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Heat survive most pressure-packed season of all time

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LeBron James wandered around the American Airlines Center court in an apparent stupor – receiving congratulatory handshakes hugs and from Spurs players, surviving a bear hug from Juwan Howard and sharing a moment with Gregg Popovich.

If LeBron looked tired, it’s because he was.

LeBron said he couldn’t sleep the night before Game 7 victory, and he couldn’t fall asleep the afternoon of the game as he usually does, either.

“You’re nervous. You’re excited,” LeBron told NBA TV. “You’ve got anxiety.”

MORE: LeBron ‘stuck with it,’ named 2013 Finals MVP

But LeBron and the Heat overcame that burden, merely their latest in an exhausting three years, and now they have another championship.

The Heat’s challenges were deeper than just a sleepless night and a restless afternoon. No team has faced more pressure in NBA history, and the weight on LeBron’s shoulders was even heavier.

Of course, the Heat brought a lot of it on themselves. From “The Decision” to “Not two, not three, not four…,” LeBron drew even more scrutiny to what would have already been a controversial choice to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

The Heat took their lumps, falling to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. And that was especially difficult to endure, considering the Heat received more media attention than any North American professional team ever has. Media outlets completely reorganized their coverage plans to devote more resources to the Heat beat.

MORE: LeBron, Wade stick together to win another title

Miami survived the gauntlet in year two, winning the title. Though that should have ended issues it didn’t – has any NBA champion, let alone a Finals MVP, received more questions about whether he can win the big one than LeBron did this year? – it brought a new level of difficulty.

“The second one is way harder than the first one,” LeBron told NBA TV. “I heard a lot, after I won my first one, they was like, ‘You know, they’re going to start getting easier and easier and easier.’ Absolutely not true. Absolutely not true. This was the hardest one by far.”

Not only were expectations higher and media attention greater, Miami leaned on a blitzing defensive system that, while effective, was physically exhausting. A 27-game regular-season win streak became mentally exhausting too, requiring the Heat to bring a tighter focus than most contenders summon in the dog days of February and March.

MORE: ‘Game 7 is always going to haunt me,’ Duncan says

The win streak also created unreasonable expectations that the Heat could cruise through the playoffs. In reality, Miami need 23 postseason games to outlast the field, a total topped just eight times before. Any thought this was going to be easy was delusional, but perhaps nobody realized how tough the Heat’s road would get near its end.

They could have succumbed after losing Game 3 of the Finals by 36 points – no team that suffered a 35-point loss in the Finals had ever won the series – but they didn’t.

They could have succumbed when they fell behind 3-2 San Antonio – they hadn’t won back-to-back games in the previous month – but they didn’t.

They could have succumbed when they entered Game 7 – San Antonio had never trailed in a Finals series, and only the 1988 Lakers had won two Game 7s as deep into the playoffs as the Heat, which also beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – but they didn’t.

After surviving their final challenge, the Heat celebrated their championship, and Doris Burke asked Wade what it took to reach this point.

“Everything,” Wade said. “It took everything we had as team.

“We’re a resilient team, and we did whatever it took.”

A few minutes later, LeBron, awoken from his stupor, stood in the locker room under a mist as steady as rain.

“I can’t see,” LeBron said squinting and grinning until someone got him a towel to wipe his eyes.

Several times this season, the Heat could drowned in the pressure, in the attention, in the physical exhaustion. But they never did, and now they’re swimming in champagne.

Vucevic leads Magic comeback for 117-110 OT win over Hawks

Nikola Vucevic
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ATLANTA (AP) — A big comeback gave the Orlando Magic their second win over the Hawks in two days and renewed belief they can stage a similar rally in their season.

Nikola Vucevic scored 25 of his 28 points after halftime, and Orlando rallied from 20 points down to beat Atlanta 117-110 in overtime on Monday night.

The Magic beat the Hawks 96-94 on Sunday on a last-second 18-footer by Vucevic. The 7-foot center was the difference again on Monday night, when he had 13 rebounds and six assists.

Thanks to a 2-12 record in January, Orlando is tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The wins over the Hawks provide hope for a turnaround.

“It’s big. It’s really big for us,” said Victor Oladipo.

Added Elfrid Payton, who had 20 points, “It’s definitely a step forward.”

Orlando trailed by 20 in the opening period and by 18 in the third. It took its first lead at 96-94 on Mario Hezonja‘s 3-pointer with 3:33 remaining in regulation.

Orlando scored the first six points of overtime, including a jumper by Vucevic, who also had 13 rebounds. Kyle Korver‘s 3-pointer pulled the Hawks to 112-110, but Evan Fournier answered with a 3 for the Magic.

Al Horford led Atlanta with 27 points and Paul Millsap had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The Hawks were hot while building the big lead in the opening period, but Orlando’s defense kept playing hard.

“We got enough stops to win,” said Orlando coach Scott Skiles.

Millsap made one of two free throws to tie the score at 101 late in regulation. Millsap blocked a shot by Oladipo, leaving the Hawks with 1.2 seconds. Millsap took the inbounds pass, took a step back and sank a short jumper – but it came after the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.

“We lost our focus at times,” Horford said. ” … We’ve had this problem all year where we get up and we give up leads. It’s hard to take.”

