Miami Heat's LeBron James is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in Miami

Heat knock Thunder out of rhythm, hang on for close win

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If this is going to be the NBA finals again, I am all good with that. In fact, can we start it tomorrow?

The Thunder and Heat gave us all the Christmas Day gift of what felt as close to playoff game as you are going to get in December— it was physical, intense, even Kevin Durant and LeBron James were jawing at each other by the end of this one.

And just like the last three times the Heat and Thunder played in Miami it was the Heat that came away with the win, 103-97.

This win means nothing if these teams meet again in June — there are no statement games in December. But the game did remind us of a few things.

Miami makes things a struggle for the Thunder like seemingly no other team in the NBA can do. If you watched games from Oklahoma City’s recent 12-game winning streak you would see fantastic ball movement, great spacing and guys getting good looks in the flow of the offense. But the Heat take the Thunder out of that flow — Oklahoma City becomes a team that likes too much isolation and doesn’t move off the ball.

The result is when you need a three to tie the game with 14 seconds left you end up with Durant taking a contested step-back three with LeBron in his face. (As for Russell Westbrook being fouled on that next three… I don’t know. The review was inconclusive. But OKC wouldn’t have needed a three if they had defended on what became a Chris Bosh dunk the play before. One foul never loses you a game by itself.)

Miami raced off to a 13-2 start with LeBron James throwing down dunks to get off to a fast start on his way to a huge 29-point, 8 rebound, 9 assist game. He made a statement that if you are going to have a conversation about the MVP and have Carmelo Anthony and Durant in it go ahead, but you better have LeBron in that mix as well.

The Thunder closed that gap with the three by the end of the first quarter and eventually tied it up 39-39. We had a game the rest of the way.

For Miami we had a Mario Chalmers sighting — he had 20 points and shot 4-of-8 from three. Dwyane Wade had 21 points, Chris Bosh 16.

For the Thunder, it was 33 for Durant in the kind of quality game an MVP has on the big stage. But after that things dropped off a little — Westbrook had 21 points but needed 19 shots to get them, Kevin Martin had 15 but hit just 4-of-10 shots.

The real question I have for Scottie Brooks — why so much Kendrick Perkins, particularly late in the game. Perkins has a role on your team against the Lakers or Grizzlies, but against the Heat he seems lost without a position and was exposed by the Heat.

And with all that, it was a six point final score in a game the Thunder had a shot in. They need to play at their peak to beat the Heat and we didn’t see that on Christmas just like we didn’t last June. Like the protagonist in an action movie, the Heat are going to have to play at a new level to beat the Heat in a series. Oklahoma City may have that in them but their margin for error is small. And we saw too many little mistakes.

But it’s close.

It could be different if they meet in the finals. And if that happens, I’m good with it.

Kristaps Porzingis cocks back, hammers dunk (video)

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It wasn’t all bad for the Knicks last night.

You can practically see the moment Kristaps Porzingis realizes his spin got him so open, he can put a little juice into this dunk.

Wizards defend final possession horribly, beat Knicks anyway (video)

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The Wizards – one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season – showed why it’s so difficult to believe in them.

They built a 10-point lead over the Knicks with 1:51 left and steadily blew it. New York got within one and trailed by three with 4.3 seconds left.

And Washington went to sleep.

The Wizards – four of whom hung out near the halfcourt line – allowed the Knicks to push the ball and find a wide-open Langston Galloway behind the 3-point arc. Galloway is one of New York’s best 3-point shooters, and he makes 47% of his wide open 3s, per NBA.com

This is horrific focus by Washington.

But if there’s a team less inspiring than the Wizards, it’s the Kurt Rambis-coached Knicks, and Galloway missed to give his new coach a loss in his first game as New York’s head coach.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Watch out for the Utah Jazz

<> at American Airlines Center on February 9, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement.
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PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby.PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. Just wanted to freak you out. Here is what you need to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Gordon Hayward game winner makes it seven in a row for Utah. This team is hitting it’s stride again. The reason Utah was everyone’s favorite pick to leap up into the Western Conference playoffs this season was they were one of the best teams in the NBA after the All-Star break last season — they went 19-10, played lock-down defense allowing just 89 points a game, and got just enough offense to win.

