NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn moves to top as LeBron, Lakers slide


We have a new No. 1 atop the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings — the Brooklyn Nets went on the road and took apart the top of the West to earn that spot. Utah is still No. 2, and the Lakers have slid, but not that far.

Nets small icon 1. Nets (21-12, Last Week No. 4). Brooklyn is striking fear into the league, going 5-0 on a West Coast road trip (four of those wins without Kevin Durant) and scoring 123.8 points a game while shooting 45.3% from three as a team in that stretch. However, what makes them dangerous is the other end of the court, where the Nets defense is improving — the activity, the communication on switches, the energy and effort are much better. Over the past seven games, the Nets defense has been about league average (14th in defensive rating), and with their offense that is enough to beat anyone.

Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (25-6, LW 1). While the West is deep with talent, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were locks to make the All-Star team as reserves. Mike Conley is deserving as well, but he just missed the cut. Again. The loss to the full-strength Clippers Friday highlighted what the Jazz need to work on for the postseason: L.A. attacked Derrick Favors and Bojan Bogdanovic in isolations, and the Clipper defense stymied the Jazz ball movement that gets them so many points. The offense cannot stall like that.

Suns small icon 3. Suns (20-10 LW 5). Devin Booker and Chris Paul were both deserving of being an All-Star, but CP3 got the nod from the coaches, which left Booker the odd man out (don’t be surprised if he gets Anthony Davis‘ spot). Booker is averaging 27.1 points a game over his last 10. Monty Williams has settled on a rotation, starting Frank Kaminsky and playing him the first six minutes of the half, then leaning on Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, and others for the remaining 18 minutes of the half. It’s working.

Clippers small icon4. Clippers (23-10, LW 3). The Clippers are healthy and finally have their starting five — Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Kawhi Leonard, and Serge Ibaka — playing together. That was enough to get them a quality win against Utah, but it was not enough against Brooklyn. Of note, Ibaka starts games but Tyronn Lue closes with Marcus Morris at the five (with the other four starters), not just because Morris can shoot but because the Clippers can switch 1-5 in key situations.

Lakers small icon 5. Lakers (22-10, LW 2). Three losses in a row have come without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, which means they are not a major concern. However, the Laker offense was sputtering before that. The Brooklyn Nets, not exactly a defensive powerhouse, held the Lakers to under 100 points (the Heat did as well, but they have played good defense of late). Over the last seven games, the Lakers’ offense is 27th in the NBA and 5.3 points per 100 possessions off the team’s season average. Can’t rest LeBron James right now; the Lakers need to pick up some wins.

Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (21-11 LW 6). A lot of Joel Embiid‘s MVP case comes down not to the 30.3 points or 11.3 rebounds a game, nor his elite rim protection, but rather this stat: Philadelphia is 18.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (LeBron is +11.6). When Embiid is off the court, the Sixers get outscored by 7.2 points per 100 possessions. It was good to see Philly bounce back and beat Toronto after a concerning loss to them in the first half of the two-game set — the Sixers offense just stalled out in that loss. They cannot afford for that to happen against good teams.

Bucks small icon 7. Bucks (19-13, LW 8). Wins against struggling teams helped stop the bleeding for now, but the Bucks are still 4-5 since Jrue Holiday went down, showing his value to the team. The issue is on the defensive end of the floor, where D.J. Augustin/Bryn Forbes replacing Holiday means opposing teams are getting into the paint more, and the result is a Bucks’ defense that is 18th in the league over the past seven games. Big showdown against the Clippers on Sunday.

Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (17-14 LW 9). Denver set a modern NBA record on Tuesday night against Portland with just one turnover all game (they turned the ball over on 1.1% of their possessions, for comparison the league median is 12.4% and the Spurs have the lowest average at 9.9%). For the record, Jamal Murray had the one. The Nuggets offense is top five in the league, but they need to tighten up their defense, which has been league average the past couple of weeks. Getting Paul Millsap and Gary Harris back healthy would be a big help on that end.

Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (18-13, LW 7). Damian Lillard‘s impact on Portland can be measured a lot of ways, but here is an interesting one: Portland is the third “luckiest” team in the NBA, outperforming their net rating by a considerable amount. Portland should be 15-16 (a -0.1 net rating, by Cleaning the Glass), but because Lillard is the best clutch player in the NBA the Trail Blazers have dominated close games and keep racking up wins. Portland has gone 10-7 without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, holding on to the West’s sixth seed. When those two stars return at some point after the All-Star break, Portland can solidify its playoff position (and avoid the play-in games).

