1. Heat Lose Control Down The Stretch
PORTLAND, Ore. -- This was supposed to be about changing the conversation.
For the previous 48 hours, so much talk around the Miami Heat had been focused on their rebounding woes, their struggles on the road, their lack of consistency on offense and their interest in marginal, out-of-work free agents.
The Heat's game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday was supposed to be an opportunity to change the subject and start a fresh dialogue.
Holding a 12-point lead with eight minutes left, LeBron James approaching a triple-double, Chris Bosh having his most aggressive offensive game in weeks and Dwyane Wade continuing to attack, the Heat were where they wanted to be.
Nearly an hour later, Heat players and coaches were sitting in the cramped visitors locker room trying to find the right words to describe just how the Blazers rallied from a double-digit deficit in a stunning 92-90 victory.
"We understand that it hurts right now," said James, who saw his streak of 54 consecutive games with at least 20 points end when he finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in 43 minutes. "We played good enough to win, but not great enough to win."
Instead of the conversation changing, a few troubling trends continued as the Heat fell to 0-2 at the start of their six-game road trip. They have lost five of their past eight and are in the midst of their most frustrating stretch of the season. If the Heat were flirting with adversity before Thursday's loss, they've moved on to the stage of engagement.
"We played the game we wanted to play," Wade said. "Obviously, it wasn't in the cards."
The Heat were dealing from a different, more favorable deck and still couldn't come up with the combination for victory. Having been pounded on the boards in some recent losses, Miami matched Portland's rebounding total of 45.
It wasn't enough.
The Heat defense was active and applied pressure for most of the game, generating nine steals and six blocks, and holding the Blazers to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field.
And even that wasn't enough.
"When you're up double digits, you think you have a chance, with our experience, to put a team away, and we didn't," Erik Spoelstra said. "It's a tough loss, no doubt about it. Our guys are definitely disappointed about that. Seven minutes to go, we think we're taking control of the game in the fourth quarter and gaining some confidence in our defense, and then we just slipped a little bit."
Now, the Heat are sliding.
"You can't beat yourself up because you want it so bad," Wade said about the Heat, who are 7-8 on the road and now move on to Sacramento to play the Kings on Saturday. "But these are the kind of games when you say, 'Listen, the team beat us when we played our game, and a good game.'"
It was a game in which James had two attempts in the final possessions to get that coveted 10th assist to secure the triple-double. But Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers both missed wide-open looks from 3-point range, although Bosh would have had the assist on Chalmers' shot.
It was a night when Bosh demanded the ball -- and got it plenty -- on the way to scoring 29 points on 13-of-18 shooting to jump-start the Heat's offense when it stalled. But with a chance to tie the game and potentially send it to overtime, Bosh passed up what might have been a contested jumper to swing the ball out to Chalmers for the 3-pointer that would have won the game.
Bosh's decision and explanation afterward were similar to last season in Utah, when James passed to Udonis Haslem instead of taking the final shot to win the game.
"Wide-open 3 as opposed to a contested 2," Bosh said of passing to ball. "I'll take that [play] every time."
Much like James last season, Bosh is convinced he made the right play. The Heat were willing to live with the results.
Still, the defending champs are on the proverbial ropes right now -- at least as much as they can be in the regular season. The losses are growing more difficult to explain.
"We'll have to live with that for 48 hours," Spoelstra said.
There was a time not long ago when the Heat were able to win games even when they didn't play necessarily well. Now, they can't steal one even when they're well in control.
"Eventually," he said. "We have to figure it out."
2. Around The Association
(OT)Recap | Box
MVP: Dallas needed O.J. Mayo's aggression in transition during the fourth quarter. Mayo had 10 of his 24 points in that period. He had his first double-double of the season as he added 10 rebounds.
X factor: With fresh legs, Mike James was vital in only his second game with the Mavericks. James played 14 minutes and finished the game with two points. He was a plus-13 in the win.
That was ... a win. Dallas trailed by 17 points in the third, but it was able to find a way to dig down deep and get the win. The Mavs also found a way to avoid an 11th consecutive overtime loss.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Nicolas Batum was the Blazers' most consistent performer all night, finishing with 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting, making a couple of key defensive plays, and ending up with seven rebounds and four assists.
X factor: The Blazers excelled at getting to the free throw line in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on freebies to make up for their continued poor shooting. They were 14-for-19 from the stripe in the final quarter; Miami was just 6-for-8.
Defining moment: Wesley Matthews hit back-to-back 3s in the final minute to tie the game and then give Portland the lead, and Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers missed open looks at 3s on the Heat's final possessions.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul George. His shooting wasn't as accurate as you might like (whose was in this game?), but the stats speak for themselves. George snatched three passes from the Knicks that he took the other way for breakaway layups, and his scoring in the early third quarter set the tone for Indiana in the second half.
LVP: Amar'e Stoudemire. Without Carmelo Anthony, who missed the game due to suspension, Stoudemire needed to show that he could once again be a meaningful player. Instead, he missed seven of his 11 shots.
That was ... ugly: Neither team shot 40 percent from the field, and the Knicks combined to score just 30 points in this defensive battle's two most important quarters (the first and the fourth). It was even uglier from long range, as the two teams shot a combined 9-for-41 (21.9 percent) on 3-pointers.
3. Thursday's Best
Paul George, Pacers: Impressive work by George, posting 24 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and five assists in an 81-76 win over the Knicks. His Pacers now have won nine straight at home and aspire to the top spot in the East.
4. Thursday's Worst
Heat's closing touch: After Dwyane Wade sank two free throws with 8:02 left, the defending champs had an 80-68 lead. Four minutes later, it was a tie game. Fair or not, Mario Chalmers is due to be yelled at.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"We thought Steve Nash was our future point guard for the next three years and we needed a coach we felt would fit with him. That was one of the main issues where we thought that [Mike] D'Antoni was better than Phil [Jackson]. Well, not better, nobody's better than Phil, but we felt that he fit the team the way we wanted to work it."
-- Lakers executive VP Jim Buss, on one of the much-debated moves the sub.-500 Lakers made.
8. Sign Of Times
9. Stat Check
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Trail Blazers' 92-90 home win over the Heat. Since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Miami before the 2010-11 season, the only other players to record 20-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a non-overtime game against the Heat are Dwight Howard (twice) and Blake Griffin (once).See more from Elias.
10. Dunk Of The Night