Miami Heat v Los Angeles Clippers

Heat start hot then hang on to beat Clippers

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This was a nationally televised against a top-four team in the West in the Clippers — these are the kind of games that shake the Heat out of their mid-season malaise.

And when the Heat play like they did early Wednesday night it is a beautiful thing.

Miami’s first quarter was as good as they have played all season — they pushed the pace, had fantastic ball movement that picked apart the Clippers defense, and started the game shooting 14-17 from field. LeBron James had five first quarter assists, Dwyane Wade had four, the Heat were getting points in the paint and knocking down jumpers. Miami was up 12 in the first quarter, by 19 at points in the second.

That proved to be enough, despite the ball movement fading away late. The Clippers mounted a furious fourth quarter comeback behind Blake Griffin and his 43 points on the night — Los Angeles whittled the lead down to two. Then it was a familiar story: Ray Allen drains a corner three and that proves to be the big play, the dagger.

Miami hung on to win 116-112 Wednesday night in Los Angeles in one of the more entertaining games of the season.

LeBron finished with 31 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, leading six Heat players in double figures on the night. Miami played its game much of the night, sharing the ball, and they were out and running on the 20 Clipper turnovers. Live ball turnovers against the Heat become easy buckets and impressive dunks going the other way, and the Clippers did that too often. Of course, Los Angeles had plenty of dunks of its own — this team still puts on a show.

The Clippers want to be elite but once again inconsistent defense did them in — they allowed an offensive rating of 119 (points per 100 possessions) and they let the Heat shoot 52 percent on the night. As a team the Clippers have matured on that end, yet the trust on defense is not consistently where it needs to be, something Doc Rivers has admitted.

The Clippers stayed within striking distance because of a two-man show — Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin either scored or assisted on 53 of the Clippers 55 first half points.

Still the Heat maintained a double-digit lead through the bulk of the third quarter and looked like they might coast in for the win. It wasn’t to be. The Clippers put together a 10-0 run in the fourth (Crawford was a big part of that, he finished with 31 points of the night).

As the score got tight the Heat’s ball movement died as well. Yet the Heat were still getting good looks with LeBron attacking — Miami started having the point guard come set the screen to force the Darren Collison to hedge out and LeBron exploited that badly (that is where the return of Chris Paul will change things).

The Clippers kept coming. Inside of a minute left in the game the Clippers got the Heat lead down to two points. Miami had the ball and good 20 seconds of a strong possession, but when Wade drove the lane Crawford watched the ball and lost sight of his man in the corner. His man was Ray Allen. You don’t want to lose Ray Allen, and he promptly buried a three that ended up being the dagger.

Don’t read too much into a February game where both teams were battling injuries (none as serious as CP3 being out), but it’s a good thing to see the Clippers show some fight like that — they may have grown with while their best player has been sidelined. That could benefit them once the playoffs start.

What this game can do is remind us just how good the Heat can be when they are on — and that this season they don’t hold that focus quite as long it seems.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: