1. How Far Have Heat Come? Ask The Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz are in a unique position to evaluate the Miami Heat.
In the first six weeks of the season, the Jazz have seen Miami at its worst. That was when the Jazz blitzed through a 13-point fourth-quarter Miami lead in a disjointed Heat loss in South Florida on Nov. 9.
And the Jazz may now have seen the Heat at their best so far, which was Wednesday night. You could argue that the Jazz actually played a more complete start-to-finish game against the Heat this time. Yet the Jazz were outgunned and outexecuted as they fell to the same Heat team, 111-98.
Except it wasn't really the same Heat team. With proper perspective, the Jazz took notice.
"I think they are starting to figure out what works for them and what has put them into a position to win," Jazz guard Raja Bell said. "They had us spread out."
Bell, one of the league's best perimeter defenders, means that the Jazz constantly found themselves out of position trying to defend the Heat. That was not as much of a problem when the teams played a month ago, but that spacing and balance are starting to look like the serious weapons the Heat's grand plan called for.
LeBron James scored 33 points on just 20 shots Wednesday and Wade scored 28 points on 14 shots. They shared the ball. They shared a strategy. They shared responsibility.
After several weeks of being bewilderingly underwhelming, Wade and James are putting things together and it is fast becoming a force to notice.
"When you have guys like that around your perimeter, different guys can take over at times," said Jazz forward Paul Millsap. "You have to pay attention to at least one of them."
That was the general idea at the start of all of this but it wasn't happening early on. Wade and James were startlingly easy to defend when they were on the floor together. On the court alone they looked like All-Stars, together they looked like also-rans.
Perhaps one of the most misleading statistics in the league so far this season came 12 games into the Heat season. The ledger showed both James and Wade had exactly 275 points. It made it look like they were perfectly complementing each other.
In actuality, they were just taking turns playing well in halves and whole games while the other admired from the other side of the court or the bench.
So what is different now? Well, they are still taking turns but it is happening within individual possessions. That is making them exponentially harder to defend and the Heat significantly tougher to beat.
"We're finding our comfort spots on the court at the same time," said James, who is averaging 26.3 points during the Heat's six-game win streak.
"We're just doing our thing. We're not being too unselfish. If one doesn't have anything, we swing it to the other side and play good basketball."
There have been a couple of minor structural tweaks to the Heat's James/Wade attack. They are playing less point guard -- coach Erik Spoelstra has entered Mario Chalmers into the rotation to help -- and are playing more at their true wing positions.
Each has started to run cuts when the other has the ball. There's not yet as much movement as there could be, but both players have started to take advantage of the attention the other draws.
They are also not afraid to dominate the ball. If that means leaving the other guy in the corner or on the wing watching, then, as they have said, so be it. But instead of making the unnecessary pass to set the other up or hold the ball too long, they are trying to make their move earlier in the shot clock. If they're stopped then they swing it to the other man.
It sounds simple but it took a while for them to smooth out the edges. Now the opponents are having trouble sending multiple defenders to deal with both superstars on the same possession.
"We're trying to be ourselves at the same time," said Wade, who is averaging 23.2 points during the win steak.
"We wanted to get the other guy the ball but you also want your greatness to show. It is a learning curve. I think of late we're playing great together, we feel great on the court together. I don't think we look that terrible right now."
On Wednesday, the Jazz shot 51 percent, scored 58 points in the paint and had 21 fast-break points. Al Jefferson had 25 points. Deron Williams had 21 points and 12 assists. These are totals that would seem to easily add up to a victory for the Jazz, especially at home.
But it didn't. The Heat pounded Utah on the boards, earning 24 second-chance points, and were able to force some turnovers. Mostly, though, it was James and Wade doing what they do. Yes they are similar, but right now they are proving they can be similarly great.
"We are two similar players but we also want to win," James said. "We're figuring it out now."
2. These Aren't The Lakers You're Looking For
LOS ANGELES -- It was either a coach talking about his basketball team or a Jedi Master talking about the Force. Still not sure.
"There's a certain tensile energy that goes between all these players, a connective tissue that makes them react the way they do," Phil Jackson said. "We're not playing with that right now. There's something we're not picking each other up in the right way."
No, the Lakers haven't been playing championship-level basketball while squeezing past the Wizards and Clippers the past two nights. But they've acted like champions when they had to. It's a subtle distinction, about as slim as the margin of victory in their 87-86, buzzer-beating win over the Clippers.
The Lakers didn't panic and found a way to win despite trailing by five points with 1:14 remaining. Meanwhile, when it comes to discovering ways to lose games the Clippers are like Magellan.
The final four possessions for the Lakers: Pau Gasol jump shot from the free-throw line, Kobe Bryant jumper in the lane, Kobe Bryant 19-foot jumper, Derek Fisher driving layup off the glass for the win.
