1. Facing Cavs, Bosh's Night Worthy Of A King
MIAMI -- For the Cleveland Cavaliers there is no such thing as an acceptable loss to LeBron James.
But as a rebuilding team with a talent disadvantage, they are going to take some losses against the current incarnation of the Miami Heat. So they may have to sacrifice the game, but they prefer he not get the glory.
Several times when the teams played last season, James took that hero role, which was unpleasant with the exit wound still wide open. That situation has cooled a trifle but the Cavs' game plan certainly hasn't changed. With Dwyane Wade missing his fifth straight game with an ankle injury, it became even more blatant Tuesday night.
The Heat ended up getting a 92-85 win to close out their five-game homestand with a 4-1 record, all played with Wade on the bench. But the Cavs didn't let James do them in. Cleveland coach Byron Scott had his team ready for James' improved post game, and his team did everything it could to limit James' role, from double-teams to roughness in the trenches to abandoning rebound position in order to get back on defense.
James ended up with a frustrating, subpar game and needed the Heat's All-Star in reserve, Chris Bosh, to come through. As Bosh has been doing for much of the season, albeit perhaps without appropriate recognition, he did. Bosh scored 17 of his season-high 35 points in the fourth quarter to hold off the Cavs' feisty upset bid.
It was the fourth time in the eight games Wade has missed this season that Bosh has crossed the 30-point barrier, already once more than he did all of last season. He did it three times on the Heat's homestand, which he finished averaging 26.6 points on an unconscious 60 percent shooting over the five games.
"He's a very cerebral player, he knows what we need when we need it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was able to be aggressive but still able to facilitate our offense. It was important for us."
Cavs guards Alonzo Gee and Anthony Parker were all over James in the post, often forcing him to abandon it and take a bad and contested jumper. He ended up shooting just 8 of 21, just 1 of 5 in the fourth quarter. Plus the Cavs used some help defense to force James to give up the ball coming off screens. He kept finding Bosh, including for a fourth-quarter 3-pointer that crippled the Cavs' hopes.
Overall as James has tried to play inside more this season, Bosh has moved outside. That 3-pointer, for example, was already his sixth triple of the season, the same amount he had all of last season. He is shooting 53 percent so far this season, which would qualify for a career high if he kept it up. He was 7-of-12 on jumpers Tuesday.
"People say don't fall in love with the jumper, but it loves me, so I love it back," Bosh said. "Whatever this team needs me to do, I'm going to do it. We have guys that need to fill specific roles, and that's what makes it a team."
That's a different tune from a year ago, when Bosh was discombobulated in his role changes. It had him having midnight chats on the team plane with James after a rough start and then a public plea for more touches after a midseason slump.
When the Heat went up-tempo to start the season and both James and Wade promised to play inside more, it looked like Bosh was headed for more adjustments. But with Wade's injury and the high rate of games coming at them, the Heat have slowed down. Bosh has been the one to adapt.
"I don't worry about how many touches, how many makes and misses," Bosh said. "When Dwyane comes back I know [the touches] will go down quite a bit, but I'm just trying to be a good team player."
The Cavs had to deal with it Tuesday, though the strategy that led to Bosh taking 3-pointers was acceptable to them. Not having James be able to take control of the game and forcing the ball to Bosh kept the underdogs in the game until the final seconds. Had the Cavs not had 22 turnovers, they might have pulled it out, as rookie Kyrie Irving had 17 points.
Instead, James headed to the locker room with a few waves and some relief. Had Bosh not come through, he probably would've been a popular target as he struggled down the stretch. Time may have passed, but it was still the Cavs and it still held extra meaning.
"There's always going to be some emotion to that game no matter what," James said. "Just being out there, playing alongside my old teammates, we have a lot of history together. You talk about chemistry, we had a lot of chemistry. It's always good to play against them."
2. Blazers Snap Grizzlies' Streak, Show Upside
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Trail Blazers remain uneasy about a few things -- their turnovers, their perimeter shooting, and their transition defense, for instance -- but Tuesday night's 97-84 win over a streaking Memphis team showcased Portland's potential to finish in the West's top four.
I'll sum it up in two words: Inside Out.
As much as the Blazers want to push the tempo this year and get easy baskets, in the half court their offense works best when it runs through LaMarcus Aldridge. Particularly tonight, against an opponent that lost its two power forwards to knee injuries and was forced to mend the weakness on the fly with rubber bands and cut tape.
Memphis had won seven straight, but sans Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur the Griz had no answer for Portland's frontcourt. Aldridge abused poor Marreese Speights for 14 first-quarter points before Memphis finally began sending double-teams at him, and from that point the doubling forced Memphis' defense to sprout leaks in other directions.
