1. Heat Nudge Clippers Toward Road Course
For the Clippers it was a battle, for the Heat it was maneuvers. The Clippers didn't have their starting backcourt, they absorbed a dose of a healthy Heat squad primed to planet-destroying capability in a display that should strike fear everywhere north of Broward County ... and yet the Clippers still managed to fight back to keep the outcome in doubt until the waning moments.
And all the Clippers have to show for it is a step backward in the ever competitive Western Conference.
"We're in the West," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, feeling no need to feed the pregame hype. "Every game you play is important."
The margin for error is so thin that in just three days and two games, the Clippers have gone from eyeing the top spot in the conference to the prospect of packing their bags to hit the road if the playoffs started today. They'd be the No. 4 seed by virtue of leading the Pacific Division, but the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets would enjoy home-court advantage with a record that's a half-game better than the Clippers.
You could see the urgency in Blake Griffin's sweat-soaked jersey and in the minutes column of the box score, which showed 40-plus minutes for four starters, with less than a minute and a half of rest for Jamal Crawford. Crawford was in the shooting guard spot vacated by J.J. Redick, a late scratch due to a hip injury. All-Star point guard Chris Paul remains sidelined by a sprained shoulder, although he was shooting on the court before the game and could return as soon as Friday's game against the Toronto Raptors.
Not having Paul, one of the steadiest ball handlers in the NBA, to face the Heat was like roaming the Internet without antivirus software. The Heat preyed on the Clippers and converted 20 turnovers into 25 points. And the absence of the deadeye Redick reminded the Clippers that for all their talk about defensive effort, they're a team that's predicated on offensive efficiency. It's why Rivers set a goal of 120 points for his team to win this game. That could be dangerous tempo against a team with Miami's prowess, but the Clippers showed they could match the Heat, highlight dunk for highlight dunk.
The problem was their carelessness with the ball and difficulty manufacturing points against the Heat's set defense.
The Clippers' 43 percent shooting Wednesday night left them with a 20-17 record when their field goal percentage is below 50 percent. They're also 13-9 when Redick doesn't start, including 11-7 in the games Paul started without him. They're 21-9 in all games Redick starts.
The Heat, meanwhile, couldn't have been more efficient or spectacular in the first quarter. They shot 70 percent and assisted on 15 of their 16 field goals. The Clippers kept providing turnovers, the fuel for the Heat's engine, and Miami went up by as many 19 points. Dwyane Wade was running and jumping well, a welcome sight for the Heat.
Shane Battier isn't the type to point to his own stats, yet he referenced his 4-for-8 3-point shooting as an indication of how well the Heat offense played at the outset.
"When I get open 3-point shots, that means the ball's really moving," Battier said.
This was the opposite of the stilted-offense meltdown against the Thunder last week, a game the Heat have distanced themselves from with three consecutive games of more than 100 points.
"We've been playing some good basketball as of late," James said. "When we've got our full unit in there, we can do some special things."
Griffin refused to let the Clippers fold, putting in a monster game of 43 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. He even made a 3-pointer that brought the Clippers to within three points in the final minute. Crawford pumped in 31 points, including five 3-pointers.
Griffin even spent some time guarding LeBron James. The idea was to force LeBron to shoot jumpers. Except LeBron doesn't force too many jumpers. One time, he tried to drive past Griffin only to be cut off, so he passed ... then promptly got the ball back, sucked in the defense and threw a lob to Birdman Andersen. There were times LeBron controlled the game without having to venture below the free throw line, probing, finding teammates. He had 31 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds, three steals and a spectacular chase-down block.
Afterward, James relayed the team's desire to get this six-game road trip off to a good start. It was evident in their effort, a game in which they shook off the doldrums that afflicted them in January. One of the reasons they appeared to lose their way is that they haven't locked in on a specific target, such as the No. 1 seed the Indiana Pacers have so adamantly sought. Instead, the Heat speak in vague terms."We talk about the process all the time of getting and building to our identity," Spoelstra said.
They have that luxury thanks to their location in the Eastern Conference. They're virtually assured of faring no worse than the second seed in the playoffs thanks to a 9½-game cushion over the Toronto Raptors. They can afford to treat these games as exhibitions. Wednesday, they exhibited just how good they can be, even if they put their weakness -- rebounding -- on full display. The Clippers outrebounded them 52-31 and turned 21 offensive rebounds into 29 second-chance points. Those and the free throws (31 in 42 tries) kept the Clippers in the game.
The Heat can get away with failing in one of the game's fundamentals. The Clippers need almost everything to go right on most nights. It's yet another reason they might be envious of Miami.
"We've been together four years now, we don't rely on one thing," Wade said. "We don't rely on our athleticism, we don't rely on 3-point shooting. We kind of use it all in the midst of a game."
