Kurt Helin

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, looks on from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Washington. James did not play. The Wizards won 113-99. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Associated Press

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Could Toronto catch Cleveland for East’s top seed?

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Here’s what you missed on a Sunday around the NBA while thinking, “I should see Spotlight.”

1) Cavaliers rest LeBron James, look sloppy in loss to Wizards. It would be easy to write off Sunday’s Cleveland loss to Washington saying “the Cavs were resting LeBron.” Except the Cavaliers have dropped three of their last four and continue to look lost on defense and still searching for an identity on offense. The Cavaliers still started Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but those two combined for 13-of-31 shooting Sunday. There was more Love in isolation than anyone needs to see. More importantly, the Cavaliers played sloppy defense again (Washington had an offensive rating of 111.9 points per 100 possessions, meaning against the Cavs defense the Wizards looked like the Warriors). Coach Tyronn Lue was so frustrated he hockey line changed out all the starters mid-way through the third and tried to turn the game over to the Cavs’ bench.

After the game, J.R. Smith was the voice of reason, saying the Cavaliers can’t keep playing like this. Not just if they want to beat Golden State or whoever comes out of the West, but if they want to beat Toronto and the other teams in the East (the Raptors beat the Cavs a couple of nights ago.

2) Toronto misses chance to close gap on Cavaliers to one with loss to Pistons. Cleveland is opening the door with this mini-slump for the Toronto Raptors, something Toronto took advantage of earlier in the week to move within two games of the top seed. But Toronto missed an opportunity on Sunday — the Cavaliers lost again, but so did Toronto, falling to Detroit in ugly fashion 114-101. Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey decided to rest Kyle Lowry — which is a smart thing to do — but it seems the rest of the team took a mental vacation as well. Jonas Valanciunas got thoroughly worked by Andre Drummond, particularly on the glass. Corey Joseph didn’t impress with the start. In the second half, DeMar DeRozan was making bad shot choices. It was just a poor game and a blown opportunity to make up ground by Toronto.

3)Damian Lillard goes off for more than 30 again. Lillard’s run of hot play continued as he scored 20 points in the first quarter on his way to 33 for the game as the Trail Blazers beat the beat the Pacers in Indiana 111-102. Lillard led Portland to a 9-2 record in February.

4) Joe Johnson jumps right into Miami’s starting lineup. Joe Johnson went to Miami to get minutes and he was given them right off the bat — he was in the starting lineup Sunday against the Knicks and played 30 minutes, knocking down the first three he took on his way to scoring a dozen points on 10 shots in Miami’s 98-81 win. Johnson (and the entire Heat team) was a bit up-and-down on the day, Johnson was trying to find a comfort level with his new teammates, and to feel his way through the offense. Fortunately for the Heat, they were playing the Knicks so their mistakes were not exploited, at least not consistently. Dwyane Wade dropped 26 points, while Hassan Whiteside finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Miami is the four seed in the East and with Johnson is looking to keep home court advantage in the first round. Johnson is an upgrade for them that should help with that goal.

5) Dallas’ Dwight Powell had the dunk of the day. This is nasty.

Dallas’ Dwight Powell with ferocious slam (VIDEO)

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In his second season, Dwight Powell has become a constant part of the Dallas rotation, giving them 15 quality minutes a night behind Dirk Nowitzki. On the offensive end he takes a few more long twos than Rick Carlisle probably prefers, but mostly he stays in his lane with nearly half his shot attempts coming at the rim.

And he can finish at the rim.

As he showed during Dallas’ win over Minnesota on Sunday.

Dwyane Wade scores 26, Heat beat Knicks in Joe Johnson’s debut

Miami Heat forward Amar'e Stoudemire (5) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) celebrate in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks as New York Knicks guard Jerian Grant (13) watches during the Heat's 98-81 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Johnson jumped right into Miami’s starting lineup and right into the playoff race.

