NBA Playoffs: James, Wade carry Heat, even up series with Pacers

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The Heat were able to get a 101-93 win over the Pacers to even up the series at 2 on Sunday, but it certainly didn’t come easy for them.

The Miami Heat absolutely needed a win in Indiana on Sunday afternoon, and for the first part of the game, it didn’t look like the Pacers were going to give it to them. Indiana came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and started the game off on a 9-0 run.

Consequently, the Heat were forced to play catch-up for the entirety of the first half, and if Indiana had made some wide-open looks in transition or Shane Battier or Mario Chalmers had missed some early threes, Indiana could easily have broken the game wide open early. LeBron James came to play, but just about no other Heat player showed up in the first half — Dwyane Wade in particular looked like a zombie wearing a #3 jersey, as he made just 1 of his first 8 field goal attempts and got burned on defense numerous times.

Then, with 1:46 remaining in the first half, Wade was forced into a contested, off-the-dribble, end-of-shot clock three by the 6-8 Paul George — and he made it. After that, everything changed. The Pacers went into halftime with an 8-point lead thanks to a beautiful buzzer-beating scoop shot by Leandro Barbosa, but James and Wade were starting to get it going.

The second half was, quite simply, the James and Wade show. James played like a 3-time MVP, attacking the Pacers in the post, picking apart their defense with beautiful passes that led to dunks or layups, and driving right to the rack time after time for finish after finish. Oh, and he grabbed 18 rebounds, with 6 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass. LeBron finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists, which hasn’t been done in the playoffs in the last 25 years, and had 2 steals and 2 blocks to boot.

I know we’re supposed to put an asterisk on everything LeBron does until he wins a ring, but this was an absolutely unreal all-around performance from LeBron in what was essentially a must-win game for the Heat, and it should be appreciated.

That said, the Heat would be in a 3-1 hole right now if Dwyane Wade hadn’t snapped out of his funk with a vengeance. Wade hit 11 straight shots at one point, both from the inside and the outside, and James and Wade played off of each other beautifully for the entire second half. They weren’t just both playing great — they were elevating each other’s level of play, and that’s when the Heat get almost impossible to beat.

On the Pacers’ side of things, a few guys had nice games, but foul trouble kept Roy Hibbert and David West from playing major minutes, which made a huge difference in the game, as Hibbert’s ability to defend the rim and crash the boards and West’s ability to score down low gives Miami fits. With Hibbert and West on the bench for long stretches, the Pacers were forced to rely on a lot of long jumpers, and it wasn’t all that effective for them.

Even with James and Wade at the absolute top of their games, this wasn’t a blowout win for Miami, and that should be a cause for concern for the team that came into the playoffs as the Vegas favorites to win the championship. The Heat may have lost Game 4 if Udonis Haslem didn’t make four mid-range jumpers in the final six minutes of the game, which was notable since Haslem has struggled mightily from mid-range all season long.

Of course, the bigger concern is this: Can the Heat win this series, let alone a championship, if James and Wade have to do this much just to get Miami a win? If the Heat can make it into the Conference Finals, they will probably get Bosh back, which will help a lot, but this team is still wafer-thin offensively right now, and they need to get back to the principles of “pace and space” that made them so tough offensively early in the year, especially the latter. Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and James Jones need to start hitting their threes, Chalmers, Cole, and Miller need to provide some playmaking, and Haslem, Anthony, and Turiaf have to force defenses to at least guard them.

Still, this was a good win for the Heat, and the road to the Conference Finals now goes through the American Airlines Arena again. The Heat should take a deep breath, and then realize they have to get right back to work if they don’t want to face an elimination game in Game 6.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”