They put it all on display Wednesday night, right down to another clutch Ray Allen 3-pointer. And the thing is they didn't even have to.
2. Around the Association
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki, who shot 10 of 14 for 26 points. The big German kept Dallas alive early, hitting all four of his attempts in the first quarter. He also sealed the game drilling all four of his shots in the fourth.
X factor: The three-headed center rotation of Samuel Dalembert, Brandan Wright, and DeJuan Blair has often been a liability for Dallas. Against Memphis, the trio combined for 37 points on 16 of 20 from the floor and 16 rebounds.
That was ... a role reversal: Coming into the game, the Grizzlies were amount the league leaders in points in the paint while Dallas was in the middle of the pack. The Mavericks punished Memphis inside, outscoring them 56-32.
MVP: The Raptors had no answer for Boogie Cousins. Raptors coach Dwane Casey tried every big on the roster -- Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Pattrick Patterson -- but to no avail. DMC snagged offensive rebounds and got to the free-throw line whenever he pleased. He finished the night with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
X factor: Rudy Gay played well on both ends of the floor. He provided scoring from the perimeter (24 points) and helped out on the boards (10), but most importantly, his length helped limit his former teammates DeMar DeRozan to 5 of 17 shooting from the field.
Turning point: With the Raptors down 6 to the Kings, Kyle Lowry hit a 3-pointer and appeared to be fouled in the act of shooting, but instead of stepping to the line to complete a potential four-point play, the referees called an offensive foul on Lowry, which effectively sealed the victory for the Kings.
MVP: Tim Duncan. The 37-year-old went for a season-high 31 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals in 41 minutes before fouling out, but his performance after Tony Parker left the game at half with a sore back was vintage in a game that was ... well ...
That was ... bonkers. Bananas. Nuts. Insane. The Spurs came back from 14 down at halftime and sent it to overtime with a late offensive flurry; John Wall stole an inbounds pass from Duncan and scored with one second left in OT to tie the game again; Duncan fouled out in the second overtime, and somehow the Spurs still won.
X factor: Danny Green was spectacular in just his second game back from injury. He played 46 minutes, scored 22 points and played great defense on John Wall down the stretch. Not to mention, he hit the biggest shot of the night.
MVP: Nicolas Batum was Portland's renaissance man tonight, making plays all over the court throughout the night. Batum finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists on a superb 9-for-14 shooting night.
LVP: The Blazers bench cost them an easier path to victory, with the major culprit being Mo Williams. Williams played 20 minutes, finishing as a team-worst minus -7 with a stat line of 2 turnovers and 2-for-7 shooting from the field.
X factor: Robin Lopez was hardly an offensive force, shooting 1-for-5 from the field. However, he was a big impact on the boards and on defense -- finishing with 7 boards and 3 impressive blocks.
MVP: Wilson Chandler. His 15 points in the first half were impressive, but even more impressive, not to mention more important, were his seven points in the fourth quarter. The Bucks threatened several times to close the gap, but every attempt was met with a timely Chandler bucket.
X factor: As is so often his duty, Ty Lawson was the catalyst for Denver's high-octane offense. Playing equal parts scorer (18 points) and facilitator (13 assists), Lawson was in top form tonight, showing no ill effects of his shoulder injury just a few games ago.
Defining moment: With the Bucks inching ever closer to erasing the deficit, Chandler received the just to the right of the right elbow. He rose, fired, only to have the ball clang off the rim. Yet the ball didn't fall to the floor, but rather bounce up, off the glass, then into the basket. Dagger.
MVP: Dwight Howard was in full beast mode tonight, collecting 34 points, 14 rebounds, three points and two steals. He also generally disrupted the Suns' attack and finished 12-for-18 from the line and made them down the stretch.
X factor: Free throws. The Rockets were 33-for-42, whereas the Suns were just 16-for-21. That discrepancy essentially made up the difference in a games that otherwise appeared even.
That was ... not a lot of defense. Both of these teams like to get out and run, and they let each other do it tonight in 48 minutes of shootout ball.
MVP: Coming off his worst game in more than a month, Anthony Davis was aggressive attacking the rim on his way to 27 points on just 14 shots, while grabbing 10 boards. His ability to score at the rim and knock down his free throws gave him the confidence late in the game to bury some key midrange jumpers, helping the Pelicans to pull away.
X factor: Anthony Morrow went toe to toe with Kyle Korver for most of this game, and surprisingly came out on top. Morrow was able to stick with Korver despite having to fight his way through dozens of screens, and held the sharpshooter to just six points. Morrow scored 16 points in his 27 minutes of play.
That was... a hot streak: If this were NBA Jam, the ball would have been on fire whenever the Hawks had it in the second and third quarters. After starting off the game 1-for-7 from three, the Hawks proceeded to make 9 of their next 10 from behind the arc to surge into the lead.
