Miami Heat's James knocks the ball away from Indiana Pacers' Hill during Game 2 of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff in Miami

LeBron’s struggles just one of many Heat problems


At some point Wednesday, it will dawn on Miami Heat fans that the series against the Indiana Pacers is 1-1 — it’s not over, it’s a best-of-five now. That’s not what it feels like for Miami fans as they drown their sorrows in a mojito, but it is the truth.

The focus in Miami now is the Heat loss in Game 2 at home to the Pacers — and like quarterbacks and presidents the blame for all things Heat falls on LeBron James. No matter how much of the blame he deserves.

And he deserves some — the best player in the game had no points, missed his only shot plus missed two free throws, and had no impact in the final four minutes of the game. It plays into the public perception, and it certainly says something that Erik Spoelstra’s final play call had LeBron setting a screen for Mario Chalmers. That is where you want the ball in LeBron’s hands — even if the Pacers trap him he can pass to an open man. You want LeBron to demand the ball there. Whether he was exhausted or not is really moot, he has to step up.

But the Heat’s problems in this game — and potentially in this series — are bigger than just LeBron.

Without Chris Bosh on the floor to provide another weapon the Pacers were able to pressure the perimeter without fear of their big men paying a price. Bosh can score in the paint or draw a big man out of it because of his midrange game. Without the threat of Bosh the Pacers played a more fearless brand of defense.

Dwyane Wade deserves some blame, he went 8-22 shooting and missed a key layup late in the game.

But the Heat’s biggest issue is that nobody else stepped up and gave Miami anything on offense. Miami players not named Wade or LeBron shot 26.5 percent on the night (9-34). Shane Battier had 5 points, Udonis Haslem 4, Mike Miller 0. The Heat were 1-9 on spot-up threes (stat via That will do them in.

For Miami, they need to get back to getting easy buckets in transition — Miami was 2-9 shooting in transition. The Pacers did a good job of getting back, but rather than attack the Heat settled for jumpers that they missed a lot. They didn’t push and they didn’t attack. They need more transition opportunities and they need to convert on those.

If the Heat offense is simply LeBron and Wade coming off the pick and trying to create on their own Miami will fall. It’s hard to get into the teeth of the Pacers defense when they have long-armed shot blockers — someone has to space the floor out with shooting and if that’s not Bosh another Heat else has to fill that role.

This was never going to be an easy series, not as easy as the Heat fan base thought. The Pacers are the third best team in the East and are better than whomever the Heat would face in the next round. (Sorry Boston, it’s true.) They have good players, they are balanced at both ends of the floor.

Miami is the favorite because they are more talented, because they have the two best players in this series. But that alone is not enough. They need more transition points, they need more from their role players.

And it’s going to take more from LeBron James.

Wesley Matthews receives standing ovation in return to Portland (VIDEO)

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Last month, LaMarcus Aldridge returned to Portland for the first time as a member of the Spurs, and the reception was decidedly mixed. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, when the Mavericks made their first trip to the Moda Center since Wesley Matthews signed a four-year, $70 million deal in Dallas in July. Matthews was beloved in Portland, and there’s a chance he and Aldridge would both still in town if Matthews hadn’t torn his Achilles in March, effectively ending their chances of contending.

76ers top Lakers for 1st win of season, snap 28-game skid

Robert Covington
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Kobe Bryant won over the fans – he just couldn’t beat the previously winless Philadelphia 76ers.

With the spotlight on Bryant during the final game of his career in his hometown, the Sixers stole the show and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-91 on Tuesday night for their first victory of the season.

The Sixers had lost their first 18 games, and 28 overall dating to last season – the longest losing streak in the history of major professional sports in the United States. But they remained tied for the worst start in NBA history with the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who also opened 0-18.

It was the first win for the Sixers since March 25 at Denver.

Hours earlier, Bryant felt the love in Philadelphia as soon as he entered the arena.

He took selfies with fans who might never see him play again, and his presence injected a playoff atmosphere into a city that has lost much of its interest in NBA basketball.

With a packed crowd standing and roaring in appreciation, Bryant was introduced to an ovation worthy of a hometown hero, not the “Hometown Zero” he was once labeled in Philadelphia’s tabloids.