He looked completely comfortable in both.

Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Johnson made a 3-pointer on his first shot in a Heat uniform during a big game-opening run, and Miami beat the New York Knicks 98-81 on Sunday night.

Johnson was in the starting lineup a day after signing with the Heat and contributed to their 13-2 burst to start the game, a lead they never relinquished.

“You get a guy a caliber of, a player like him, you normally get that in the offseason,” Wade said. “So to be able to get it right now, as you’re going into a playoff run, is very important for this team, especially with everything that we’ve been dealing with.”

Hassan Whiteside added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who matched a franchise record with their fifth straight victory in New York. Luol Deng scored 15 points and Johnson finished with 12.

Miami had dropped two in a row but made a nice pickup during that stretch Saturday with the signing of Johnson, a seven-time All-Star who had been waived by the Brooklyn Nets after agreeing to a contract buyout.

Playing on one of the worst teams in the league a few days ago, his first time changing teams in midseason puts him on one battling for home-court advantage in the postseason.

“This is kind of new, but I’m up for it, man,” Johnson said. “It’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to it, and every game from here on out is going to be a playoff-type game for us. We’ve got to have that mentality.”

Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for the Knicks, who have lost 14 of 17. Robin Lopez had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“We just couldn’t get any sort of consistent rhythm because we couldn’t make the shots we normally make,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “It breaks your momentum, it breaks your confidence and guys couldn’t just get momentum, get the fans involved in the ballgame.”

Johnson picked the Heat in part because of his relationships with fellow veterans such as Wade and Amare Stoudemire, and because Wade talked to him about a future with the team beyond this season. Johnson fit nicely in the lineup with them while the bench got big contributions from Whiteside and Justise Winslow, who grabbed 13 rebounds.

Some loud “Let’s go Heat!” chants broke out at Madison Square Garden, where the Heat built a few big leads, let it get close a couple times, and finally pulled away to improve to 14-0 when holding opponents below 90 points.

The Knicks shot 37 percent and thought they put too much pressure on Anthony, who shot 9 for 24. Anthony said that’s understandable when players are missing shots.

“A lot of them (were) wide open that they missed,” Anthony said. “But when you’re not making, who else is there to look to to make shots and try to make shots and try to make plays? I don’t look at it as putting too much on me.”

TIP-INS

Heat: Stoudemire had eight points and seven rebounds while playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Knicks bought him out at last year’s All-Star break. Signed in 2010, he received a mixed reception, which matched what he called mixed emotions. “So many familiar faces,” he said before the game. “So kind of don’t want to beat them too bad, but then again I do.”

Knicks: Starting guard Arron Afflalo sat out with a bruised right thigh. … Stoudemire’s take on the Knicks: “It’s hard for me to watch from the outside looking in because I was so involved with creating a positive atmosphere around the Knicks, but now it seems that it went the opposite way.”

STATISTICS

Johnson’s first shot gave him 19,000 career points. He is six behind Reggie Theus for 50th place on the career list. … Wade has scored in double figures in 39 straight games against the Knicks, counting playoffs, his longest active streak against any team.

COURTSIDE CROWD

Among those choosing hardwood over Hollywood on Oscars night: Director Spike Lee, as he said he would, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Tracy Morgan, seated a few seats away in the front row.

 

Chandler Parsons, Mavs start fast in 128-101 win over Timberwolves

Chandler Parsons
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DALLAS (AP) — Owner Mark Cuban believes boos from the home crowd during a bad start in the last game for the Dallas Mavericks probably got the attention of his team.

Maybe so.

Chandler Parsons scored 29 points as the Mavericks started fast after a woeful opening half two nights earlier and rolled to a 128-101 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.

“This was a mature win for us,” said Parsons, who scored 13 straight Dallas points over the second and third quarters to help restore a 20-point lead built in the first 11 minutes of a sixth straight victory against Minnesota. “Obviously we haven’t been perfect and we’ve had some inconsistencies, but we are sticking together.”

