Heat bring physical defense, Dwyane Wade brings buckets, Miami evens series with Sixers

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Welcome to the playoffs, young Sixers.

Miami, with a roster of role players — but ones who are versatile, defend, and play smart — adjusted after getting blown out in the second half of Game 1. Justise Winslow and company took away Ben Simmons’ space. Miami was smart about who to stick with and not let Simmons find. Miami got physical. The Sixers struggled to adapt.

Then Dwyane Wade hopped in the hot tub time machine and brought back his old game, complete with a lot of mid-range jumpers. He had 21 points in the first half, then a couple key plays late — including a steal that led to a run-out dunk — to settle the Heat down during a Sixers run.

The end result was a 113-103 Miami win on the road in Game 2. The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Miami.

The win will give the Heat confidence heading home, something that could change the feel of this entire series… until the Sixers bring in Joel Embiid, and everything that happened the first couple of games will feel like a different series. (Embiid’s status for Game 3 is unknown, but he has cleared the league’s concussion protocol.)

“Tonight was about us bringing more of a physical mindset as a group,” Wade said after the game. “It wasn’t about an individual, necessary challenge against those guys, it was about us as a group. I thought we did that.”

It didn’t start out looking like that for Miami. After a quick start hitting 4-of-5, some foul trouble for Goran Dragic that forced him to the bench threw the Heat off, they struggled to score going 5-of-18 the rest of the quarter, and meanwhile, the Sixers kept making plays and had a double-digit lead in the first.

That’s when Wade and the Miami defense changed everything.

Wade had played just 19 minutes and wasn’t a factor in Game 1, came out shooting 7-of-7 in the first half and sparked an 8-0 Heat run to open the second quarter, giving them a lead they never relinquished. That run stretched out to 16-2. Wade finished the first half with 21 points and just hit everything.

At the same time, the Sixers weren’t scoring the same way. Philly was 11-of-15 from three in the second half of Game 1, but that was out of character. Things even out. Philly was 2-15 to start Game 2, some of those good looks that just didn’t go down.

Miami also took a different approach to Ben Simmons. In Game 1 they laid back on him and dared him to shoot, but instead he dribbled into that space and made passes or hit little floaters over guys. This time around Winslow and company took away that space, forcing him to drive and become a scorer — not his strength.

With Embiid out, the Sixers rely heavily on Simmons to make passes — the Sixers led the NBA in passes per game according to the NBA’s tracking stats — and find other players moving through off-the-ball screens. However, with pressure on Simmons those passes just did not work the same way as Game 1. Miami also did a much better job of both getting back in transition defense and recognizing the shooting threats and getting out on them.

Miami’s starters moved the ball and forced the young Sixers to make decisions, something Philly was inconsistent at. When Wade was in the offense is much simpler, but when he’s hitting his midrange shots — he was 7-of-9 between the paint and the arc — he’s almost impossible to stop. When the Sixers focused on taking the ball out of his hands guys like Wayne Ellington made plays (he finished with 11).

Goran Dragic finished with 20 for the Heat, and James Johnson had 18 as part of a balanced attack.

Simmons had 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. Dario Saric added 23 points, and Marco Belinelli had 16 off the bench.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Miami.

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

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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?

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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.