Heat extend win streak to 20 but Sixers make them work for it

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In the first half of the season, this was the kind of game the Heat would lose — a back-to-back, a fired up opponent playing better than they have in weeks, and the Heat just kind of coasting.

With an 8.5 game lead over the No. 2 in the East, it’s the kind of game they might have lost now, too, if their winning streak didn’t give them something to play for.

But it does and once again the Heat made just enough plays down the stretch to beat the Sixers 98-94 and extend their winning streak to 20 games. This was the third time the Heat have beaten the Sixers in this streak.

With the win, the Heat are 10-1 on the second night of a back-to-back this season with the win. Which isn’t as impressive as 20-straight wins (the Heat are only the fourth team in NBA history to get to 20) but it is impressive nonetheless.

When you are the defending champs on a win streak lesser teams get up to play you — the Magic did it last week — and the Sixers came out with a real energy at home. Evan Turner had eight early points and when you throw in six Heat turnovers you get Philly on an 11-2 run and an early small lead. It was 22-21 Philly after one.

But you knew the Heat run was coming. It did in the Heat in the second quarter with an 11-0 run when they went to a lineup of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, LeBron and Chris Bosh. It eventually grew to a 17-2 run. The Heat were able to get to the rim and score on easy buckets (usually a LeBron jam) meanwhile the Sixers were settling for jumpers and shot 8-of-23 in the second. It was Heat 51, Sixers 39 at halftime and LeBron had 18.

Where the Sixers deserve credit is they didn’t just come out and mail in the second half. Instead they came out early in the third quarter on a 13-4 run that included a lot of hustle plays like Jrue Holiday getting the rebound on his own miss. Holiday finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Thaddeus Young had the other good game for Philly with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

When Dorell Write knocked down a three, then stole the ball on the next Heat possession, ran out in front and threw down the slam it was a four-point game midway through fourth quarter.

After a Holiday three (his third of the second half) the Sixers had an 83-82 lead with 5:20 left. The Sixers went on a 15-2 run.

But where the Heat might have coasted before they played with enough energy down the stretch because they wanted the streak. Bosh hit an awkward-looking hook from the post and later pump faked Spencer Hawes and drove for the layup.

LeBron was driving and scoring, he finished with 27 points on 19 shots. Holiday was trying but missing some contested looks. Ray Allen drained a three to give the Heat the lead for good (Allen had 12 points). And when it mattered, the LeBron and Wade each hit their free throws. And Bosh had a block of Young that sealed the game.

The Heat still wanted it at the end and they had more talent to put on the floor than the Sixers. That passion to still get the win is what the streak has given the Heat when they might otherwise be back to coasting and waiting for the playoffs to start.

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.