Heat Check: Bulls complete sweep of Miami

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Heat Check: Bulls complete sweep of Miami

Sunday, March 6, 2011
2:40 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
MIAMIWas anything less to be expected? The Bulls (43-18) made sure the Heats (43-20) much-discussed late-game strugglesand losing streak, now at four gamesendured Sunday afternoon, with an 87-86 victory at the American Airlines Arena, sweeping the season series in Chicagos favor.

A pair of early dunks by Joakim Noah (11 points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots) got the Bulls out of the gate quickly, but the unselfish approach of the visitors was countered by the offensive balance displayed by Miamis superstar Big Three trio of LeBron James (26 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals), Dwyane Wade (20 points, five assists, four rebounds) and Chris Bosh (23 points, five rebounds). Bosh seemingly put his miserable outing in Chicagothe All-Star power forward shot 1-for-18 when the two teams last played, proving key in the Bulls' victoryand was an integral part of the home teams offense in the opening period.

Meanwhile, James and Wade led the Heats aggressive, swarming defense and goaded their guests into unforced errors, leading to easy fast-break pointsin fact, the number of Bulls turnovers and Heat transition points (six) was equal after a quarterwhich was the exact scenario Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was most concerned with heading into the matchup. Chicago floor general Derrick Rose (27 points, five assists) didnt force the action, preferring to be a playmaker and was content with hitting mid-range jumpers at the games outset.

While James uncanny shot-making ability was, as always, a variable that cant be prepared for, Luol Deng (18 points, three assists, two blocks) made him work for his buckets (and even swatted a James baseline drive out of bounds, although James scored on the ensuing in-bounds play) and knocked down a triple on the Bulls final possession of the period. Miami, however, held a 22-18 lead after a quarter of play.

Chicagos reserves, so steady and highly acclaimed as of late, werent at their finest to start the second quarter, allowing the Heat to run off six consecutive points and take a double-digit lead before Thibodeau called timeout. Bosh, now matched up with Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds)who returned to the contest after exiting early in the first quarter with two quick foulscontinued to be effective, serving as his own second units focal point offensively.

Thibodeau eventually filtered in his regulars and the Bulls chipped into the deficit, with a stingy defense, an unselfish offense and the continued strong play of Deng leading the way. A scary moment for Heat fans came when James, after going behind the back in transition, then getting fouled, took a hard fall and appeared to injure his left wrist.

James stayed in the contest, however, and questions of his immediate health were answered upon his leaping snatch, save and heady pass of an offensive rebound to Wade for a layup while sailing out of bounds. Rose, James prime competition for the leagues MVP award, also rose to the occasion with his smart passing, continued proficient pull-up jump shooting and a trademark difficult finish at the rim while absorbing contact.

In the waning moments of the first half, El Heat capitalized on the offensive struggles of Los BullsNoche Latina at the American Airlines Arena was marked with the aforementioned Spanish monikers on the respective teams jerseyswith a 7-0 run to again make it a double-figure gap between the squads. A Rose floaterand the foulwith 3.9 seconds left in the second quarter ended the spurt and allowed the Bulls to pull within 49-40 at the intermission.

In the first half, we were a step behind most of the half and I thought they got whatever they wanted, said Thibodeau. "And then the second half, it was much better. Our ball pressure was better, getting back was better, our offense was better."

I thought our offense caused us a lot of problems in the first half, from our turnovers, quick shots. If you have poor shot selection against this team and you put them in the open floor, youre asking for trouble. If they have a live ball, its very difficult to get back and get a stop.

More of Bosh and James hitting deep two-point jumpers opened the third quarter, but the Bulls turned the tables on Miami, getting out in transition with Rose briefly taking over the game for a stretch after consecutive warp-speed, coast-to-coast driving layups, prompting Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to call timeout as M-V-P chants for Rose were drowned out by boos. The home team quickly responded, creating some separation after Chicago narrowed the gap, but the visitors stayed resilient and cut the deficit to a one-possession game midway through the period, with Noahs energetic play serving as a catalyst.

Chicago tied the game early in the final stanza, then went up on a Deng jumper, taking its first lead since the opening period. The visitors second unit rose to the occasion, reeling off six consecutive points to begin the fourth quarter, leading the home-standing Heat to halt the proceedings with a timeout for adjustment purposes.

