Associated Press

Miami Heat push win streak to 8, top Nets 104-96

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MIAMI (AP) — It might still seem unrealistic to talk about Miami Heat playoff possibilities.

History says otherwise.

Goran Dragic scored 20 points, Dion Waiters added 19 and the Heat pushed the NBA’s longest current winning streak to eight games by beating the woebegone Brooklyn Nets 104-96 on Monday night. The streak is the fourth-longest in the league so far this season, topped only by Golden State (12 games), Houston (10) and San Antonio (9).

“Stay humble. Stay hungry. Continue to keep working,” Waiters said. “Get better day by day. Keep putting in the work and you see results … and along the way have fun, just enjoy it.”

Miami (19-30) occupies 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 4 1/2 games from the eighth and final playoff spot. But out of the last 80 teams that had winning streaks of at least eight games, 77 went on to make the playoffs – with New York in 2013-14, Portland in 2007-08 and Orlando in 2005-06 being the exceptions.

“We’re not looking at standings right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re concentrating on us.”

James Johnson had 17, Rodney McGruder scored 13 and Hassan Whiteside added 12 for Miami. Waiters and Dragic combined to hand out 17 assists for the Heat, who took the lead for good with a 17-0 run late in the first half.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 16 points for Brooklyn (9-39), which has lost six straight and 17 of its last 18. The Nets blew an 18-point lead at home against Miami last week, and had an 11-point lead late in the first half of this one.

Brook Lopez scored 14, while Trevor Booker and Isaiah Whitehead each had 13 for the Nets.

“We were physical,” Lopez said. “I thought there were a lot of positives out there.”

Miami outscored Brooklyn 33-12 from 3-point range.

“Give them credit,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They’re on a good roll.”

TIP-INS

Nets: Brooklyn has allowed 100 points in 45 of its 48 games, including the last 24. … This was the Nets’ only trip to Miami this season. … The Nets now have 532 3-pointers, one more than in all of last season. … Villanova ties: Nets guard Randy Foye chatted with Rollie Massimino, who was in attendance.

Heat: After losing records in October (1-2), November (5-10) and December (4-12), the Heat had a winning January (9-6). … Tyler Johnson (shoulder) returned and scored three points in 20 minutes. … The game was the 700th regular-season contest at AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Heat have played since Jan. 2, 2000.

WAITERS HONORED

Waiters was announced earlier Monday as the Eastern Conference’s player of the week, after averaging 23.3 points as Miami went 4-0. He becomes the 12th player to win the award as a member of the Heat, and the first since Dwyane Wade – 52 weeks ago.

JANUARY TO FORGET

Brooklyn went 1-15 in January. That’s the most losses ever for the Nets franchise in a month, breaking the mark of 14 set on four other occasions – most recently November 2009.

ORANGE NATION

A fan made a halfcourt shot to win a lifetime gym membership – and it proves how well things are going for Waiters right now. The shooter was none other than Brandon Reese , Waiters’ roommate as a freshman at Syracuse. “That was Reese? Man, I haven’t seen him in a couple years,” Waiters said.

 

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

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Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.

Watch James Harden drop 54 to lead Houston past Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — James Harden found his 3-point shooting touch — again.

Harden scored 54 points, matching the team record of 10 3-pointers he set in Houston’s last game in the Rockets’ 130-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

“I just want to win,” Harden said simply. “Whatever it takes.”

Harden scored 50 or more for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in his last seven games. The rest of the NBA has combined for only five such games this season.

Harden was 10 of 15 from long range and 19 of 31 overall from the field. He also had a seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the Orlando crowd when he headed to the bench in the final minutes.

“I feel like we lost against just him tonight,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he’ll take shots, and we’ll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period.”

Harden set the Houston record for 3-pointers with 10 in 18 attempts Wednesday night in a 55-point game in a victory at Cleveland.

“When he’s shooting over the top like that, I don’t know what you can do,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points for Houston. The Rockets were 22 of 39 from 3-point range, setting a record for the most 3-pointers by any Magic opponent in franchise history.

“We just shot the ball extremely well,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When James is like that, it’s hard for anybody to really beat us … no matter what kind of defense you’re going to throw, we’ve got guys.”

The Rockets pulled away in the second quarter, with Harden scoring 18 points, including Houston’s last 11 for a 59-49 lead.

Fournier led Orlando with 27 points. Aaron Gordon added 21. The Magic have lost three straight after winning four in a row.

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard combine for 88 points in Clippers win

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s hard to stop Paul George. It’s hard to stop Kawhi Leonard. It’s really hard to stop both at the same time.

George and Leonard showed what the Los Angeles Clippers had in mind when they teamed up the superstar duo Friday night. George scored 46 points, Kawhi Leonard had 42 and the Clippers held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-117 for their fourth consecutive victory.

“It’s special, two guys offensively,” George said. “The thing about it is, we’re dishing, finding each other, feeding each other. And then when we have moments to be aggressive, we’re looking to get aggressive, attack, look for our shots. It’s great when both guys can get it going”

Leonard and George became the first set of teammates in Clippers’ history to each score 40 points. It was the 21st time in NBA history it has happened. The last time it was done, it also involved George. He and Russell Westbrook did it for Oklahoma City last season.

Leonard and George’s previous high this season came Dec. 1, when they combined for 65 points against Washington.

“It’s great that we can have somebody else out there to help scoring the ball, making the game easier for myself,” Leonard said. “We’re still trying to build our chemistry out there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns had 39 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its seventh in a row. Towns had 14 points, including a 4-point play, in a 22-6 fourth-quarter run that trimmed a 21-point Los Angeles lead to five.

Andrew Wiggins added 34 points for the Timberwolves. His basket with 1:04 left cut the Clippers’ lead to 119-115. Minnesota didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Disappointed from the loss, but we fought back,” Wiggins said. “We were down big. Dug ourselves a hole. We fought back though. We went out swinging.”

Leonard and George set the tone early, combining to score the first 23 points for a Clippers team playing without Lou Williams, who sat out with a calf injury. In his absence, George and Leonard accounted for 54 of Los Angeles’ 65 first-half points. They became the first duo to each score 35 or more points through the first three quarters of a game in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Leonard made a career-high 19 free throws. He was 19 for 19 from the line.

“That was great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew without Lou tonight, every play was basically for those two guys. And they came up big.”

The Timberwolves took a 51-50 lead in the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capped by a Towns 3-pointer. Leonard responded with seven consecutive points to give the Clippers the lead for good.

George started the third quarter with a 7-0 run of his own. He scored 16 in the third, when Los Angeles took control by outscoring Minnesota 37-23.

“Forty-six and forty-two, they make it very tough on you,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

Leonard’s 31 first-half points set a career high for points in a half. He tied a career high for points in a first quarter with 16.

“We got into our spots early, made shots,” Leonard said. “Paul carried us in that second half.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points for the Clippers. Jeff Teague scored 22 for the Timberwolves.