Two nights after scoring 27 points to help Dallas rally from 23 down in the second quarter of an overtime victory against Denver, Parsons was 10 of 15 from the field, made four of seven from 3-point range and hit all five of his free throws.

“We went to him a lot and he delivered,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He played a really smart game.”

Shabazz Muhammad scored 24 points to lead the Timberwolves, who used nine players and dropped to 1-10 on the second night of a back-to-back after rallying for a win at New Orleans.

“We get tomorrow off, but we just look like a tired basketball team,” interim Minnesota coach Sam Mitchell said. “You could see it in their eyes.”

Dirk Nowitzki and Parsons sparked the quick start, both scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, in the first quarter. The Mavericks went up 39-19 on Nowitzki’s layup for his last points of the game with 1:15 left in the first quarter.

The 7-foot German left early in the third quarter with his fourth foul, and the Mavericks were up by 26 points when he finally came back late in the quarter. Apparently realizing they could rest the 37-year-old, the Dallas coaches pulled him again 24 seconds after he returned.

With Nowitzki and all but one starter for both teams sitting the entire fourth quarter, Dallas’ lead reached 31 as Parsons had to settle for finishing two points shy of his season high while getting six rebounds and four assists.

Wesley Matthews scored 15 points, and backcourt mate Deron Williams had 10 points and nine of the Mavericks’ season-high 34 assists. Dallas had its largest margin of victory a week after beating Philadelphia by 26.

“We’ve been emphasizing getting off to some better offensive starts, and us five collectively had to make a decision to get us going in the first and third quarter,” Parsons said. “We’ve been straggling a bit there with our spacing.”

Muhammad scored 11 points in the second quarter and the Timberwolves got as close as seven before the Mavericks pushed their lead back to 65-54 at halftime when Parsons hit a pullup jumper over Karl-Anthony Towns from just inside the arc.

Andrew Wiggins scored 15 points, and Towns had 12 points and 11 rebounds a night after getting 30 and 15. Zach LaVine, the only starter for either team to play in the fourth quarter, had 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds after scoring 25 against the Pelicans.

BASEBALL NIGHT IN TEXAS

Newly elected baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. and former Texas Rangers star Michael Young both had front-row seats. Both got loud ovations when they were shown on the video board during a timeout.

FINALLY COOLING OFF

The Timberwolves shot 38 percent after three straight games of at least 50 percent shooting – the second time they’ve had a streak that long in February. “We all pretty much felt like we had the energy to do it,” Towns said. “Sometimes you don’t realize how much your body has taken a toll until it’s actually going through something rigorous again.”

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: The Timberwolves won for the 17th time in franchise history at New Orleans when trailing by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. Their record is 17-562 in such games. … Ricky Rubio had 14 points and five assists. … Towns had the 34th double-double, tops among NBA rookies.

Mavericks: Dallas shot 64 percent in the first quarter with 13 assists on 16 baskets. … The Mavericks have played a league-high 10 overtime games coming off a stretch of four in six games. That included a franchise-record three straight. Dallas is 7-3

 

Warriors clinch NBA playoff spot with 6 1/2 weeks to spare

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 27: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates after tying the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth period of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on February 27, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Warriors won 121-118 in overtime. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors have clinched a playoff spot with more than six weeks to spare.

The defending NBA champions became the first team this season to wrap up a berth when the Houston Rockets lost Saturday night to the San Antonio Spurs. That assured the Warriors will finish among the top eight teams in the Western Conference.

About an hour later, Golden State improved to 53-5 – the best start in league history – when Curry hit a 3-pointer from well beyond 30 feet with 0.6 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Warriors a thrilling 121-118 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Curry had 46 points and his winning shot was his 12th 3-pointer, tying the NBA single-game record. The reigning MVP also broke his own record for 3s in a season, leaving the new mark at 288.