Posts Tagged ‘Luol Deng’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers focused on developmentJennings hungry as ever | Lakers wont rush Ingram | Young relishes fresh start with Pacers

No. 1: Sixers focused on development— The “process” is in the next phase for the Philadelphia 76ers. Gone are the days of the tear down. And now comes the focus on development of talented youngsters like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and the rest of a talented young roster. Keith Pompey of Philly.com details the Sixers’ plan and how coach Brett Brown plans to execute it this season:

Midway through his annual preseason media luncheon, Brett Brown was asked his expectations for the season. While the 76ers coach declined to disclose how many wins he expects, he revealed that this season will be sort of like the previous three – minus the tanking.

“The difference is everybody is going to want to win some games,” the fourth-year coach said Thursday in the second-floor dining room of Lo Spiedo at the Navy Yard. “Let’s call it for what it is. I feel like that we are going to want to see growth on the court as it relates to wins.”

But the team that won just 10 games last season and a combined 47 in Brown’s first three campaigns is still heavily focused on player development.

Yes, the Sixers will run a purposeful offense and defense.

“And we are going to see the path of these young guys slowly start to look like they belong on an NBA court,” Brown said. “And we all say, ‘Wow, project Joel Embiid out in two or three years.’ ”

Embiid was expected to be an elite player since the time the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2014 draft. However, two operations on the navicular bone in the 7-foot-2, 275-pounder’s right foot prevented him from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

The Sixers will have him on a minutes restriction. Embiid also isn’t expected to play on back-to-back nights. They won’t know if he’ll start at center against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season-opener until after consulting with the medical staff.

This year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, won’t have the same restrictions. Look for the 6-10 point forward to play 30-plus minutes a night while initiating the offense. There’s a lot of excitement because of his ability to play anywhere from power forward to point guard.

There’s also excitement surrounding Dario Saric. Acquired in a 2014 draft-day trade, the 6-10 power forward will make his NBA debut after playing the last two seasons in Turkey.

“I think we are all going to look back [on this season] and see did certain people improve,” Brown said. “I think we are all going to look back and see did we start to figure out a rhythm beat, a rhythm to our season of who’s actually playing.”

Ultimately, Brown’s job will be to win games. However, he probably won’t win more than 25 even with the free-agent additions of Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez. The team is young and still several seasons away from being a serious NBA title contender.

Brown’s goal is to help Embiid, Simmons, Saric, and the other young players reach their potential.

That’s why he remains focused on developing a culture and teaching his offensive and defensive philosophies. He and his staff also intend to show the proper way to put in work in the weight room and scout opponents.

“Those things ultimately matter,” said Brown, who won four NBA titles during five Finals appearances as a San Antonio Spurs assistant. “Maybe not so much to the outside world, but if you really want to grow a program [it does]. I’ve seen what championships look like. I’ve seen five times what it takes to play in June. . . . So the growth sometimes might not be as quantifiable to the outside world. But I know it.”

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Morning shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder KO Spurs in Game 6 | Carroll, Deng questionable for Game 6 | Warriors’ Green says ankle improvingWho do Magic turn to next?

No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher  It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:

The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.

And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.

In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.

Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.

Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.

The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.

No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.

Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.

Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.

It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.

Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.

But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.

Morning shootaround — May 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng. Carroll injured in Game 5 | Hayward, Jazz were in ‘shock’ during Kobe’s finale | Report: Blazers, Stotts to talk extension | Crawford wants to stay with Clippers

No. 1: Injuries piling up for Raptors, Heat  Entering Game 5 of the Toronto Raptors-Miami Heat series in the Eastern Conference semifinals, both teams were already without their starting centers. The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) and the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (knee) were both hurt in Game 3 and haven’t played since. Last night, both teams incurred injury again as Miami’s Luol Deng and Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll left the game early. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star has more on the injuries and what’s next:

Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll and Heat forward Luol Deng are the latest key players to have their statuses put in jeopardy, after each one suffered wrist injuries in the Raptors’ 99-91 Game 5 win.

The Raptors can close out the series with a win in Miami on Friday.

Deng told The Miami Herald that he hurt himself falling into a cameraman and that he left the game after the wrist swelled. He’s awaiting the results of a MRI to determine his fate.

Carroll is in the same boat, but fortunately he can paddle opposite of Deng. Carroll suffered a left wrist contusion when Miami point guard Goran Dragic stepped in front of him in the second half to try to take a charge.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey only repeated the team’s announcement on the injury to his top defensive player. “A left hand contusion. X-rays were negative and we’ll see how he is come next game,” the coach said. Carroll left immediately after the game to get further testing on his wrist. He left the court clutching it and appeared to be in a significant amount of pain.