Spurs small icon 10. Spurs (16-11, LW 10). San Antonio has moved into the top 10 of this ranking thanks to its defense, fourth best in the NBA for the season, and they didn’t miss a beat on that end coming out of their COVID quarantine. The lynchpin has been center Jakob Poeltl: The Spurs are 5-1 since he moved back into the starting lineup, and the team defense is 16.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor. With him, the Spurs starters hang with opposing starters, then in comes that elite Spurs bench and they start to pull away. Gregg Popovich deserves some Coach of the Year talk. As always.

Warriors small icon 11. Warriors (17-15, LW 11). Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will get all the accolades, but the Warriors role players are stepping up more of late. Kent Bazemore is back in the rotation and the Warriors defense gets 8.2 points per 100 better when he is on the floor (and the offense gets a bump, too). Kelly Oubre Jr. struggled to start the season, but he has found a comfort level in the Warriors’ offense in recent weeks. Golden State closes out the first half of the season with 7-of-8 on the road, and they are 1-2 in those games so far (with the win being a quality one at Madison Square Garden).

Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (16-16, LW 14). Toronto is starting to find its groove, having won 4-of-5 and beating the Bucks twice, and earning a split of two games with the 76ers in that run, all of which has them up to fifth in the Eastern Conference. There can be some legitimate complaints that Fred VanVleet did not make the All-Star team this year, although in an East where Trae Young and Jimmy Butler also didn’t make the cut, it’s not really a shock FVV will be staying home for a few days rather than traveling to Atlanta.

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (15-14, LW 13). Indiana sits as the four seed in the East and Domantas Sabonis is averaging 21.5 points and 11.6 rebounds a game — he has a very legitimate beef he did not make the All-Star Game. Sabonis should be there. Myles Turner is having a season that deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration, but when Turner and Sabonis are on the court together the Pacers are -2.3 per 100, and that pairing has not been as strong on the glass as one would think. Just something to watch going forward.

Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (15-15, LW 17).Interesting note from the Zach Lowe podcast this week (with Kevin Arnovitz): the defensive strategy of choice against Luka Doncic is for teams to use the Jordan/Nash system on him — get Doncic in isolation, let him shoot (contested), just don’t let him start getting teammates involved. Make him a scorer. Dallas seems to be adjusting to that, and when Boston made Doncic a scorer at the end of the game Tuesday, they paid the price.

Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (15-17, LW 15). Julius Randle got his wish and is an All-Star in the East, and it’s a deserved honor considering his 23.3 points and 10.9 rebounds a game. The Knicks continue to be a reflection of Tom Thibodeau — they play hard, they play smart, they’re gritty not flashy, but they get the job done thanks to the league’s third-best defense. New York’s bottom-10 offense leans heavily on Randle to get it done, which seemed to sway coaches when it came time for the All-Star reserves vote.

Celtics small icon 16. Celtics (15-16, LW 12). Boston has to close games better — they have a -7.8 net rating in the fourth quarter (second worst in the NBA), and it gets worse in clutch minutes, a -33.2 net rating. Kemba Walker’s season would look a lot better if Trae Young guarded him every night — he looked sharp in his return against the Hawks, but then a couple of nights later struggled mightily against the Pelicans and better defenders at the point. If the Celtics are going to make a run, getting Walker right has to be a big part of what changes and improves.

Bulls small icon 17. Bulls (14-16, LW 20). The very public campaign for Zach LaVine to make the All-Star team paid off; he got his first nod as a reserve thanks to the coaches’ vote. The Bulls have won 4-of-5 and the key reason is not LaVine but the fact the defense has improved over the past couple of weeks, 13th best in the NBA over the last seven games and a net rating 2.7 better than the league average over that stretch (stats via Cleaning the Glass). Tough tests for that defense coming up against the Suns, Raptors, and Nuggets.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (13-14 LW 28). Justise Winslow finally made his debut as a member of the Grizzlies, almost a year after the trade that brought him from Miami, and while he’s looked understandably rusty in his two games back, it is a good start. Get Winslow healthy, get Jaren Jackson Jr. back after the All-Star Break and we can finally see what this young team looks like. Ja Morant was always a longshot to make the All-Star team, his numbers are good enough but he has missed too much time for a guy on the borderline.

