The way the Miami Heat has played since the All-Star break, however, may re-open the MVP discussion for debate.
After losing just seven games through the first two months of the season,”The King” and the Heat have lost six of 14 games in March. More alarmingly, all six losses have come on the road against some of the top teams in the league such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago and Orlando.
None of the losses may have stung as much as losing in definitive fashion to the Oklahoma City Thunder and fellow MVP candidate Kevin Durant on national TV on Sunday.
Until their latest setback Monday.
In what should have been a redemption game against Danny Granger and the Indiana Pacers, James and the Heat came out with another flat performance resulting in another decisive road loss.
From Joseph Goodman of Miami Herald: “If Monday’s blowout loss to Oklahoma City didn’t signal the panic alarms, Tuesday’s rout by the Pacers sounded like an emergency siren. The Heat is playing its worst basketball of the season with a month remaining until the playoffs. The Heat (35-13) was 3-0 against the Pacers this season entering Monday’s game. The first two victories were blowouts and the Heat defeated the Pacers in overtime in the third meeting. In the final installment of the season’s series, Indiana was the dominant team. Danny Granger led the Pacers with 25 points, making 3 of 5 three-point attempts including the game’s dagger with less than six minutes to play. … There was still plenty of time to play, but the Heat was done. It was the second game in consecutive nights the Heat appeared to quit late in a game when faced with a double-digit deficit. Like Sunday against the Thunder, the Heat settled for three-point shots in its comeback bid. Like Sunday, it didn’t work. While the Heat made eight three-pointers, the Pacers were 10 of 18 beyond the arc… “When you play a team four times, a good team is going to figure it out at least one time,” Wade said. “They figured it out tonight, so good for them.” Wade and James each scored 24 points but James once again appeared off his game. He was 9 of 21 from the field and hasn’t shot better than 42 percent from the field since injuring his elbow against the Suns on March 20.”
Although most of the blame usually goes to James after each Miami loss, Chris Bosh’s play has left a lot to be desired. He has failed to grab double-digit rebounds in 11 consecutive games, a span in which he has averaged just 5.8 rebounds.
From Shandel Richardson of South Florida Sun Sentinel: ”Sometimes, you go through these spells during an NBA season where it’s a struggle,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think the last two games it’s been a struggle for us We just couldn’t get over the hump.” The above factors have been a common occurrence the past month. In fact, this loss was nearly a carbon-copy of what transpired in Oklahoma City. … Despite trailing by double-figures most of the second half, James hit a 3-pointer with 6:41 left to bring Miami to within 89-80. The problem was they received little help from teammates, mainly forward Chris Bosh. He shot just 4 of 11 from the field and finished with 14 points. More importantly, Bosh had only two boards when more was needed against one of the league’s best rebounding teams. The Pacers held a 49-33 rebounding edge. ”Just not getting the ball,” Bosh said. “It’s pretty simple. We’re not trying to make things complicated. We just have to get the ball. There’s no science to it.” No play displayed the Heat’s rebounding woes more than when Pacers guard Darren Collison missed a 3-pointer from the corner in the fourth quarter. After the ball bounced off the rim, Paul George tipped it out to Danny Granger at the arc. He hit a 3-pointer to put the Pacers up 94-82 with 5:50 left.”
In all six losses since the All-Star break, the Heat have been outrebounded. The margin has been at least nine in all but one loss and the average deficit has been 12.3 boards.
At the bottom of the playoff race, an ugly game unfolded between the Bucks and Knicks – two teams desperately fighting for the eighth seed in the East – as both teams shot well below 40 percent in an offensively challenged contest.
More important than the game, however, the Knicks are suddenly facing a severe shortage of critical players and bad news has been reported about Amar’e Stoudemire’s back situation.
From John Branch of The New York Times: “The Knicks showed on Monday night that they could win without two of their top players. What they do not want to find out is if they can make the playoffs similarly short-handed. Behind 28 points from Carmelo Anthony, his best output in two months, the Knicks put the defensive squeeze on the Milwaukee Bucks and beat them at Madison Square Garden,89-80. But it was little more than a silver lining on a difficult day, with the team’s path to the playoffs suddenly littered by an uncompromising injury report. Ninety minutes before the game, the Knicks announced that forward Amar’e Stoudemire had a bulging disk in his lower back. While surgery is not planned, Stoudemire headed to Florida for a second look and is out indefinitely. … Point guard Jeremy Lin also missed the game, his first absence since the birth of Linsanity 26 games ago. Lin said his knee had been sore the previous two games, but thought he would play Monday after taking part in the team’s shootaround earlier in the day. He and team trainers later opted for a cautionary approach. … And even Anthony, seeming rejuvenated by the burden of carrying the team, felt a twinge in his groin. It is the same injury that reconfigured the Knicks’ lineup in February, leading to Lin’s out-of-nowhere rise to stardom and the Knicks’ resurgence to playoff contenders. Anthony, after an hour in the training room Monday, said the injury was “not nearly as bad as it was the first time,” when he missed seven games in February. He was “hoping” to play Wednesday against Orlando, he said. The latest rash of ailments tainted the enthusiasm over the Knicks’ seventh victory in the eight games since Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni this month.”
