NEW YORK — You won’t find either of these items in the box scores this morning:
_ Waiting for Dwyane Wade outside the visitors’ locker room at Madison Square Garden yesterday afternoon was Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who had her family with her, her trademark sunglasses in her hands, was wearing a 10,000 watt smile and showing off bright eyes that could melt a glacier. Who knew? She made small talk with Wade about a book he is finishing writing, and he told her he planned to spend the evening enjoying Manhattan before getting ready to play the New Jersey Nets tonight.
_ Waiting an hour later at Casa de Sheridan was an HD television that was tuned to the end of the Mavericks-Lakers game, where the camera seemed to focus on Kobe Bryant in a suit and purple tie more than it did on what was transpiring on the court. But there was a heck of a camera angle on the game-deciding play, showing Matt Barnes coming out of nowhere to swipe at Jason Terry’s potential game-tying layup and alter the shot, forcing Terry’s attempt with 5 seconds left to hit the bottom of the rim.
The Heat won the afternoon’s first game, the Lakers won the second, and then came an avalanche of games with playoff implications that made for another fine Sunday of putting the to-do list off for another day.
Among the highlights: Derrick Rose hitting a game-deciding 3-pointer in Detroit, the Celtics defeating the Bobcats by a dozen despite leaving Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen behind in New York, the Hornets entertaining new owner Tom Benson by handing the surging Memphis Grizzlies a rare loss, and the Denver Nuggets outracing and outrunning the Houston Rockets in a 101-86 victory that major implications for the teams ranked sixth through 10th in the Western Conference.
And as clutch as Rose’ game-deciding 3-pointer was, the highlight of the night belonged to Andre Miller for an alley-oop pass from three-quarters of the way downcourt that Corey Brewer caught and dunked.
The Nuggets overcame a six-point halftime deficit and took control of the game by outscoring the Rockets by 18 in the third quarter, the victory leaving them in sole possession of seventh place in the West — a half-game behind sixth-place Dallas, a game ahead of the eighth-place Rockets, 2 games ahead of Phoenix and 2 1/2 games ahead of Utah.
Fasten your seat belts, folks. With 11 games left in the regular season, much remains to be determined.
From Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post: Was this the biggest 12 minutes of the season? Let’s consider the circumstances. At halftime Sunday night at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets trailed Houston by six points and, as coach George Karl said after the game, “We weren’t doing much of anything right.” Denver was 4-17 this season when trailing at halftime — 0-7 at home. And the Nuggets needed to win this game for, like, 37 reasons. Well, they won 101-86, thanks to their punch-you-in-the-mouth third quarter, 12 minutes of fury in which they outscored the Rockets 37-19. ”In the second half, we came out with a vengeance,” said rookie forward Kenneth Faried, whose Nuggets entered Sunday tied with Houston for seventh place in the Western Conference standings. “We’re trying to get into the sixth spot, we’re not just trying to make it. We want to be as high as the five, six spot. We need to keep playing with a purpose.” The teams in the West that finish seventh and eighth will play the Thunder or Spurs in the playoffs’ first round. Those guys are pretty good. But there are more question marks surrounding the two Los Angeles teams, which will face the aforementioned teams in the five and six slots. By winning Sunday, the Nuggets are a full game ahead of Houston and in the driver’s seat for the tiebreaker. It’ll be determined tonight. If the Nuggets (33-27) win tonight in Houston, they own the tiebreaker. But if the Rockets (32-28) win, the season series is 2-2 and they would own the tiebreaker with a better conference record. Just what did Denver do in the third quarter Sunday? With the Rockets’ Marcus Camby (sore back) leaving a void in the paint, the Nuggets attacked said paint. They scored 18 points down there in the third quarter, to Houston’s four. … In the fourth quarter, the Nuggets continued to press the accelerator, a welcome sight for fans accustomed to watching the team squander a lead with frightening ease. When it was over, Denver had 29 fast-break points overall. To put that in perspective, the Nuggets average an NBA-leading 19.9 fast-break points.
Tonight’s game in Houston is, of course, huge. But should the Nuggets win it, then sixth place will actually be within their reach thanks in large part to the Mavs’ latest loss in Los Angeles, where Bryant (shin) missed his fifth consecutive game.
