The Miami Heat are a team that suffers too many letdowns too consistently. Check.
The Los Angeles Lakers cannot thrive when Andrew Bynum is a hothead. Check.
The Oklahoma City Thunder scare the wits out of nobody. Check.
The San Antonio Spurs are a machine. Check.
Well, that was quite a Friday night in the NBA wasn’t it? And for different reasons than those that made Thursday such a special night. That’s the thing about this truncated, squished-together 66-game season: A valid thought or opinion one day can be blown out of the water within 24 hours.
Lets begin in Miami, where they Miami Heat
have had the league’s longest home winning streak. It ended at 17, in large part because the Heat had 11 turnovers and just 12 points in a first quarter that ended when them trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by 13 points, and they never recovered in losing 97-82 for their first home defeat since Jan. 22 against Milwaukee.
“They just beat us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Really, the tale was that first quarter. … The lack of concentration and focus in that first quarter, we couldn’t make up for that.”
Miami (39-15) fell three games behind Chicago (43-13) in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have 12 games left, the Bulls have 10, and the teams play each other twice more before the postseason begins.
From Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: There is no shame whatsoever in losing a game to the Memphis Grizzlies these days. In a season of preposterous bits of schedule, the Grizzlies are working through a buzzsaw week with remarkable effectiveness. The latest was hammering the Miami Heat on Friday, a 97-82 win that snapped the Heat’s 17-game home win streak. It happened four days after they’d won in Oklahoma City. And eight days into a nine-day stretch in which the Grizzlies play seven games, five on the road and six against teams currently in playoff position. They’re a strong 4-2.
There is also no shame whatsoever in Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s strong denial that his team has been yo-yoing recently because of fatigue. This is true, even his own players admit it, but it is part of a coach’s responsibility to push his team and not give them excuses to fall on. Not overreacting, positively or negatively, to bad games is usually a trait that works well for coaches. Whether Spoelstra needed to go on another bizarre rant following the game — he’s been doing this more and more over the past couple of weeks, first becoming very demonstrative on the sideline during games and then attacking conspiracy theories, even ones that don’t seem to be known, in various news conferences — is another matter.
On this night, Spoelstra complained about the “storyline” that his team was fatigued and then went on a tirade about how the media was bored and predicted that in six or seven years reporters would be suggesting teams “shut it down after the All-Star break.” A story on ESPN.com on Friday suggested that with the Heat’s players showing some fatigue, perhaps the team should start giving their players some days off before the playoffs. Spoelstra, obviously in complete disagreement, kept LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the game until there was 1:45 left on Friday, even though the Heat were down 21 points with five minutes to play. Then he called a practice for Saturday afternoon. He’s a man of principle.”
Andrew Bynum is a man of principle, too.
No matter how many times and in how many ways he makes himself look like a knucklehead, he keeps it coming.
On Friday night it happened at the Staples Center in what turned into a 112-107 loss to the Houston Rockets, another team fighting to secure a postseason spot. The Lakers were trailing 80-75 when Bynum took exception to a foul by Samuel Dalembert with 1:18 left in the third quarter and had to be restrained by teammates, earning his first technical foul. The 7-foot center got another one with 11:17 left in the game after hitting a hook shot and mouthing off to the Houston bench on his way downcourt.
The lead changed hands six times after Bynum left, but the Lakers never led again after Matt Barnes tied the score at 99-all on a 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
From Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: “Coming into a place like this and getting a big win just proves that we can play with anyone in the league,” said Chandler Parsons, who defended Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter. While Dwight Howard poses and pouts and Andrew Bynum works to master his own form of stubborn immaturity, the Rockets – who would still love to add a star with that sort of talent – have become the sort of team that makes itself better than its parts with better living through chemistry. “Team chemistry,” Goran Dragic said. “We got two huge games, really tough ones away. We just stuck together. We play as a team, especially on defense. Then on offense, that’s the key of our success.” There are those that argue that chemistry is vastly overrated. Put a star on a team, win a bunch of games and the chemistry will come. There is no doubting that, as almost every NBA champion has demonstrated. But for a team like the Rockets, the alchemy has worked. Before the trade deadline, the Rockets had a handful of players frustrated and disappointed with their limited roles. That is understandable for players taken among the top 11 picks of a draft and after the first few weeks of the season, each worked to be supportive. But there was a palpable tension, too. They were replaced by Marcus Camby and (Earl) Boykins, who have been model pros, happy to contribute in any way possible and bringing the credibility of experience to a team that needed it. As Luis Scola said of the Lakers this week, “They have two or three superstars, which is two or three more than we do.” The Rockets, however, have beaten the Lakers twice by making the best of what they’ve got.”
Next we turn to the Thunder, who suddenly find themselves in second place in the Western Conference, percentage points behind a San Antonio Spurs team that has played two fewer games and has one fewer loss (14, to OKC’s 15).