Our bench has been great and they continue to be great, and I think its huge, especially when were on the road and you want to buy your starters some rest; you guys the media remind me of that all the time, said Thibodeau, slipping in a joke between himself and the reporters that cover the team. You can trust those guys and every night someone different steps up.

Chimed in Rose: The bench did a great job with getting the lead and holding it.

As the game entered its stretch run, the visitors kept Miami on its heels by answering any chance of the home team gaining momentum with a crowd-silencing basket or defensive stopthe off night of Heat reserve swingman Mike Miller aided Chicagos causeuntil a Mario Chalmers (11 points, five assists) three-pointer with 1:05 remaining in the contest knotted up the score at 84 apiece, prompting Thibodeau to call timeout to strategize. Out of the timeout, sharpshooter Kyle Korver missed a triple and on the subsequent Heat possession, a blown defensive assignment allowed Chalmers to drive to the basket uncontested to give Miami an 86-84 lead with 25.8 seconds to go.

After conferring on what to execute, Deng was fouled on a driving fall-away runner with 17.3 seconds left, then hit the front of end of his two free-throw attempts, before missing the second. However, in the ensuing scramble for the offensive rebound, Noah kept the ball alive and Deng ended up with the missed carom and was fouled again, this time making both to put the Bulls up, 87-86, with 15.9 seconds on the clock.

We had a play, they guarded it well and Kyle did a good job of skipping the ball, and they kind of overplayed it, I drove to the basket and got fouled, recounted Deng about the play, which some observers felt was a questionable foul call after the offensive rebound. I missed the second free throw and I thought it was a great playplay of the gamefor Jo to tip that ball. I wasnt boxed out and I just went right for the ball, I was pushed. Because of Jos play, I got a chance to redeem myself and I knocked them downI just felt confident going to the line.

Youve got to look at it and see it again, but I really thought I got fouled. I felt like I got pushed and the referee made the call. In the NBA, especially with games like this, its the little things.

Exclaimed Noah: The basketball gods! They were on our side.

Afterwards, Thibodeau had high praise for Dengand even joked with reporters about the small forwards heavy minutes, somewhat of a sore spot for him usually.

Luol, you can just trust that guy. He does everything for you, lauded Thibodeau. Even the last play, Jo tip-in, Luol coming up with the loose ball, the foul, going to the line, got the second chance to make free throws and he did. You look at Lu the whole game, hes got a tough coverhes on LeBron the whole timebut you can count on that guy every night and hes a complete player. He does everything for us. Hes the glue of our team.

Following a Miami timeout, James got the ball at the top of the key and drove on Noah after a defensive switch. The reigning two-time MVPs late-game struggles persisted, as he missed a layup in traffic and after Wade ended up with the miss, he, too, failed to convert, erring on a jumper from the corner, with starting shooting guard Keith Bogans (in for defensive purposes on the final possession) snatching the board to end the game.

We were just switching pick-and-rolls and he made a nice move. I tried to make it as hard as possible for him. We shrink the court very well and D-Wade got a pretty good look, but it just feels good to come up with a big W on the road, Noah explained. To be honest, he made a nice move and I tried to recover as fast as I can. I just tried to make it as tough as possible for him. I want him to shoot over me.

Thibodeau commended Noah for his defense after the game.

LeBron has the ability, even when you defend him perfectly, to still make and the challenge is not to get him frustrated and to make shots tough, but I thought that Jo really protected the rim," Thibodeau said. "That was a big-time play at the end.

We hung tough, he went on to say. We got aggressive, fought our way back into it. It was just a grind game all the way and then some big plays at the end.

It wasnt pretty, but we got the win.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

NBA Insiders Notebook: Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well

NBA Insiders Notebook: Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to another edition of the CSN Insider notebook where you can find trade rumors, injury updates and all the news that's fit for the internet in one location.

This week also marks the official halfway point of the NBA season, a time to reflect on how teams have handled the sometimes-heavy burden that comes with lofty expectations.

When you talk about expectations in the NBA, nobody has a greater burden – not even the defending champs in Cleveland – than the Golden State Warriors.

They were a title contender going into the summer. After adding Kevin Durant, they became the odds-on favorite in just about every jurisdiction outside of Cleveland.

Our CSN Bay Area Insider Monte Poole gets us up to speed on how Durant has dealt with the out-of-this-world expectations that he and the Golden State Warriors have dealt with this season and have fared quite well. They have an NBA-best record of 34-6 in games played through Sunday.