From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “There’s no such thing as regular-season vengeance for an embarrassing playoff ouster the previous year. But the Lakers have put together a portfolio of victories against the Dallas Mavericks this season, winning four and losing none, the latest a 112-108 overtime win Sunday at Staples Center. It’s interesting mainly because they might play each other in the first round of the playoffs, which are finally coming soon in this chaotically compressed lockout season. It’s also something — eye-opening? Amusing? Telling? — that the Lakers keep beating teams with Bryant on the sidelines because of a sore left shin. Now 4-1 without the NBA‘s leading scorer, the Lakers found ways to beat some pretty good teams on their own. In no way are they better without Bryant, but they have some talent in the cupboard, undoubtedly. Andrew Bynum had 23 points and 16 rebounds, Ramon Sessions scored 22 and Pau Gasol had 20 as the Lakers overcame a six-point deficit near the midpoint of the fourth quarter to sweep the defending NBA champions. ”I think this team just shows how much quality we have, how many other weapons we have and how good we are when we play the right way,” said Gasol, whose pushed the Lakers to victory by scoring eight of their 14 points in overtime, including two three-pointers, one of which was controversial. The Mavericks led, 101-100, when Gasol drilled his first three-pointer from the left corner with 3 minutes 49 seconds left in overtime. It went through, but teammate Matt Barnes touched the rim simultaneously while awaiting a tip-in possibility. It didn’t make Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle a happy man. ”It was a goal-tend that was missed, yes,” he said before referring to the NBA offices. “They’ll see that in black and white in New York.”
What folks in New York saw in living color Sunday afternoon was a yeoman’s effort by Carmelo Anthony (42 points) that was nowhere near enough to carry the Knicks as they lost 93-85 to Miami. Amare Stoudemire sat out, Mike Woodson again chose not to use a point guard for long stretches of the game (Iman Shumpert is NOT a point guard), and the Heat had strong balance from their big three as Wade Had 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists, LeBron James had 29 points, 10 rebounds and three assists and Chris Bosh scored 16 points with 14 rebounds.
But not everyone was overly impressed.
From Moke Hamilton of SheridanHoops.com: “I’m very excited about watching the NBA playoffs this season. The consensus top three teams—the Thunder, Bulls, and Heat—all lack a consistent attacker in the post. In Toronto, Chris Bosh was the first, second, and third offensive option for the Raptors and his opportunities were plentiful. However, for some inexplicable reason, Erik Spoelstra has the Heat playing a style of basketball that works from the outside in. Wade and James are obviously adept at attacking off the dribble, but it’s going to be quite difficult for the Heat to find sustained success in the playoffs if they don’t get more comfortable leaning on Chris Bosh’s interior scoring for longer stretches.More importantly, though, is the non-existence of supposed low-post game that James developed under the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon. I haven’t seen it down the stretch of important games. In short, the Heat relies on their athleticism and ability to take their opponents off the dribble far too much. Their half-court offense is atrocious and unimaginative. The reliance of pushing and one-on-one sets might work against inferior opponents, but when the playoffs roll around, any team that has a consistent post threat, can hit from behind the arc, and limit their turnovers will be able to give the Heat a run for their money. Erik Spoelstra is probably crossing his fingers that the Heat don’t run into the Celtics this year. But he probably wouldn’t mind seeing the Knicks.”
Elsewhere around the Association:
- Trailing by 3 with no timeouts remaining, Rose dribbled around a high screen and pulled up just to the right of the top of the arc, where he sank a tying 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left in regulation. Chicago went on to beat Detroit for the 15th straight time, 100-94 in overtime. Rose finished with 24 points despite a bad right ankle. Rodney Stuckey scored 32 points for the Pistons, but he missed two crucial free throws late in the fourth quarter.
- Eric Gordon scored 18 points as Benson watched from courtside seats, and the Hornets won for the fourth time in five games, upsetting Memphis 88-75. Rudy Gay scored 24 points for Memphis, and Marc Gasol added 11 points but sat out the final 7:02 with what team officials described as a hyperextended left knee. He was scheduled to have further tests, including an MRI.
- Rajon Rondo had 20 points and 16 assists to help the Celtics beat the Bobcats 94-82 despite playing without three of their star players. Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass scored 22 points apiece to complement Rondo, who logged 42 minutes. ”I wanted to play 48 to see where I was conditioning-wise,” Rondo said. The Bobcats lost their 16th in a row, something they have now done twice this season.
- Orlando clinched a playoff spot with a 100-84 victory at Cleveland, but Glen Davis sprained his knee and is not expected to play tonight against Philadelphia. Dwight Howard missed his fourth straight game with a herniated disk in his back, and coach Stan Van Gundy said he’s preparing to play the rest of the regular season and the playoffs without his star center.
- DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points in a 102-86 road victory at Atlanta for Toronto’s second straight win over a playoff-bound team. Alan Anderson added 16 points for the Raptors, who were coming off an 84-79 win against Boston on Friday. Ben Uzoh and rookie Justin Dentmon scored 10 points each. Anderson, Uzoh and Justin Dentmon all have 10-day contracts that will expire Monday, when the teams play in Toronto.
- Marcus Thornton scored 20 points and made the winning jumper with 3.4 seconds left, lifting the Kings to a 104-103 victory over Portland. Sacramento rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a seven-game skid in the first home game since the Maloof family announced at the NBA owners meetings that they were backing out of a proposed downtown arena plan in Sacramento.