Atlanta trailed 30-19 after the first quarter of Sunday’s 96-94 loss at Orlando. One day later, the Hawks flipped the script and led 30-18 after one period. They led 71-53 late in the third.

“When you’re up in the third quarter like that, we have to find a way to be better,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think we’ve got to be better late in games – myself, the players, everybody.”

Vucevic scored 12 points in the third period, including the last two baskets in an 11-0 run.

 

EVEN HARRY WAS HOT

Things went so well for the Hawks in the first half that even their mascot couldn’t miss. During a timeout, Harry the Hawk hit nothing but net on a half-court shot – with his back to the basket. Harry celebrated by dabbing on his way off the court.

TIP-INS

Magic: F Tobias Harris (sprained left ankle) missed his second straight game. … Fournier had 16 points. Hezonja and Smith had 14 points each. Aaron Gordon had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore had 13 rebounds. … Tiago Splitter (right hip) missed his fifth straight game and is expected to rest through the All-Star break. … The Hawks assigned C Edy Tavares to the Austin Spurs of the NBA Development League. Tavares has averaged 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in 10 D-League games this season.

 

Redick leads Clippers to 98-92 OT victory over 76ers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 8: J.J. Redick #4 of the Los Angeles Clippers attempts a shot between Hollis Thompson #31 and Robert Covington #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers on February 8, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Clippers defeated the 76ers 98-92. 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. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers struggled until it mattered most.

J.J. Redick had 23 points, including the tying 3-pointer late in regulation, and Jamal Crawford also scored 23 points to lead the short-handed Clippers to a 98-92 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

The Clippers overcame their largest deficit in a victory this season, coming back from 19 points down to win their 19th game in the last 23 overall and 12th in the last 14 on the road.

“It was ugly out there for most of the game,” said Chris Paul, who assisted on Redick’s shot. “Good teams find a way to win, and that’s what we did.”

Jerami Grant had 17 points to lead the 76ers, who were looking for their first winning streak of the season.

“These are games we should be winning,” Philadelphia’s Ish Smith said.

Philadelphia looked in good position to earn its ninth win of the season – and first over a team with a winning record – before Redick’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 10.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter tied the game at 88. The 76ers had a chance to win it in regulation, but Jahlil Okafor‘s 18-foot jumper against the defense of DeAndre Jordan went long.

“I wish that Jahlil would have driven on DeAndre, but I give DeAndre some credit, too,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

The Clippers took control in overtime, scoring the first eight points in the extra session as Philadelphia missed 10 straight shots to end regulation and start OT.

“That was the best execution we had all game,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “And you look at each other like, `Where was that all game?”‘

Jordan had 12 points and 21 rebounds and Paul contributed 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Clippers, who have won nine straight over Philadelphia.

Smith returned to the lineup after sitting out the 76ers’ 103-98 victory over Brooklyn on Saturday night with an ankle injury and had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Okafor added 14 points and nine rebounds.

Already without injured starters Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers, coach Doc Rivers chose to rest Paul Pierce against Philadelphia. Rivers is out 4-to-6 weeks after breaking his left hand last Wednesday while Griffin remains sidelined after breaking his hand during a fight with a member of the equipment staff.

Philadelphia led by 10 points at halftime and controlled most of the second half.

The 76ers were up 88-85 with possession of the ball with 30 seconds remaining in regulation. Smith missed a 15-foot jumper and Nerlens Noel couldn’t corral the rebound. Following a timeout, Paul found a wide-open Redick, who swished a tying 3.

“I’m not the one that makes the shot, but I feel like I make it because we execute,” Paul said.

ROLLING ALONG

The Clippers improved to 18-4 without Griffin, who first was sidelined with a partially torn left quadriceps muscle injured on Christmas.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Crawford has scored at least 20 points in the last five games, averaging 22 points over that span. … Los Angeles came back from a 17-point deficit in a 101-96 win over Detroit on Nov. 14. … The Clippers improved to 18-9 on road. … The Clippers defeated the 76ers 130-99 on Jan. 2 in Los Angeles. … Wesley Johnson made his sixth start of the season in place of Pierce and had seven points and nine rebounds.

76ers: Allen Iverson was in attendance. … F Richaun Holmes was available after sitting out the last two games with an ankle sprain but didn’t play. … Philadelphia last beat the Clippers on March 16, 2011.

 

Andre Drummond hits buzzer-beating heave from beyond halfcourt (VIDEO)

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons reacts in the final seconds of their 106-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading andor using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Andre Drummond is a terrible free-throw shooter…except, apparently, when he’s shooting from the other free-throw line. Monday night against the Raptors, Drummond cut Detroit’s deficit to five at the end of the third quarter with this three-quarter-court heave at the buzzer:

Now, if only he could work on his accuracy from his own free-throw line.

Joe Johnson banks in three to give Nets win over Nuggets (VIDEO)

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 03:  Joe Johnson #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles against the Indiana Pacers during their game at the Barclays Center on February 3, 2016 in New York City.  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.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Not a lot has gone right for the Nets this season, but an impressive clutch shot by seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson gave them their 14th win of the season on Monday. With time expiring, Johnson banked in a long three-pointer to put Brooklyn up 105-104 over Denver and secure the victory:

Johnson had 12 points on the night.