NBA Wrap: Heat take 2-1 series lead over Bulls

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NBA Wrap: Heat take 2-1 series lead over Bulls

The Sixers made their first big acquisition of the offseason on Friday, agreeing to a deal with Sam Hinkie to become president and general manager, according to a league source (see story).

That decision means the Sixers' front office is moving toward embracing the analytics wave in professional sports (see story).

Now let's look at Friday's NBA playoff action:

Heat battle past Bulls
CHICAGO -- LeBron James came on strong down the stretch to finish with 25 points, Chris Bosh added 20 points and 19 rebounds, and the Miami Heat followed up the most lopsided playoff win in franchise history with a 104-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Norris Cole scored 18, and the Heat pulled out a tight win after blasting the Bulls 115-78 on Wednesday.

This time, Chicago refused to go quietly. Never mind that the Bulls were coming off the worst playoff loss in franchise history. Put aside the fact that the ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf) remained sidelined, not to mention Derrick Rose, or that Nazr Mohammed got ejected in the second quarter for shoving James to the floor.

The Heat simply had too much in the end.

James hit just 6 of 17 shots and even got blocked on a layup by Nate Robinson in the third quarter. But the four-time MVP came through down the stretch, scoring 12 in the fourth (see full recap).

-The Associated Press

Vets lead Spurs to 2-1 series lead
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Tony Parker scored 25 of his 32 points in a sizzling first half, Tim Duncan added 23 points and 10 rebounds and the San Antonio Spurs quieted the hot-shooting Golden State Warriors in a 102-92 victory Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Kawhi Leonard finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Parker added five assists and five boards to help the Spurs wrestle back home-court advantage from the Warriors after withstanding a brief fourth-quarter rally.

San Antonio outshot Golden State 50.6 to 39.3 percent and curbed streaky shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the first time in the series.

Thompson scored 17 points on 7-of-20 shooting, while Curry had 16 points on 5 of 17 from the floor. Andrew Bogut added 11 points and 12 rebounds for Golden State but was saddled with foul trouble most of the second half (see full recap).

-The Associated Press

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.