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A Historic Performance Still Couldn’t Beat LeBron, Miami; Paul George Is Unleashed

Hopefully you didn’t start throwing back cold ones too early in anticipation of the holiday yesterday, or else you probably missed some really good basketball. Case in point the battle in Florida between the Magic and Heat, which felt like an intra-squad scrimmage because so many Miami “fans” infiltrated the Amway Center. But there was one big difference: the game’s intensity was bordering on Duke/North Carolina levels. Nikola Vucevic, in particular, was balling like the Mayans had put out a hit on his life. He finished the night with 20 points, 29 rebounds (the most by a Heat opponent… ever), and by the middle of the fourth quarter, had reached out Indiana Jones style and tossed Chris Bosh‘s (22 points, but only four rebounds) heart into a bag. Halfway through that period, Vucevic had a play where he tipped offensive rebounds to himself a half dozen times before finally getting one to drop … Yet his career night didn’t matter because LeBron James (36 points, eight boards, 11 assists) played with a permanent “Who Gon Stop Me?” face. He dropped 10 in overtime of the Heat’s 112-110 win, and he needed to because Dwyane Wade (21 points, 3-for-10 from the line) stole the free throw stroke of the drunk, fat guy in the second deck … We were all set to write about how J.J. Redick is the most underrated player in the NBA (he still might be), but on the last play of the overtime with the Heat up two, he got the ball and threw a cross-court pass you wouldn’t even see in a Jets game. Wade picked it off, and finished with a jam on the other end to ice it. Still, Redick is really balling this year, and scored many of his 23 points in crunch time on backdoor cuts and off-the-bounce drives. He can still shoot, too – banging five three-balls … Carlos Delfino was pissed off that his boy Manu Ginobili gave him food poisoning, and took it out on the Hawks, ringing up the birds for 22 points, eight dimes and six triples in Houston’s 123-104 W … Did you know James Harden (28 points) is fifth in the NBA in combined points, rebounds and assists, trailing only LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kobe and ‘Melo? Do you consider him a part of that elite group? … If John Jenkins keeps playing like he did last night (15 points), he won’t have to worry too often about opposing broadcasts calling him by the wrong name – he was “Josh” to Houston’s on-air graphics department last night … Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant continued to unleash Hell on the NBA, this time combining for 54 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists as OKC made quick work of the Suns, 114-96 … Keep reading to hear about the great Paul George/Rudy Gay debate …

Roy Hibbert might be playing like Chris Dudley, but the Pacers are finally starting to pick it up, and in a wild five-point W over the Grizzlies, they rode Paul George to a come-from-behind statement game. Indiana took the lead halfway through the fourth on a breakaway spike dunk from George, and then the question of who you’d rather have between George and Rudy Gay might’ve been answered in the last five minutes. During one sequence, George cut backdoor and hit a fadeaway from the baseline to put Indiana up three. Then a few possessions later, he grabbed a board and flung a full-court rainbow down court that ended in a D.J. Augustin (17 points) triple. George (21 points) was everywhere all night, and then Gay (11 points) airballed a potentially-tying wing three in the final 10 seconds (Gay did definitely beat him in the kick game, though – his bright yellow-based Nike Air Max Tempos were just sick) … George also attempted a between-the-legs jam after a whistle in the fourth quarter. Everyone in the arena ooohed and ahhhed, except for Tony Allen … We could tell Hibbert (nine points, four blocks) was trying so hard to break out of his funk, but unlike other sports such as football, hockey and wife carrying, bad things happen when you try too hard in basketball. He was out there setting illegal screens, rushing shots in the lane that made him look like a gangly fifth grader still learning how to use his body, and jumping at nearly every Memphis shot. He also had three of the ugliest hook shots we’ve ever seen. We’re not sure what’s been wrong with the former Hoya this season, but now that 2012 is over, we can guarantee he’s celebrating harder tonight than anything you saw in a music video this year … The matchup also gave us a chance to see the rare, but always amazing Z-Bo/David West combo, pitting two of the most “no fluff” players in the league. Together, they can take us back to the old days of the NBA when you’d get clotheslined at the rim for talking smack or get clocked in the face for showboating. Everyone has those friends or family members who subscribe to the annoying heresy that no one in the NBA plays hard, and no one is fundamentally sound. Show them tape of Randolph (21 points, 15 rebounds) and West (13 points and nine rebounds), who both make their bread money by out-hustling people, playing physical and having nasty midrange jumpers, as well as combining for perhaps 11 inches of vertical … New strategy for the Bobcats: drop the gameplan. After Charlotte finally ended their 18-game skid by beating the Bulls in Chicago by 10, Mike Dunlap said, “I put the playbook in the freezer and just let our guys go at them.” Not sure that’ll work often, but Kemba Walker has kind of been playing like that all season. His 18 points and eight rebounds were enough to overcome Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds) and Luol Deng (20 points, 12 boards) … Somehow, Ben Gordon (15 points) is still getting booed in the United Center on the last day of 2012 … And we tried watching some of the San Antonio/Brooklyn tilt, but it was over early, and the Spurs rolled, 104-73. Tony Parker finished with 20 points in just 25 minutes, while his counterpart (Deron Williams) was almost as bad as the Nets’ third quarter, where the Spurs planted a big ol’ 30-5 score on them … We’re out like 2012.

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