Jimmy Butler on Heat’s 2-5 start: ‘We’re going to win the f****** championship’

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Jimmy Butler never lacked for confidence.

Butler’s Heat are an ugly 2-5 to start the season, with the 24th-ranked offense in the NBA, while the defense that always carried this team (fifth in the NBA last season) is middle of the pack now (18th this season). Kyle Lowry looks better to the eye test but is playing worse than last season, Tyler Herro is still adapting to his starting role (and the bench is adjusting to life without him), and at the top of the food chain Bam Adebayo is elite but inconsistent to start the season.

The Heat were seen as fringe title contenders entering the season, with questions about how they would replace P.J. Tucker. Now there are a lot of other questions, too. But Butler is still very confident, as he told Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“We’re still going to win the championship, and I don’t care what nobody says,” Butler says about his Heat while shaking his head. “Count us out. We’re going to win the f****** championship. I’m telling you. I don’t give a damn that we started 2-5…

“Yeah, we’re 2-5, but we straight,” Butler says. “We’ve got time, man. We’ve just got to play with a little bit more urgency and realize how fragile this thing is, trust in one another and play basketball the right way on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot of good things, so I don’t get discouraged. I know we have these (good) stretches (in games), and it’s like, ‘Damn, they really can do it.’ We can do it. We’ve just gotta do it consistently.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra echoed the sentiment, albeit with less bravado, speaking to Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

“We’ve seen the vision of what it can look like,” he said. “We just have to get to that more consistently. And it takes intentional thought and collective commitment to do that, which we’re fully capable of.

“At least we know what it can look like. There’s teams in the league that don’t have that vision and haven’t been able to put together a lot of quality minutes. We have. We’re closer than we are further away from it. But when you add losses to it, sometimes it can feel like you’re far away. But we’re not that far away.”

The problem is in a deep East, what the Heat see as a little stumble out of the gate can become difficult to overcome because teams are not coming back to the pack. Cleveland is a legit 5-1, and teams like the Hawks and Raptors are over .500 and likely to stay there. It feels strange to put it this way, but the Heat need a 76ers-like three-game winning streak to get their confidence back. And sooner rather than later. It’s possible, starting with a Warriors team tonight (Tuesday) that also has stumbled a little out of the gates, and after that the schedule softens up for a couple of weeks.

Miami has too many solid players and too strong a culture to struggle for long, they will figure it out (what the ceiling is for this group is another discussion, not many are sold on the top end Butler sees). The challenge is to get the offense going and the defense back into top-10 form quickly before the hole they find themselves in to start the season is too deep.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.