Sixers fall just short in attempt to end Heat's streak

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Sixers fall just short in attempt to end Heat's streak

BOX SCORE

For one night, it seemed like old times. In the end, though, recent trends fell in line.

The Sixers gave the white-hot Miami Heat a slight scare Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, but once again, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen delivered, this time for a 98-94 victory (see Instant Replay).

The win pushed the Heat's winning streak to 20 games. It’s tied for the third-longest winning streak in NBA history, and it’s the longest streak since the Houston Rockets won 22 in a row during the 2007-08 season.

The NBA record for longest winning streak is 33, set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72. That team featured four Hall of Famers and went on to win the NBA title that season. The common link with the streaking Heat is Pat Riley, who played for the Lakers long before taking over as team president for Miami.

The Heat still have a long way to go if they are going to threaten the Lakers’ record. They also will have a lot of teams taking aim at them the way the Sixers did on Wednesday night.

The Sixers clawed back after Miami ended the first half on a 23-6 run and were down five entering the fourth quarter. Then they erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth and actually led by three with 3:37 remaining. After trading baskets, the Sixers forged a tie with 1:20 to go when Jrue Holiday drove through the Heat's defense and threw down a dunk over James.

But the Heat’s superstars took over in the final minute with James and Wade combining to go 5 for 6 from the foul line and Wade adding a tip-in over Thad Young and Spencer Hawes with 29.4 seconds left to push the lead to three points.

After Wade’s bucket, the Sixers ran a play in which Holiday found Hawes alone under the basket, but the reverse layup rolled off the rim. Two more foul shots from Wade iced it.

“That’s why they’re able to go on 20-game winning streaks,” Hawes said. “You can’t play that well consistently just going pedal to the metal. They pick their spots and they really press and obviously they have a pretty good formula.”

Afterwards, the Sixers took some solace in the fact that they gave the Heat all they could handle.

“When it came down to it, they made plays. We made plays, too, but they made more,” Holiday said. “It kind of sucks to say it, but we play to the level of our competition. Against the good teams we compete to the end and we step up to the challenge.”

At 24-40, the Sixers have stepped up but haven’t delivered. While the Heat have ripped off 20 wins in a row and 25 out of the last 27 to clinch the first playoff spot of the year, the Sixers have dropped six out of their last seven and 13 out of the last 15. During the Heat’s winning streak, the Sixers have gone 4-16 and now are 8½ games behind the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the East.

So in playing to the level of the competition on Wednesday night, the sold-out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center treated the game as a de facto playoff matchup, creating an atmosphere not seen in the arena since last spring. The fans exploded into a raucous frenzy when Holiday dunked over James and were fired up by Young’s energetic effort.

With Young leading the Sixers with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Holiday adding 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, the Sixers were in a great spot with a minute to go in the game.

But that’s where the Heat thrive.

“At the end, we just couldn’t come up with that one rebound,” coach Doug Collins said. “I thought we executed, got some good shots at the end, but we just couldn’t find a way to get over the top.”

That’s the story of the Sixers’ season.

Just don’t expect them to pack it in. Even though the Sixers have to go 17-1 the rest of the way to finish with a .500 record, Young promises the effort will be there.

“No game is easy. Any team can be beat on any given night, so you have to go out there and always play as hard as you can,” Young said. “I don’t think there’s any pressure on us. Those guys have a streak that they didn’t want to end and we were trying to end it. We’ve got to go out there and figure it out -- just figure out how to beat those guys.”

The Sixers face the Heat once more on April 6. If the streak stays alive, the Heat could be attempting to tie the Lakers’ record against the Sixers.

Next, the Sixers host the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night before facing the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

P.J. Carlesimo turns down Sixers' associate head coach job for 'family reasons'

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P.J. Carlesimo turns down Sixers' associate head coach job for 'family reasons'

Thirty-five years is more than enough time to get a sense of who a person is and how they do their job. That is how long Brett Brown has known P.J. Carlesimo, which made it easy for the Sixers' head coach to have interest in adding him to the staff. 

With Mike D’Antoni leaving to coach the Rockets, the Sixers had a vacancy at the associate head coach position. On Sunday, though, Carlesimo decided not to join the Sixers’ staff and remain a television analyst.

“He was a natural fit for me,” Brown said Monday following a pre-draft workout. “For family reasons, he just couldn’t do it. We talked a lot and it was an emotional thing from P.J.’s perspective. 

“P.J. is a very close friend of mine and he made that decision for family reasons and I understand it. The phone call really didn’t surprise me knowing what I know of him and how he views his family, having to travel across the country the whole time.”

Like D’Antoni, Carlesimo has a lengthy résumé on the NBA sidelines. He was a head coach for parts of nine seasons and worked five as an assistant coach. Brown called working with D’Antoni “a real learning experience,” and an ideal candidate would have similar experience to help both the staff and the young roster.

“That role will be filled with maybe that type of flavor,” Brown said. “I know this, we are still in a complete development mode. We still have a bunch of 20 year olds, guys that could be with us for a long time, but they’re not old, that we have to make sure that the city and me, we remember that. We still need people and teachers that can teach and coach and establish relationships. 

“So you tick boxes on relationships, teaching, development, those still rule the day. If you can do that with some veteran wisdom and some type of experiences like Mike’s, say, or P.J. had, well then you’re really knocking it out of the park.”

Coaching vacancies are coveted at this level. With the No. 1 pick in the draft, a revamped front office, and a 125,000-square foot training facility under construction, the Sixers have enhanced the appeal of the role. 

"My phone is very active, as you can imagine," Brown said. "I think it’s a highly attractive position. … Like our draft picks, I too spend a lot of time studying who will be the best fit for me and our program."

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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USA Today Images

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."