1. Miami's Rally Caps Bizarre Night In Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- During a winning streak that started in winter and has moved on to spring, the games are starting to run together for the Miami Heat. It's gone on so long, players sometimes have to pause to remember just how many games they've bagged in a row.
But when they're old men telling stories of these truly glory days, they will not forget Wednesday night. They'll catch glimpses of it in highlight shows and flashbacks. There's a chance it'll be the intro sequence when ESPN does a "30 for 30" film on this continuing run toward history.
"This was one of the most bizarre and unique days of my life," LeBron James said after the biggest comeback of his career involving the two teams he's played every game in that career with.
And there are some pretty unique days in James' catalogue. His Heat's 98-95 victory over the Cleveland Cavs featured a carbon dioxide tank condensation delay, a fan running onto the court to deliver a message to James, and don't forget a 27-point comeback that featured perhaps 10 of the most jaw-dropping minutes that will be played in the NBA this season.
There is no use forecasting how much longer this Heat streak, now at 24 games, can go. If they can survive 12 road games and come back from 16 down in New York, 17 down in Boston and then 27 down to a motivated and undermanned Cleveland outfit, good luck handicapping it.
It would be like predicting two years ago -- when the Cavs fans showered James with so much visceral hate that the date would be burned on James' mind like a child's birthday or an anniversary -- that not only would James hear some cheers playing at Quicken Loans Arena in 2013 but have a fan accept incarceration to deliver a plea for him to return in free agency next year.
"It can't get no worse that it was on Dec. 2, 2010," James said before the game.
Yet during the third quarter when a young fan sprinted onto the floor wearing a T-shirt that read "We miss you" on the front and "2014 come back" on the back, James found himself drawn to him. The Heat's veteran head of security David Holcome, a man who is not to be messed with, wrapped the fan up before anything could happen.
But James walked over and patted him on the head as he was being led away.
"He said he missed me and come back please," James said. "I didn't have much time to say much because security got to him. They've got metal detectors here, right? So I knew I was OK."
Shortly before the game, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert tweeted a message aimed at Cavs fans and, perhaps, at James himself: "Cleveland Cavaliers young talent makes our future very bright. Clearly, LeBron's is as well. Time for everyone to focus on the road ahead."
Following the game, Heat owner Micky Arison tweeted a congratulations to the Cavs team and to Gilbert himself.
Just what the heck is going on here? Mortal enemies offering public gestures of goodwill toward each other. Cavs fans breaking the law to show James love. The Heat looking at a 27-point deficit on the fifth game of a road trip and taking the lead in 10 minutes of game time. James having one of the worst first halves of the season only to end up with a triple double. The Heat going on 50 days without a loss.
"After it becomes a thing," Chris Bosh said, "you don't want to lose anymore."
The Heat dubbed these last few games as the "reunion tour." Sunday they played in Toronto, Bosh's old haunt, and won. Monday they played in Boston, Ray Allen's former home, and won in a thriller. Wednesday they one-upped them all and put together one of the most remarkable games of the season thus far in James' old building.
"I didn't want to be the only guy to take an "L" on the reunion tour," said James, who scored 11 straight points in a 40-12 Heat run during the third and fourth quarters that reversed the game. "So I had to dig down."
As the streak carries on, the Heat keep finding new ways to motivate themselves. James didn't come out of the game in the second half. He was responsible for 39 points in those 24 minutes when you included his baskets, free throws and assists. He finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season.
"That guy right there," said Dwyane Wade, nodding toward James' locker, "did not want to lose in this building, not tonight."
The night and the building and the city and the fourth-quarter score and the opponent and the standings and reality all aren't mattering much to the Heat anymore. The Cavs, playing without star Kyrie Irving and key rookie Dion Waiters, played brilliantly for so much of Wednesday's game as they pounded the Heat on the boards and shot the ball beautifully when running offense. Just like the scouting report says to do.
Coach Byron Scott maybe could have called a timeout earlier or made a different substitution of called a better play at the end when the Cavs had a chance to tie. But in all honesty, he just had to look down at the Heat bench and wave when it was over, his team had just been run over by a team on a numbing run with a fearless star pulling them along.