On Wednesday, Dragic was just as physical, not shying away from any kind of contact regardless of his opponent’s size. He fell on Raptors backup centre Jason Thompson in the second quarter, with his knee appearing to hit Thompson in the breadbasket area.

“That’s how the playoffs are,” he said. “I think my back was turned if there was any retaliation. We’re just going to go hard and that’s our mentality of everyone sacrificing their body.”

Blogtable: Will Heat or Raptors win series?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> More likely to win this series: The Heat without Hassan Whiteside, or the Raptors without Jonas Valanciunas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Assuming Whiteside doesn’t make it back for what’s left of this series, I think his loss is more damaging. I’ll leave the respective net-ratings calculus to Schuhmann and just note how Whiteside’s absence defensively in Game 4 emboldened Toronto players, notably DeMarre Carroll, to attack the lane with abandon. Plant the Heat’s big center down there and those opportunities are gone, Raptors probing elsewhere. Toronto still has Bismack Biyombo as a fairly productive, fairly traditional big and seems comfortable enough at small ball with Patrick Patterson as a surrogate center. The Heat’s crew behind Whiteside – Udonis Haslem, Josh McRoberts, Amar’e Stoudemire – is a little creaky, a little little or both. Now if Whiteside’s “day-to-day” status has him available for Games 6 or 7, ignore all of the above.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy head says the Raptors, but my gut is watching Dwyane Wade as the throwback Flash, so I’ll pick the Heat.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Party in Jurassic Park. The Raptors without Jonas Valancuinas. Not by much, but Toronto has a slight edge. It would be bigger if the Raptors could get consistent production from Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIt really doesn’t matter; the winner of that series will only last four more games. But if we must choose, then I’ll go with the Raptors. Because Kyle Lowry can’t be this bad and DeMar DeRozan can’t miss this many shots for much longer, right? Also, Bismack Biyombo can at least provide some defensive presence in the absence of Valenciunas.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m not sure that either team has deserved to win any of the four games we’ve seen so far, so it’s difficult to pick a winner of this series other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who should be making June 1 dinner reservations for their favorite restaurant in San Francisco. I’ll stick with my pre-series pick of Heat in 6, because the only Raptors I believe in right now are role players, while the Heat player who has managed to rise above the fray is named Dwyane Wade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The way Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are struggling in this series, it’s impossible for me to go with the Raptors. There’s so much playoff muscle memory in Miami with Dwayne Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and some of those other veterans. The deeper this series goes, the more I expect those vets to show up and rule the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf not for Kyle Lowry’s shooting elbow and DeMar DeRozan’s shooting thumb, I’d be picking the Raptors to exploit their homecourt advantage. As it is, Toronto’s best players are shooting a combined 33.1 percent in the playoffs, while Dwyane Wade has elevated his game throughout this postseason. Wade gives Miami the advantage.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Having just spent the weekend in Miami watching this series up close, I think Miami is poised to win this. Toronto has two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are struggling with injuries, and neither can find any consistency, particularly DeRozan. Miami, meanwhile, not only has Wade playing like 2006 Wade, but also have a bunch of quasi-stars around Wade in Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic, who can make big shots and create for their teammates. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has talked about the Heat needing to play with pace, and they seemed to finally hit the mark at the end of Game 4 when they went super-small. So I’m most interested to see if the Heat can continue to play the way they closed out Game 4.

Stars bailed out Heat late in Game 1

TORONTO — A road win is a good win. A road win in the playoffs is a great win.

But the Miami Heat’s overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday wasn’t pretty. And if they hope to get another win in Game 2 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Heat know they have to play better, especially offensively.

The difference in the game was essentially three tough shots from Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade in the first two minutes of overtime. Johnson hit a short turnaround shot from behind the backboard with five seconds left on the shot clock, a Deng hit a step-back baseline jumper from 17 feet out, and Wade hit a step-back fadeaway from the elbow with one second left on the clock.

All three buckets were unassisted. And on all three possessions, the Heat had nothing else going on if those guys didn’t take those shots.

That was the theme with Miami’s offense on Tuesday. They didn’t often get the shots they wanted, but they often made the shots they needed.

According to SportVU, the Heat were 11-for-20 (3-for-5 from 3-point range) in the last six seconds of the shot clock in Game 1. Wade was 5-for-6, hitting the only 3-pointer he took.

Being able to get buckets late in the clock comes with having Wade and Johnson on your team. Those guys can make something out of nothing better than most of the league.

“We got some good one-on-one players,” Wade said after practice Wednesday. “Sometimes it comes down to that. You play team basketball, but sometimes it comes down to guys got to be able to make plays and make shots.”

But the Heat don’t want to be depending on late-in-the-clock offense too much. They ranked eighth in effective field goal percentage in the last six seconds of the clock in the regular season, but for every team in the league, shots in the last six seconds are much worse than shots that come before.

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Ignoring inbounds techniques would be out of bounds for Hawks

CLEVELAND – Inbounds plays are the green beans of NBA games, not all that interesting until the day they suddenly line up on your dinner plate and dance like the Rockettes in a Christmas spectacular.

At that point, they demand your attention, in much the way they have on consecutive nights this week in conference semifinal games in San Antonio Monday and in Toronto Tuesday.

So it was a legit question for players and coaches still participating, such as Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, to identify proper execution, some pitfalls to avoid and so on from the world of Xs & Os.

“I’m assuming you’re talking a little bit about the OKC-San Antonio one?” Budenholzer said.

Well, yeah, considering that the Thunder’s inbounds attempt with 13.5 seconds left in Game 1 surprised even longtime NBA insiders with the number of things that went wrong and were uncalled in OKC’s 98-97 victory. From defender Manu Ginobili‘s toe touching the sideline for what should have been a delay of game call to inbounder Dion Waiters‘ thoroughly unexpected forearm to Ginobili’s chest to clear space, the play and the game’s subsequent final seconds generated an epic “Last 2 Minutes” report from the NBA and were chaotic from start to confounding finish.

Precisely what a team doesn’t want happening in the playoffs, when every possession allegedly is treasured.

“It’s definitely something you work on in practice,” Budenholzer said after Atlanta’s shootaround Wednesday in advance of Game 2 against Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, TNT). “There’s subtleties for the inbounder, things that can hopefully help him find the right guy. You want great spacing, hopefully guys who are coming hard to the ball.

“But that inbound position, I’ll just tell you, it is not an easy spot. But we practice it, we drill it, we work on it. It happens a lot during the season so you get a lot of in-game reps too.”

In Miami’s overtime victory Tuesday, Luol Deng had turnovers twice in the fourth quarter on inbounds plays. First he ran along the baseline when it wasn’t permitted, then he miscalculated on a toss intended for Dwyane Wade. “If we would have lost – that would have been a bad one,” Deng said.

“It’s tough, man,” Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. “It’s a lot of pressure on that inbounding guy. Teams are doing a better job of guarding the play and putting pressure on that guy. You’ve got to make good decisions. But it’s very important, obviously. It can cost you a game.”

Atlanta assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was hired by the Brooklyn Nets in mid-April and will become their coach once the Hawks’ playoff run ends.

He said the Hawks spend considerable time — especially in the playoffs — on both executing and defending sideline and baseline inbounds plays. Atkinson said he thinks many NBA teams eventually will designate a coach for such “special teams” situations, not unlike the NFL. Most already have go-to guys to be their designated inbounders in crucial moments.

“Last year, [center] Pero Antic was almost like our ‘long snapper’ [another NFL specialty],” Atkinson said. “He’d sit there the whole game and we’d put him in with four seconds left because he was big and he was an excellent passer. He could just look over the defender.”

Patience and a thorough knowledge of the circumstances are key. “Your first priority is to read your options. You’re the quarterback,” Millsap said. “Take your options one read at a time. If nothing’s there, don’t force it. If you have timeouts, use ’em. But the worst thing you can do is turn it over in a situation like that.”

And the flip side? “If you make ’em use a timeout or force a turnover, force it to a guy they don’t want to give it to, I think you’ve done your job,” Millsap said.

Some teams put a big man on the ball to crowd the inbounder’s view. Others may drop off him to double-team elsewhere. The defense, generally speaking, can’t often count on the man with the ball to break the inbounds plane and forearm the nearest opponent.

Coaches, meanwhile, can’t always count on their inbounders to know every rule, in terms of what they can and cannot do.

“I would say we are confident,” Budenholzer said. “Yet life never ceases to amaze us.”

Numbers preview: Raptors-Heat

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Toronto Raptors survived a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers. The Miami Heat came back from 3-2 down to beat the Charlotte Hornets. The higher seeds advanced to the conference semifinals, but not without some anxious moments.

Now, both teams get a fresh start. And one of them will be going to the conference finals. For both teams, this is a step up from the first round. There will be key matchups all over the floor and interesting lineup decisions to be made throughout the series.

The Raptors were a top-five offensive team for the second straight season. And they were one of the most improved defensive teams in the league, going from 23rd to 11th in defensive efficiency.