Durant, Warriors handle pressure to win quite well

From the time Kevin Durant became a free agent last summer and left the Thunder to sign with the Warriors, he has contended with the gigantic weight of expectations.

He has responded in spectacular fashion, leading the Warriors in scoring while shooting 53.7 percent from the field, including 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. He also leads the team in blocked shots, ranking just outside the NBA's Top 10 in that category.

Asked recently about his mindset for marquee games in which the entire planet tunes in -- such as Warriors-Cavaliers -- Durant said they bring no more of a burden than that which he already faces."My grandma and my mom watch me every night, so I've got to play," he said. “When they watch me, that's more pressure than anything else."

Durant added that he hears from both after most every game. He also listens, because his mother, Wanda Pratt, knows him better than anyone.

One more reason, perhaps, that upon receiving his MVP trophy in 2014, Durant famously referred to Pratt as “the real MVP." – by Monte Poole

CENTRAL DIVISION

Rondo Back in the Rotation?

As the Rondo turns.

Is he in the rotation or is he out?

Apparently he's in and back being productive for the Chicago Bulls as he was pressed into duty when Jimmy Butler was out with injury and Dwyane Wade was out with rest, among other personnel earlier this week in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night.

Before his resurgent 12-point, six-assist and three-steal performance against the Wizards, he revealed the communication between himself and the Bulls about his benching hasn't been plentiful.

He said head coach Fred Hoiberg didn't say a whole lot, but one assistant coach whom Rondo refused to name said Rondo needed to be saved from himself."They said they were saving me from myself, I've never heard that before in my life," Rondo said.

For now, Rondo is a backup to Michael Carter-Williams and knows he's on his third strike in terms of behavior, having transgressions in a few other stops, meaning he knows he'll be out of the league if he acts up again.

It doesn't mean this is the end of the Rondo/Bulls soap opera by any stretch.

 – by Vincent Goodwill

Monroe quieting talk of being an offseason bust

After a slow start to the season, Milwaukee Bucks big man Greg Monroe was panned as a busted free agent experiment as he signed with the up-and-coming franchise two years ago.

Jason Kidd moved him to the bench and sat him for long stretches, seemingly because of his low energy in the early weeks of the season. And with the low-post big man seemingly going out of business in today's game, it seemed like Monroe would have a hard time fitting in virtually anywhere as his name was on the trade block.

But somewhere along the way, he's made himself more than valuable to the Bucks as they ride the energy of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, increasing his scoring and rebounding every month since November.

He's playing nearly 30 minutes a game in January and is finishing better around the rim, shooting 54 percent with a Player Efficiency Rating of 22.5 while averaging 15.7 points and scoring in double figures in all seven games this month.

He has a player option at the end of the season and one has to wonder if he'll decide to stay in Milwaukee as opposed to finding a better situation—although the money will be plentiful across the board. – by Vincent Goodwill

Turner joins elite class of young big men

It's easy to forget Myles Turner in Indiana as one of the rising sophomores in the NBA

After all, he's playing in Indiana and the Pacers have a star in Paul George, who cemented his standing as a franchise-leading talent with Nike releasing the “PG1" shoe while the Pacers were in Mexico City this week.

But even in smaller markets, there should be room for more than one star as Turner is making his case to be in the same mold. Not yet an All-Star but he's raising his level of play.

Putting up 25 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against the Brooklyn Nets places him in an exclusive category: Only Turner, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis have had those numbers as a 20-year old in a game in the last 20 years. – by Vincent Goodwill

Detroit's Caldwell-Pope a keeper?

Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is seemingly moving up the internal pyramid in Detroit to a near-untradeable status.

Although he's missing time with a Grade 2 left rotator cuff strain, the restricted free agent to be is so valuable to Stan Van Gundy that he's apparently moved past point guard Reggie Jackson on that list, trailing only Andre Drummond according to a report from ESPN.

Jackson's return from injury hasn't put things together the way many believed, and Caldwell-Pope's growth has gone noticed regardless.

Shooting 40 percent from 3 while being one of the league's best perimeter defenders, along with nearly doubling his assists from last season (3.0 from 1.8 last season) while maintaining the same 14.5 scoring average he had last year, it's easy to see why he's one of the more underrated shooting guards in the league.

And it'll be easy to see that's music to Rich Paul's ears as Caldwell-Pope should garner plenty of attention in restricted free agency this July. – by Vincent Goodwill

PACIFIC DIVISION

Cousins in line for $200 million deal?