Heat small icon 19. Heat (14-17 LW 19). For me, Bam Adebayo was one of the biggest snubs for the All-Star game, he got punished for the Heat’s rough start to the season despite the fact he has been fantastic and none of this is on him. Miami is starting to look more like the team from the bubble of late, with the sixth-best defense in the NBA over the past couple of weeks and a 7-5 record with a positive net rating since Jimmy Butler’s return. Ask teams at the top of the East which team scares them from the play-in and below teams, and they all point to the Heat, who are a threat if and when it all comes together again.

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (14-16, LW 16). Terry Rozier had a run of four straight 30+ point games where he carried he Hornets and that included the 10-points on three possessions at the end against the Warriors, with the dramatic game-winner. Rozier’s hot streak came to a halt against the elite Jazz defense, and that loss was the start of six games on the road to end the first half for Charlotte. The Hornets are 5-8 on the road so far and need some wins on this trip to stay in touch with the East playoff teams.

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (13-17, LW 21). Zion Williamson got his first All-Star invite, and not because of the fan popularity contest but because the coaches around the league have watched him play and voted him in. What has held New Orleans back is the 28th ranked defense in the NBA, and that’s not getting any better — the Pelicans’ defensive rating is 9.5 per 100 worse over their last seven games (and dead last in the league). Any playoff dreams in the Big Easy will revolve around getting a few stops.

Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (11-18 LW 26). Washington went on a 5-0 win streak when Moe Wagner was inserted into the starting lineup (a win streak that ended against the Clippers Tuesday). The real key to their run was improved defense, especially when Robin Lopez came in off the bench (and he has been getting heavy minutes of late). Those wins have the Wizards within two games of the 10th seed and a spot in the play-in tournament — the Wizards went into this season thinking playoffs, which remains the goal. They will target the postseason; any big changes will not come until the offseason. If at all.

Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (13-18 LW 25). Danilo Gallinari has finally been healthy enough to get back in the rotation in February, playing in 11 games this month, but he still does not look right. In February Gallinari is scoring 11.2 points a game but is shooting 31.7% overall (34.5% from three), with a well below average 51.5 true shooting percentage. He shot a combined 5-of-27 in the two-game set against Boston, then on Tuesday was late on a rotation that allowed Cleveland the game-winning dunk. Trae Young is deserving of being an All-Star, but in a deep East he is on the bubble and apparently, the coaches held the Hawks’ struggles against him.

Magic small icon 24. Magic (13-19 LW 28). Nikola Vucevic earned his return to the All-Star Game averaging 23.9 points and 11.7 rebounds a game, the biggest bright spot this season for the Magic. Despite some buzz from outside Orlando, inside the city there is no talk of trading Vucevic at the deadline, they like what he brings with the young players, and his scoring. Orlando has played much better defense of late, which has sparked the run of four wins in six games.

Thunder small icon 25. Thunder (12-19, LW 23). Oklahoma City got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back in the lineup after a knee sprain and, not surprisingly, the offense looked much better in a win over Cleveland. That said, the Tunuder have lost 7-of-9 and head into a rough stretch of the schedule to end the first half of the season, including two games against the Spurs and one against the Nuggets.

Rockets small icon 26. Rockets (11-18 LW 22). Houston has yet to win a game (0-8) since Christian Wood severely sprained his ankle and started to miss time. Both sides of the ball have been impacted, but the much bigger problem is on the defensive end, which is down more than 10 points per 100 possessions since Woods’ injury. This has led to a coming split with DeMarcus Cousins — he just doesn’t have the lateral mobility to defend at the NBA level now. Rockets look better going small.

Pistons small icon 27. Pistons (9-22 LW 27). Detroit has gone 1-3 on its five-game road swing, with the win coming Tuesday as they earned a split with the Magic (the road trip ends Wednesday in New Orleans). The buzz around the league on a potential Blake Griffin trade is that there is no buzz, teams are interested in him off a buyout, but teams look at that $39 million player option for next season and say walk away from trade talks. In a different year, Jerami Grant might have had a chance to make the All-Star team, but the deep East and the Pistons struggles did him in.

Kings small icon 28. Kings (12-19, LW 24). Sacramento got Richaun Holmes back starting at center but it wasn’t enough against Milwaukee and the Kings losing streak reached seven games. Holmes is critical to Sacramento’s success, the team is 10.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, he solidifies their defense in the paint in a way Marvin Bagley III and Hassan Whiteside simply do not. With Ryan Saunders out in Minnesota, all eyes are on Luke Walton as the coach on the league’s hottest seat.

Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (11-21, LW 30). The Cavaliers needed a win and they got one in the most dramatic fashion — a game winning dunk (although I watch that clip and can only think about the Hawks terrible defense). The Cavaliers losing streak is not because of the offense (it’s been terrible all season, despite some bright moments form Collin Sexton) but because the defense is 11.9 points per 100 possessions worse in the last seven games. That’s the end of the court the Cavaliers need to fix.

30. Timberwolves (7-24, LW 25). Ryan Saunders is out and Chris Finch is in as the new coach. Nobody around the league blinked at Saunders being out, had he not been such a good story and a favorite of the owner, it would have happened long ago. However, the process that brought in Finch (who is white) from another team while not giving highly regarded David Vanterpool (who is Black) a chance as the interim coach did not sit well with the league. Finch has a reputation as an offensive guru, but Minnesota has been terrible on both ends of the court. He has a rough road ahead.

Three things to know from night Heat shoot their way to win over Nuggets


DENVER — This felt a lot like a game from the Miami series against Boston.

The Heat were raining threes, throwing the offense of the Nuggets off balance, and Denver shot itself in the foot a few times to help out. It was the recipe that got the Miami Heat to the Finals, and they repeated it in Game 2 to even the NBA Finals 1-1 heading back to Miami.

It was what we’ve come to expect from Miami this postseason. Here are three takeaways from Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

1) It’s all about the 3-pointers with the Heat

Don’t overthink this.

Multiple aspects added up to this Heat victory, including how they defended Nikola Jokić and got the Nuggets out of rhythm, how the Heat slowed the fourth quarter way down and had it played in the mud (19 possessions), and how the Nuggets did the unexpected and aided in their own demise. But it all hinges on this:

The Miami Heat shot 17-of-35 from 3 (48.6%).

This was the seventh time this postseason the Heat shot better than 45% from 3 (nine times better than 40%). The Heat also hit 9-of-10 to start the fourth quarter and turn an eight-point deficit into a Miami lead.

Miami had three games in the Boston series where they shot 50%+ from 3, and when they score like that they are nearly impossible to beat. Since the playoffs started everyone keeps saying this level of 3-point shooting is unsustainable, yet here we are, with the Heat having stolen home court advantage in the Finals as a No. 8 seed.

The Heat did a lot of other things right that made this win possible, but the Nuggets’ offense still put up a 125.6 offensive rating for the game. Miami’s offense was just better because the 3-pointers were falling.

2) The Heat were relentless, the Nuggets were arrogant

In Game 1, when the Heat made their fourth quarter run, the Nuggets settled their offense, got the ball to Nikola Jokić who got a few buckets and made a few passes to set up others. Denver stopped the run and didn’t completely unravel under pressure like Boston and Milwaukee did against the Heat pressure.

In Game 2, the relentless Heat made their run to start the fourth quarter, hitting 9-of-10 shots — Duncan Robinson had all 10 of his points in that stretch — but this time the Nuggets played like a team that thought they could flip the switch. Denver did that all night.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a steamed Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

“It’s the f****** Finals, man. Our energy has to be better,” Jeff Green said more directly. “We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.”

Miami has been exploiting these breakdowns and coming back on teams all postseason. They are relentless in their style of play and they are not rattled by the moment.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team’s drive in games like this. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.

“We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it. You gain strength from that.”

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” said Gabe Vincent, who led the Heat with 23 points. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

We know the Heat will continue to play with this same force the entire series, the question now is how the Nuggets will respond to adversity.

3) Jokić was scoring, but Denver was not its comfort zone

.Nikola Jokić finished with 41 points on 16-of-28 shooting.

The Nuggets are now 0-3 in these playoffs when Jokić scores 40+, but 13-1 in the other games (stat via ESPN Stats and Info).

When Denver is at its best, as they were in Game 1, Jokić is conducting a symphony and the points are raining down on their opponent from every direction. In Game 2, Miami did a good job taking away the cutters, staying home on shooters and limiting Jokić to four assists. They never let the symphony get started.

Just don’t tell Spoelstra the Heat made Jokić a scorer — he quickly and aggressively shot that idea down.

“This guy is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer,'” Spoelstra said. “That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised. We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”

Maybe he wasn’t just a scorer, but the Heat made Jokić and the Nuggets starters uncomfortable all game long. The Heat had the lead through much of the first three quarters because their bench went on a run late in the first and into the second — a run that stretched out to 40-14 at its peak — that gave them a cushion.

