The following sentence you are about to read is true.
In Tuesday night’s home win over Philadelphia, LeBron James scored 14 straight Miami points in the fourth quarter.
Look, a lot has been made of James’ disappearing acts in the guts of the game. Some of it is hater bait, but some of it is warranted. And most of what has been warranted dates to when he arrived in Miami at the beginning of last season.
For the most part, James wasn’t like this in Cleveland. Remember the one-man show against Detroit in the playoffs? The duel with Paul Pierce in Boston? The ridiculous fadeaway 3-pointer at the horn vs. Orlando?
In Cleveland, James couldn’t be a decoy or a passer down the stretch because there was no one else to take charge. As Lou Carnessecca used to say, his rear end was in Macy’s window. In Miami, James has Dwyane Wade and – to a lesser degree – Chris Bosh. He has seemed more than willing to step out of the spotlight, and that’s not what we want from our superstars.
Against the 76ers, James didn’t have Wade, who was out with a sore knee. He had no choice but to do it himself. So that’s what he did.
From Ethan Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “The night was about continuations, the continuation of dominance at home and of a particular opponent. But it was about something else, too: the resumption of LeBron James’ brilliance after an elongated interruption. Miami needed his best Tuesday to slip by Philadelphia, 99-93. It needed his best to help overcome the absence of Dwyane Wade due to a sore knee. ”I knew I had to pick it up offensively,” James said. It needed his best to provide scoring down the stretch, which he did by scoring all 14 of the Heat’s points during a six-minute segment of the fourth quarter, a segment in which the 76ers scored 12. It needed his best to extend other streaks, now 16 consecutive wins at home, now 11 regular-season wins in a row against Philadelphia, now four straight seasons with playoff berths. The Heat needed his best because it badly needed this victory in the aftermath of Sunday’s embarrassing overall effort in Boston. “He showed why he’s one of the greatest players in the game,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said. James did with a season-best 41 points, many of them as the shot clock was expiring with the Heat desperate for a play.”
En route to a season high, James made 15-of-25 shots and 10-of-13 free throws, attempting four less foul shots than the entire Sixers team. It marked the first time he eclipsed 30 points in nearly three weeks, and he rinsed away a little of the bad taste in Miami’s mouths from Sunday’s dispirited loss in Boston.
However, one big fourth quarter doesn’t mean James will now be the player everyone expects him to be with the game on the line. Remaining fresh in everyone’s memory are the vanishing acts in Golden State and Los Angeles and the pass to Udonis Haslem in Utah.
And of course, last year’s Finals, which remain a prominent talking point until James gets a ring.
How much did Tuesday’s outburst do to help burnish a new reputation for James? Consider that even his coach was among those couching the performance.
From Ira Winderman of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel: “The game turned with 4:42 to play in the third quarter when, in transition, Chalmers accidentally caught 76ers forward Andre Iguodala in the left eye, called for a foul on the play. In the wake of that stoppage, the Heat got a fastbreak dunk from Chris Bosh off a James feed, with James then converting a 3-pointer for a 73-64 lead. Bosh closed with 17 points and five rebounds. “Some of those possessions at the end of the offense possibly would have been a little more competitive,” Spoelstra said of Iguodala being lost for the balance of the game.”
Iguodala, one of the best 1-on-1 defenders in the league, wasn’t exactly shutting down James, who had 21 points to that point in the game. But from the time Iguodala exited, James dropped another 20, abusing Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and whoever else had the misfortune of matching up with him.
James needs to understand that this is what fans want him to be – a closer. It really is OK if he shares the role with Wade; that’s what should be done to make things miserable for opposing defenses. But he cannot simply just step aside and let Wade be the primary option every time both of them are on the court in crunch time.
Miami deserves some credit for its 16th straight home win in not looking ahead to Wednesday night’s home rematch with Oklahoma City. There were a number of teams that were positioned to get caught looking ahead to a bigger game, and most of them did a good job concentrating on the matter at hand.
However, the Orlando Magic did not.
It’s hard to say whether the Magic were looking ahead to Thursday’s home game vs. the New York Knicks or to when Dwight Howard and a couple of other starters will be back on the court, which could be one and the same. But whatever Orlando was doing in a 102-95 loss at Detroit, it wasn’t defending.
From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Several minutes into Tuesday night’s fourth quarter, Stan Van Gundy shouted something from the Orlando Magic bench onto The Palace of Auburn Hills court. “Come on!” he yelled. “Get a stop!” That didn’t happen. Detroit Pistons guard Will Bynum drove through the defense for a layup. That sequence stands out as a microcosm of the entire night. Playing without three injured starters — Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson — the Magic showed plenty of heart but nowhere near enough defense. The Pistons shot almost 67 percent from the field in the second half and ran away from the Magic 102-95. “We don’t play any defense,” Van Gundy said afterward. The Pistons shot nearly 57 percent overall, the second game in a row that the Magic gave up a season-worst field-goal percentage. It’s no coincidence that Howard, the reigning three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, missed both games. “We won’t contend for nothing if we don’t play defense,” big man Glen Davis said. That inability to defend doomed the Magic. They were tied with the Pistons 74-74 entering the fourth quarter but allowed Detroit to hit 12 of their 18 fourth-quarter shots.”
