NBA Playoffs: Wade leads Heat to Game 1 victory

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The Miami Heat aren’t the most complete team in the championship hunt. They don’t have a reliable starting center or point guard. They don’t have a deep rotation. They don’t have a lot of guys who can create their own shots. However, the Heat do have a stingy defense, players who can make open shots, and two of the best players in basketball. On Sunday, that was enough for them to hand the reigning Eastern Conference champions their first loss of the 2011 playoffs.

Dwyane Wade was the story of Game 1. Wade struggled mightily against the Celtics during the regular season, but he picked up right where he left off in the 2010 playoffs on Sunday afternoon. Every part of Wade’s game was working perfectly. Wade’s often-unreliable jumper was deadly all game long; he made five of his nine mid-range jumpers and two of his five threes, including a dagger three shortly after Paul Pierce’s ejection that put the Heat up 16 with six minutes left to play. Wade also attacked the basket aggressively, and was effective on dribble-drives, off-ball cuts, and in transition. Wade was also active on defense, and finished the game with three steals and two blocks. Wade allowed Ray Allen to get the few inches of space he needs a couple times, but that just proved he was mortal. This was a masterpiece of a performance from Wade, who finished with 38 points.

Only two other Heat players scored in double digits. One of them was LeBron James, who had a good all-around game even though he “only” recorded 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Celtics were able to take away LeBron’s drives to the rim in half-court situations, which they have often been able to do throughout the years. LeBron didn’t get frustrated, and was still able to contribute by facilitating, grabbing rebounds, working in the post, making big plays on defense, and hitting some jumpers at key moments. LeBron didn’t need to do everything for his team to get the win over the Celtics, which is why he came to Miami in the first place.

The third Heat player to score in double figures was James Jones, who was absolutely crucial. Jones contributed 25 points off the bench, making five of his seven three-point attempts and all 10 of his free throw attempts. Jones kept the floor spaced for James and Wade by draining catch-and-shoot threes, which came off of dribble-penetration and the Heat’s “Hawk” sets designed to free him up off two off-ball screens. He was also able to play his usual brand of good positional defense, and was able to get into Paul Pierce’s head in the fourth quarter by being physical. Given how ineffective the banged-up Mike Miller has been all season, it’s hard not to wonder where the Heat would be without James Jones.

The Heat didn’t get much production outside of those three players. Joel Anthony continued to prove that he’s one of the most valuable defensive players in the playoffs, but he didn’t make a field goal. Zydrunas Ilgauskas continued to look like a complete liability. Mike Bibby made one three, but that was pretty much it. Mario Chalmers provided some energy, but also had a few glaring mental lapses. Chris Bosh managed to play Kevin Garnett to a stalemate, but the Heat would probably like to see their All-Star forward do more offensively.

Fortunately for the Heat, the Celtics’ offense was completely unable to punish the Heat’s lack of offensive depth. The Celtics made threes early and often, firing with abandon in semi-transition and making 12 of their 24 three-point attempts. Apart from that, they had few answers for the Heat’s swarming defense.

Rajon Rondo was unable to push the break, and was completely invisible in half-court situations. Kevin Garnett got few touches in the post, and his normally automatic catch-and-shoot jumper failed to find the net. Paul Pierce made some shots early in the clock, but couldn’t do much against LeBron James when the Celtics had to find some set offense, and lost his composure before being ejected in the fourth quarter. Even a dialed-in Ray Allen wasn’t enough for the Celtics to have any consistent offensive success. Worst of all, the Celtics were sloppy with the ball, which is an unforgivable sin when playing the Heat; Miami scored 23 points on 14 Boston turnovers.

Performances like the one Wade had are ones the Celtics are simply going to have to live with. Great players like Wade are going to have great games, especially when they’re hitting their jump shots. What they can control is their offensive execution. If Boston wants to leave Miami with a win, they will have to push the break more effectively and get better looks in the half-court. If Miami’s defense is good enough for them to need only one of their “Big Three” to be rolling on all cylinders, this will be a very long series for the Celtics.

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Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.

Three Things We Learned Monday: Spurs look like contenders, Cavaliers look lost in rout

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Maybe you were busy Monday night having flaming food shoved in your mouth and didn’t have time to watch the night’s slate of NBA games. We’ve got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Spurs look like title contenders, Cavaliers look overwhelmed in rout. Cleveland falls to second in Eastern Conference. Is it time to worry yet, Cleveland? Because it’s feeling a lot like it’s time to worry. Not full on hit the panic button mode, more make sure you know where it’s located level of worry.

Last season the Cavaliers went 13-7 over their last 20 games, and that includes some meaningless losses with guys resting to close out the season — they had flipped the switch and found a groove that they carried into the postseason. Starting at the same point this season they are 5-6 in their last 11 (with nine games left). They are 8-10 since the All-Star break with the second-worst defense in the NBA in that stretch (allowing 113.2 points per 100 possessions, barely better than the tanking Lakers). Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers say they can flip the switch, that getting guys rest is the priority. They hint that when they play good teams they are playing vanilla offenses so as not to give anything away. Lue and company want it to sound like this slump is nothing, it can be easily overcome, that it’s almost part of the plan.

Was the plan to fall behind Boston and become the second seed in the East?

Was part of the plan to get thrashed by the Spurs on national television?

Both those things happened Monday night. San Antonio looked like a contender getting in a playoff run groove. Cleveland looked like a guy standing in the middle of the street in Pamplona trying not to get run over by the stampede. San Antonio routed the Spurs 103-74 in a game that was never in doubt after the second quarter. The Spurs did whatever they wanted, check out this 10-0 run at one point in the second quarter.

The Cavaliers offense was a big problem in the first half – they had an offensive rating of just 85.1 at the half — but the larger issue became those bad shots led to the Spurs getting out and running, exposing the Cavaliers lackluster transition defense. Another problem was the Cavs’ bench, the Spurs won that first-half battle 28-0.

With the loss the Cavaliers fell half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East.

If the Cavaliers are playing like the Cavaliers can, extra road games are not a problem. Maybe there is a switch to flip, an adjustment here or there that changes everything. Cleveland’s defensive issues, and to a degree offensive ones as well, seem to be about effort. There is a sense of boredom as the team waits for the playoffs to start. Maybe that’s the case. But during the wins at the end of last season the Cavaliers were building good habits to fall back on when things did get tough in the postseason, these Cavaliers are doing no such thing.

It’s still tough not to pick Cleveland to come out of the East. But if things get tough against the Wizards in the second round, or against Boston or Toronto at some point in the postseason, those teams will be ready and think they know where they can find another gear. Will Cleveland?

2) Russell Westbrook makes an MVP statement: He racks up another triple-double, dominates end of game in Thunder’s comeback win. What made this game an impressive part of Russell Westbrook’sMVP resume was not his 37th triple-double of the season — 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but rather how he showed his value to the team at the end.

The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 on OKC with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The game looked over. Then Westbrook happened — he scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, capping it off hitting the game winner. On that shot, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender — because nobody was going to stop him.

It was an MVP-level performance. Whether that is enough to get him the award is another question.

3) Is Sam Hinkie possibly making a return to the NBA? With the Sacramento Kings?
With the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, the Sacramento Kings will be counting on fan loyalty, an amazing new building, and hope for the future to sell tickets the next few seasons. That’s because the Kings are in full on rebuilding mode… can you call it rebuilding if you haven’t been to the playoffs for a decade? Whatever you call this round of bottoming out, the Kings are restructuring their roster, Sacramento is doing it.

Do they trust Vlade Divac to lead that rebuilding?

They probably shouldn’t, based on track record. Plus stability at the top of the organization is not something owner Vivek Ranadive apparently considers important — again, based on his track record — and it’s been coming up on two years since there was a front office shakeup. So it wasn’t a shock when a report surfaced Monday night that the Kings were talking to former Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie about coming on board.

The Kings quickly denied this.

Which led to the Tweet of the night from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

A few things here. First, the number of times the Kings have said “we’re not doing” something then turn around and did it would require a spreadsheet to track, with the latest being trading DeMarcus Cousins. Second, the Kings are a leaky organization, so I don’t doubt the reports. Third, there has been a push from some minority owners to make changes at the top of the Kings basketball operations side, and Wojnarowski said the league has suggested the same thing because they want the Kings to be more professional.

Starting this summer, the Kings need someone in charge who understands rebuilding a team — that doesn’t have to be Hinkie, there are numerous other qualified candidates — but it needs to be someone. It shouldn’t be a big flashy name or personality, not someone a star-struck owner likes sitting next to and talking with, but someone who knows how to do the job. What the Kings need most of all, however, is to hire this person then have Ranadive get completely out of the way. Give the basketball person power, then get out of the way for four or five years. Let the rebuilding happen, and at that point assess what, if any, changes need to be made. Because the system going on in Sacramento now isn’t working on the court.

LeBron James drives, Pau Gasol stands no chance of stopping dunk (VIDEO)

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Monday night was an ugly night for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They got thrashed by the Spurs 103-74 in a game where they looked nothing like a title contender. The Cavaliers fell to second place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron had 17 points but needed 17 shots to get there.

But there were some Cavs highlights. One was LeBron pushing the ball in transition, becoming a one-man break, and while Pau Gasol was in the right place there was nothing he was going to do to stop this dunk.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.