Amare Stoudemire

Associated Press

Heat rally past Bulls 106-98; Chicago on verge of elimination from playoffs

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade wanted Miami to view Thursday night as a close-out opportunity, a chance for the Heat to essentially finish off a Chicago team desperate to keep its season alive.

In short, a dress rehearsal for any series-clinching scenarios that might await in the playoffs.

It went exactly to Wade’s liking.

Wade scored 21 points, Joe Johnson added 17 and the Heat beat the Bulls 106-98, putting up 66 points in the second half and making big defensive plays to pull away down the stretch.

“At this time of year, you have to use certain situations to try to prepare us because we’ve never been there together as a team,” Wade said. “This was one of those situations.”

Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside each had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, which has 14 consecutive games of scoring 100 or more at home – the second-longest such streak in franchise history.

Luol Deng scored 13, Josh Richardson had 11 and Amare Stoudemire added 10 for the Heat (46-32), who remained fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for the Bulls (39-40), who now need a series of miracles to get into the postseason. Pau Gasol finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Derrick Rose scored 17 for Chicago, which could be officially eliminated as early as Friday (the Bulls need to win out and the Pacers need to lose out or Bulls are eliminated).

“Obviously it’s not the way that we wanted,” Butler said. “I think everybody thinks about it each and every day. It probably keeps everybody up late, I know it does for me. But we can’t change it now. It is what it is.”

Rose had a chance at a layup that would have given Chicago the lead with 3:50 left, only to see it blocked by Whiteside to set up a three-point play by Wade and a 90-86 Heat lead.

“That’s his gift,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Whiteside’s block.

Moments later, Butler thought he saw someone open in the corner but his pass was deflected for a steal by Wade, leading to more Heat points as Miami kept pulling away.

Chicago hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2007-08, when the Bulls finished 33-49. They then beat 60-1 odds to win the draft lottery, getting the right to take Rose with the No. 1 overall pick – while Miami, far and away the NBA’s worst team that season, wound up taking Michael Beasley with the No. 2 selection.

Rose isn’t ready to concede.

“Still have three more to go,” he said.

Miami sputtered offensively in the first half, trailing 46-40 at the break. The Heat came out and scored 35 in the third, the 17th time the Bulls gave up that many in a quarter this season. That happened only seven times last season.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Taj Gibson (ribs) tried to warm up before the game, but wound up missing his fifth consecutive contest. … Gasol had a double-double against Miami for the 17th time in his career. It was also his 99th in the last two regular seasons, after leading the NBA with 54 last season. … The Bulls were swept by Miami for the first time since 2003-04, Wade’s rookie season.

Heat: Dragic’s 12 rebounds were a career high. … Justise Winslow appeared in his 75th game. He’ll finish the regular season as the Heat leader in games, the fifth rookie in team history to have that distinction. … The Heat had three assists in the first half, their lowest in any half since Feb. 14, 2012. The trend didn’t last – they had five in the first 4:02 of the second half.

UNCHARACTERISTIC

Doug McDermott‘s flagrant foul against Whiteside late in the third quarter was unusual in many ways. Not only was it Chicago’s first flagrant call of the season, it was the first time McDermott was whistled for anything other than a common foul in years. He had no flagrants or technicals in his first 117 NBA games, and no technicals in his 145 games at Creighton.

BOSH SPEAKS

Chris Bosh blogged again Thursday, following up his recent thoughts about beer and barbecue with revelations of what apps he’s using and his affinity for technology. He offered no update on his battle with blood clots or if he’s still hoping of returning this season. Thursday was his 25th game missed since being diagnosed with a clot in his leg at the All-Star break.

 

Like Melo’s botched dunk, Knicks tried to rise but fell flat

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NEW YORK  — Even Carmelo Anthony laughed at his muffed stuff, when he didn’t jump high enough on his dunk attempt, slammed the ball into the rim and tumbled backward to the foul line.

Not so funny for Anthony and the Knicks is how perfectly Tuesday’s blooper summed up their season.

They tried to climb high and instead fell flat on their backs.

Another season has gone from hopeful to hopeless in a New York minute, as the Knicks have dropped out of realistic playoff contention by losing 15 of 18. They looked like one of the NBA’s most improved teams when they were 22-22, and now they just look like one of the worst.

“Everything just shifted all of a sudden,” Anthony said following a 104-85 loss to Portland.

And it happened so quickly, so unexpectedly that Anthony said this season is even tougher than last, when the Knicks finished with a franchise-worst 17-65 record.

Back then, they knew they were building from the bottom. This time, they thought they had escaped it.

“We looked a while back – not even a while back, a couple of weeks ago – and we sat in the locker room, and we were I think a game (behind) or even tied with Boston at one point in time,” Anthony said. “So we had some momentum going, it just went downhill from then. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, it just went downhill from there.”

