Associated Press

No contest: Heat push win streak to nine, roll Hawks 116-93

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MIAMI (AP) — Ask anyone in the Miami Heat locker room how this is happening, and the answers will all be largely the same.

They can’t explain.

That doesn’t bother them, either.

The NBA’s hottest team stayed that way Wednesday night, as Goran Dragic scored 27 points, Dion Waiters added 20 and the Heat had no trouble with the Atlanta Hawks on the way to a 116-93 win. It was the ninth straight win for the Heat, the longest current run in the league and Miami’s best streak since winning 10 in a row from Nov. 12-Dec. 1, 2013.

“We’re just having fun,” Waiters said.

It matched the largest victory margin of the season for Miami (20-30), which plays its next six games against opponents with losing records. A team that was on the cusp of having the NBA’s worst record just a couple weeks ago is now in the thick of a playoff race, and dominated a Hawks team that beat Miami in the first two matchups between the clubs this season.

“A lot of credit to Miami. They’re playing really, really good basketball,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “You can see why they’ve won nine games in a row now. Both ends of the court, their activity, their aggressiveness, just really impressed with their players, their coaching staff, everything they’re doing.”

Hassan Whiteside scored 18 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for the Heat. James Johnson scored 16 points before getting ejected in the fourth quarter for Miami (20-30).

Kent Bazemore scored 14 and Dennis Schroder scored 12 for the Hawks (28-21).

“They’re doing a great job,” Schroder said after complimenting Waiters, Dragic, Johnson and Whiteside. “And we didn’t.”

Atlanta’s Taurean Prince was ejected midway through the fourth quarter for pulling Whiteside down from behind and being assessed a flagrant two. James Johnson retaliated in Whiteside’s defense and was ejected after getting a technical.

That was about the only moment in which the game was competitive after halftime. Miami tied San Antonio for the third-best streak in the NBA this season, with only Golden State (12) and Houston (10) having more consecutive wins.

“It hasn’t been about the result for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We felt like our team was getting better. And throughout all of it, you do have to maintain perspective.”

TIP-INS

Hawks: Atlanta outscored Miami 108-72 in the paint in the first two meetings between the clubs. The Hawks were outscored 54-36 in the paint Wednesday. … Dwight Howard (six points, 11 rebounds) saw his string of five consecutive double-doubles end. … Atlanta had 13 assists, to Miami’s 23.

Heat: Miami led by as many as 26. … Dragic has drawn fouls on four 3-point attempts in his last three games. … Atlanta’s Paul Millsap drew a technical at the end of the first half, so Dragic took and made the subsequent free throw – 15 minutes later. He then made a 3-pointer on the same possession. … Waiters has at least 17 points in each of his last seven games.

HOUSTON, HELLO

With the Hawks going to Houston on Thursday, it should mark Howard’s first time playing there as an opponent since Dec. 4, 2012. Howard spent the last three seasons with the Rockets, averaging 16 points and 11.7 rebounds. He signed a three-year, $70.5 million deal with the Hawks last summer.

WHITESIDE MARKS

Whiteside’s 10th rebound was No. 2,000 of his career. He also had two blocks, leaving him one shy of No. 500 there.

 

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

Associated Press
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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.

Rockets survive gut punch from Warriors, even Western Conference Finals at 2-2

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The Houston Rockets can only win against the Golden State Warriors in one way: ugly.

During their Game 2 blowout against the defending champions, Houston’s 22-point victory was ugly for the Warriors. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win, it was ugly for the Rockets despite the 95-92 score in their favor.

Golden State came out of the gates hot, scoring the first 12 points of the game as it was clear that the Warriors were drawing off of the home crowd back in Oakland. Houston eventually settled, coming back with a massive 34-point second quarter. Mike D’Antoni, using an abbreviated rotation, found a way to up his team’s defense on the Warriors, clamping down on Golden State from the 3-point line.

The Rockets took a 53-46 lead into the half, and needed to brace for the coming changes from Steve Kerr’s squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors answered with a 34 point quarter of their own to open the second half. Golden State found their range from 3-point land as — guess who — Stephen Curry started to go nuclear. Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points but shot a woeful 37.5 percent from the field, started to slow even as he got open looks off jumpers above smaller defenders.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Houston remained resolute, and full of energy as PJ Tucker and Chris Paul jumped for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Meanwhile, Golden State appeared to slowly run out of gas. Steve Kerr said as much after the game, intimating that his own shortened lineup without Andre Iguodala could have played a role.

D’Antoni, who obviously had a game plan to better defend Durant, then focused his attention toward Curry. The Warriors point guard finished the game shooting 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter, including a miss on the final shot of the game.

Curry scored 28 points with six rebounds and two assists. Durant added 12 rebounds and three assists to his scoring total. Draymond Green contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

For Houston it was Harden who led the way with 30 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Paul had 27 points to go with four assists and two rebounds. PJ Tucker, who scored just four points, grabbed a whopping 16 boards. Clint Capela was much the same, scoring eight points while grabbing 13 rebounds.

This season’s Western Conference fighters has been both puzzling and Expected. Well the variants of victory margin has been much greater than any of us anticipated for both sides, the fact that the coaches on each bench are trying to out dual each other each game Runs with the idea we have of some of the best playoff series in NBA history. In fact, the back-and-forth battle between two teams as they trade winds is perhaps what makes be later rounds of the NBA playoffs so worth watching.

Houston’s victory was gritty, and defensive, and not much to look at. True to his persona, after the final horn Rockets point guard Paul called it, “A fun game.”

While we finally got ourselves a close conference finals game out West, the question now turns to what the teams will do for Game 5 back in Houston. Will this series become more competitive? Or will Houston and Golden State continue the back-and-forth, big-margin victories we’ve seen thus far?

No matter what, there’s no doubt the Rockets will be trying to recapture the defensive aura they held in Game 4 as Golden State tries to find a way to break through it.