1. Heat Cap Historic Month With 2OT Thriller
MIAMI -- Few opposing coaches are in better position to gauge just how much better the Miami Heat have played from January to February than Keith Smart.
The Sacramento Kings coach faced the Heat midway through January as Miami stumbled through its worst play of the season, an 8-7 stretch from Dec. 28 through Jan. 27.
What Smart saw Tuesday night when the Kings played the league's hottest team at AmericanAirlines Arena was a version of the Heat now striving, not simmering.
"Sometimes, they can get a little bored and say they need something to jump-start us," Smart said. "They're not looking at their opponent. They're playing against themselves now. They're saying, 'How good can we be?'"
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade discovered they needed to be historically good to slip past the Kings in a 141-129 double-overtime victory that allowed the Heat to close out a remarkable February with their 12th consecutive win.
The 141 points tied the franchise scoring record for a game. In what was the second-highest scoring performance by a Heat duo, James had a season-high 40 points and a career-high 16 assists, while Wade had a season-high 39 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks.
"Those are video game numbers," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Both of those guys were sensational."
The Heat opened the month with a fight on their hands on the way to a 102-89 loss Feb. 1 at Indiana. They ended the month in another scuffle, but this time eventually overwhelmed the lottery-bound Kings, who primarily played six players, shot 52 percent from 3-point range and got 36 points from Marcus Thornton and a 24-point, 15-rebound double-double from DeMarcus Cousins.
Heat players and coach Erik Spoelstra weren't particularly thrilled with the way they played in either their first or last games of the month. But between them, Miami was able to string together arguably the best regular-season stretch since James, Wade and Chris Bosh came together in 2010.
Miami's 12-1 mark represents the best month of February in team history and the 12 straight victories match the longest streak the team has put together in their 'Big 3' era.
"This is what we've been talking about," James said. "I told you guys a while ago that we needed one of these months. We needed one of these stretches of great basketball and win any type of game -- whatever it took. And it happened in February. This has been a great month for us. We're playing some great basketball. And whatever the game presents, we've been able to just figure it out."
The Heat have won in a variety of ways. The one constant has been the night-to-night dominance of James.
After the loss to the Pacers, James started a streak in which he became the first player in league history to score at least 30 points and shoot at least 60 percent from the field in six consecutive games. His play powered an efficient month for the Heat's offense, which topped 100 points in 10 of 13 games and shot a collective 52 percent for the month.
Along the way, the Heat completely dismantled the Clippers, Lakers and Thunder before the All-Star break. Then, they picked right up after the break to beat the Hawks, Bulls and 76ers on the road before returning home to hold on for close wins against the Cavaliers and Kings.
Another factor in the recent surge has been Wade's resurgence. Having improved each week of the month, Wade closed out February averaging 26.6 points and shooting 60 percent from the field in his past five games.
Wade sounded a bit superstitious when he was asked to sum up the Heat's success in February. He credited the team's play to the "throwback jerseys" the Heat wore this month as part of the franchise's 25th-anniversary theme.
"Throwback jerseys did us good -- we only lost one game in them," Wade said. "Throughout the month, we found a way to get better. We won many different ways. We have to continue to get better this time of the year, because other teams are doing it, too. We want to continue into March."
Setting aside his distaste for some defensive lapses against the Kings, Spoelstra said there were several factors that contributed to the Heat's recent run. In short, the coach essentially said they simply stopped messing around.
"More than anything, [it's] the sense of urgency," Spoelstra said. "There's been a greater commitment to our energy and activity, intensity ... and our focus has been better. It's not a magic formula or pill for it. We're just playing more consistent to our identity on both ends of the court."
The Heat have also regained that intimidation factor. On Sunday, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said he told his team at halftime "it looked like they were playing scared" when Cleveland quickly fell behind by 22 points to Miami. Before Tuesday's game, Smart predicted the Kings would play well against the Heat as long as his players didn't get too awestruck with some plays James and Wade execute.
"[Miami] is built to do one thing -- that's not to play an NBA regular season," Smart said. "It's to win a championship, and they're playing at that stage now."
Miami won't have to wait long to see if it can carry its momentum into March. Within the first 10 days of the month, the Heat face three teams that beat them this season, starting with Friday's home matchup against Memphis followed by Sunday's showdown at the New York Knicks. The surging Pacers are on deck the following week.
James and Wade didn't have to be reminded Tuesday that they're a combined 0-5 against those three teams this season and now 40-9 against the rest of the league.
"Our standards are a lot different than some other teams," Bosh said. "A lot of other teams might be happy with a 12-game winning streak no matter what happens. But we have to be so critical of ourselves. Now, we're more precise. We know what we're doing. When we play the way we're capable of, we're the best team going."
2. Around the Association
Most valuable player: LeBron James came through when it mattered most. The three-time MVP scored a season-high 40 points and racked up a career-high 16 assists in the double-overtime thriller. If there were still any questions about how clutch James is, he answered them Tuesday night. He scored 11 of the Heat's 17 points in the second and final overtime.
X factor: The Heat had no answer for Marcus Thornton. The Kings' sixth man scored 18 of a season-high 36 points in the second quarter. Thornton was incredible from long range, where he made a career-high eight 3-pointers in defeat.
That was shocking: With the exception of the final and deciding overtime period, the Kings had an answer for every Heat run. Five players scored in double figures for Sacramento, including Thornton, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, who each scored at least 20 points Tuesday night. How Sacramento managed to hang around all evening with the defending champs was a surprise to say the least.
