1. Heat's Issues Show In Road Loss To Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY -- LeBron James grimaced as he bobbed his head, trying to let the music from his $400 headphones drown out the bite of the cold tub his lower body was immersed in. On this night, just putting his feet in a bucket wasn't going to do.
Chris Bosh was in the shower, though he played only 40 seconds of the last 16 minutes of the game.
Dwyane Wade was fully dressed with a designer scarf and jacket that probably made him one of the more chic people in Utah at that moment. He couldn't wait to get out into a frigid night. He probably won't get out of a locker room faster this entire season.
The Miami Heat are cranky.
The latest loss, a 104-97 defeat to the Utah Jazz, isn't what's stinging the most.
It's a tough January road trip out West. Teams routinely talk about "bonding" on long trips, but really that's usually hopeful conjecture before they start out. Going to six cities in nine days, especially when everywhere west of the Rockies is in a nasty cold snap, is rarely much fun.
The Heat are 1-3 on this journey, but that's not too serious. On their five-game January road trip in 2011, they went 2-3. Last year in January, their five-game trip was the same, 2-3. It hardly defined their seasons. This loss, which saw them nearly pull off a 19-point fourth-quarter comeback, was mostly forgotten by the time their charter hit the runway in Oakland sometime after midnight PT Tuesday morning.
Right now the Heat have some more prickly issues that go deeper than winning and losing. Not playing well in midseason is troubling, but not season-altering. The Heat are experiencing some internal issues, and it's showing up in their attitude and their play. And it's really showing up in the things they're saying publicly, which makes you wonder what they're saying privately.
This is not a crisis, but there are several signs of what Heat president Pat Riley likes to call "the disease of me," the challenge successful teams have when trying to keep up sacrifice.
Riley became a field expert at trying to manage the challenges that come from winning a title. He struggled with it amid all his successes. His famous guarantee of the Los Angeles Lakers' winning a back-to-back titles in 1987 was, in part, an attempt to force his team to focus after it had followed up its previous two titles with less-than-stellar defenses.
The Heat are out of focus and they're sniping. At their coach, Erik Spoelstra. At each other. Probably at their friends and loved ones, too.
Wade's been in the middle of it a few times on the trip. Last week in Indianapolis, he scored 23 points in the first half of a game and then didn't get a shot in the third quarter. Monday, he didn't play in the fourth quarter -- calling it a benching isn't accurate -- when Spoelstra decided to play James with four bench players as the Heat attempted a rally that fell short.
"I don't know, I just always stay ready," Wade said curtly but not disrespectfully, much like he treated his disappearance from the offense in the loss in Indiana. "Coach makes the calls. I'm just a player."
Wade's body language said enough. Before the Heat left on this trip, Wade was asked if he missed the days of taking 20 to 25 shots a game. The days before James and Bosh and being relegated to the third option some nights. Wade's response: "Every day."
A few days ago, Bosh said the Heat weren't doing enough to ride players with "hot hands" after he was forgotten in the offense during a night when he shot 13-for-18 in a loss at Portland. He was referring to himself and Wade, the direction of the comment not being clear.
Monday morning he explained why he was going on a push on Twitter to get All-Star votes on the last day for fans to cast ballots. He was just 35,000 votes behind getting his first starting spot.
"Just being competitive," Bosh said. "I saw that I was behind, and I'm like, 'All right, whatever I can do.' It's not everything, but in the spirit of competition, let me do what I can."
Then Bosh got one rebound in 27 minutes as the Heat were whipped 40-23 on the boards and outscored 19-0 in second-chance points by the Jazz. He's averaging just five rebounds a game over the past seven games and is currently averaging the fewest rebounds of his career. It was not being competitive.
His explanation was the following:
"Sometimes I'm in position where I have to compete with my teammates for a rebound and sometimes I do get beat, I'm human," said Bosh. "In the beginning of the game, I guess a few times I'm going to beat my own teammates. I don't pay attention to numbers."
Unless, apparently, they're All-Star voting numbers. Nonetheless, Bosh has been using this friendly fire rebounding excuse often recently. It seems he's finding it harder to say with immunity.
After the tough loss in Portland when the Heat blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead last week, James gave this lament: "We're not the most talented bunch. We're not the greatest team. So we can't afford to just pick and choose when we want to turn it on and off."
Most basketball minds would say this team is the best team, talent-wise, James has ever played on. He is likely playing alongside three Hall of Famers in Wade, Bosh and Ray Allen. But James, who is in the middle of perhaps the greatest all-around season of his career, has been right with his teammates in passively complaining about the state of the union.
When he got out of the cold tub, James weighed in.
"It was low energy. Against a team like this, on their floor, with their crowd -- you can't have low energy," James said of the first half, in which he had his best scoring first half of the season with 20 points.
Of the late-game comeback that happened with Wade and Bosh on the bench, James said: "We played well, we had a lot of energy. Offensively, we didn't care who was shooting the ball."
There's no scandal here. This is a team going through a bumpy ride that is showing its irritation. Thanks to some other brush fires in the NBA, especially with the Lakers, the Heat themselves seem to be taking it harder than fans across the country who relished their struggles in the previous two seasons.
Those years the Heat stayed together, bonded if you will, during those times. Now, though, it seems the majority of the scrutiny is coming from within.
"With this team, it doesn't matter," Wade said. "If we win, we're supposed to win. If we lose, we shouldn't lose. We have to figure it out."
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Emeka Okafor. The big man had 19 points and 11 rebounds, but, most importantly, he set the tone early in the game as Washington established total dominance in the paint. It all started with Emeka.
