No one, and I mean no one, blows double-digit leads quite like the Miami Heat.
Putting together three-and-a-half quarters of exceptional defensive basketball – an area they’ve needed to address the entire season – the Heat found themselves up 17 points against the Trail Blazers. Over the course of seven minutes, however, the lead evaporated to a tie game with less than 30 seconds.
Sprung by a Mario Chalmers pick, LeBron (32-6-5-4 steals) had Robin Lopez one-on-one with a beeline to the basket (partially because Nic Batum couldn’t leave Ray Allen alone in the corner). With Bron’s layup redeeming himself from a handful of ugly possessions earlier in the quarter and putting Miami up two, it was Chris Bosh’s turn to play hero. Bosh – who recently celebrated his 30th birthday with Wade, James, Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and several little people – crushed Portland’s spirit for the second time in three months with a game-saving block on Damian Lillard.*
The 93-91 dub wasn’t the most glamorous win for Miami, who came into game losers of seven of their last 11. But all W’s look the same in the standings, and sets up a matchup of extreme importance on Wednesday in Indiana. Of the Heat’s desires to snatch the conference’s top seed from the Pacers at the eleventh hour, LeBron ominously stated, “Who wants to be second?”
* – Make no mistake, Miami doesn’t win this game without Birdman Andersen either, whose 13 points and 11 rebounds continue to make him one of the better free agent signings in recent memory.
— That’s because as much as Miami’s been wearing two left sneakers the past month, so has Indiana (and let’s not even dive into the 2014 Paul “Catfish” George has been having). Falling 89-77 in an all-around lethargic performance against division rival Chicago – who’s now tied for third with Toronto – means Indy only sits two games ahead of Miami with 10 contests remaining, including two head-to-head matchups with the Heat. So, yeah, Wednesday night is important.
— Al Jefferson’s still procuring 20-10 games like a savage, but the Bobcats fell 100-89 to the Rockets behind James Harden’s 31 points and five dimes. Terrence Jones’ 18 points, seven boards and defense on Kemba Walker deserves love, too. Watching him and DJ Augustin in Chicago prosper this season has been a pleasure.
— Phoenix vs. Atlanta was Monday’s most important game in terms of fighting for the playoffs. The Hawks’ 102-95 loss only pits them 1.5 games ahead of the Knicks for the eighth spot out East. Phoenix’s win, however, improves them to 42-29 – the same record as Dallas – but owners of the almighty tiebreaker.
— Another year, another disappointing season for Kevin Love and the Timberwolves. Memphis jumped out to 15-point first quarter lead and never looked back waltzing to a 109-92 victory. After leaving the game against Miami early, Marc Gasol returned Monday with a very Gasol-like 14 points and 12 boards.
— If someone said a Pelicans player had 33 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, you’d probably pick Anthony Davis without hesitation. And not one single person on this planet would blame you. But you’d be wrong because that was Tyreke Evans’ line in New Orleans come-from-behind 109-104 overtime win against Brooklyn. Despite AD’s 24-14 and three blocks (including the in-air home invasion seen above), his eight-game streak of 28 points, nine rebounds and 50% shooting – second to only Shaq – is over.
— Here are the three things one needs to know about Thunder/Nuggets.
1. Oklahoma City easily walked away with a 117-96 win.
2. Kevin Durant scored 27 points, meaning the streak of 25+ lives at 35 games and counting now. And he only needed 31 minutes to do so.
3. Ty Lawson is probably my favorite “man, I sure wish this guy was on a good team” player.
— A whooping 17,595 people piled into Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City only to see their beloved Jazz lose 114-94 to the Pistons. Gordon Hayward (32 points and six assists last night) has basically been on one big job interview all season. He’s going to be one of the most important free agents this summer. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, had 19 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 90% from the floor.
— Sans Tony Parker, the Spurs won their 14th straight with a 113-91 win over the Sixers. Meanwhile, the Clippers were led by the third best player on the planet in Blake Griffin (27-14-6 and three blocks) to a 106-98 win that shouldn’t have been nearly as frustrating as it was.
And then there’s this.
The Philadelphia 76ers traded their all best players not named Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young, Nerlens Noel and naming rights to the park Will Smith was beat up at before being sent to Bel Air. And one of those guys hasn’t played all season. People named Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims and James Nunnally are getting big minutes. Byron Mullens might actually be the third or fourth best player on the roster!
Philly hasn’t won a game since 96 hours before the Super Bowl. Justin Bieber’s deposition video wasn’t yet a thing. SXSW was a month and a half away from happening. Monday night’s loss puts Philly on the doorstep of history. One more defeat gives the franchise who retired Allen Iverson’s number earlier this month 26 in a row, tying them with the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers who were in Year 1 A.L. (After LeBron)
The point being is this. The Sixers have a reason to be this bad. While “tanking” has been attached to the historic drought, watch Philly play. They’re actually trying to win. They just can’t. And throughout their futility, Philly has yet to accumulate the worst record in their conference. They’re a full two games ahead of the Bucks with only 11 work nights left in the season.
The Milwaukee Bucks ought to be ashamed doing this to all 89 of their fans (unless, of course, they’ve already pre-ordered their Jabari Parker customized jersey). No one is mistaking them for the 1971 Bucks led by Kareem-Abdul Jabaar, Oscar Robertson and Bob Dandridge, but for crying out loud this is ridiculous. Ramon Sessions, Brandon Knight, Zaza Pachulia, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo should account for more than 13 wins.
But when the two biggest stories to emit from the franchise this season are a brilliantly-written Amos Barshad piece on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the revelation by Rudy Gay that OJ Mayo has devoured himself into a Wisconsin food depression, perhaps low expectations were already too high.