Heat get some confidence, Kobe gets some fuel — everybody wins

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Here is what you need to know about what Thursday night meant to the Lakers, and why Kobe Bryant has pushed his teams to two consecutive titles.

Thirty minutes after the Heat defeated the Lakers 94-88 in a game where Kobe’s shot was off after the first quarter (8-21 overall after starting 4-4) and his shot selection down the stretch was terrible, he was back on the court and started shooting. In an empty AmericanAirlines Arena after a tough game Kobe was putting himself through a workout and trying to fix his jumper. He was out there for an extended period just trying to fix what went wrong.

In the end, both the Lakers and the Heat may be better because of what happened Thursday night.

For the Heat, it was a confidence boost they needed and a reminder they can play with the big boys. This game was tied 88-88, but after a week of hearing how they couldn’t do this it was Wade and the Heat that were clutch.

First Wade stripped Kobe of the ball and was able to get it ahead to LeBron James on a run-out for a breakaway dunk. Then after a ridiculously rushed fade-away three from Kobe (with 23 seconds on the shot clock off an inbound play) Wade came down and the Heat executed a beautiful play. They used Zydrunas Ilgausksas and his threat of a 15-foot jumper to draw Bynum away from the basket. Then Wade went away from a LeBron James screen, a move  that totally threw Kobe (guarding Wade). Wade blew past Kobe and was in the lane before help could arrive. Wade laid it in and the Heat were up four.

Let’s be clear — reading too much into one regular season game is a mistake, but the Heat have plenty of things to build off of from this win.

Quality end of game execution is a place to start. They went out and made better decisions and shots in crunch time than the defending NBA champions.

Then there is the play of Chris Bosh, who attacked the rim all night. He did a great job sliding to the rim when his man (Pau Gasol) came over to help. The result was passes to him, offensive rebounds and a good night. Bosh was aggressive and took control of the ball. Early on, when Wade and James struggled it was Bosh that kept the Heat in this game.

For the Lakers, the lessons are ones they know, but bad habits that they fall back on anyway. In the second half they went away from Gasol and working their offense inside-out completely. And Bynum and Gasol got utterly and totally  outworked on the glass by some pretty pedestrian rebounders. Bynum had one rebound in the first half (he improved in the second half and finished with 12). Los Angeles lost focus on its strengths and at the end had Kobe launching desperation threes early in the shot clock.

We learned nothing new about the Lakers, we were simply reminded that they can still fall prey to bad habits. We learned nothing about the Heat — unless you really thought this recent slide meant they were not contenders. They are. They have flaws but they also have great talent at three spots on the floor that can make up for any deficiency. We were reminded that Wade knows how to play in the clutch.

That is something the Heat can build off of tomorrow. Kobe is trying to build off his mistakes right now.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.

Rockets survive gut punch from Warriors, even Western Conference Finals at 2-2

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The Houston Rockets can only win against the Golden State Warriors in one way: ugly.

During their Game 2 blowout against the defending champions, Houston’s 22-point victory was ugly for the Warriors. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win, it was ugly for the Rockets despite the 95-92 score in their favor.

Golden State came out of the gates hot, scoring the first 12 points of the game as it was clear that the Warriors were drawing off of the home crowd back in Oakland. Houston eventually settled, coming back with a massive 34-point second quarter. Mike D’Antoni, using an abbreviated rotation, found a way to up his team’s defense on the Warriors, clamping down on Golden State from the 3-point line.

The Rockets took a 53-46 lead into the half, and needed to brace for the coming changes from Steve Kerr’s squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors answered with a 34 point quarter of their own to open the second half. Golden State found their range from 3-point land as — guess who — Stephen Curry started to go nuclear. Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points but shot a woeful 37.5 percent from the field, started to slow even as he got open looks off jumpers above smaller defenders.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Houston remained resolute, and full of energy as PJ Tucker and Chris Paul jumped for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Meanwhile, Golden State appeared to slowly run out of gas. Steve Kerr said as much after the game, intimating that his own shortened lineup without Andre Iguodala could have played a role.

D’Antoni, who obviously had a game plan to better defend Durant, then focused his attention toward Curry. The Warriors point guard finished the game shooting 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter, including a miss on the final shot of the game.

Curry scored 28 points with six rebounds and two assists. Durant added 12 rebounds and three assists to his scoring total. Draymond Green contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

For Houston it was Harden who led the way with 30 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Paul had 27 points to go with four assists and two rebounds. PJ Tucker, who scored just four points, grabbed a whopping 16 boards. Clint Capela was much the same, scoring eight points while grabbing 13 rebounds.

This season’s Western Conference fighters has been both puzzling and Expected. Well the variants of victory margin has been much greater than any of us anticipated for both sides, the fact that the coaches on each bench are trying to out dual each other each game Runs with the idea we have of some of the best playoff series in NBA history. In fact, the back-and-forth battle between two teams as they trade winds is perhaps what makes be later rounds of the NBA playoffs so worth watching.

Houston’s victory was gritty, and defensive, and not much to look at. True to his persona, after the final horn Rockets point guard Paul called it, “A fun game.”

While we finally got ourselves a close conference finals game out West, the question now turns to what the teams will do for Game 5 back in Houston. Will this series become more competitive? Or will Houston and Golden State continue the back-and-forth, big-margin victories we’ve seen thus far?

No matter what, there’s no doubt the Rockets will be trying to recapture the defensive aura they held in Game 4 as Golden State tries to find a way to break through it.

Report: Suns could have traded for Kristaps Porzingis last season

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I’m going to need New York Knicks fans to read this one with their eyes closed. Ready? Here we go.

The Phoenix Suns recently won the right to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. That means they will be adding a player like Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, or Marvin Bagley to their young roster. Last season, Phoenix selected fourth and picked Josh Jackson. It’s a rebuilding process, to be sure.

But a new report says that if Phoenix would have decided to instead trade the pick they used on Jackson, they could have had Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis.

Seriously.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Phoenix had an opportunity to put together a package that would have sent Porzingis to Arizona. That anything the Suns had, plus the No. 4 pick, would have made that happen is just another testament to why Phil Jackson had to go in New York.

Via the Ryen Russillo show:

The Knicks actually hit on Porzingis, and although he may be out for the entire year next season, he’s a keeper to build around, not to trade. On the other side of things, why the Suns didn’t include that pick and pull the trigger is a head scratcher, although we don’t know the full details of the proposed package.

No doubt New York fans are glad the Suns didn’t decide to accept the offer without that pick.

Watch James Harden dunk all over Draymond Green (VIDEO)

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Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals started off hot for the Golden State Warriors. The defending champs scored the first 12 points of the game, but the Houston Rockets rallied before the half was over to take the lead, 53-46, at the break.

One of the biggest highlight plays from Houston came courtesy of James Harden late in the second quarter.

The play came with 6:06 left to play in the half and with the Rockets pushing on the Warriors in transition. Harden found himself with the ball at the top of the key and with an open lane. That forced Draymond Green to slide over as a help defender, and the result was a thunderous dunk for Harden over the Golden State defensive stalwart.

We’ll forget that Chris Paul probably either travelled or double-dribbled before Harden got the ball on the play.

Golden State leads the series, 2-1.