LVP: Arron Afflalo. For a guy who averages almost 18 points a game, 1-for-11 with two points is absolutely never going to cut it. Afflalo was worse than a nonfactor in this one. He was a detraction.
That was ... absolute dominance by the Wizards. They owned the paint in the first half and busted things wide open in the second half. Fifty-six percent from the field, 64 percent from deep, 84 percent from the stripe, six guys in double digits, 120 points. That was a massacre.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Rajon Rondo. The Celtics' point guard played a team-high 37 minutes and earned his third triple-double of the season and 26th of his career with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
Turning point: At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Bobcats stole the ball and couldn't convert a three-on-one. The botched layup turned into a wide open dunk for Jared Sullinger and stretched a would-be four-point deficit into eight. The C's effectively closed out the Cats after that.
That was ... closer than it had to be. Despite multiple double-digit leads, the C's couldn't put the Bobcats away until late. Reasons include the Bobcats' refusal to give in, spurts of lackadaisical defense, and poor shooting nights from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Darren Collison was impressive and dynamic with 23 points, nine assists and only three turnovers. Honorable mention goes to O.J. Mayo, as he was efficiency personified in scoring 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
X factor: Elton Brand turned back the clock, scoring a season-high 20 points off the bench. After a rough start to the season, it appears Brand has finally gotten into a groove off the bench for Dallas.
That was ... advantageous. Dallas took two consecutive wins from teams coming in on the second night of a back-to-back. They still count as wins, ones the Mavericks desperately need as they push for the playoffs.
Recap | Box score
MVP: In the final five minutes, Gordon Hayward scored 10 of his 22 points to close the game out ... with excellent defense! That nabs him MVP honors, as Al Jefferson's abhorrent defense undermined his 21-11 night.
X factor: Miami played an excellent fourth frame, but the game was lost in the previous three -- Utah shot 54.2 percent in the first three quarters, taking advantage of an utterly lethargic Miami defense. LeBron can't do EVERYTHING.
Defining moment: In the final possessions, the Jazz played the NBA's equivalent of Russian roulette -- they relied on offensive rebounds from Jamaal Tinsley and 3-point attempts to close out a two-point game. Sometimes, it's just your night, folks.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Carlos Boozer was active the entire night in the paint, and finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes. He did have five turnovers, but those turned out to have very little importance.
Defining moment: The Hawks scored five points in the second quarter. FIVE! They shot 2-21 (nine percent) from the field over that period, which helped the Bulls create a 28-point advantage by halftime.
That was... historically bad: The five points in the second quarter were a franchise low. The 20 points at halftime were a franchise low. The 58 total points were a record low for the Hawks since moving to Atlanta in 1966. Looks like the Hawks must have pawned off their talents to help the Falcons in the NFL Playoffs.
3. Monday's Best
Thunder's star duo: Kevin Durant had 41 points and Russell Westbrook had 36 points in a 102-90 win in Phoenix. Durant and Westbrook accounted for 47 of OKC's 51 second-half points.
4. Monday's Worst
The plucked Hawks: The Hawks scored only 20 points in the first half in their 97-58 loss to the Bulls. According to Elias, there have been over 49,000 games played in the NBA in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) and this was only the third in which a team scored 20 or fewer points in the first half. The Clippers had 19 in 1999 and the Jazz (then in New Orleans) scored 20 in 1975.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Right now we've flatlined. Not just from a physical standpoint. Mentally we have flattened. I've got to find a way to resuscitate this team."
-- Hawks coach Larry Drew, after his team lost 97-58 in Chicago.
8. Surprising Rout
9. Stat Check
Rajon Rondo had a triple-double in the Celtics' win over the Bobcats. It was the 16th triple-double of Rondo's career, tying him with his teammate Kevin Garnett for fifth-most among active NBA players, behind Jason Kidd (107), LeBron James (33), Grant Hill (29) and Kobe Bryant (18). The Celtics are 15-1 in games in which Rondo has registered a triple-double.See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night
MVP: Flip a coin bearing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as the Thunder's two stars combined for an efficient 77 points, a stark contrast to a Suns team with no stars to speak of.
Defining moment: Durant drove past Michael Beasley and exploded to the rim before dunking on Marcin Gortat to punctuate the Thunder's win with his 40th point of the game.
That was ... typical: The Suns once again played well during stretches, like when they took an early 30-23 lead. However, in the end, lapses and overwhelming talent on the other side led to yet another loss.
MVP: DeMarcus Cousins was the Kings' anchor down low. He posted 26 points, 14 rebounds, and was a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line. Cousins even added a crucial steal and lay-in late in the game to help seal the victory.
X factor: Tyreke Evans had a perfect night, putting up 18 points while going 6-for-6 from the field and 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. He was also the Kings' best defender on a sorry night for defense.
That was ... defenseless: The Kings and Cavs combined to shoot 49 percent from the floor and 48 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Additionally, 12 of the game's participants scored in double digits.
MVP: Eric Bledsoe. With Chris Paul sidelined, Bledsoe played 28 minutes with no turnovers against one of the league's most opportunistic defenses. He also shut down Mike Conley (2-for-11) as well.
X factor: Bench scoring. The Clippers second unit put the game away nice and early, outscoring the Grizzlies 28-4 in bench points in the first half.
Well that was ... suffocating. The Grizzlies tried to run everything through the block without Rudy Gay, but the Clippers shut off passing lanes and walled up inside to force Memphis into a 30 percent shooting night.
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