The Jazz are hitting that stride earlier this season. After a dramatic win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Jazz have won seven in a row and moved past Houston into the seven seed in the West. Utah is hitting its stride and is not only going to make the playoffs but also be a tough out in them. They are playing great defense again, allowing 87.3 points per game during the win streak (95.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), plus are getting offense when they need it. Like during the dramatic end of the win over Dallas on the road Tuesday. First Rodney Hood hit a three to force overtime:

Then Gordon Hayward hit the step-back game winner.

2) Kurt Rambis drops first game as Knicks coach. Meet the new Knicks: They got off to a terrible start, had no offensive flow, were constantly putting up contested shots late in the shot clock, and didn’t slow the other team down in transition. And they lost (111-108 to Washington). If that sounds a lot like the old Derek Fisher Knicks, well, what did you expect? Kurt Rambis — whatever you think of him as a coach — was not going to be able to make many changes on the fly, and while Carmelo Anthony dropped 33, the reasons this team has struggled of late have not gone away. This roster is not as good as Phil Jackson apparently thinks it is, and people running the show at Madison Square Garden may have been blinded by a better than expected start. This is not a good team, if anything the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis has them playing above expectations. There are some pieces to build on for the future, but there is still a lot of building to do. This coaching change doesn’t change much of anything in the short term.

3) Setback Tuesday: Bulls’ Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with knee strain; Grizzlies Marc Gasol out indefinitely with a broken foot; Pelicans Tyreke Evans to miss rest of season after knee surgery. The basketball gods were handing out injuries Tuesday like Oprah handed out cars.

The Bulls will be without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler for a month due to the knee strain he suffered a couple of games back. The Bulls are already 5-12 in their last 17 and struggling on defense; this is another big step back along those lines. Chicago is just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs, and that is suddenly a concern. The Bulls’ Pau Gasol will replace Butler in the All-Star Game (which means the Bulls keep a representative, and Gasol is there for the Kobe sendoff game, which is nice).

Marc Gasol is the hub of what Memphis likes to do on both ends, but he has a broken foot and will be out indefinitely. Gasol’s game has taken a step back this season, but the team is still 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and the Grizzlies don’t have anyone who can replace what he does at both ends. The Grizzlies have a 4.5 game cushion from falling out of the playoffs, but wins are going to be much tougher to come by now.

This has been a lost season in New Orleans, Tyreke Evans going under the knife because of his knee is just piling on. It does kill the Pelicans’ efforts to trade him at the deadline in nine days.

4) Khris Middleton’s free throw gives Bucks win over Celtics. Wild ending in Boston. First, a Jerryd Bayless foul gives Kelly Olynyk the chance to tie the game with one second left.

Just one second left, so it’s going to overtime, right? Wrong. Avery Bradley with the stupid foul and the Bucks get the win.

5) Miami’s Hassan Whiteside was ejected for elbowing Spurs Boban Marjanovic in the face. It was a made free throw in the fourth quarter of a double-digit game — there wasn’t anything to be battling over. But Marjanovic was working to get his big body in a rebounding position, Whiteside was trying to fight him off and got his elbows up. It was the move of an immature player, which Whiteside can still be at times. Elbow a guy in the face and you’re gone.

Stephen Curry starts ridiculous Warriors fast break (VIDEO)

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Golden State is such a thing of beauty to watch in transition.

This play starts when Stephen Curry slides down to help on post defense on Clint Capela, steals the ball, saves it to a teammate and then gets it back when they start the break. James Harden tries to slow Curry down, cutting him off in the backcourt, Curry just whips a 20-foot behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala, who lobs it to Leandro Barbosa for the finish.

Houston fought back from 16 down early to make it interesting for a while, but Golden State pulled away late for the 123-110 win. Curry finished with 35 on the night.