Bulls push back but can’t stop Heat stars… Cole and Bosh? Yup. Heat get win.

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You knew the Chicago Bulls were going to be ready to fight… Nazr Mohammed may have taken that too literally and was ejected for shoving LeBron James to the ground. Still, this is what you expected from the Bulls.

You also know LeBron James is going to get his if he wants them. And in a game where it felt like he coasted for about 45 minutes he still had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists on Friday night. After a slow start he hit a deep three and got a fantastic and-1 late in the game.

But to win in the playoffs you need your second, your third options to step up, and that’s why the Heat have… Norris Cole?

It worked for one game. Cole had 18 points and hit 3-of-3 from three, plus played some solid defense. Chris Bosh had 20 points and 19 rebounds.

LeBron, Bosh and Cole made the Heat the steadier team down the stretch and helped lift the Heat to a 104-94 win in Game 3. That gives the Heat a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 Monday in Chicago.

Despite all their efforts the Bulls just can’t slow the Heat offense — Miami had 120.6 points per 100 possessions, which is 20 points higher than the Bulls allowed on average in the regular season. Miami shot 60 percent in Game 2 and 50 percent in Game 3.

A large part of that was that the Heat attacked and with that got to the foul line 30 times, hitting 26. That’s a lot of free points. (The Bulls had 25 attempts but hit just 17.)

From the start this game had plenty of intensity, and once again that boiled over into a few technical fouls — Joakim Noah got one for shoving Chris Anderson off the top of Nate Robinson after a foul that knocked both to the ground.

But the one everybody will be talking about came in the middle of the second quarter.

LeBron was bringing the ball up in a transition and Nazr Mohammed decided to wrap LeBron up and foul him 40 feet from the basket (it was a “Euro foul” to stop the fast break, the Bulls have done that a number of times this series). LeBron pushes him off and gets a technical instantly from Joey Crawford for it. Then Mohammed comes back with the unnecessary retaliation — a two-hand shove to LeBron’s chest and knocks him down. Mohammed got the flagrant 2 ejection.

The crowd loved it. They were fired up. But the Bulls lost the guy that spells Noah and they could lose him for another game if there is a suspension coming from the league office. And if you don’t think that mattered watch the more tired Noah not be quite quick and energetic enough to make plays during the Heat’s late run.

Chicago got offensive balance with all five starters in double figures, led by Carlos Boozer’s 21.

This game was back and forth most of the way — it was 85-83 Heat with 4:00 left — but the Heat executed better down the stretch.

Cole had a driving lay-up and later a key three.  Bosh was sinking free throws, blocking a Marco Belinelli shot, and hitting a driving layup off a cut. LeBron hit a deep pull-up three, then hit an and-1 where the Bulls played it perfectly with Jimmy Butler pushing LeBron to help, the help was there and it didn’t matter. Because LeBron does that. Combine that with the made free throws and it was too much.

This is what we expected from the series — the Bulls would scrap and put up a fight but it would just not be enough.

But you know the Bulls will show up ready to go hard again in Game 4

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.

 

LeBron James’ playoff streak ends at 13 years

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The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, YouTube hadn’t yet launched to the public.

LeBron had reached the postseason every year since 2005, when his Cavaliers went 42-40 and finished ninth in the East – another good marker. The last time LeBron missed the playoffs, it was so long ago, an Eastern Conference team could be that good and not qualify.

But his Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoff race Friday with a loss to the Nets.

That ends LeBron’s postseason streak at 13 years – tied for the 13th-longest of all-time. Karl Malone and John Stockton hold the record, each playing in 19 straight postseasons.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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Obviously, LeBron joining the Western Conference put his playoff streak in greater jeopardy. And the Lakers’ fate has been known for a while.

Still, it’ll be a little jarring to watch a postseason that doesn’t include a player who ruled half the bracket for so long.

That said, LeBron might not have the longest playoff streak snapped this year. Tony Parker, who reached the playoffs in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, could fall short in his first season with the Hornets.

If Charlotte misses the playoffs, 76ers guard J.J. Redick is in line to hold the longest active streak at 13 years.

Here are the players with the longest active streaks that could continue this season.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets.

Players whose teams are currently in playoff position are in teal. Players whose teams are currently outside playoff position but not yet eliminated are in purple. Free agents who’d be eligible for the playoffs if they sign before the end of the regular season are in white:

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There’s no reason to believe Manu Ginobili will come out of retirement. But he has played in every postseason since missing the entire 2009 playoffs due to injury. It’s technically possible for him to play in the 2019 playoffs and keep his streak alive.

Which is more than LeBron can say.

Knicks’ fans chant “Free IT” as Isaiah Thomas sits on Nuggets bench

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Well played, Knicks fans.

Denver went into Madison Square Garden Friday night to be the latest team to defeat the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas, out of the rotation in Denver, was the only dressed player not to play for the Nuggets. That did not sit well with Knicks fans.

Denver has better on court options than IT — Monte Morris should get Most Improved Player votes — but I hope he gets fully healthy and lands somewhere next season where he gets a chance to show what he can still do.