The Nuggets won non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by +14. They also were dominating when they could push the pace after a Heat miss or steal — all game long Denver struggled with the Heat could set their defense and take away shooters, they thrived when Miami was scrambled.

To start the fourth the Heat hit their shots (9-of-10) thanks to some defensive lapses from the Nuggets, and that let Miami set its defense.

Kevin Love deserves mention here. He was back in the starting lineup for Game 2 and responded with an impressive defensive performance from a guy who, to put it politely, is not exactly known for that. He protected the rim as a help defender and helped on Jokić in timely spots.

Heat play their game — hit 3s, grind, own fourth — to even series with Nuggets


DENVER — It was a recipe familiar to Heat fans (and one that kept Bucks and Celtics fans up at night):

The Heat hit their 3-pointers at a seemingly unsustainable rate, 17-of-35 (48.6%). They got physical on defense and mucked up the Nuggets’ offense for stretches. Nikola Jokić was a scorer (41 points) but the Heat didn’t let him get the ball moving, allowing just four assists. The Heat were relentless and took advantage of their opponents’ undisciplined plays. The Heat owned the fourth with 36 points (to the Nuggets’ 25).

It was the recipe that got Miami to the NBA Finals and it won them Game 2 in Denver, 111-108. The NBA Finals are now tied 1-1, heading to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

That familiar recipe included Miami’s role players stepping up as they have all postseason. Gabe Vincent scored 23 with 4-of-6 from 3, Max Strus started hot and finished with 14 points and six assists, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench for a hot start to the fourth quarter and scored 10 points that helped change the game.

Their stars made plays too, both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21. Butler had nine assists, Adebayo nine rebounds, and both made critical defensive plays. Everyone on the Heat stepped up when they had to.

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” Vincent said when ask how the Heat keep having these kinds of games. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

While Heat culture makes a good story, this is ultimately about the 3-point shooting — the Heat shot better than 50% three times against the Celtics, and they have been having games like this all postseason (nine games of 40%+ from 3). This was a game they shot their way to a win with those 17 threes. The Heat had 11 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, half of their regular season average — they just hit their jumpers.

For the Nuggets, it was about the mental and effort lapses they avoided in Game 1 that caught them in Game 2. The Nuggets played with the arrogance of a team that believes it’s the better one in the series and can flip the switch.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a fuming Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

The Heat got what they wanted from the opening tip. On offense Max Strus was hitting — 4-of-7 from 3 in the first quarter alone — but it wasn’t just him. Heat midrange shots that clanged out in Game 1 dropped through the net Sunday. More importantly, having Butler start the game defensively on Jamal Murray along with Adebayo on Jokić slowed the Nuggets’ go-to pick-and-roll. Miami got the lead all the way to 11 as they pulled the game into the mud they needed to win.

However, in the final five minutes of the quarter the Nuggets started to find their legs and their offense — all thanks to their bench.

Christian Braun made two hustling defensive plays in a row, the second turning into a Jeff Green breakaway (where Haywood Highsmith fouled him). Then a Bruce Brown 3. Then a Jeff Green 3. Then a Murray 3. Then an Aaron Gordon 3. It was a Rocky Mountain avalanche of 3-pointers and the Nuggets started to pull away.

Denver’s run stretched out to 29-8 and the Nuggets led by as many as 15. However, as the teams returned to their starting lineups, the Heat got their groove back — Strus, Gabe Vincent and Butler were all in double digits in the first half. More telling, Kevin Love (inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2) was +15 and Strus +10 as all the Heat starters were in the positive. On the other end, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was -14, highlighting a rough night that eventually led to him fouling out.

Their bench had Nuggets were up 57-51, and it helped they won the non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by 14.

The start of the second half again saw the Heat increasing their defensive pressure, doing better in transition, and doubling Jokić in a way that bothered him. This slowed the Nuggets down and had them getting into their offense late, and it was back to a slow, grinding, Heat style of game.

That kept most of the third quarter tight, but in the final minutes of the half — when Bam Adebayo went to the bench — Jokić made plays, he finished with 18 points in the third alone, and the Heat entered the fourth ahead 83-75.

Then the relentless Heat made their run, with Robinson going on a personal 7-2 streak that grows into a 13-2 Heat run that puts them up by three.

From there, the Heat did their thing — they hit threes and played intense defense. The Nuggets didn’t match that energy until they tried to flip the switch in the final couple of minutes. They almost got it, Murray had a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

But the Nuggets lost the game much earlier.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.