"We just made a little bit too many careless turnovers," said Gordon, who also provided the bulk of the Clipper offense in the fourth quarter with nine points. "That's what it came down to. We were right there throughout the whole game, we executed our plays. Just got to take care of possessions."
It was all mental, on a night the Clippers established their physical superiority with a soaring followup dunk by Blake Griffin over an earthbound Lamar Odom that was waved off on an over-the-back call.
Start with Jackson's hunches, as in tune with the Force as ever.
He went with Ron Artest's defense down the stretch instead of Shannon Brown's sizzling shooting hand that made all four shots in the third quarter, including a heave from 57 feet at the buzzer. Artest who somehow got over his disappointment from not getting dunked on by Blake Griffin ("I wanted to see what it felt like," he Artest said) two come up with two critical steals in the final minute.
The veteran Fisher has sat out entire fourth quarters this season, even in close games. But he was in this one tonight, instead of Steve Blake. Fisher spent the final timeout, which came with 3.1 seconds remaining, contemplating what he would do if primary option Kobe Bryant was covered and the ball came to him. Somehow I doubt Clippers rookie Eric Bledsoe was thinking about the fact that Fisher shoots left-handed and prefers to dribble with his left hand ... because he wasn't playing on Fisher's left side when Fisher got the ball.
Fisher drove to the basket, released the ball just before Jordan could get to it, and it banked in as the buzzer sounded.
But his work wasn't done. Back in the locker he delivered a speech to his teammates about "realizing we have a responsibility to each other to try to play the game a certain way. We have to take it a step farther as far as commitment to attention to detail and doing some little things a lot better."
That's what it will take to win their next road game, in Chicago, on Friday. For the past two nights, against two of the youngest teams in the league, simply being who they are was enough for the Lakers.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Wednesday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Zach Randolph, Grizzlies: Z-Bo went for a season-high 34 points on 15-19 FG attempts, hauling in 17 boards in a 102-98 OT road win over Phoenix. "Zach was vintage Zach tonight," said Rudy Gay, whose 3-pointer set up OT.
Austin Daye, Pistons: Daye-O! It's a Daye-O. The second-year guard missed all four of his 3-pointers en route to a two-point performance in a 93-74 loss to the Hornets. Daye came into the game hitting 49 percent from the arc.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It was bouncing and bouncing. I was praying, praying, praying."
-- Knicks guard Raymond Felton whose tiebreaking 3-pointer bounced on the rim five times and finally went in with 2.7 seconds left, giving the Knicks a 113-110 victory over the Raptors.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Kobe Better Than MJ? Ahem
Kobe Bryant is one of the 10 best players to play the game of basketball. But he will never be as great as Michael Jordan. Don't dare read this as Kobe-hating. I'm rooting for Kobe to be in the NBA Finals this spring again. But nobody has ever been as good as Jordan, not LeBron James, either; and he never will be, and people in my business need to stop suggesting it.
There's not an all-court player in the game today who does anything as well as Jordan did. Just consider this one stat: If you take out his final full season (1997-98), the lowest shooting percentage in Jordan's career with the Bulls is higher than the highest shooting percentage of Kobe's career.
I'm sure we'll revisit this a bunch of times in the spring, when Kobe is approaching his sixth title, which would tie him with Jordan.
7. The Clutch Fish
8. Baby Makes Nuggets Feel Sick
BOSTON -- Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise to find Pedialyte in the locker of a guy who goes by the nickname "Big Baby."
Regardless, Glen Davis had been chugging the stuff for two days hoping to get on the court Wednesday when his Boston Celtics hosted the Denver Nuggets at the TD Garden. Battling a stomach flu, Davis hadn't stepped on a basketball court since Sunday's game in New Jersey and was sent home from practice Tuesday -- in part to not infect his teammates -- after exhibiting a fever that reached nearly 103 degrees, leaving him questionable for game action.
"I woke up this morning not feeling too well," said Davis, admitting he wasn't sure if he would play Wednesday. "I was light-headed a little bit. I took a little bit of Advil and I felt better. I got home [from shootaround], drank some more Pedialyte and ate a little bit and I was sitting there thinking, 'Should I play or should I not play?'
Davis didn't just play, he contributed 16 points off the bench, while grabbing six rebounds, registering three steals and absorbing three charges over 26 minutes, 35 seconds of action as Boston emerged with a 105-89 triumph.
9. How Do You Know
Kevin Love scored 22 points and grabbed 21 rebounds for the Minnesota Timberwolves in their 111-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Love has surpassed both 20 points and 20 rebounds in five games this season while all other NBA players have combined to do that only once (Andris Biedrins on Nov. 26).
No NBA player had more than two such games in 2009-10 and the last player with as many as five in one season was Dwight Howard, who did it six times in 2008-09.