The Heat freight train just kept on going, where it stops nobody knows.
"What are we at? 24 games?" Wade said. "You kind of lose count. It's awesome to be in this position."
Around the Association
MVP: LeBron James didn't have his best night and put up 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. That might be all we need to know in order to give James his fourth MVP trophy.
X factor: Ray Allen is practically blasé about clutch triples at this point. He hit three of them and chipped in five steals to help Miami overcome a 27-point deficit.
That was inevitable: The Cavs played extremely well early, but the Heat sleepwalked through the first two-and-a-half quarters. Once they woke up in the middle of the third period, the guillotine fell swiftly.
Defining moment: Marc Gasol tipped in a Zach Randolph miss with 0.8 seconds left to give the Grizzlies their one-point victory, showing just how tough handling Memphis' big-time big men can be. Kendrick Perkins rotated to help on Randolph inside, and Randolph missed. But Gasol had little problem reaching over the smaller Kevin Durant for the winning tip.
MVP: Gasol. Durant (32 points) heated up with 15 third-quarter points to make it a game, and Jerryd Bayless scored seven points in the final 11 seconds of regulation to send it to overtime. But Gasol (14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks) was perhaps the only player there for his team throughout this game.
That was close: The game featured three ties and 11 lead changes in the fourth quarter and overtime alone. These teams played a seven-game series in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, and who wouldn't want to see them match up again in this year's playoffs? (Besides fans of offense. Both teams shot below 36 percent.)
MVP: It's Tim Duncan in a no-contest. The Big Fundamental put up 25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots as he wreaked havoc on the Warriors' interior.
X factor: As Gregg Popovich has toyed with the backup point guard position, especially with Tony Parker out, Nando De Colo stepped up with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and just one turnover, while doing a solid job defensively against the Warrior guards.
Defining moment:Just when a Stephen Curry 3-pointer with 1:48 left seemed to give the Warriors hope they could mount a late comeback, back-to-back 3s from Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard put Golden State to bed.
X factor: It was the "other-other" guys doing work for the Clippers' second unit, as former 76er Maalik Wayns and Ryan Hollins sparked the Clips with an 8-0 run in the second quarter that led to the beginning of the end.
MVP: Chris Paul. Pesky and efficient, Paul seemed to have his nose in every play in a second half where the Clippers poured it on. Paul finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists and 5 steals.
That was foolish: The Sixers had a puncher's chance with the Clippers coming out lazy, but as per usual, a bevy of ill-advised mid-range shots sunk Philly's offense to another poor offensive showing.
Defining moment: New Orleans trailed 86-85 during the game's closing seconds when Eric Gordon pulled up for a tough shot in the lane. The attempt rimmed out, but rookie phenom Anthony Davis crashed the glass for the tip-in, giving New Orleans the game winner with 0.3 seconds remaining.
MVP: Paul Pierce. Boston's captain had a game-high 28 points, including 16 of the Celtics' 31 second-half points, but it wasn't enough to keep the Hornets from rallying late.
That was a tale of two halves: After shooting 60 percent in the first half to give themselves a 10-point lead, the Celtics were shut down by the Hornets over the final 24 minutes. New Orleans limited Boston to 32.4 percent shooting after intermission and outrebounded them 30-12.
MVP: Bigger, stronger and impressively mobile, Brook Lopez made Dirk Nowitzki the second-most offensively skilled player on the court, pacing a third-quarter attack that the Mavericks couldn't defend.
X factor: Andray Blatche. Conventional and analytical wisdom says that Blatche shouldn't be able to drain so many contested jumpers and awkward post moves, but it's hard to argue with his shot selection when he's near perfect from the field.
That was confident: Playing the second game of their circus trip against a would-be West playoff team, the Nets didn't stumble, getting hotter throughout the game and building hopes for their upcoming schedule.
MVP: Jeff Teague was sensational in the pivotal third quarter. His 12 points were crucial in putting away the Bucks. He ended the night with 27 points and 11 assists.
