NBA Playoffs: The Heat collapse

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After a regular season defined by crunch-time blunders and late collapses, the Heat’s postseason had been defined by gritty closing performances that saw the Heat holding onto close leads or pulling off comebacks in the fourth quarter.

All of that changed during Thursday night’s 95-93 loss, which may end up being Miami’s most important game of the season. With just over seven minutes remaining, Dwyane Wade hit a three right in front of the Mavericks bench to give the Heat a 15-point lead, one of the most comfortable leads the team has had all post-season long.

Then the collapse came. Jason Terry got loose and starting hitting shots and getting to the free throw line, Miami’s defense relaxed and allowed the Mavericks to hit jumpers, and Dirk Nowitzki stepped up to hit the go-ahead three with 26 seconds remaining and a game-winning layup after Mario Chalmers answered Nowitzki’s three with one of his own.

Not only did the Heat do everything wrong; they did what everybody said they would do wrong all year long. They got arrogant and took their eyes off the prize. They got lazy on defense. Most unforgivably, their offense devolved into hero-ball, with James and Wade (mostly James) running down the clock for 20 seconds and firing up a deep, contested jumper instead of trying to run the offense correctly and get the Heat the baskets they needed to hold off the Mavericks’ charge. Overall, the Heat missed 10 of their last 11 shots, which opened the door for the Mavericks to pull off the stunning comeback. If James still doesn’t have his first ring when this series is over, he has only himself and his performance in the final seven minutes of this game to blame.

After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the fourth “about as tough of a quarter as you can have,” and that when things started to slide, they “kept on going.” He also called the close to the game “uncharacteristic” for the Heat, which has been true throughout the postseason, but it doesn’t mean they get a do-over on a Finals loss.

James and the Heat worked all post-season long to shake off the image of them as a preening, mentally weak team who couldn’t close out close games and two superstars whose egos would prevent them from playing with each other correctly on offense. After spending the first 16 games and 3.5 quarters of Game 2 shaking that reputation, the Heat earned it right back in seven minutes.

Now, there’s only one way for the team to exonerate itself: win at least one game in Dallas and win the NBA championship. Because if they don’t, this game could haunt them for years to come. After the game, Spoelstra reminded everyone that this is a “long series” and that the Heat will “bounce back.” Spoelstra had better hope his players are up to the task, because if the Heat manage to let a title slip out of their fingers in one of the most dramatic ways possible, it’s going to be a very long summer for one of the most hyped teams in recent memory.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

Associated Press
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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.