Mario Chalmers, Jeremy Lin

Heat shut down Jeremy Lin, cruise to victory over Knicks

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By now you’ve certainly heard all about Jeremy Lin, and the way he’s led the Knicks to an improbable stretch of nine wins in the team’s last 11 games. The Miami Heat, too, were obviously paying attention, and made sure that Lin wouldn’t be a factor when the teams met on Thursday.

Miami’s defense forced Lin into playing his worst game since becoming a starter, as the Heat cruised to a 102-88 victory, the team’s eighth straight. Lin had averaged just under 24 points and a little more than nine assists per game during that magical 11-game span, but finished this one with just eight points, six rebounds, and three assists, to go along with eight turnovers. Lin was a dismal 1-for-11 from the field, thanks to heavy pressure from multiple defenders all night long.

There’s no shame in the Knicks losing to this Heat team on the road; Miami is playing at an elite level right now, and owns the best record in the league heading into the All-Star break at 27-7. But the Knicks should be concerned with the way the Heat used their team defense to stifle Lin, which in turn shut down the rest of the New York offense.

Miami played physical, on-ball defense when Lin had possession, and twice, the Heat’s point guards were able to get steals from him in the open court which resulted in breakaway dunks on the other end. The Heat showed hard on the screen-and-roll, often forcing Lin to give up the ball while still 25 feet from the basket. And when Lin was able to gain some measure of dribble penetration, his defender was able to stay in front of him, while the Heat’s help defense made sure any shot attempts were well-contested.

Lin couldn’t get the offense going, and as a result, he wasn’t the only one to struggle. Carmelo Anthony, playing in just his third game since Lin started rolling after missing the previous seven due to a groin strain, finished with 19 points, but it took him 20 shots to get there. Baron Davis, who was to be New York’s savior at the point guard spot before Lin made his mark, managed to miss all seven of his shot attempts — including four from three-point distance — in just 14 minutes of action off the bench.

Meanwhile, Miami’s big three shouldered the load for the Heat offensively, combining for 67 points on better than 50 percent shooting.

Lin is no fluke; he can clearly play at this level, and is likely to continue to flourish as the key component running Mike D’Antoni’s offense. It will take some time to integrate Anthony back into the fold, who is an elite if inefficient scorer when he has the ball in his hands. And, the Knicks are clearly still a long way from reaching their potential, as D’Antoni pointed out afterward.

“It’s one game,” he said. “And we’re not there yet. They’re there. They’re the team right now to beat for everybody. They’re playing better than everybody. And we’re trying to get our team together.”

All of that is true, and not every team has the necessary personnel or cohesiveness defensively to do what Miami was able to. But what should be of critical concern to the Knicks is the fact that the Heat gave the rest of the league a solid blueprint of exactly how to go about stopping Lin and the rest of the New York offense.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.

Watch Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant trade shots Saturday night

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Kevin Durant won the one-on-one battle — he dropped 40 points on the Golden State Warriors, while Stephen Curry had “just” 26 and needed 26 shots to get there (but did add 10 assists).

But the Warriors built up a lead thanks to their depth and were able to withstand a late Thunder run to get the win.

Enjoy watching Curry and Durant putting on a show Saturday night in the Bay Area.