DeMarcus Cousins is in line for a major extension this summer and it appears that he and the Kings front office are on the same page. Max money as a designated player will yield Cousins more than $200 million over five years. The two-time All-Star loves Sacramento and he can get $80 million more staying put than heading elsewhere once the new CBA comes into effect July 1. … Sacramento continues to struggle through their early season schedule, going 1-4 to start their seven game homestand coming into Sunday. … After mixing and matching lineups all season long, Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver have started the last three games for the Kings alongside Darren Collison, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Head coach Dave Joerger has refused to say whether the move is permanent or not. – by James Ham

Booker heating up for the Suns

Devin Booker dropped in 39 points against both the Mavs and the Spurs, giving him seven 30-point nights on the season. Booker struggled with his shot early in the season, but over the five games, he's shooting 17-for-28 (60.7 percent) from behind the arc. … After losing to the last place Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, the Suns snuck up and bit the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night to improve to 13-27. … T.J. Warren started the season with a fury, but since returning from a minor head injury 14 ago, he's struggled, averaging just 10.6 points per game. – by James Ham

Ingram improving, slowly but surely

After a strong start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have essentially become what we thought they were: a lottery-bound club whose best days are clearly ahead of them. The same can be said for their prized rookie Brandon Ingram.

The No. 2 overall pick in last June's NBA draft has had his share of ups and downs like most rookies. But lately he's showing signs of being that impactful, versatile player that the Lakers envision can lead them back into the postseason.

He's averaging 8.1 points per game this season which includes 13 games scoring in double figures. Of those 13 games, five have come this month with a handful of games in January still left to be played.

It's an encouraging sign for both Ingram and the Lakers, each knowing their best is yet to come. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Big Ticket reuintes with Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce

When Doc Rivers left Boston to assume head coaching/front office responsibilities with the Los Angeles Clippers, most assumed that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would come aboard, too.

Well the gang is all back together, although this probably isn't how any of them envisioned their reunion.

The last piece of the puzzle came together earlier this month when the Clippers hired the now-retired Garnett to be a consultant who primarily will work with the team's big men.

Garnett spent 21 years in the NBA, six of which were with Rivers in Boston which included an NBA title in 2008. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Westbrook turns heads, turns the ball over...a lot

Russell Westbrook continues to ring up the triple-doubles. The All-Star point guard continues to lead the league in scoring at 30.8 points per game along with 10.7 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. On the downside, he picked up his third game this season with 10 or more turnovers and he's averaging 5.4 miscues per game for the Thunder. … Cameron Payne is back on the court after missing the first half of the season with a foot issue. He's struggled through the first four games, but playing yourself back into NBA shape is a tall task in the heart of the schedule. … OKC isn't an elite team in the Western Conference at the midway point of the season, but they are in the mix with the Grizzlies, Clippers and Jazz in a crowded second tier. – James Ham

Ezeli out for the season following knee surgery?

Festus Ezeli, the injured center who has yet to play a game for the Blazers, on Friday made his rounds around the locker room saying goodbye to teammates after Orlando's 115-109 victory.

Later, a source within the team said Ezeli would not accompany the team on the trip, but is scheduled to rejoin the team when it returns after its Jan. 22 game at Boston.

Agent Bill Duffy said the absence was not for a knee surgery. Ezeli in December indicated he is considering a surgery on his left knee that could potentially end his season.

Ezeli in July was signed to a two-year, $15 million contract, with only this season's $7 million salary guaranteed. He had a procedure on the left knee in August and was scheduled to return in mid-October. He returned in the preseason and participated in two practices before he suffered swelling, forcing him back to the sidelines.

Ezeli, 27, was signed after an injury-riddled career in Golden State. He missed the 2013-2014 season recovering from right knee surgery and last season he missed 36 games recovering from left knee surgery. – by Jason Quick

Report: Hood's knee injury not season-ending

To see the way Rodney Hood's right knee buckled on him over the weekend, the Utah Jazz were bracing themselves for the worst. Few teams have endured the onslaught of injuries like this franchise has in recent years.

As gruesome as the injury looked initially, the Jazz got a bit of good news in that there was no structural damage to his hyperextended right knee which means he will return to action at some point this season.

"It's unfortunate, for sure, and unlucky," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward told reporters on Saturday. "Hopefully, he has a speedy recovery. He's a big piece of what we do. It sucks to see anybody go down."

