1. If This Is Playoff Preview, Bring On Encore
MIAMI -- There's one thing everyone can agree on: A Heat-Knicks playoff series could be epic.
The sheer star power of five current All-Stars, plus the postseason expertise of Chauncey Billups speaks for itself. The historical and geographic factors between the two teams add further intrigue. But beyond all that, which would fit into the classic hype category, the player themselves seem to be deeply vested in the matchup.
For such a postseason situation to develop, the Heat might have to sink a bit in the standings or the Knicks might have to move up. Both seemed possible after the way things played out in front of a split crowd that included thousands of Knicks fans, including a fist-pumping Spike Lee in the front row.
"It was a very, very important game for us," said Stoudemire, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds and a game-defining block on a LeBron James' potential game-winner in the final seconds.
"It was out of control; it was a playoff atmosphere."
It also was hardly a masterpiece. Four of the top five scores in the league were on the floor, yet the game turned into a sloppy and uneven affair. Both teams shot 36 percent and combined for 21 turnovers in the second half.
James had a remarkable alley-oop dunk off a high-speed lob from Dwyane Wade in the first quarter. And Stoudemire had one-handed breakaway stuff of his own a few minutes later but, other than that, the game was devoid of highlight plays.
Instead it turned into a defensive struggle -- a display of the new Knicks' aspirations and the current Heat's Achilles heel.
New York doesn't have the reputation of being a defensive-based team, but their defense was exactly what won it for them. The Heat, meanwhile, have a lot of wins, but 60 games into their season continue to struggle with execution in the clutch during big games. How those trends play out may determine how both teams' turbulent seasons turn out.
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni deployed an ultra-small lineup that bothered the Heat's flow at times, forcing them into freeze-ups on offense. Sometimes that unit included 6-foot-9 Shawne Williams playing center and a backcourt with small guards Anthony Carter and Toney Douglas.
Without having to worry about defending Joel Anthony, who had three points in 30 minutes, the Knicks were free to be more active on defense. It was a lesson other opponents may follow against Miami.
"Our defense was great," D'Antoni said. "If you want to win, this is how we are going to have to do it."
The Heat, who scored just 35 points in the second half, fell into what has become a problematic habit of playing one-on-one instead of incorporating all their stars. Last month when they lost to the Knicks in New York, the absence of an injured Chris Bosh seemed to throw off the Heat's balance.
This time they had Bosh and his 20 points and 12 rebounds. Plus they had 27 points from James. But Wade struggled, scoring just 12 points. When the Heat get an off game from one of their big three, they often have issues. The biggest on this night was not helping each other under pressure.
Miami had a four-minute stretch in the first half where they didn't get a shot up thanks to turnovers and poor execution, allowing for a 16-0 Knicks run.
Then, in the vital closing stretch when Anthony, who had 29 points, and Billups, who had seven of his 16 points in the fourth, were rolling, the Heat were shutting down. A James layup with three minutes left was the last field goal for the Heat, even with all the firepower on the floor.
That basket came out of a timeout, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a give-and-go play with James and Wade. But that type of execution was lacking the rest of the way under pressure. As has been the case at low moments this season, the Heat's stars were not helping each other.
"What you hope is that the pain of a game like this resonates enough to make a change," Spoelstra said. "That's what we need to do. We need to get better with our execution in these types of close games in the fourth quarter."
The Knicks get some credit for making the Heat stare in the mirror. Billups jumped into a passing lane to get a steal off a terrible Bosh pass and Stoudemire came over to reject James, both in the final minute.
Fast forward to moments like that in April and May and there would be a whole new file of Heat-Knick playoff memories.
"These games are fun," Anthony said. "It brings out the best of everybody."
2. Inside Numbers For Lakers-Thunder
The Los Angeles Lakers win for the fourth straight time following the All-Star break and improve to 8-1 against the Thunder since their franchise relocated to Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost three straight for the first time this season. Only three teams remain who have not had a losing streak longer than two games: the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder had a chance to tie the game with under 10 seconds remaining before Kevin Durant missed his shot attempt. Over the past three seasons Durant is just 2-12 on game tying 3-point field goal attempts in the last minute of regulation or overtime. Only two players over that span have taken at least 10 such attempts and made a lower percentage of those attempts: Kobe Bryant (1-10) and Aaron Brooks (1-10).
