Miami’s Winning Streak Is Now 20; The Nuggets Ruin Carmelo Anthony’s Homecoming

The word of the day yesterday was white smoke (well, technically that’s two words). In the NBA, the word was twenty, as in Miami has now won 20 games in a row after bludgeoning Philly down the stretch in a 98-94 W. LeBron James did his thing (27 points, seven rebounds, eight assists), and Dwyane Wade (21 points, eight rebounds) was pretty good too. But we can’t get over how awful the 76ers looked in the last two minutes. They were lucky to just be in it — CSN Philly’s John Gonzalez put it best when he tweeted: “You know how a big kid can put his hand on a small kid’s forehead & keep him at a distance while the little one flails? That’s this game.” Philly should’ve taken advantage of that. Instead, they blew a beast mode night from Thaddeus Young (24 points, 15 boards). Tied with just over a minute left, LeBron went straight to the rack and took on all of Philly before splitting the freebies. On the other end, Jrue Holiday (21 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) coughed it up off his knee after getting trapped 30 feet from the rim. Back down for Miami, James missed two gimmies right at the rim before D-Wade saved him by tipping in the second miss. Philly still had one more chance to get a bucket, but Spencer Hawes got a wide-open layup and missed. That’s Philly for you … In a second straight homecoming night for Dwight Howard (he grew up in the Atlanta area), everything was going great for the Lakers until the final seconds. The Hawks were folding up faster than Rick Ross‘ stomach, Kobe Bryant had just drilled a miraculous three-pointer, someone must’ve threatened Kyle Korver into missing a free throw, and then down two, Bryant (31 points on 33 shots) got a baseline jumper to tie it with only seconds remaining. Too bad Kobe’s shot was just off. Then he landed, rolled his ankle on Dahntay Jones (Bryant called it a dirty play), and suddenly, Darius Morris had the ultimate struggle face from the bench. The game was right there for the taking, and the Lakers just couldn’t convert. Bryant and Metta World Peace (20 points, eight rebounds) both had shots right at the hoop roll off the rim in the final two minutes. The Lakers had just one turnover in the third quarter after Bryant found his legs (20 points in the third quarter alone) and started making shots, and after the Lakers had erased a 14-point ATL lead. They just were isolating Kobe down the stretch way too often. Where was Dwight Howard (16 rebounds) in all of this? They had him standing off to the side, in the corner, as if they were playing dodgeball and someone had just knocked him out … You know the Lakers can’t play defense on point guards because they let Devin Harris (17 points) dictate the fourth quarter. Everyone and their momma knows Harris only goes right, and yet the Lakers moved out of the way and unveiled the red carpet to the rim for nine points for the Hawks point guard in the first half of the fourth quarter … The Lakers get to hold on to their playoff spot for now because Utah forgot to bring their game on the flight to OKC and got smashed up, 110-87. Yet, the future is cloudy. Bryant was visibly limping after the game and underwent x-rays on his left ankle. He’s being ruled out indefinitely, which — knowing Kobe — could mean just about anything … There wasn’t a more physical game last night than the one that went down in L.A. And since that style favors Memphis rather than the Clippers, the Grizzlies outworked them for yet another win, 96-85. In the fourth quarter, we kept waiting and waiting for L.A. to make a run. They never did because they got beat up at the worst times on the glass, and were manhandled defensively. Even Chris Paul (24 points, nine assists) was completely invisible in the final frame. Tayshaun Prince had a solid 18 points, and Marc Gasol finished with 21. Memphis has won six in a row, 14 of their last 15 games, and now have the inside track on the No. 3 seed. Anyone still say the Rudy Gay trade was a bad move? … Keep reading to hear how Carmelo’s return to Denver went…

At times it felt like an intrasquad scrimmage (the New York Nuggets were in town), but the Denver crowd made certain their allegiance was known. It was Carmelo Anthony‘s return to the Mile High City, and just as Dwight Howard and LeBron James before him, he was met with merciless boos. Yet even the fans grew tired of the game-within-a-game after a bit, largely because the Knicks got flayed, smoked and served by Denver, 117-94. Jon Barry might’ve used the word “force” to describe the Nuggets at least a dozen times in the first half, and that pummeling wore the Knicks out in the second quarter. Denver scored 19 of the first 23 points in the second quarter to go up by 20. It was part of a 25-3 run, highlighted by Andre Iguodala (14 points) and Danilo Gallinari (16 points) … Anthony (nine points) was obviously hurting. He was standing around on defense, and wasn’t much more than a frigid pillar offensively. But where were his teammates? They knew this was a big game for him. They should’ve stepped up, told ‘Melo, “We got this” and took care of business. The Nuggets were ready for war, and if this had been a real battle, New York would’ve ended up in the same position as Wallace from The Wire: dead … Early in the second half, Tyson Chandler‘s knee buckled under him and he exited with a left knee contusion. Can it get any worse right now for New York? … The Kings ran up 34 points on 65 percent shooting (with zero turnovers) on one of the best defenses in the league in the first quarter of their blowout win over Chicago. Isaiah Thomas (22 points) was balling so hard he picked up a technical for talking trash, and Tyreke Evans (26 points on 13 shots, seven dimes) was carving up Chicago like someone took us all back in time to 2010. Fittingly, the quarter ended with a John Salmons triple. It only got worse for the Bulls from there … Let’s hope Sacramento never wears those ugly NASCAR-style uniforms again. The retro joints might work as a tight-fitting dress for Mariah Carey, but anything else, they need to throw them back into the closest and never take them out again … In other scores from last night: Roy Hibbert (27 points, 12 boards, four blocks) had perhaps his best game of the season, serving up Timberwolf for Indiana’s dinner in a 16-point win; John Wall was fabulous again with 23 points and 10 assists in Washington’s 106-93 victory over Milwaukee; Houston annihilated the Suns by 30, getting 18 from James Harden; and Stephen Curry‘s 31 points and eight assists powered the Warriors past Detroit, 105-97; And because of an elbow injury, Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani is now out for the season, ending what’s been a nightmare of a year for the stretch-four. He’s a shooter who didn’t hit shots this year, and rebounded like an armless man. The Raptors are probably happy he’s not playing anymore, and there’s a good chance he’s played his last game in Toronto … Meanwhile Toronto went into Boston and got handed an ass-beating, losing 112-88. Jeff Green pumped in 20 off the pine, while the Raptors looked like a three-man team (Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross combined for 49 points) … Former Celtic Sebastian Telfair was ejected after playing just 14 minutes in his return to Boston. Our theory? He’d just seen enough of Avery Bradley … We’re out like the Mamba.

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