Hood is definitely out for Monday's game against Phoenix, but has not been ruled out for Utah's game at Dallas on Thursday. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Spurs seek to round up a few more road wins

San Antonio has lost 2-of-3, but they continue to pace just behind the Warriors for the NBA's best record at 31-9. The Spurs will play 12 of the next 18 on the road with the rodeo coming to town, but they never seem to stumble during this portion of the schedule. … Patty Mills missed his first game of the season against the Suns, sitting with a calf injury. The veteran point guard has played a huge role off the bench for the Spurs this season, averaging 10.1 points and 3.5 assists in 21.9 minutes per game as Tony Parker's primary backup. … Kawhi Leonard sits behind Golden State's Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia in the Western Conference All-Star game fan voting for frontcourt players with 630,766 votes. He's a shoo-in for the midseason festivities which take place in New Orleans next month.- by James Ham

McDaniels on the move again?

In his third NBA season, K.J. McDaniels already has played for two teams, the Sixers and Rockets, and a third team may be on the horizon. According to Marc Stein (http://www.espn.com/blog/marc-stein/post/_/id/4886/marc-steins-picks-for-nba-all-star-starters), if the Rockets make a deal McDaniels could be the trade target.

McDaniels is averaging 3.0 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.1 assists in 8.9 minutes per game. He has played just one minute the entire month of January.

Two years ago the Sixers traded McDaniels to the Rockets at the deadline. – by Jessica Camerato

Mavs on a roll with healthier Nowitzki

Don't look now but here comes Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks!

They face the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday with a chance to win three in a row, something they have not been able to do up to this point in the season. Few teams have been besieged by injuries as much as the Mavericks have this season, especially Dirk Nowizki who has been limited for long stretches this season with a right Achilles injury.

But the last couple of games – both Dallas wins – Nowitzki has looked more like his old self instead of just looking well, old. In his last two games, the future Hall of Famer has averaged 17.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 66.7 percent (6-for-9) from 3-point range. Those statistics are all better than what he has done overall this season. Getting to the playoffs is still highly unlikely for the Mavericks, but at least they are playing more competitively. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Thomas-Schroder beef alive and well

After last season's playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks, it was clear to us who witnessed it that Isaiah Thomas and Hawks guard Dennis Schroder weren't exactly BFFs. The level of disdain between the two is even larger now after Schroder told reporters following Atlanta's 103-101 loss to Boston that Thomas made disparaging comments about his mother.

Thomas said Schroder's comments were a “100 percent lie and he knows that."

But Thomas wasn't done.

He acknowledged that he does trash-talk on the floor, but it stays centered around the game of basketball, adding that he never brings a player's family into the conversation.

"I don't even know his mom; to curse at her like he said I did or whatever he's lying about," Thomas said. “From this point on, I don't want to even talk about Dennis Schroder. He's not even on the level that I'm trying to be on and I'm not even focused on him anymore."

Ouch.  

It's hard to say otherwise when you consider Thomas is even better this season than he was a year ago when he was named to his first all-star team. And in the 103-101 win over the Hawks, Thomas had a game-high 28 points which included the game-winning shot.

Schroder had four points on 2-for-11 shooting and was on the bench when Thomas put the Hawks away for good.

Needless to say, when these two meet again in Boston on Feb. 27 … get your popcorn ready because it's on folks! – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Sullinger return near?

Toronto's prized free agent pickup Jared Sullinger who has been out all season following foot surgery, is back to practicing in a limited capacity.

But when will he play again?

It looks like it won't be any time soon.

Because of the long lay-off, Sullinger's conditioning needs a lot of work right now. And remember, even when he wasn't out with an injury his conditioning was a concern when he was in Boston."My main focus is just trying to get my legs back under me," Sullinger, a former Boston Celtic, recently told reporters. “I feel like everybody else is in tip-top shape and I'm just lagging. I can't keep up with (rookie center Jakob Poeltl) off the dribble, so, I got a lot of work to do." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Knicks handling of Rose's Miami incident a thorny issue

The Knicks' week got off to a bizarre start when Derrick Rose went AWOL from Monday's game against the Pelicans. As the team struggled to contact him, Carmelo Anthony described the uncertainty of Rose's whereabouts as “a scary situation to be in." (http://nypost.com/2017/01/11/carmelo-it-was-scary-playing-with-derrick-rose-missing/)

Rose explained he left New York for Chicago because of a family issue. The Knicks fined Rose $200,000 for his sudden absence. The organization came under criticism after team president Phil Jackson did not address the media the night of the incident, as well as the fact Rose was fined and not suspended.