For Milwaukee, it was a difficult loss to swallow. Monta Ellis continued his struggles with his new team, making just 2-of-14 shots. Brandon Jennings had four buckets in the fourth quarter to finish 6-of-22. Drew Gooden was 2-of-9 with two airballs and several other bricks. And Ersan Ilyasova got up just two shots in 19 foul-plagued minutes, missing both.
Aside from red-hot Mike Dunleavy (10-of-14), whom the Bucks couldn’t find during a failed fourth-quarter rally, Milwaukee made just 21-of-75 shots. However, a favorable schedule is on its side.
From Jake Appleman of The New York Times: Monday’s loss was not a death knell for the Bucks’ playoff aspirations because the remaining schedule favors them. The Bucks play eight teams currently not in playoff positions, and 8 of their final 17 games are at home. Their only elite opponent is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, excluding a matchup against the Bucks on April 11 in Milwaukee, the Knicks have five games remaining against teams not holding playoff spots. In their last 16 games, the Knicks are at home seven times and have to face the Chicago Bulls twice and the Miami Heat once. While the Bucks’ strength of schedule so far puts them in the middle of the pack, the Knicks have had the league’s easiest path. “We’re hanging in there,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said before the game. “We’ve given ourselves a chance. When we were 4-9 and 0-8 on the road, it looked like we were going to fall off a cliff, so the guys have battled back.” He added: “Everybody’s had their ups and downs. We had an awful January, an awful start to our season, and the schedule was: we were on the road the whole time, basically. And now it comes back to us.”
- For the third consecutive game, Washington relinquished a double-digit lead as Rodney Stuckey hit a game-winning jump shot with 0.2 seconds to lift the Pistons to a 79-77 win over the Wizards that ended a five-game losing streak. Stuckey led all scorers with 24 points, Tayshaun Prince had 18 points, and Greg Monroe added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Knight provided the comedy of the night.
- The Celtics visited and defeated the Bobcats 102-95, tying the idle 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead. Paul Pierce had a monster night with a season-high 36 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks. He has averaged 22.5 points in March, during which the team has won 10 of 15 games. Kevin Garnett added 24 points while Rajon Rondo had his 10th consecutive game with at least 10 assists. The Bobcats remain the only team in the league with less than 10 wins.
- Although Ryan Anderson has no chance to beat any records due to the shortened season, he leads the league in 3-pointers made by a wide margin and continued the trend as the Magic ran over the Raptors, 117-101. Anderson hit a season-high eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points while Dwight Howard dominated the paint with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Orlando has won three straight games and trails Miami by four games in the standings.
- Despite playing its fourth game in five nights and coming off Sunday’s grueling four-overtime loss to the Hawks, the Jazz showed grit and beat former franchise star Deron Williams and the Nets, 105-84. Paul Millsap had 24 points and 13 rebounds, Al Jefferson added 19 and eight, and the duo combined to shoot 19-of-28 from the field. It was Utah’s seventh win in eight games as it remained in a musical chairs with Houston and Denver for the West’s last two playoff spots.
- The Nuggets are tied with the Thunder as the highest scoring team in the league and it showed as they routed the league-leading Bulls, 108-91. Ty Lawson pushed the pace and scored 27 points – after collecting just 19 points in the previous two games – and nine rebounds while Aaron Afflalo added 22 points. The Bulls – playing their seventh consecutive game without Derrick Rose – had their four-game winning streak snapped with the loss. Chicago is the only team yet to lose two straight games, which is on the line Wednesday in Atlanta.
- A couple of unlikely heroes emerged in Patrick Patterson and Earl Boykins – signed to a 10-day contract earlier in the day — to help the Rockets defeat the Kings in overtime, 113-106. Patterson led seven scorers in double figures with a career-high 24 points, including a game-tying jumper to send the game into overtime. Boykins finished with 10 points – including four game-clinching free throws in overtime – and five assists in his first appearance of the season. Sacramento has lost three straight despite another dominant effort from DeMarcus Cousins, who had 38 points and 14 rebounds.
- After suffering an embarrassing loss at New Orleans last week, the Clippers redeemed themselves back at home by easily dispatching the shorthanded Hornets, 97-85, to improve to 2-0 on their five-game homestand. Chris Paul controlled the game with 25 points, 10 assists, four steals and just one turnover despite sitting out much of the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Despite much talk of Vinny Del Negro’s job status, the Clippers are just two games behind the division leading Lakers.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter.