LeBron finally aggressive late, but Clippers hand Heat another loss

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Last year’s “it” team faced off against this year’s “it” squad and fans from both sides got what they wanted. Sort of. They both got a wildly entertaining contest that had the intensity of May. But it came wrapped in a game where it looked like both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back just a few weeks into the season.

Fans also got answers, just not all the answers they wanted.

Clippers fans wanted a signature win to show that their team is a legitimate contender. Clearly coach Vinny Del Negro wanted it too as he tightened up his rotations like this was a playoff game. They got a win — 95-89 in overtime — but in a sloppy way where they showed both their potential and how far they have to got to go.

Heat fans wanted LeBron James to take charge and be aggressive at the end of a close game. They got it, LeBron forced his game and tried to take over — the result was he was 1-of-6 from the floor in the fourth quarter and overtime, and probably more costly he was 6-10 from the free throw line in that time (9-17 overall). Aggressive did not equal effective.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was okay with that.

“I was encouraged that we were able to get to the rim, particularly there late,” he said post game. “We were able to get to the rim in different ways and not settle for jump shots (as they had the night before in an overtime loss to Golden State).”

He’s right, if the LeBron and the Heat keep being aggressive the shots will fall. Eventually.

It’s the second night in a row that the Heat found themselves on the road in a playoff atmosphere against motivated opponents and they couldn’t pull off the win. Don’t read too much into it, yet. It’s January, there is plenty of time for the Heat to learn. But at the end of games opponents are able to take the Heat out of their new up-tempo, aggressive offense (Golden State did the same thing Tuesday night) and Miami has to find a way to play their game for 48 minutes.

Down the stretch both teams played good defense and not very impressive offense — Miami shot 33 percent in the fourth quarter, the Clippers 29 percent. Miami had their chances if they could have just sank free throws, but they couldn’t.

Good defense is a key for the Clippers if they are going to be a playoff threat.

“(D’Andre Jordan) and Reggie (Evans) really set the tone on the defensive end,” Chris Paul said. “When Reggie came in the game and guys see how hard he is playing it becomes contagious. You have no choice but to play hard when you see Reggie diving all over the court.”

So, are the Clippers contenders? You watch the masterful game Paul played — 27 points and 11 assists, almost single-handedly carrying the Clippers at points — and you think they can be. You see the athleticism of Blake Griffin (20 points) and guys like Caron Butler step up (20) and you think maybe. But you see the hot-and-cold defense, the sloppy play and their half court execution and you have questions.

“Yeah, they’re a good team, they are a really good team,” Chris Bosh said after the game. “They are going to have some battles, and adversity is going to come. We’ll see how they handle it and just keep on playing.”

Fans got their money’s worth — this game was close almost the entire way and there were no shortage of highlight plays, including a Jordan dunk to seal the Clipper win that should by itself get him into the dunk contest. There were guys attacking hard on both sides all night long, punishing the rims.

Clippers fans left happy. Heat fans left frustrated and with questions. Both sides may feel differently in the playoffs, but that is a long way off. For now, everyone should enjoy what was one fun basketball game. Just ignore the sloppiness.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.