NBA Playoffs: Knicks compete early, but Heat roll late to take 3-0 series lead

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The Heat took command of their first round playoff series with the Knicks, winning Game 3 in New York 87-70 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Matt Moore and I discussed.

Matt Moore: Ugly, ugly, grotesque basketball Thursday and it looked like the Knicks could do the improbable without Amar’e Stoudemire, relying on Landry Fields and Mike Bibby. Don’t know how that plan failed.

LeBron just shut it down in the fourth. And for once, it was the other team! Just closed them out since he had so much energy. Wade’s third quarter, James’ fourth quarter, and maybe biggest, Mike Miller couldn’t hit, Shane Battier couldn’t hit, but Mario Chalmers could and did. If the Heat find one shooter a game to do that, they’re pretty much unstoppable. The Knicks did everything you can do and it still wasn’t nearly enough.

Brett Pollakoff: You always like to talk about whether or not a way a team wins (or is winning) is sustainable. Well, when the Knicks were leading in the second quarter by 11 at 40-29, what was the plan to get there? Let Miami start off the game up 9, then watch the Heat get bored and start jacking ill-advised three-pointers while you attack the paint to get easy looks, and finally, make sure the Heat go without a field goal for a stretch lasting almost 12 minutes?!

Yeah, definitely not sustainable.

Also, it didn’t hurt that LeBron played less than five minutes in the third due to foul trouble, which allowed him to play all of the fourth and score 17 (!) in the final period to finish things off.

So, two things: First, this was NOT a good game, and was nothing like the tough games in the 90s, right? Low-scoring and close does not equal interesting or exciting hard-nosed playoff basketball.

And second, how easily does the Heat win Game 4, having taken the (admittedly shorthanded and depleted) Knicks’ best shot?

MM: Horrible, awful game. The worst game I’ve seen since Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. Just terrible play, a lack of focus, bad shooting, needless fouls, a mishmash of movement. Sluggish and bad. I think it was like the 90’s, but only because I don’t overromanticize  bad basketball at any level.

I think the Knicks probably win Game 4. The Heat have no reason to let the Knicks win, should be able to coast, just have to not have a complete letdown. So naturally, they’ll let up. Also, two days in New York, with that crew of magazine-interview’in’, fashion-show-appearin’, mega-party-goin’ jokesters? No way the Heat come in fresh. Gentleman’s Sweep for the Heat. Let them win one, you know, to be polite. Melo is LeBron’s friend, after all.

How big was James though, in just choking the life out of New York down the stretch?

BP: I think the Heat got the excessive partying out of their system before this one, especially as evidenced by that first-half scoring drought. Besides, even if they hit the NYC club scene hard before Game 4, are the Knicks really able to do anything about it? Carmelo Anthony was 7-for-23, J.R. Smith was 5-for-18, and Steve Novak only attempted one three-pointer all night. As currently constructed, they simply don’t have the offensive weapons to hang with Miami for 48 minutes, and they certainly don’t have a point guard who can create easy, wide-open looks for the rest of the team.

(Seriously, Baron Davis is still out of breath after that and-1 drive in the first half, and might not recover until the offseason.)

LeBron coming out and scoring 11 straight Miami points to start the fourth was huge. Wade’s run in the third was equally important. A team like New York can’t stop these guys for an entire game, and the way the rest of the top teams in the conference are seeing players go down, Miami is going to have a much easier path to the Finals than expected.

Since the Knicks appear to be done, what do they need to improve upon before next season to actually win a game in the playoffs? In addition to not having their starting, $100 million power forward rip up his hand punching inanimate objects, of course.

MM: I’m not sure there’s much the Knicks can do. They’re flawed at their core. Melo and Amar’e doesn’t work. It was a bad plan conceptually from the start, and they’ve wed themselves to the player it’s harder to find a star to fit around. I’m sure James Dolan will spend some money trying though.

BP: I agree that Melo and Amar’e doesn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Sure, it would require a complete re-design of the offense from the top down, but the Knicks have a lot of money invested in those two, and I don’t see them being able to (or even wanting to) cut ties with either of them over the summer.

What’s clear, though, is that when the Knicks have everyone back healthy, they’ll need a creative, offensively-minded coach to make all of the pieces fit. Someone like Mike D’Antoni might be just the person to … Oh. Right.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”