Portland fell into a lull for a quarter and a half — usually a death knell against a team like Miami — but still knocked off the Heat, 92-90, because they awoke twice at key moments to get back into position to stuff the champs at home. The first came to end the third quarter to slice into Miami’s 12-point lead, and then another finished the fourth. Nic Batum (28 points, seven boards, five assists) was huge both times (because of his rare length) in breaking up fast breaks or hitting shots like a three and getting a steal plus an and-one bucket with four minutes left in the fourth to tie it. The clinching moments came from the player who was arguably doing the most work all night. Wes Matthews (18 points) hit two threes in 30 seconds, both off beautiful plays drawn up by Terry Stotts, to go from three down to one up in the final two minutes. The first came when Damian Lillard (only 10 points, big threes though) hit a diving Batum who passed up a five-footer with one man between him and the hoop to take a skip pass to Matthews in the corner for a cold-blood triple. The second was just a heat-check when he stepped back against Ray Allen in the corner. What wasn’t arguable was that Matthews had the hardest assignment of the night, guarding LeBron James, and yet he still had enough energy to put up the two biggest shots of the game. And yeah, LeBron had his 15 points, 10 boards and nine assists but his streak of 54 games with at least 20 points came to an end, thanks to Matthews and Sasha Pavlovic‘s D. Portland’s bench is still an anchor to its surprising run (7-3 in its last 10) even though it only had eight points Thursday. The starters are balling though, ranking in the top 10 among starting fives in the last 10 games in points, rebounds and assists. … Ronnie Price had a brilliant two-play stretch to end the third and start the fourth quarter. At the end of Portland’s run to get back into the game his double-team split and double-clutch reverse around LeBron took a ton of strength to sink. Allen backed Price into a corner a few minutes later until Price hit him with a jab step-reverse crossover to get to the rim for foul shots. … You could feel the energy being sucked out of Sleep Train Arena when Sacramento was losing its 14-point lead over Dallas. The Kings came out inspired against a team with just as many roster problems as themselves but then it disappeared just as fast as news of the Kings’ possible move broke. If the Kings need a miracle to stay in town, they definitely needed a miracle to tie the game up to end regulation — and then Isaiah Thomas delivered a bank three with just seconds remaining. The shot not only got Sacramento into overtime, it was like a cathartic release for the fans, who went nuts like this was 2002. In the end, Dallas won 117-112 in OT. … What is going on with DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, nine boards)? His forearm mashing of Vince Carter‘s face got him booted in overtime and was, like most his moves, totally unnecessary. … Hit the jump to hear about how Indiana’s D suffocated New York …
Indiana can be a hard team to watch because as the most efficient defense in the NBA, it makes its opponents’ offense usually turn into a disjointed mess. Odd matchups lead to ugly shots. Then, when Indiana gets on offense, its third-worst offense can’t do much better. The first quarter of the season led to sporadic results, but the past 10 days have seen these Pacers possibly turn a corner with wins over Memphis, Miami and New York. Blossoming star Paul George was again valuable with his career-high six steals, 11 boards and 24 points, and Indiana’s D kept NY to a putrid 34 points at half. Down the stretch Ian Mahinmi (13 points on 6-of-7 shooting) took advantage of the soft belly of New York’s interior defense (missing Carmelo Anthony to a one-game suspension) with clutch buckets. Indiana won 81-76 in a grindfest. It wasn’t even the case that Indiana stole a win while NY missed its star, because Indiana wasn’t at full strength when Roy Hibbert had to ride a bike a couple times to get loose, including in the fourth quarter when Mahinmi more than made up for the max contract player’s absence. … It should be noted that the Pacers’ defense is good but it also helps when your opponent it shooting his way out of the game in the final quarter. J.R. Smith was the only Knicks player able to get his own shot and he played like he knew it, jacking 29 shots (making 10) en route to his 25 points off the bench. He missed his first six shots of the fourth quarter (most coming early in the shot clock), which gave Indiana more time to make a 13-0 run and come back from four points down entering the fourth. He did, however, pull off one of the sickest wrong-footed dunks we’ve ever seen. He split a George-Psycho T Hansbrough double at the wing with a minute left in the first quarter, took off on his right foot outside the key before splattering Mahinmi like a Tarantino movie. … The NBA might not be rid of the Maloofs quite yet. The Seattle Times reported even if the family sells to Seattle’s group of owners they would still hold a small stake â€” and they want a say in team operations because of it. The Maloofs have generally seemed aloof about how they’ve run this franchise ever since the team nosedived post-C-Webb. … We’re out like Boogie Cousins.
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