Kevin Durant scored 44, but it was Danny Granger’s 13 in the final period that made the difference for the Indiana Pacers as they held on for a 103-98 victory. It was the fourth straight game that the Thunder (No. 2 in the league in offense) have been held below 100 points.
From Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star: “The question was if the Pacers could withstand the run from one of the NBA’s best teams. The Kevin Durant-led Thunder came hard with everything they had, but the Pacers managed to stand their ground and add to their list of impressive victories this season, 103-98 in front of their fifth sellout crowd of the season at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday. This victory joins Pacers wins over teams like Chicago, Orlando, Boston, Atlanta, the Lakers, Clippers and Miami this season. It didn’t come without some suspense at the end, after the Pacers led by as many as 24 points. Durant’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining brought the Thunder within five, 96-91. The Thunder made it a four-point game on a Kendrick Perkins reverse before Darren Collison’s 20-foot jumper with 16.8 seconds left put the Pacers back up six.”
And so now we turn to the team from Texas that nobody wants to talks about … or watch … or give proper credit to.
The uninformed claim the San Antonio Spurs are boring, but they are now No. 3 in the league in scoring.
The uninformed say they have very little behind their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but those folks probably haven’t watch 48 minutes of Spurs basketball since Malik Rose was on the team.
Get this, folks: Gregg Popovich’s team has now won 10 in a row. Yes, 10.
And if you stretch it out a little further, it is 13 of 14.
Tim Duncan scored 19, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills had 14 points apiece, and Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal chipped in 13 apiece for the Spurs, who scored 72 points in the first half and swept the four-game season series against the worst team in the West by defeating the New Orleans Hornets 128-103.
From Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: In the Internet age of ESPN and Twitter and smart phones and tablet apps, it is almost impossible for an NBA player to avoid the NBA standings. They are accessible to anybody, anywhere, via the simple click of a mouse. So are scores from around the league, updated in real time, play-by-play and basket-by-basket. Still, with all this inescapable information zipping through cyberspace at the speed of light, Spurs guard Danny Green admits he was unaware what was at stake in the Spurs’ 128-103 victory over New Orleans on Friday night at the AT&T Center. First place in the Western Conference? “We knew we were close,” Green said. “But I didn’t know tonight would be the night.” Combined with Oklahoma City’s loss at Indiana nearly an hour earlier, the Spurs’ unmerciful beatdown of the woeful Hornets moved them to the top of the West standings for the first time this season. True, the lead the 39-14 Spurs hold over the Thunder is microscopic — a mere 9/100ths of a percentage point — and there is far too much season left to be popping champagne corks now. But for now, the Spurs will enjoy the view from the top while it lasts. “It’s always good to hold your own destiny in your hands,” said guard Gary Neal, whose team owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Oklahoma City.”
‘Twas a busy night in the NBA, as all Friday nights are, so let’s recap what went on elsewhere:
- Andre Miller scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, Arron Afflalo scored 30 points and the Nuggets scored the final nine points to beat the Phoenix Suns 105-99. The Nuggets took sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Houston and 1 1/2 in front of Utah. The Suns dropped to 10th place, a half-game behind the Jazz. The win also gave Denver the tiebreaker against the Suns, as the Nuggets have won the teams’ first two meetings — including a 109-92 victory Feb. 14. They play again April 24 in Phoenix.
- After missing a game with a sprained ankle, Devin Harris scored a season-high 28 points, with five assists, two steals and no turnovers, to lead the Jazz to a 104-98 victory over Golden State. Harris started strong with 12 first-quarter points and scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, and was 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 30 points, 11 rebounds and a season-high five blocks despite sitting out the final 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter with an abdominal strain.
- Monta Ellis had 25 points and nine assists to lead the Bucks to a 95-90 victory over the Bobcats as Milwaukee moved to 2-0 on a five-game homestand that is about to get measurably tougher with games against the Blazers, Thunder and Knicks, who they trail by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
- LaMarcus Aldridge’s buzzer-beating 17-foot jumper lifted Portland to a 99-97 overtime victory at Dallas. The Blazers outscored the Mavs 30-10 in the third quarter. Portland has won four of six to barely remain in playoff contention with 10 games left.
- Jeff Teague tied a career high with 24 points and had a season-high 11 assists, and Josh Smith added 20 points and 12 rebounds to help the Hawks hold off Detroit for a 101-96 victory, ending the Pistons’ three-game winning streak. The Hawks have won two straight and three of four to remain in the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference.
- Cleveland’s nine-game losing streak ended as Antawn Jamison scored 16 of his 25 points in a fourth quarter in which the Cavs outscored the Raptors 33-17. Lester Hudson, playing on a 10-day contract, had a career-high 23 points in the 84-80 victory.
- Deron Williams had 19 points and 13 assists in fighting off the lingering effects of the flu, leading the New Jersey Nets to a 110-98 victory over Washington. The win was the fourth in six games for the JuggerNets, who play five of their final nine games against Atlantic Division opponents (three against fading Philadelphia).