LVP: Monta Ellis was terrible, scoring only five points on 2-of-14 shooting. The whole team shot poorly, but Eliis is a leader who has to find ways to score even when he isn't shooting well.
That was positive: In an otherwise terrible all-around shooting night for Milwaukee, Larry Sanders was a bright spot with 19 points and 14 rebounds. His play was a big part of a late 31-17 run that got the Bucks within four points late in the game.
MVP: James Harden put up 29 points, including a very Harden-esque 17 of 18 free throws. The Bearded One got to the rim at will and hung 20 points on the Jazz in the first half alone.
Defining moment: After trailing by 23 points early, the Jazz cut the Rockets' lead to six points in the last minute, only to see Harden draw a foul using his forearm on Alec Burks' chin.
Defining moment:The requiem for the Jazz's playoff hopes. Despite the tailspin, Utah is only 1½ games out of the No. 8 spot (and only one game behind in the loss column), but are only competing for about one quarter per game.
3. Wednesday's Best
If only the Cavs could have built a 28-point lead, maybe they would have held off LeBron and the Heat. Just when it looked as if Cleveland would be the last stop in Miami's magical run, the King went to work. James tallied his fourth triple-double of the season -- 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists -- to will the Heat to their 24th straight win.
4. Wednesday's Worst
C's get stung: The Celtics carried a 55-45 lead into halftime in New Orleans, but managed only 31 points the rest of the way, as the Hornets stole the game with an Anthony Davis tip-in in the final second. Boston has now lost four of its last six games.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I was out, what's the score?"
-- Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, at the time of Cleveland's 55-34 halftime lead against Miami. The Heat would rally to win their 24th straight game.
8. All In A Night's Work
9. Stat Check
The Heat overcame a 27-point third-quarter deficit and rallied to beat the Cavaliers to extend their winning streak to 24 games on Wednesday night. How rare is it to overcome such a deficit on the road? Prior to Wednesday night, 1,319 road teams had trailed by at least 27 points in the second half of a game since the start of the 2000-01 season. Only three of those teams came back to win the game: Phoenix over Boston on December 5, 2003 (trailed by 29 in the third quarter), Sacramento over Chicago on December 21, 2009 (trailed by 35 in the third quarter) and Milwaukee over Chicago on November 26, 2012 (trailed by 27 in the third quarter).
The Cavaliers were 39-0, at home or on the road, in games in which they had a 27-plus point lead in the second half during the seven seasons in which LeBron James was a member of the team.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Around the Association
MVP: Coming back from a right knee injury, Carmelo Anthony looked just fine against the Magic, finishing with 21 points (7-for-14 shooting) and eight rebounds. The most important thing for the Knicks was that Melo looked fluid out there.
X factor: The good J.R. Smith showed up for New York, coming off the bench and putting up a game-high 22 points (8-for-16) and seven rebounds. Smith did what he does best, which is score in bunches, and the Knicks benefitted from it.
Defining moment: Much of New York's success is reliant on their 3-point shooting and that's precisely why the Knicks beat Orlando. They were plus-30 from beyond the arc (15-for-34) and that proved to be the difference in the game.
MVP: John Wall only got better as the game wore on. He led the Wizards with 19 points and eight assists as a number of his dimes went to Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster getting open for 3s off pick-and-roll action.
X factor: The Wizards' bench unit helped it them a 23-2 run over nine first-half minutes to build a double-digit lead. Kevin Seraphin scored 16 points while Ariza added 14 for the game, and all but six of those came in the first half.
That was a sigh of relief: The Wizards came into the game with a league-low of five road victories. Holding off the Suns, who cut an 18-point to three early in the fourth quarter, could prove monumental in the growth of the young players like Wall.
MVP: Byron Mullens scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to push Charlotte past the Raptors.
Defining moment: After Toronto cut the Bobcats' lead to one with 3:17 left in the game, Ben Gordon put together a 5-0 run, allowing Charlotte to simply trade baskets for their second straight win.
X factor: Charlotte's bench outscored Toronto's 54-13, with Jannero Pargo, Mullens and Gordon combining for eight 3-pointers on the night.