Sleeved jerseys not enough to stop LeBron, Heat in Christmas Day win over Lakers

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LOS ANGELES — The Heat got more of a fight than maybe they were expecting in their Christmas Day matchup with the Lakers, but eventually showed enough on both ends of the floor to get the job done.

Behind 23 points apiece from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami used a 9-0 run late in the fourth to gain separation and finish with a 101-96 victory to improve its record to 22-6 on the season.

The Lakers started off more active and engaged than the defending champs, and led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter. L.A. was determined to try to beat the Heat with three-point shooting, and by halftime had launched 20 of their 45 attempts from beyond the arc.

Even though they made just six, it was a plan that continued with more success in the second half, when the team made five of its next 10.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said he anticipated this course of action, and felt that his team defended the long ball well for the most part.

“They’re fifth on threes attempted, so that’s a little bit more how they play anyway,” he said. “Teams will try to get us moving, try to get us to play out of our rotations. That’s not a secret, everybody’s been doing that for a while. We do play an aggressive, disruptive style so at times we’re exposed and we have to cover ground.

“They did launch some threes; early on, they were getting some wide open ones where we weren’t even near them, or making that extra effort to contest and making them put the ball on the floor. Then we were able to get them to make that next play, and then from there it was just inconsistent.”

LeBron James had a quiet game by his standards, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Even though he shot 7-of-14 from the field, a closer look shows that he was 6-of-6 at the rim, but just 1-of-8 while shooting from the outside.

Earlier in the week James had said that he and his teammates were concerned about the special, sleeved jerseys that they and all the teams playing on Christmas would be wearing, and he blamed his poor jump shooting on them afterward.

“It was definitely a different feel,” James said. “Every time I shot it from the free throw line or shot a jumper I felt a little tug, so maybe I’ll go up to another bigger size next time we wear them, or … I’m not going to tell you what the other alternative is, but I definitely felt it for sure.

“For me, I’m not a great shooter,” he continued. “So any little error that goes on can affect my shot.”

James was much more effective in transition, where the Heat are among the deadliest teams in the game. He and Wade connected on not one, but two incredible alley-oops on the break in the first half which had even Lakers fans out of their seats in excitement.

“Anytime D Wade gets on the break, I just try to chase him down,” said LeBron. “I’m not sure if he’s going to go in for it or if he’s going to throw the lob to me. I had no idea what he was going to do with it. He was looking at me, I didn’t know where he was going to go with it, if he was going to toss it to me or throw it up. But the one off the glass, the only way I could catch it was with my left, so I had to improvise.”

On the Lakers side, they saw Jordan Farmar return to the lineup after missing time with a hamstring injury, and despite his understandable rust, the offense ran noticeably smoother with a capable point guard in charge. L.A. got solid performances from Nick Young and Xavier Henry off the bench, enough to keep things close and make a couple of runs.

The Heat were ultimately too much in this one, however, and despite the victory coming against a depleted Lakers team that sits at 13-16 on the season, any road victory in the NBA is cause for celebration — even by the defending champs playing a sub-.500 team.

“This road trip will continue to get tougher as we go, and we’ll need to play better basketball,” Spoelstra said. “But a road win, you never take those for granted.”

LeBron James: “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs”

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Cleveland’s defense was pathetic Saturday and the Thunder routed them because of it. The Cavaliers gave up 148 points, allowed the Thunder to shoot 58 percent, and basically were little more than traffic cones for Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder to dribble and pass around. The Cavaliers have lost 8-of-11 and coach Tyronn Lue’s seat is getting warm.

Can the Cavaliers even get out of the East? LeBron James wasn’t even asking that question after the Saturday loss, he wants his team to get to the conference finals first. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”

It’s January, it’s far too early to write LeBron and the Cavaliers off — his teams have won the East for seven straight seasons in a row for a reason. Cleveland’s mid-season malaise is a thing and they snap out of it, Isaiah Thomas will find his legs and play better, but this season has shown some troubling structural flaws in the Cavaliers. Ones that could bite them in the playoffs. Ones they are active in the trade market trying to address, or at least shore up a little.

Nobody around the league is comfortable picking against a LeBron team in the East — he has been to seven straight Finals for a reason (and how impressive an achievement that is gets overlooked). But this seems to be the weakest LeBron team since he bolted Cleveland (the first time?), and a second-round matchup vs. Toronto is no gimme anymore. LeBron is right to be concerned.

Former LSU star, Trail Blazer Tim Quarterman arrested after leading police on high-speed chase

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If you missed Tim Quarterman’s cup of coffee in the NBA nobody can blame you. The 6’6″ point guard was a star at LSU who went undrafted but got a chance to earn a roster spot in Portland. He bounced between the NBA and D-League last season playing in 16 games for the Trail Blazers, but then this summer was traded to Houston for cash, and the Rockets quickly waived him. He had signed to play in China but never got there due to visa issues, he did not play a game there.

Now he has some big trouble stateside. From Tupelo, Miss., television station WTVA (hat tip to the Times-Picayune):

Master Sgt. Ray Hall with the Mississippi Highway Patrol says the incident began sometime near 10:50 p.m. when troopers attempted to stop a 2018 Dodge Ram pickup truck for traveling eastbound on Highway 278 at a high rate of speed.

Quarterman failed to stop and led officers on the pursuit… The Mississippi Highway Patrol says the pursuit ended near (a family’s) home when Quarterman intentionally rammed a Pontotoc police officer causing both vehicles to crash.

Both Quarterman and the police officer were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

This led to charges of aggravated assault and felony fleeing, according to the report.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: “We are better than them”

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Houston’s home win Saturday night against Golden State was much more important for the Rockets than the Warriors. Not in terms of the standings (Golden State is still 3.5 games up there), but about confidence — the Rockets needed to know they can beat the defending NBA champions. This game fueled their belief that they have a shot against the Warriors.

Houston big man Clint Capela was trying to say that… then took it a step too far.

Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela told ESPN. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.

“We are better than them.”

It goes without saying that January games are poor predictors of May playoff series. That said, I have two quick thoughts here:

• The Rockets are the team best built to have a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors. (They can score with Golden State, and they have good switchable defenders on the wing, the two things needed to have a chance.)

• I want guys to say this. I want teams going up against the Warriors to believe — that is the first step to actually doing it. You think the Cavaliers feel confident like this right now? The Rockets have the swagger and are over the intimidation factor, that’s step one.

Chris Paul scores 33, Rockets topple Warriors 116-108

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden felt closer to normal after struggling in his first game back from a hamstring injury, and the Houston Rockets got a big game from Chris Paul to down the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Paul scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, Harden bested Stephen Curry twice in the final seconds and the Rockets held off the Warriors 116-108 to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

The victory gives Houston a 2-1 series advantage over Golden State after the reigning NBA champions had won the series the previous three seasons.

“Obviously they’re a championship caliber team for the past four years … and that’s what we’re trying to build our way up to,” Harden said.

Harden stepped back from Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left, then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout.

Harden finished with 22 points. Paul added two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

“It’s been a good streak, disappointing end to it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We played pretty poorly, did a lot of things to hurt ourselves and we’re playing a great team. Can’t get away with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni raved about the performance of the 32-year-old Paul .

“The guy is a winner, he’s been a winner, he’s going to win,” D’Antoni said.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts and 6 of 20 overall. It was just the sixth time in his career that he’d attempted 20 or more shots while making six or fewer.

“It was just one of those nights where I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor,” he said. “So I’ve got to take that responsibility for that one. It was pretty bad.”

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half.

It was Harden’s second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday.

The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points.

Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left.