Speaking of Bryant, he continued his march up the record books. In the fourth quarter, Kobe moved past Elvin Hayes to become seventh on the all-time scoring list, and now sits at 27,320 points for his career. Next up on the list for Bryant is Moses Malone, who is sixth with 27,409 points.
The game featured the second- and third-highest scoring duos in the NBA; Durant and Russell Westbrook entered the game averaging 48.7 points per game and Bryant and Pau Gasol were combining for 44.0 points per game this season.
Durant and Westbrook outscored Bryant and Gasol by eight points, but the Lakers won with a strong game from Andrew Bynum, who scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bynum had a touch on just 18 of the Lakers' 98 possessions. When Bynum did get a touch, the Lakers averaged 1.5 points per play compared to just 0.79 points per play when he didn't. Gasol led the Lakers with 18 points, the 17th time this season Bynum and Gasol combined for at least 30 points. The Lakers are 14-3 in those contests.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Sunday's marathon slate of NBA roundball talk in Daily Dime Live. One comment in particular drew high praise:
Comment From soulfinger: Washington State should rename Puget Sound to PUJIT "pull up jumper in transition" Sound and have a statue of Kyle Lowry towering over it like the Colossus of Rhodes.
4. Extreme Behavior
Kevin Love, Wolves: With the Cavs just two games from escaping the NBA cellar, the Wolves sprung into action. Love posted 37 points and 23 rebounds to extend his double-double streak to 46 games in a 126-123 win over the Warriors.
Immediate Dividends On Gerald Wallace Deal: Joel Przybilla went scoreless in 14 minutes, picking up four quick fouls in the 100-86 loss to Orlando. At least Dante Cunningham had a bucket. The Pacers are looking tougher to catch at No. 8.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
-- Yep, he's talkin' Chauncey
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I watched it the whole way. I knew what he was going to do."
-- Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, on swatting LeBron James' potential game-winning shot.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Wallace Debut
7. OKC's Offensive Issue
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Thunder made a transformative trade on Thursday, one that puts them one giant step further along in their rapid makeover from doormat to title contender.
Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible of us to suggest that now they can just ride off into the title-contending sunset. While the additions of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed added some badly needed muscle to Oklahoma City's frontcourt equation, the trade didn't come without a cost. We saw those weaknesses laid bare in a 23-point loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday, and again in Sunday's 90-87 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's hard to become negative about the defeat when the three players they acquired -- Perkins, Mohammed and Nate Robinson -- didn't play a single minute and they still nearly sent the defending champs to overtime. Only after last-ditch 3-pointers by Kevin Durant and James Harden rimmed out -- the latter coming after a brilliant tap-out of Durant's miss by Nick Collison -- did the Lakers emerge victorious.
8. Green Adjusting To Green
LOS ANGELES -- It had been a while since Jeff Green had these sort of butterflies. Maybe as far back as when he first slid on a Boston Celtics cap on draft night in 2007. But, in a career that's detoured through Seattle and Oklahoma City over the past four seasons, Green came home Saturday night, slipping on the Boston jersey he never got to wear that first time around.
Green, dealt to the Seattle Sonics in a draft-night trade that brought Ray Allen to Boston and laid the foundation for both the assembly of the Big Three and the Celtics' 17th world title, got shipped back to Boston at Thursday's trade deadline in a shocker that the Celtics are adamant was aimed at securing Banner 18.
Green overcame some early-contest jitters in his first game in green, chipping in seven points, a rebound and a block over 17:50 as the Celtics rallied past the Los Angeles Clippers 99-92 on Saturday night at the Staples Center.
"Very anxious," Green said of his emotions at the start of Saturday's tilt. Indeed, he looked like a rookie again at times, leaning on old friend Delonte West to explain sets and plays to him on the bench before he first checked in.
9. Amare's Big Swat
Amare Stoudemire sealed the New York Knicks' victory when he blocked LeBron James's driving lay-up with seven seconds to play. It was only the third time in James' NBA career that he had a shot blocked in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter (or overtime) with his team trying to erase a deficit of three points or less. The others came in a span of 12 days in April 2008 on blocks by Joakim Noah and Samuel Dalembert.
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