The consecutive losses without Howard have dropped the Magic from third to fifth in the East, changing their first-round opponent from Atlanta to Boston in a playoff picture that resembles a kaleidescope right now.
Taking over third place was the Indiana Pacers, who for one night ditched Frank Vogel’s “smashmouth basketball” and used a different strategy to overcome a 17-point second-half deficit in a 112-104 home win over the Knicks.
From Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star: “The Knicks (27-27) opened the game with Anthony at power forward. Vogel decided to stick with his power forward duo of David West and Tyler Hansbrough in an attempt to go at Anthony in the post on the other end of the court. Anthony made Vogel and the Pacers pay for that decision. The Knicks All-Star had 27 points through three quarters when the Knicks led by 15 points heading into the final quarter. Anthony finished with 39 points. That’s when Vogel gave in and made the lineup change by sliding Granger to power forward. “For a couple of days I was thinking about all the options we had,” Vogel said. “That was in the back of my mind to make that adjustment, but like I said, we tried to impose our will and when it’s not working you have to try something different.” Vogel went with the lineup of Granger, Paul George, George Hill, Leandro Barbosa and Lou Amundson most of the fourth quarter.”
That group rang up a 40-point fourth quarter that blindsided the banged-up Knicks, who appeared to already have put this one in the W column. That’s not really a smart approach at this time of the season.
From Marc Berman of the New York Post: “In the final seconds, after the Knicks had already disgraced themselves in the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith ran downcourt with Leandro Barbosa, bumping him along the way. After Carmelo Anthony scored on a putback, Smith and Barbosa got entangled and Smith threw him to the court, getting ejected with 10.7 seconds left — the final exclamation mark to the Knicks’ fourth-quarter meltdown. The game was over by then as the Knicks were destroyed 40-17 in the fourth quarter in blowing a 17-point late third-quarter lead and suffering a 112-104 loss to the Pacers Tuesday night at Bankers Life Field House. If they miss out on a playoff berth, they can remember this horrible collapse when they had the game won despite missing the injured Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin for a fifth straight contest. Interim Mike Woodson called Smith’s display “unprofessional,” and really he could have been talking about the entire team over the final 13 minutes, when the Knicks got outworked by the Pacers. “Forty points in the fourth quarter is too much,’’ Anthony said. “They were able to get stops, rebounds and just outworked us. We kind of got lax going into the fourth quarter and they ran away with it. They wanted it more. “I think we got a little bit complacent being up 17. It was just unfortunate. We can’t have that.” Anthony finished with a season-high 39 points, dazzled for three quarters in his new position at power forward, but couldn’t hit the big shot late, missing two key 3-pointers in the final minute.”
It might be best for the Knicks not to look ahead. After visiting Orlando on Thursday, they have a home-and-home with Chicago before a visit to Milwaukee a week from today that likely will decide the eighth seed in the East.
Elsewhere on lookahead Tuesday …
- The Spurs, who almost never look ahead, will arrive in Boston a rested group after an ideal 125-90 win at Cleveland, which has lost eight straight ballgames. Former Cav Danny Green scored 19 points in a team-high 26 minutes; no other starter played more than 23. Patty Mills scored 20 points in 20 minutes off the bench.
- The Lakers almost got caught taking a peek at their Pacific Division showdown with the Clippers. They opened a 17-point lead on the Nets, then gave it all back and were tied with 90 seconds to play. With LA holding a one-point lead and inbounding with less than three seconds on the shot clock, Kobe Bryant fired a 27-foot 3-pointer that hit the rim at least six times and the backboard once before dropping through for a 91-87 win. Since missing his first 15 shots vs. New Orleans on Saturday, Bryant has 75 points on 29-of-50 shooting in the last nine quarters. The Nets had won a season-high three in a row.
- The playoff-hungry Suns continued their postseason push with a 109-100 victory at Sacramento. Phoenix led by as many as 17 in the first half and still held a double-digit lead midway through the third quarter before Sacramento made a push and actually took the lead early in the final period. Then Steve Nash came to the rescue with a 3-pointer, a runner and a feed to Channing Frye for a 3-pointer in 64 seconds to rebuild the lead to 11 points. Nash had 18 points and 12 assists for the Suns, who are 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Houston and just one-half game behind ninth-place Utah, whom they visit tonight. DeMarcus Cousins scored a career-high 41 points for the Kings.
- The host Grizzlies stopped patting themselves on the back long enough to rally for a 98-94 win over the Warriors. Coming off Monday’s win at Oklahoma City, Memphis trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter before using a 13-0 run to take the lead, then finished off Golden State, which has lost six in a row. Grizzlies reserves Dante Cunningham and Gilbert Arenas combined to shoot 10-of-10 from the field. Memphis’ reward is a visit to Dallas for a third game in three nights.
- The Raptors avoided looking ahead to their tee times later this month and held on to beat the visiting Bobcats, 92-87, as Andrea Bargnani scored 30 points. Toronto has won two in a row for the first time since Jan. 24-25. If Charlotte – which somehow had won its last six meetings with Toronto – loses all of its remaining 11 games, it will finish with a worse winning percentage than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.