Sleeved jerseys not enough to stop LeBron, Heat in Christmas Day win over Lakers

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LOS ANGELES — The Heat got more of a fight than maybe they were expecting in their Christmas Day matchup with the Lakers, but eventually showed enough on both ends of the floor to get the job done.

Behind 23 points apiece from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami used a 9-0 run late in the fourth to gain separation and finish with a 101-96 victory to improve its record to 22-6 on the season.

The Lakers started off more active and engaged than the defending champs, and led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter. L.A. was determined to try to beat the Heat with three-point shooting, and by halftime had launched 20 of their 45 attempts from beyond the arc.

Even though they made just six, it was a plan that continued with more success in the second half, when the team made five of its next 10.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said he anticipated this course of action, and felt that his team defended the long ball well for the most part.

“They’re fifth on threes attempted, so that’s a little bit more how they play anyway,” he said. “Teams will try to get us moving, try to get us to play out of our rotations. That’s not a secret, everybody’s been doing that for a while. We do play an aggressive, disruptive style so at times we’re exposed and we have to cover ground.

“They did launch some threes; early on, they were getting some wide open ones where we weren’t even near them, or making that extra effort to contest and making them put the ball on the floor. Then we were able to get them to make that next play, and then from there it was just inconsistent.”

LeBron James had a quiet game by his standards, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Even though he shot 7-of-14 from the field, a closer look shows that he was 6-of-6 at the rim, but just 1-of-8 while shooting from the outside.

Earlier in the week James had said that he and his teammates were concerned about the special, sleeved jerseys that they and all the teams playing on Christmas would be wearing, and he blamed his poor jump shooting on them afterward.

“It was definitely a different feel,” James said. “Every time I shot it from the free throw line or shot a jumper I felt a little tug, so maybe I’ll go up to another bigger size next time we wear them, or … I’m not going to tell you what the other alternative is, but I definitely felt it for sure.

“For me, I’m not a great shooter,” he continued. “So any little error that goes on can affect my shot.”

James was much more effective in transition, where the Heat are among the deadliest teams in the game. He and Wade connected on not one, but two incredible alley-oops on the break in the first half which had even Lakers fans out of their seats in excitement.

“Anytime D Wade gets on the break, I just try to chase him down,” said LeBron. “I’m not sure if he’s going to go in for it or if he’s going to throw the lob to me. I had no idea what he was going to do with it. He was looking at me, I didn’t know where he was going to go with it, if he was going to toss it to me or throw it up. But the one off the glass, the only way I could catch it was with my left, so I had to improvise.”

On the Lakers side, they saw Jordan Farmar return to the lineup after missing time with a hamstring injury, and despite his understandable rust, the offense ran noticeably smoother with a capable point guard in charge. L.A. got solid performances from Nick Young and Xavier Henry off the bench, enough to keep things close and make a couple of runs.

The Heat were ultimately too much in this one, however, and despite the victory coming against a depleted Lakers team that sits at 13-16 on the season, any road victory in the NBA is cause for celebration — even by the defending champs playing a sub-.500 team.

“This road trip will continue to get tougher as we go, and we’ll need to play better basketball,” Spoelstra said. “But a road win, you never take those for granted.”

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

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.