Bryant, who will end his 20-year career this season, opened the first leg of his farewell tour in his hometown and was feted with the kind of reverence and gratitude normally reserved for a Sixers great.

He buried a step-back 3-pointer off the opening tip.

He hit another 3 on the next possession.

Bryant made it 3 for 3 and had the Philly crowd chanting “M-V-P!” as he turned back the clock to his championship form. He scored 20 points on 7-of-26 shooting and made four 3s.

By the fourth quarter, the Philly fans had turned their attention toward the home team, chanting “Beat LA!” when beleaguered rookie Jahlil Okafor made a layup for a 94-80 lead.

Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick out of Duke, has been attached to a string of off-court incidents that included reckless driving and a fight in Boston. He has apologized for his recent decisions. Sixers coach Brett Brown said Okafor will likely soon be accompanied by team security on public outings.

Bryant said he would simply tell the 19-year-old rookie to stay focused on basketball.

The Sixers stayed focused and finally finished the job after taking an 80-75 lead into the fourth.

The 76ers had led after three quarters three other times this season: Nov. 21 at Miami (led 74-67, lost 96-91), Nov. 25 at Boston (led 62-57, lost 84-80) and Nov. 29 at Memphis (led 67-64, lost 92-84), according to STATS.

Robert Covington scored 23 points and Jerami Grant had 14 for the Sixers.

The win belonged to Philadelphia. The night belonged to Bryant.

His homecoming game came with a rare emotional tug for the player fans loved to boo through the years. He waved to the crowd and bowed his head in appreciation as a “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!’ chant filled Wells Fargo Center during pregame introductions.

He was greeted at midcourt by his Lower Merion high school coach Gregg Downer and 76ers great Julius Erving. Bryant hugged both in front of a crowd filled with purple-and-gold No. 24 jerseys.

He smiled after every shot and bantered with fans, some who made “Thank you, Kobe” signs.

In a reference to the sorry state of the entire Philly sports scene, one fan held a sign that read, “Why Can’t Chip Kelly Retire Instead.”

Bryant even smirked in the third when a brief scuffle broke out among Lakers center Roy Hibbert, who appeared to push a referee, and Philadelphia’s Isaiah Canaan and JaKarr Sampson. All three were hit with technical fouls.

Bryant thumped his chest, waved to the fans, blew a kiss and was serenaded with “Kobe!” chants as he walked off Philadelphia’s court for the final time.


Lakers: Los Angeles is 2-15 and has the worst record in the Western Conference. … The Lakers opened an eight-game road trip.

Sixers: Moses Malone, the late 76ers star selected one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, was honored at halftime. Malone, who died in September at 60, was the NBA Finals MVP in 1983 when he led the Sixers to the title. His No. 2 was on the back of Philadelphia’s warmup jerseys with “Chairman of the Boards” on the front. The Sixers will retire his number next season. … F Nerlens Noel returned to the lineup after a two-game absence with sore knees. He scored 14 points.


Lakers: At the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

Sixers: At the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.

John Wall drops J.R. Smith with crossover, makes layup (VIDEO)

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John Wall is one of the hardest players to guard in the NBA. J.R. Smith found that out the hard way on Tuesday night when Wall sent him flying with a behind-the-back dribble before making an easy layup.

The Wizards beat the Cavs, who are now 13-5 on the season.

Sixers to retire Moses Malone’s number next season

Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone

Kobe Bryant‘s pregame tribute video stole the show in Philadelphia, but Tuesday night was Moses Malone tribute night. The former league MVP and Hall of Famer passed away in September, and his legacy was honored by the Sixers during a halftime ceremony. During the festivities, Malone’s son announced that his No. 2 will be retired by the organization next season.

There’s no question that Malone, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, deserves to have his number retired. The only relevant question is: why didn’t this happen years ago? The ceremony next season should be good, but it would have been better if they had done it when Malone was alive to participate in it. No Sixers player has worn No. 2 since Malone anyway, but it’s been over 20 years since he last wore a Sixers jersey. Why couldn’t they have found some time in those two decades to have a ceremony and hang a banner?