Boston is now third in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks (25-37) are third from the bottom.

Anthony is frustrated, telling a heckling fan he should ask Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan for his money back, a response for which he apologized on Wednesday.

Everyone might want a refund after the last few weeks.

Team President Phil Jackson won more championships than any coach but missed on his first attempt in hiring one, firing Derek Fisher last month after just 1 1/2 seasons. Jackson did well with the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis and did upgrade the roster but not enough to take the pressure off Anthony.

Even Porzingis’ play has tailed off lately, and that combined with the Knicks’ collapse probably ended any chance the Latvian had of beating Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year.

Porzingis, like Anthony, can’t explain exactly what happened.

“It’s not one thing that went wrong, just can’t really pinpoint something,” Porzingis said. “It’s just maybe a few little things just adding up to each other and we’re not playing the way we should be playing and things are not going our way. But I think going through these tough times, this will make us stronger as we go forward.”

For now, they’re going nowhere. Fans booed loudly in the second half of Tuesday’s loss, save for the cheers for Jimmer Fredette as he played out the end of his 10-day contract.

And since the Knicks are no longer playing good basketball, they can’t hide the bad story lines that inevitably surround the team. Before his exchange with the fan, Anthony and former teammate Amare Stoudemire seemed to take swipes at each other, though neither mentioned the other’s name.

Jackson had to clarify a tweet that he meant as an observation about Stephen Curry but read like a comparison or even criticism, saying the NBA MVP’s game resembled former but far-less-accomplished guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Anthony and Porzingis wouldn’t write off this season, but the damage appears to have been done. The Knicks will need to turn their attention to the summer, when Jackson will try to bolster the roster further without a first-round pick (dealt to Toronto in the failed Andrea Bargnani trade) and perhaps hire another coach if he doesn’t decide to stick with Kurt Rambis.

Perhaps he may try to trade Anthony, who has to approve any deal and has shown no interest in leaving New York. But headed toward a third straight season with no playoff appearance after never missing them previously, Anthony isn’t happy with the way things are going here.

“It gets frustrating,” Anthony said. “The losing gets frustrating.”

 

Dwyane Wade scores 26, Heat beat Knicks in Joe Johnson’s debut

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Johnson jumped right into Miami’s starting lineup and right into the playoff race.

He looked completely comfortable in both.

Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Johnson made a 3-pointer on his first shot in a Heat uniform during a big game-opening run, and Miami beat the New York Knicks 98-81 on Sunday night.

Johnson was in the starting lineup a day after signing with the Heat and contributed to their 13-2 burst to start the game, a lead they never relinquished.

“You get a guy a caliber of, a player like him, you normally get that in the offseason,” Wade said. “So to be able to get it right now, as you’re going into a playoff run, is very important for this team, especially with everything that we’ve been dealing with.”

Hassan Whiteside added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who matched a franchise record with their fifth straight victory in New York. Luol Deng scored 15 points and Johnson finished with 12.

Miami had dropped two in a row but made a nice pickup during that stretch Saturday with the signing of Johnson, a seven-time All-Star who had been waived by the Brooklyn Nets after agreeing to a contract buyout.

Playing on one of the worst teams in the league a few days ago, his first time changing teams in midseason puts him on one battling for home-court advantage in the postseason.

“This is kind of new, but I’m up for it, man,” Johnson said. “It’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to it, and every game from here on out is going to be a playoff-type game for us. We’ve got to have that mentality.”

Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for the Knicks, who have lost 14 of 17. Robin Lopez had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“We just couldn’t get any sort of consistent rhythm because we couldn’t make the shots we normally make,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “It breaks your momentum, it breaks your confidence and guys couldn’t just get momentum, get the fans involved in the ballgame.”

Johnson picked the Heat in part because of his relationships with fellow veterans such as Wade and Amare Stoudemire, and because Wade talked to him about a future with the team beyond this season. Johnson fit nicely in the lineup with them while the bench got big contributions from Whiteside and Justise Winslow, who grabbed 13 rebounds.

Some loud “Let’s go Heat!” chants broke out at Madison Square Garden, where the Heat built a few big leads, let it get close a couple times, and finally pulled away to improve to 14-0 when holding opponents below 90 points.

The Knicks shot 37 percent and thought they put too much pressure on Anthony, who shot 9 for 24. Anthony said that’s understandable when players are missing shots.

“A lot of them (were) wide open that they missed,” Anthony said. “But when you’re not making, who else is there to look to to make shots and try to make shots and try to make plays? I don’t look at it as putting too much on me.”

TIP-INS

Heat: Stoudemire had eight points and seven rebounds while playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Knicks bought him out at last year’s All-Star break. Signed in 2010, he received a mixed reception, which matched what he called mixed emotions. “So many familiar faces,” he said before the game. “So kind of don’t want to beat them too bad, but then again I do.”

Knicks: Starting guard Arron Afflalo sat out with a bruised right thigh. … Stoudemire’s take on the Knicks: “It’s hard for me to watch from the outside looking in because I was so involved with creating a positive atmosphere around the Knicks, but now it seems that it went the opposite way.”

STATISTICS

Johnson’s first shot gave him 19,000 career points. He is six behind Reggie Theus for 50th place on the career list. … Wade has scored in double figures in 39 straight games against the Knicks, counting playoffs, his longest active streak against any team.

COURTSIDE CROWD

Among those choosing hardwood over Hollywood on Oscars night: Director Spike Lee, as he said he would, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Tracy Morgan, seated a few seats away in the front row.

 

James Harden’s 26 points lead Rockets over Heat 115-102

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden has long been known as a great scorer.

Lately. Houston’s star has been shining as a facilitator, too.

Harden scored 26 points and tied a career-high with 14 assists as the Rockets snapped a three-game skid with a 115-102 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.

It was the second time in eight games that Harden has had 14 assists and he’s had 10 or more in two other games in that stretch.

“He plays the game beautifully,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “His skillset I think is underappreciated by a lot of people. People see the scoring, scoring, scoring, but they don’t see that he makes plays for his teammates. They don’t see the passes he makes time and time again.”

Harden knows that it makes the Rockets much better when he’s able to get other people involved on offense.

“It means the defense has pressure on them,” Harden said. “Guys are making shot, guys are getting into a rhythm, getting comfortable and it’s easier for me.”

Houston had a double-digit lead for most of the second half and was up by 10 when Josh Smith scored all of the team’s points in a 7-2 run that pushed the advantage to 104-89 with about five minutes remaining.

The Rockets started Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward, at center with Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official this weekend and Clint Capela out with a thigh injury.

Smith scored a season-high 19 points in his second start this season and first since returning to Houston in a trade from the Clippers on Jan. 22.

He thinks the key to Tuesday’s win was the team’s defense.

“The defense has to be the cornerstone of what we do each and every night,” he said. “I think if we (assert) ourselves on the defensive end it will spark our offense.”

Luol Deng had 17 points for the Heat whose season-high four game winning streak ended.

“Houston clearly deserved to win this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They brought the necessary disposition. They imposed their will on the game and forced us into so many turnovers in the first half.”

The Rockets were up by seven entering the fourth quarter and scored the first six points of the period to make it 93-80 with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining.

A 3-pointer by Harden with just over three minutes remaining made it 110-93 and sent all Houston’s starters to the bench.

Houston led by 14 early in the third quarter before Miami used a 15-3 run to cut the lead to 74-72 with about five minutes left in the period. Dwyane Wade made four points in the span and the Heat made three consecutive 3-pointers to cap that run with two from Deng and one from Justise Winslow.

The Rockets got back on track after that, using a 9-2 spurt to extend the lead to 83-74 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Patrick Beverley and Marcus Thornton made 3s to get that run going and Terrence Jones finished it with a dunk after a no-look bounce pass from Harden.

The Rockets scored the final five points of the first half and the first eight points of the second half to turn a tie game into a 68-55 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Trevor Ariza started the third-quarter run with a 3-pointer and Smith scored the next five points.

Deng made a basket for the Heat before Smith sunk another 3-pointer to push Houston’s advantage to 71-57.

Harden made the last five points of the second quarter to give Houston a 60-55 lead at halftime.

QUOTABLE

Wade on Miami’s 17 turnovers: “I think early on we just weren’t mentally sharp. We came out and were losing the ball … and with a team like this who feeds off that you have to be very sharp and tight with the ball.”

TIP-INS

Heat: G Tyler Johnson missed his third straight game with a strained left shoulder. … Wade scored 16 points. … Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Rockets: Bickerstaff was fined $10,000 Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating after Saturday’s game against Washington. … Rookie F Montrezl Harrell sat out with an illness. …Thornton scored 18 points.

With Dwyane Wade already out, Hassan Whiteside leaves game with oblique strain

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Miami was going up against the Wizards shorthanded on Wednesday, with Dwyane Wade taking the night off due to a sore shoulder, joining Goran Dragic and Chris Andersen in street clothes.

Which is why it was bad news when big man Hassan Whiteside fell to the court grabbing his side in the second quarter. It was a non-contact injury, and he stayed down for a couple of minutes. He was helped to the locker room and is not expected to return.

Amare Stoudemire got the second half start for the Heat with Whiteside out.