere (and he did, picking Boston), to go all-in on retaining Heat free agents.

At 35,000 feet, Plan C presented itself.

Riley was flying back to Miami from meetings in California when he and the Heat brass learned Olynyk was going to be a free agent. That deal came together quickly, and Riley is already convinced the former Celtics backup forward was the right move to pair with center Hassan Whiteside.

“He’s a perfect fit with Hassan,” Riley said. “He can play with him and we can play him with other guys.”

Whiteside and Waiters have both said they expect the Heat to be in the Eastern Conference mix next season, and Riley doesn’t disagree. Cleveland – even with its front-office dysfunction being a big story this offseason – still has LeBron James and therefore still has the talent to be considered the best in the East. Boston will be there again. Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee also think they’ll vie for top-four spots.

Miami figures to be there as well.

“There are other teams in the conference but we feel good,” Riley said. “If you go into the season healthy, in shape and feeling good, and there’s a commitment to one another, the sky’s the limit. You have to go for it.”

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LeBron James, Anthony Davis combine for 49 points, Lakers beat Knicks

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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 of his 21 points early, cutting into Kobe Bryant’s shrinking lead over him for the No. 3 scoring spot in NBA history, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Wednesday night.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 28 points in his second game back after a five-game absence, after the Western Conference leaders were handed their worst loss of the season Monday in his return.

James’ quiet second half left him with 33,599 points, 44 back of Bryant.

That keeps James in good shape to catch the former Lakers star Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time NBA champion was born. Los Angeles has a game in between Thursday in Brooklyn.

Davis scored eight points in the final 3:45 and finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line. He played 30 minutes after going only 23 in his return from a bruised gluteus maximus on Monday in Boston, where the Lakers were routed 139-107.

Marcus Morris scored 20 points and Damyean Dotson had 17 for the Knicks, who put up a much better effort after losing by 30 two weeks ago in Los Angeles. But they just couldn’t come up with timely shots to really threaten the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

James shot 8 of 10 in 17 minutes of the first half, but the Knicks held the rest of the Lakers relatively in check and the game was tied at 48 at halftime.

The Lakers led by six after three quarters, then opened the fourth with Dwight Howard‘s dunk, a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo and a basket by Kyle Kuzma to extend it to 83-70.

New York hung around and was within six again late but the Lakers prevailed despite only two baskets, both by Davis, in the final four minutes.

 

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.