by Brett Weisband | @weisband

Heat (31-12) 109, Lakers (16-27) 102

In crunch time, the Heat had the two best players on the floor, and those two closed the door on the Lakers. LeBron James (27 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) kicked it up a gear in winning time, blowing by Young for an easy layup, following that up with a difficult angle 3-pointer. With the margin at five, the ever-reliable Chris Bosh (31 points) splashed in another mid-range jumper.

You’ve probably seen all over the Internet that Miami is stuck in their annual mid-season malaise. It showed against the Lakers on Thursday, as Los Angeles managed to hang around in a game they had no business being in. Miami alternately looked dominant and lackadaisical, building double-digit leads but never putting the Lakers away for good. In the fourth quarter, L.A. got it within four points with under three minutes to go, fueled by scoring outbursts by Nick Young (19 points, 8-20 shooting) and Jodie Meeks (22 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers). 

Bosh was hot all evening, raining in jumpers from all over on his way to 15-22 shooting, helping Miami to 57.7 percent shooting on the night. He was the dominant scoring force for Miami all evening as the Heat yet again played without their full complement of players. Dwyane Wade missed his fourth straight game to rest his knees, leaving the burden to Bosh and James. The Heat pounded the Lakers early, scoring 38 points in the paint in the first half alone.

Despite their obvious advantages all over the court, Miami was unable – or unwilling – to mash the gas and pull away. Part of that was the presence of Pau Gasol, who hung around the basket to score 22 points on 9-15 shooting and pull down 11 boards. Further pointing to a lack of focus by the Heat was their free throw shooting; they hit just 11 of 23 shots from the line (47.8 percent), including a 7-13 night from LeBron. Those missed free throws were a part of the picture, as was the turnover battle. Miami coughed it up 18 times, forcing just 11 from the Lakers as they tone back their hyper-aggressive trapping defense.

Despite Miami’s slump, real or not, they’ve won four of their last five. They also got 10 minutes out of Greg Oden (five points and five boards), his most this season, as he builds his basketball stamina back up.

Trail Blazers (32-11) 110, Nuggets (20-21) 105

Portland had the luxury of riding surefire All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge down the stretch. Their power forward owned the undersized Nuggets, scoring a career-best 44 points on 15-29 shooting while pulling down 13 boards. LMA netted Portland’s final 15 points, getting to the line repeatedly (14-17 overall) as he left the Nuggets no choice but to foul him to stop his mid-range jumpers from splashing in.

Through the first three quarters, Portland looked like the team many thought they’d be coming into the season. They were scoring a ton of points, but giving up even more. To be exact, 91 allowed through 36 minutes. The Blazers were able to flip the defensive switch in the fourth quarter to complete their comeback, holding Denver to 14 points on 6-19 shooting, knocking the Nuggets below 50 percent shooting for the game. The Blazers were able to overcome a poor shooting effort, as they hit just 43.2 percent from the field and 4-18 from deep.  

The Nuggets used Portland’s offensive strategy early on, getting red hot from behind the 3-point line. Denver hit 7-10 triples in the first half and opened the third quarter with Randy Foye (14 points) hitting three shots from long range. Nate Robinson was one of the main aggressors early, as he had all of his 13 points in the first half, as was Ty Lawson, who had 13 and nine assists early.  

As the second half wore on, Portland locked down on the perimeter. After Foye’s triplet 3-pointers, Denver didn’t hit another shot from deep. They also got harried into tons of turnovers – 19 total – and saw their point guard get shut down, as Lawson registered just two assists and no points in the second half to finish with 13 and 11. Nate Rob’s presence on the court came back to hurt Denver later on, as he got abused on the left block by Wes Matthews (24 points, 8-14 shooting), who hit two turnarounds to give Portland the lead. He airballed a 3-ball a short time later, leading to a shot clock violation for the Nuggets.

Denver got 18 points from Wilson Chandler to lead the team. While they weren’t on their games, Portland got solid efforts from Nicolas Batum, who dished out 10 assists, and Damian Lillard, who was a tidy 5-10 for his 11 points and gave the Blazers a spark at the end of the first half.