The Heat were a top-five defensive team for much of the year and then the league’s most improved offensive team after the All-Star break. They’ve been one of the best teams in the league at attacking the paint and the Raptors have been one of the best teams in the league in protecting the paint.

Miami hasn’t shot very well from the outside all season. The Raptors were brutal from the perimeter against Indiana. This series may come down to who can make shots, but it will also be a battle for control of the paint.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Raptors-Heat, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (56-26)

First round: Beat Indiana in seven games.
Pace: 92.0 (12)
OffRtg: 99.0 (11)
DefRtg: 103.4 (8)
NetRtg: -4.4 (10)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Raptors playoff notes:

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Miami Heat (48-34)

First round: Beat Charlotte in seven games.
Pace: 93.4 (9)
OffRtg: 106.5 (6)
DefRtg: 96.4 (4)
NetRtg:+10.1 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Heat playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-1 (2-0 in Toronto).
Nov. 8 – Heat 96, Raptors 76
Dec. 18 – Raptors 108, Heat 94
Jan. 22 – Raptors 101, Heat 81
Mar. 12 – Raptors 112, Heat 104 (OT)

Pace: 92.6
TOR OffRtg: 103.8 (12th vs. MIA)
MIA OffRtg: 99.4 (17th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Heat, Hornets have no interest in playoff dramatics


VIDEO: Kevin Durant got tossed from Game 3 for smacking Justin Anderson in the face

CHARLOTTE — It’s playoff basketball, not professional boxing or mixed martial arts or anything of the sort. It’s just playoff basketball.

So don’t fix your eyes on this first round playoff series between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets and look any deeper into any of the scrappiness between the two teams. Just because guys have to be separated now and then and words are exchanged, neither the Heat nor the Hornets are interested in any of the playoff dramatics going on elsewhere in this postseason.

“It’s the NBA, there aren’t really any fights,” Heat veteran Luol Deng said. “Not really, not during my time in the league. Guys don’t want to fight. There might be one punch and then it gets broken up. But no real fights. This isn’t hockey.”

Tell that to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook or LeBron James and Andre Drummond or Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. All of them have been been caught up in the first round dramatics, in one way or another.

Durant was ejected late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks for smacking Justin Anderson in the face. Both Drummond and Thomas will not be suspended for contact against James and Schroder, respectively, that would have seemed to warrant suspension.

Game 3 of the Heat-Hornets series Saturday night featured plenty of opportunities for things to escalate and maybe even get out of hand, but cooler head prevailed time and again.

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had one heated exchange with Heat center Hassan Whiteside that seemed like it was headed for craziness, only to have players on both sides calm each other down before things got completely out of hand.

“It’s the playoffs,” Walker said. “The intensity is up. Trying to win a series here. Both teams are going to be scratching and clawing, trying to do anything possible to win a basketball game. They have great ball pressure and so do we, so guys are going to get hit. It’s going to be tough out there … anything possible to win a game.”

Walker, however, went to make sure he set the right tone for Monday’s Game 4 showdown at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“I’m not a troublemaker,” he said and then smiled. “It’s just basketball, playoff basketball.”

Heat still waiting on Bosh

The most curious waiting game in the league right now involves the Heat and Chris Bosh and whether the team and player can realistically see him on the floor again this season. So far, it’s still inconclusive.

A Wednesday report in the Miami Herald hints that there’s some medical volleying going on with Bosh. The report said Bosh has an existing blood clot and could be on blood thinners for months, which would rule out any return. There are other conflicting medical opinions, according to the Herald, that state Bosh could come off blood thinners sooner, which would significantly raise the possibility of him being in the playoffs in some capacity.

Until we see Bosh participating in regular practices and showing up in uniform, who knows? That’s how strange and unsettled the situation appears to be, and from the start, the team has remained mum on the subject.

Making the situation even more complicated: Just two weeks ago Bosh indicated he didn’t have any blood clots, although he hasn’t addressed his health thoroughly in public since he left the team just after the All-Star Game.

It makes sense that doctors and Bosh both appear to insist, according to the report, that he won’t return to action until he’s not taking blood thinners. Both the player and the team have said all along that his health comes first and that everything is geared for long-term safety.

As for basketball matters, the Heat remain in contention for the No. 3 spot, along with four other teams, and have managed to prosper to an extent without Bosh. They’ve won 9 of their last 12 games and are enjoying a measure of success with a smaller lineup. Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside have played well; imagine how much better the front line will be when — if? — Bosh returns to the lineup.

That would be good news for everyone involved.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

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No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

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No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

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No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

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