"That's the way we want to play," said Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "Post up with LaMarcus, Gerald [Wallace], [Craig] Smith. If it's not post up then penetration, and when the defense collapses, then you can get shots from the perimeter. But not just coming down and settling."
The Blazers had been plagued by quick, wayward jumpers from the backcourt in the early part of the season, but showed more patience in this game. That wasn't the only change. Portland, which had received virtually nothing from the center position this season, also got 22 rebounds and five blocks in a throwback performance from Marcus Camby.
And with Jamal Crawford rediscovering his shot and Smith finally getting minutes, the second unit is looking much stronger. The Rhino bulldozed his way eight points in 13 minutes, while Crawford, who felt he was playing too "nice" around his new teammates while he tried to fit in, had 15 points and four assists in 22 minutes in his second straight sizzling performance.
For their part, the Grizzlies looked gassed after the thrilling comeback win in Golden State the night before -- the five starters scored only 36 points.
While the 11-7 Blazers -- like virtually every Western hopeful except Oklahoma City -- remain something of a work in progress, the key word is progress. They've made some offensive strides in the two-game homestand, they're back at full health, and they can't possibly shoot just 30 percent on 3s all season (um right?).
Next they'll take their act on the road. Portland visits Golden State on Wednesday and tries to join the Thunder as the only teams to win all three legs of a back-to-back-to-back set. If they can keep going Inside Out against another team with a pliable frontcourt, they have a great shot at achieving it.
3. Daily Dime Live Rewind
Relive and note all the chatter, memes and Photoshops of Tuesday's Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Andrea Bargnani, Raptors: The last time the Raps beat the Suns, nobody clicked over to YouTube to see sweet Jalen Rose highlights -- there was no YouTube yet. In this one, Bargnani had 36 points and the Raps snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 99-96 win. Their last win over PHX came Feb. 10, 2004 -- 14 losses in a row to the Suns.
The Charlotte Bobcats: Losing to the Knicks 111-78 at home dropped the Bobcats to 3-15 on the season. And the Cats were torched by former Bobcat Tyson Chandler (20 points, 17 boards) who was dealt away on July 13, 2010 for pocket lint to be named later.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"People say don't fall in love with the jumper, but it loves me, so I love it back."
-- Heat forward Chris Bosh, who was 10-for-16 from the field, finishing with 35 points, including 17 points in the fourth quarter.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
Tomorrow is a new day. Thank God for that.— Gerald Henderson (@GhJr09) January 25, 2012
5. Face Time
6. NBA Video Channel
7. The Case For Staying
The odds of Dwight Howard still being in an Orlando uniform at the NBA's All-Star break seemed fairly low a few months ago.
But unless something completely unexpected happens, it's pretty clear that Howard, the leading vote-getter on the All-Star balloting, will represent the Magic during the Feb. 24-26 festivities in Orlando.
In fact, it looks as though he'll be in a Magic uniform for the rest of the season, which seemed unfathomable after he demanded a trade last month.
Usually, an organization buckles and caves when a star makes a trade demand, but Orlando's management has stood its ground so far.
The inflexibility is noteworthy, and not just because keeping Howard has helped the Magic to an 11-5 record and second place in the Southeast Division. It's noteworthy, too, because it's setting an important example for other small-market teams. Sure, it's a gamble. Howard's trade demand could have had a negative impact on the Magic's chemistry and potentially ruined their season. And if he decides not to re-sign at the end of the season, Orlando could be left with nothing or be forced into a lopsided sign-and-trade agreement.
Other teams -- the Lakers, Knicks and Nets, for example, all of whom have been mentioned as possible next stops in Howard's career -- are keeping a close eye on how this situation unfolds. But for now, the Magic are handling things the right way.
8. Deng Watch
Fact or Fiction: After Rose, Luol Deng is the player the Bulls can least afford to lose to injury.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Absolutely. Tom Thibodeau regularly refers to Deng as the "glue" of the team, and that's exactly what he is. Deng has the ability to give the Bulls what they need most, more than anyone but Rose. He's a better defender, his rebounding is at a career high, his turnovers are down and he has been solid in the clutch. Because his numbers aren't normally considered All-Star worthy (15.9 points, 7.5 rebounds), he may again miss the cut. But he is invaluable to the Bulls and of All-Star caliber. A serious wrist injury and any extended time off for Deng would be a big loss for the Bulls.
9. Singular Sensation
The Knicks routed the Bobcats on Tuesday night, but Carmelo Anthony, who had been averaging 25.7 points per game this season, was held to only one point in 30 minutes of playing time. Only one other NBA player in the shot-clock era (1954 to present) entered a game averaging at least 25 points per game that season, played at least 25 minutes, and scored fewer than two points. That was the Warriors' Antawn Jamison against the Lakers on March 4, 2001. Jamison was scoring 25.2 points per game that season before he was held scoreless in 28 minutes at Staples Center.