The Heat’s recent losses have almost all come down to the wire. The team’s seeming inability to execute in late-game situations is a major concern, but the losses could still be explained away. The Heat’s previous 7 losses had come by an average of less than four points, and they hadn’t lost a game that LeBron played in by more than six points since November. The Heat weren’t where they wanted to be, but the games they lost had come down to one missed shot, one defensive lapse, one questionable call.
That wasn’t the case on Friday night. The Heat were coming off a massive collapse against the Orlando Magic, and were not in the correct mindset to be playing the toughest game on their schedule. The Heat were on the back end of a back-to-back, and the Spurs were 28-2 at home. The Heat were going to need to bring their absolute A game to have a chance. To put things plainly, they didn’t.
The Spurs blitzed the Heat with a 36-12 first quarter, and although the Heat put up a bit of a fight in the second quarter, the Spurs didn’t lose control of the game the way the Heat had against the Magic. Miami’s “big three” combined for 62 points, but they were no match for San Antonio’s balanced attack. Eight San Antonio players scored in double figures, including all five of their starters, and San Antonio made 17 of its 28 three-point attempts.
The Heat need to go back to the drawing board, and fast: they have a date with the Bulls on Sunday, and games against the Blazers and Lakers next week. The Heat will be in the playoffs, and they will be dangerous, but you have to wonder what effect loss after loss to the best team in the league will have on them when the games really count.
Meanwhile, it’s time to start acknowledging the Spurs as the best team in basketball. They are 51-11, the Heat are the only team with a better scoring margin (although that may have just changed), and they just beat the Heat by 30 points. We won’t know any of this for sure until the playoffs are over, but right now the Spurs look like the team the Heat were supposed to be.
The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.
One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.
ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.
Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.
That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.
Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.
He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?
It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.
Should we be preparing for Game 7 of the Trail Blazers-Clippers series today?
If the officials had called the final minutes of the last game correctly, maybe.
Portland won Game 6 to take the series 4-2, but a missed call a key missed call helped clinch.
With 1:45 left, Mason Plumlee got away with offensively fouling Jamal Crawford, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:
Plumlee (POR) sets the screen on Crawford (LAC) without giving him room to avoid the contact.
A correct call would’ve meant a Trail Blazers turnover. Instead, Damian Lillard ended the possession with two made free throws.
Portland’s advantage when the Clippers began intentionally fouling: two.
Would the Clippers have won if the refs called Plumlee’s offensive foul? Impossible to say. The final 1:45 could’ve played out much differently.
But this missed call, the only error in the Last Two Minute Report, certainly boosted the Trail Blazers’ odds.
It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:
1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.
2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.
3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.
4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.