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NBA PM: January Could Be Make or Break for HEAT

January will be a test for the Miami HEAT, as they will play plenty of road games and back-to-backs.

Cody Taylor

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January Could Be Make or Break for HEAT

By Christmas Day, we usually get a good feel for how a team’s season will go. Players have had roughly two months since the start of the season to get their legs back and adjust to playing NBA basketball on a regular basis.

While that seems to be the case each season, it doesn’t seem to be the case this year for the Miami HEAT.

The HEAT have benefited thus far with a very team-friendly schedule. They have already played 29 games, with 19 of those coming at American Airlines Arena in Miami. They will play their league-leading 20th home game tonight against the Brooklyn Nets.

For the most part, the HEAT have taken care of business at home. They have posted a 13-6 record in Miami and have defeated some of the best teams in the league such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers (without LeBron James), Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors.

While the HEAT have played well at home, there are concerns given the team’s spotty play on the road thus far. They are 5-5 in a league-low 10 road games, and have played just two sets of back-to-back games. Given their uneven schedule, it seems as though we’ve yet to get a feel for how Miami’s season will turn out.

Out of their five road wins thus far, only two of them have come against teams with a winning record — the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 14 and the Orlando Magic on Saturday. Meanwhile, all five of their losses were to the hands of teams above .500 — Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and twice to Indiana.

“We’re trying to figure it out,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve had some disappointing moments on the road, but you have to go through it and the only way to get better at it is to face some adversity together and find your breakthrough.”

It’s safe to say the adversity Spoelstra is looking for will come soon enough. Once the calendar flips to January on Friday, the HEAT will be faced with playing 12 games on the road compared to just five at home.

The month will feature a stretch of six-straight away games and another stretch of five-straight on the road. At one point in the month, the team will play 11 out of 12 games away from Miami. After only playing in two sets of back-to-back games through the first two months of the season, the HEAT will have four such sets in January.

“It’s going to be a tough road trip for us,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “We got a lot of tough West coast teams in there and we’re going to see how good we can do. On the road, it’s only us. We’re not at home with our families. It’s just us on the road.”

It may seem like such a daunting upcoming schedule, but it can also be a positive experience playing on the road. Time away from home allows players to become even closer, which will help build team chemistry. Some of the most successful teams in the league have established chemistry over the years, with road trips contributing to that. The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are two teams that are often brought up when discussing team chemistry.

“Yeah, that road trip is coming up closer,” forward Chris Bosh said. “We need to get more games over .500. [But], we just got to wait on it and when it comes — bring it. [We have to] enjoy it, man. That’s a part of being in the league, is that grind. If we come into it, if we’re happy about it and if we show some enthusiasm about going out there, good things will happen.”

This season, the HEAT have had to integrate a new group together on the court. The starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Whiteside didn’t play a single regular season minute together prior to this season, so there has been a learning period for all players involved. They also added rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, along with veterans Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire.

The team has combined to be one of the best defensive units in the league. They are giving up just 98.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks fourth in the NBA. The offense seems to be coming around as well, as they are 10th in offensive efficiency with 102.7 points per 100 possessions.

“We have the identity down,” Bosh said. “We know who we are. If we’re not being true to it, we’re probably not going to win the games.”

What’s making things tough for the HEAT this season is the improved Eastern Conference. Miami has posted a record of just 9-10 against teams within the conference. As of today, the top 11 teams in the conference are separated by just five games. All 11 of those teams have posted .500 records, while there are just seven teams in the Western Conference at .500 or better. A sudden cold streak, could prove to be detrimental in the playoff race.

We’ll really get a good feel for how Miami will end up this season after the month of January. By then, the questions on how they’ll fare on the road will be answered. The first year the “Big Three” played together, it wasn’t until December that the team finally began to figure out how to play with each other. This current HEAT squad is much different, but even the best teams need some time before things fall into place.

While the team knows what awaits them in 2016, they’re still focusing on the present. They still have six more games before that six-game road trip begins, with four of those in Miami. They would love to build some momentum heading into what could be a make-or-break month of basketball. So for the time being, they’re taking it one game at a time and are not getting too far ahead of themselves.

“[I’m] not thinking about it,” Wade said. “Not thinking about it. It’s too far away, man. You can’t think about it. We got [some] games coming up so we’ll get there when we get there.”

Barnes Hit with Two-Game Ban

Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes will be suspended for two games for his role in a physical altercation with New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher that took place in October, the NBA announced in a statement.

The altercation happened in Los Angeles at a party at the home of Barnes’ ex-wife, Gloria Govan. Barnes later said that he received a text message from his son saying that he was uncomfortable with Fisher being at the house, so Barnes drove to the house to check on the situation.

From there, the incident escalated, but neither Barnes nor Fisher have offered specifics on what happened.