Rose started in the following game and scored 25 points in a loss to the Knicks. – by Jessica Camerato

Embiid hopes social media presence propels him to All-Star Game

Joel Embiid admitted a frame of mind that garnered a wild “I know the feeling" response on social media.

"In the back of my head I think, ‘This is going to backfire at some point,'" Embiid said of tweeting (http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-76ers/joel-embiid-i-think-i-kind-represent-twitter-nba) . “But before that day comes, I'm going to keep on going."

Embiid has been active on Twitter to boost All-Star voting during his standout rookie season. He currently ranks fourth behind Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference frontcourt by 16,000 votes. The 22-year-old has over 522,000 followers and recently received the support of Triple H after saying the WWE legend was his favorite wrestler.

"I think I kind of represent Twitter in the NBA," Embiid said. “I like to think all the Twitter people, I represent them. But I never thought I would have this type of influence. I'm just trying to be me. If people enjoy it, that's great." – by Jessica Camerato

Lin remains out for the Nets with hamstring

With a healthy roster, we knew the Brooklyn Nets would struggle to win games. But seeing them without their key offseason pickup Jeremy Lin only adds to what has been a disastrous season in Brooklyn.

Lin has missed all but 12 games this season dealing with a strained left hamstring injury. It remains unclear when he'll return to action this season for a Brooklyn Nets team that's sinking further and further to the bottom of the NBA ocean floor with few indications of rising up to be competitive, let alone win more games this season.

This group plays hard all the time, but that ‘good try, good effort' brand of basketball can only take you so far.

And the worst part about it for the Nets is that unlike most teams that stink, you get a high draft pick at the end of the season which to some degree makes all that losing worth it.

Not Brooklyn.

As part of the 2013 trade they made with Boston to acquire Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, it included a slew of draft picks as well as the right to swap some picks. So the Nets could conceivably wind up with the number one overall pick this year and have to swap it with the Celtics (25-15) whose first-round pick this year will likely be somewhere in the 20s.

It's been that kind of season for the Nets. Even when they can potentially win, it's really a loss waiting to happen. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Porter's hip injury a problem again

For the second time this season Otto Porter has had to leave a game because of an inflamed/strained right hip, an injury that delayed the start of his rookie season in 2013.

Likely to be among the end-of-season finalists for the NBA's most improved player, Porter left Saturday's game late in the third quarter with the Philadelphia 76ers and didn't return. In November, he didn't return after a game vs. the Phoenix Suns but didn't miss playing time beyond that.

"I want to make sure I stay on top of it and make sure it doesn't get out of hand," he said.

Porter's hip was first injured during mini-camp, going into Las Vegas summer league play after he was drafted No. 3 overall. His time there was cut short because of his right hip and he didn't make his regular-season debut until 18 games in.

Porter's hip has never required surgery and he's usually able to return to action after resting. The recurrences could interrupt what has been a stellar season under new coach Scott Brooks, with career-highs of 14.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 53.5% overall shooting and 42.9% three-point shooting – by J. Michael

Heat thinkings playoffs?

All of the injuries have contributed to the Heat having just 11 wins at the halfway point of their season,

Somehow, they're still talking playoffs because they're one good stretch of basketball from thrusting themselves back into the picture.

"You together eight wins in 10 games, all of a sudden you look up, with the way the East has been shaping up this year, you can be right back in the hunt," said guard Tyler Johnson. “Just figure it out."

Coach Erik Spoelstra called a 1-5 West coast road trip “tangible progress" nonetheless.

– by J. Michael

Payton to disappear from Magic's roster soon?

Elfrid Payton was supposed to be the next Gary Payton, or that was one of the most common comparisons made with the point guard. Unfortunately, that was because of how he looked in 2014 Orlando summer league.

That's not the same as NBA. Now with reports swirling about the Magic aggressively pursuing the ball-dominant Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat, it makes sense.

The Magic already parted with his on-and-off backcourt starting mate Victor Oladipo before the season. Payton's 11.9 points and 5.8 assists this season are career highs. He shoots less than 30% from three.

The previous coach, Scott Skiles, didn't believe in the duo and current coach Frank Vogel likely sees it the same way. A backcourt with two players who can't shoot in today's NBA means a team can't succeed. – by J. Michael

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