MVP: LeBron James was out in full force tonight. His quick decisions accounted for Miami's flawless ball movement: 33 assists to 41 goals, in total. The reigning MVP contributed directly to 12 of those while pouring in 31 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
LVP: The Clippers are razor-thin in terms of wing depth, so with J.J. Redick missing, they looked to Jared Dudley for floor spacing. He was noticeably out of rhythm, going 1-for-5 on the night and missing all three of his attempts beyond the arc. Down the stretch, Doc Rivers opted to stay with Matt Barnes.
That was ... high flying. LeBron and Dwyane Wade were dunking all over the competition -- Birdman even soared for some lobs. For L.A., Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were up to their usual Lob City antics. The game was so exhilarating, in fact, that Griffin's 43 points, 15 rebounds and six assists are basically a footnote.
3. Wednesday's Best
Blake Griffin, Clippers: Griffin was indeed a force, posting 43 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in the 116-112 loss to the Heat, the kind of performance that shows why the Clippers have hung in well at 11-6 since Chris Paul went down with a separated right shoulder on Jan. 3 at Dallas.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Luol Deng, Cavaliers: Went 1-for-10 from the floor in the 119-108 loss to the Lakers. The former Chicago All-Star has work to do if he wants to get Cleveland, which sits 5&$189; game out of the final East playoff spot, back in the postseason.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"When I got my sixth foul, I was just like, 'Oh, dang!' Then I got to come back in, so I thought it was something special. I didn't know what was going on."'
-- Lakers center Robert Sacre, who committed his sixth foul with 3:32 remaining, but stayed in the game because the Lakers were out of healthy bodies. The Lakers were assessed a technical foul but still earned a 119-108 win over Cleveland.
8. Ready For Seventh Foul
9. Stat Check
Blake Griffin scored 43 points and Jamal Crawford chipped in with 31, but it wasn't enough as the Los Angeles Clippers fell to the Miami Heat on Wednesday. The Clippers became the first team to lose a game in regulation despite having both 40-point and 30-point scorers since April 3, 2009, when the New Orleans Hornets got a 43-point effort from Chris Paul and a 31-point performance from David West in a 111-103 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
10. Top 3 Plays
Around the Association
MVP: Kevin Durant flirted with a triple-double but finished with just 26 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. He's scored 25-plus points in 16 consecutive games, now the third-longest streak of the past five years.
X factor: Reggie Jackson. And that's not just because he put Robbie Hummel on a poster late in the fourth quarter. Jackson dropped 20 points and added a career-high nine assists in the Thunder win.
That was ... routine: Oklahoma City came out a little flat and the Wolves came out challenging even without their star, Kevin Love. But the Thunder pulled away late, and earned a relatively uncontested win.
MVP: With the Lakers down to five available players, and receiving technical fouls in lieu of their fifth player fouling out, Steve Blake hit two huge 3-pointers to ice the game. He also had 10 rebounds and 15 dimes -- many of which contributed to the Lakers' setting a franchise record with 18 3-pointers in the game.
LVP: Not only was Kyrie Irving outplayed by whatever below-average point guard the Lakers threw out there, he was benched the entire fourth quarter. He posted a minus-25 in 28 minutes with only 5-of-14 shooting.
That was ... one of the stranger games you'll see: The Lakers set a franchise record for 3s and a season high for points in a half (70). Nick Young and Jordan Farmar left with injuries on an already-ravaged squad. Robert Sacre fouled out but was allowed to remain in the game because the Lakers had no available subs -- costing a technical foul.
MVP: A joint award: To Jeff Green, the man who put up a 36 points on 18 shots, and Rajon Rondo, the man who made it possible with 11 assists. The two MVPs connected early on a high-flying dunk by Green -- an alley-oop combination that Celtics fans have been pining for.
LVP: Michael Carter-Williams has been good for Philadelphia this season, but Wednesday night, he had an inefficient shooting line (5-for-16) and four turnovers, including a bad dribble late that essentially iced the game for Boston.
That was ... a tank changer? With the win, Boston pushed itself two games ahead of Philadelphia in the loss column. Those two games may make a big difference later in the season, although they will face each other two more times.
MVP: Josh Smith had a classic "Josh Smith game," but he did it efficiently, which is a rarity. He shot 9-for-9 at the rim (but was 2-for-10 everywhere else on the floor) en route to a 25-point, 12-rebound performance.
LVP: Brandon Jennings had 15 points and 10 assists, but it's hard to ignore the 5-for-23 shooting line. He was reckless with his shot selection, which is saying something, given that he's teammates with Smith.
X factor: The Magic can thank their bench for helping them win this game. Victor Oladipo was fantastic (20 points), scoring in the paint at will while Kyle O'Quinn had himself a block party (career-high six blocks).