The league said at the time that the incident would be investigated, with no timetable for when a possible punishment would be handed down. No charges were ever filed from the incident.

Barnes will serve his suspension beginning with Tuesday’s game versus Miami. He will also miss Saturday’s game against the Utah Jazz.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Bought Out Players Faring Well With New Teams

The deadline for teams to send their unwanted players to the buyout market was March 1. Jordan Hicks takes a look at some of the key acquisitions since the deadline and how they are helping postseason pushes.

Jordan Hicks

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The buyout market seems to be gaining more and more popularity with each season. While rebuilding teams tend to forego more seasoned players in order to give their younger guys some run, veteran players often find themselves bought out or waived prior to the deadline.

Teams competing for a spot in the playoffs – so it seems – have increasingly taken advantage of this situation by signing guys that can definitely help them get enough wins. While you definitely will not find All-Stars in the pool of available players, oftentimes solid role players find themselves there due to a myriad of reasons.

It could be that their previous teams wanted to give more playing time to guys more in-line with their future plans. It could also be because their previous team was simply wanting to lose games in order to increase their draft position, which is also known as tanking. By waiving better players on your roster and keeping less talented ones, teams can essentially give themselves a better chance to lose games without totally making it look like they’re doing it on purpose.

This year had one of the stronger pools of players on the buyout/waived market as of March 1st in recent memory, so let’s take a look at some of the top players and how they’ve fared since joining their new team.

Wesley Matthews

Matthews was part of the marquee trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. He ended up with the Knicks, but after two short games, they realized they didn’t want his talent interfering with their draft position. They waived him prior to the deadline and he was picked up by the Indiana Pacers.

This has turned out to be an incredibly important acquisition for the Pacers – primarily due to the fact that they lost All-Star Victor Oladipo for the season.

Matthews brings grittiness on the defensive end and a diverse set of skills offensively. He is an above average shooter from the three-point line, averaging 38.8 percent on 6.1 attempts per game since joining Indiana. He has added much-needed scoring to the offense as well – currently at 12.5 points and 2.4 assists each night.

He’s very clearly a step below Oladipo, especially when considering what Vic brought to both ends of the floor, but the fact that the Pacers added him without having to give up any assets is pretty remarkable.

While he has yet to add any considerable value on defense, Matthews has ranked fifth on the team in offensive rating since joining them on February 7. If Oladipo was still on the roster, you could argue that they wouldn’t necessarily need Matthews. But in light of recent events, being able to add Matthews as easily as they did was certainly a win for the franchise.

Enes Kanter

Another player the Knicks decided to unload was Enes Kanter. He was sent to the player pool via buyout, and it is safe to assume that New York had to spend handsomely to send him there.

Kanter is an interesting player. He has always been able to get buckets around the rim, as well as grab rebounds, but he has always struggled defensively. This was not why the Knicks wanted to let him go, however. Tension had been growing between Kanter, the front office, and the coaching staff, as they wanted to limit his minutes in lieu of the younger players on the roster.

Enes just wanted to play, and, by being bought out and signing with the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s been able to do just that.

Since joining Portland, the team as gone 9-3. While he continues to have his struggles on defense, he is posting 10 points and 6.7 rebounds on only 18.2 minutes per night.

Since the acquisition, Meyers Leonard has seen a decreased role. Kanter has turned into the de-facto backup to starting center Jusuf Nurkic. While Kanter is a poor defender himself, Portland has enough solid defensive players in the frontcourt that they haven’t had too much of a problem hiding him on that end of the floor.

Jeremy Lin

Lin headed to the market after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks. He was picked up by the Toronto Raptors, who have struggled to field consistent backcourt players off the bench due to injuries – which was made more difficult after dealing Delon Wright to the Grizzlies as part of the Marc Gasol trade.

In 13 games with the Raptors, Lin is averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 assists in 20.8 minutes per game. He has struggled to find any consistency with his shot, as he’s averaging just 39 percent from the field and a morbid 18.4 percent from three.

That shooting has every opportunity to increase. Lin is a 34.3 percent shooter from downtown over the course of his career.

The Raptors will need Lin to pull his shooting together as the season wraps up for a strong playoff campaign. The bench unit was a major part of their success last season and it is proving to be another key part this year. In order for Toronto to finally reach their goal of winning the Eastern Conference, they’ll need Lin to be at his best. He isn’t the only key to their success, but he’ll have a major impact on how the Raptors finish out the season.

There are still plenty of solid players on the market. Carmelo Anthony, Ben McLemore and Nick Young could provide instant offense off the bench. Greg Monroe, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph could help improve the frontcourt of any team in need. Whether or not teams decide they need their services, only time will tell.

While the season plays out, it will be interesting to see just what impact these players discussed – as well as those not mentioned – will have for their franchise in the postseason.

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NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

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