That was as vicious as NBA "fights" get anymore: Say what you want about David Stern, but he did essentially eradicate fisticuffs from the league. After some discord between David Lee and Roy Hibbert beneath the hoop, a bunch of shoving and some flailing ensued, but the only real threat to safety was that large men were drifting toward paying fans.
MVP: Stephen Curry. He lost, but his shooting was on another level. He scored 23 in the first half on 9-for-11 shooting -- with one miss coming after he grabbed a loose ball and heaved it as the shot clock expired. He was nearly as accurate the final two quarters and finished 7-for-10 behind the arc.
X factor: David West led the winning team with 28 points on 16 shots, including a perfect 3-for-3 shooting after a scuffle that led to six technicals and the ejection of Roy Hibbert.
MVP: Blake Griffin soared for 24 points on 14 shots, including six dunks. It was a game in which, unfortunately for Gerald Henderson's self-esteem, Griffin reminded everyone what he does best: leap over extraordinarily tall men.
X factor: Easy shots. The Clippers combined for 48 points in the paint -- 16 more than the Bobcats had -- in a dunk-infested game in which they got into the lane whenever they wanted.
That was philanthropic: The Clips were in the spirit of giving, totaling 34 assists on their 41 made field goals. That means L.A. has now had 25-plus assists in five of its past six games.
MVP: Monta Ellis delivered in the fourth quarter for the Bucks. He scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth. As Dirk Nowitzki had a 20-20 night for only the sixth time in his career, Ellis had the last laugh.
X factor: Dallas' 20 turnovers proved to be incredibly costly. Milwaukee turned those turnovers into 19 points. Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo combined to have eight turnovers for the Mavericks.
That was a wasted game: Dirk Nowitzki had his first 20-20 game since April 3, 2003 (21 points and 20 rebounds), but the Mavericks found another way to mismanage the game late. Oh, what have the Mavericks become?
MVP: Dion Waiters was erratic in this game -- especially on defense But he got buckets, something the Cavs sorely needed in Kyrie Irving's absence. He finished with 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting and a pair of assists.
X factor: Luke Walton provided eight points and some old-guy passing acumen off the Cavs' bench. Walton also sealed the game late by intercepting an inbounds pass and slamming it off Kirk Hinrich's leg before falling out of bounds.
That was uncharacteristic: The Bulls are usually excellent on defense, but Tuesday night they repeatedly allowed the Cavs -- who ran lots of isolations and accumulated only 18 assists -- to get too many easy shots in the paint.
MVP: Deron Williams. The Nets point guard dominated early to stake Brooklyn to an early advantage that they held most of the night and caught fire down the stretch to fend off the Hornets. He had a hand in four of the Nets final seven buckets and scored their final 11 points.
X factor: Kris Humphries. In his 21 minutes of action, Humphries routinely battled for extra possessions. His team-high three offensive rebounds and +12 plus/minus ratio indicate how his hustle impacted the final outcome.
That was ... expected: A number of trends continued for the Hornets in this game. As a team, they have now given up at least 100 points in 13 of their last 14 losses. Anthony Davis converted his only two free throws, giving him 18 straight makes. Ryan Anderson attempted five three pointers, his 67th straight game with at least three 3-pointers attempted.
3. Tuesday's Best
Believe it or not, this was LeBron's first 40-point game of the season, and he added a career-high 16 assists just for good measure. The Heat needed every bit in a double-overtime win over a pesky Kings team. Another Player of the Month honor shouldn't be far away for James.
4. Tuesday's Worst
Mavs' finishing touch: Dallas missed seven of its final eight shots in the fourth quarter to give the game away to the Bucks -- and ensure Dirk Nowitzki's 20-20 performance was in defeat.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Even playing in double overtime, those are still video game numbers."
-- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, on the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining for 79 points, 23 assists and 16 rebounds in Miami's win over Sacramento.
8. He Started It!
9. Stat Check
Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Wesley Johnson shared team-high honors with 14 points apiece in the Suns' 84-83 overtime win against the Timberwolves. Phoenix is the first NBA team in the shot-clock era (1954 to present) to win an overtime game without a single player scoring at least 15 points.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Around the Association
Most valuable player: Wes Johnson had arguably his best game as a Phoenix Sun, and he did so against his former team. The third-year swingman had 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and dished out 2 important assists in overtime.
X factor: Jermaine O'Neal continues to drink from the fountain of youth in Phoenix. The 17-year veteran recorded his third double-double (10 points and 13 rebounds) over the past six games and provided the Suns with an interior presence on a night Marcin Gortat battled foul trouble.
That was small: With Andrei Kirilenko unable to go in the second half (calf strain), Rick Adelman went to an extremely small lineup that included Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea. The trio shot 12-of-40 on the night but changed the game with their speed. Adelman also went to a 2-3 zone and Minnesota found a way to force overtime after trailing by as many as 18.
MVP: Aaron Afflalo, a steady veteran hand on a Magic team that's more than a little wet behind the ears -- not to mention, bad -- led the visitors with 16 points and chipped in 7 assists and 6 rebounds to help Orlando snap a five-game skid.
LVP: The Philadelphia 76ers. In a season full of bad losses, the Sixers put together their most putrid 48 minutes of the season on Tuesday. At home, they let the now 16-41 Magic -- losers of 28 of their previous 31 games -- shoot 54 percent and pull off a pair of 14-2 runs. It was a tour de force of ineptitude.
X factor: Adding insult to injury for Philadelphia, two of the young players they moved in the wildly unsuccessful Bynum deal came back to bite them. Rebounding expert Nikola Vucevic scored 12 to go along with 19 boards, while a coolly efficient Moe Harkless got 10 points of his own with just four shots.