by Brett Weisband | @weisband
Heat 102 (4-2), Clippers 97 (3-3)
In one of the biggest matchups of the young season, Dwyane Wade looked like his old self, putting up 29 points on 13-22 shooting, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and a block as the Heat dispatched the Clippers.
Miami got out to another slow start in this one, spotting the Clippers 7 points before finally netting a bucket. JJ Redick continued a trend of hot first quarters for LA. He came in averaging 9.2 points in the first, and upped that average by scoring 10 to open the game, although he scored just 5 points the rest of the way. The Clippers defensive issues were glaring from the start: Miami shot over 62 percent in the first, and didn’t even look like they were playing well in doing so. Things didn’t cool off a bit for the Heat in the second quarter – they finished the half shooting 60 percent. The Clippers forced some turnovers (13 in the first half) to cope with Miami’s shooting, but they didn’t have any answer for no. 3. DWade went to the locker room at halftime with 14 points on 6-8 shooting. Blake Griffin (27 points, 14 rebounds) picked up the scoring where Redick left off in the second quarter, and went into halftime with 13 points and 6 rebounds, and the Clippers held a 56-52 lead after two quarters.
Things remained tight in the third quarter, as both defenses locked in (relatively). The Heat drew several charges and forced a couple of shot clock violations in the third, throwing the Clippers offense out of sync. The Heat kept Chris Paul (11 points and 12 assists, with just 3 dimes in the second half) out of the paint, limiting him as both a scorer and playmaker. LeBron James (18 points on 6-13 shooting, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) finally started to make his impact felt in the third, scoring 5 points and notching an assist in the frame. The Heat snatched the lead back with him on the bench at the end of the third.
They stretched that lead with LeBron still resting to start the fourth, with Wade leading the push. He got easy dunks, jumpers and assists as Miami went up by as much as 8 with Bron out. Jamal Crawford did what he does, though, knocking down jumpers to keep the Clips in it, but the Heat held them at arm’s length for the win.
Nuggets 109 (1-3), Hawks 107 (2-3)
A season after winning a franchise-record 57 games, the Nuggets avoided the distinction of being the last team to notch a win in the 2013-14 season, pulling one out at home over the Hawks. They withstood a huge effort from Paul Millsap, who put up 29 points and 10 boards for the Hawks.
After an up-and-down first half that saw the Hawks go up by as many as 10 and the Nuggets later building a 9-point margin, the Nuggets took a 54-51 lead into halftime. Denver got a balanced scoring effort. Six players had between 5-8 points, and four tied for the halftime lead at 8. The Hawks big man combo of Al Horford and Millsap were both big in the first half, combining for 26 points and 9 rebounds.
Horford (21 points, 9 rebounds) came out of halftime firing, putting up 4 quick points for the Hawks. Defense was not at a premium in this one, as both teams found themselves scoring on open jumpers, layups and runouts off of turnovers.
Denver fell behind early in the fourth, as can happen when you’re counting on Nate Robinson (15 points, 5-11 shooting) to generate your offense. Andre Miller (7 points, 7 assists) came through big as the quarter wore on, hitting a big triple to draw the Nuggets within one, and making a slithering layup to keep the Nuggets in it. The biggest basket of the game came from Ty Lawson, who led Denver with 23 points, with just under a minute to go. He took a pass from Professor Miller coming off a curl and knocked down a three to put Denver up 107-102. With under 10 seconds to go, Millsap had a chance to tie it for the Hawks, but missed the first of two free throws. Robinson then had a shot to put Denver up three from the line, and he bricked his second free throw. The Nugs escaped with the W when Atlanta missed jumpers by Millsap and Horford in the final seconds of the game.
Lakers 99 (3-1), Rockets 98 (4-2)
They nearly blew it, but the Lakers exacted some measure of revenge on Dwight Howard (15 points, 14 rebounds) as they pulled out a fall-from-ahead win. After Houston came back strong in the second half, Steve Blake nailed a dagger to win it for LA.
The Lakers hopped out to a big lead early, going up by 15 toward the end of the first quarter. Blake (14 points, 4-6 from deep) had an explosive start to the game, hitting a trio of corner three pointers in the first quarter. Everything was falling for the Lakers early, as they hit 6-9 threes in the first. They stretched their lead as far as 19 points in the first half, and sustain a double-digit margin through halftime. Houston’s defense, which logic says should be vastly improved from last year with the addition of Dwight Howard, definitely was not good in this game. The Lakers shot 50 percent and a ridiculous 78 percent (11-14) from three in the first half and led by 14 at the break, despite James Harden’s 20 points. It’s safe to say that it is not good when you’re getting burned by the likes of Blake and Jodie Meeks (18 points, 5-7 from three).
Houston finally got it under 10 with five minutes to go in the third, but the defense didn’t improve all that much, as the Lakers kept finding shooters wide open around the perimeter. Harden was one of the main culprits in letting his man get away from him, nearly offsetting the damage he inflicted on the offensive end, where he finished with 35 points and 5 assists. Despite their defensive shortcomings, Houston managed to stay in the game thanks to a massive free throw disparity. Through three quarters, the Rockets had a 36-10 edge from the line (finishing the game 52-15 in that department, although we’ll get to that).
The Rockets fought all the way back to tie it up early in the fourth on two Harden baskets. Things got really sloppy for the next few minutes, with turnovers, batted passes and clanked shots becoming the norm. The Lakers, after hitting 12 of their first 15 three-point attempts, went on to shoot 4-20 from deep the rest of the way, even though many of the shots were wide open.
Chandler Parsons (16 points) came up huge down the stretch, nailing a tough fadeaway jumper and rolling down the lane for a dunk to give the Rockets their first lead since the game’s opening minutes.
Unfortunately, fans were subjected to the slog of intentional fouls on Howard, and he went 5-12 from the line in the fourth quarter. Houston held a slim lead in the final minute when Parsons made the mistake of inbounding the ball to Howard, who, of course, was fouled and missed both at the line. He made up for it by destroying Wes Johnson’s shot attempt at the basket right after, preserving the lead.
The Rockets’ effort ended up being in vain, though. After Harden bricked a long jumper attempt, the Lakers nearly threw the game away. On the ensuing inbounds play, Blake got wide open off of a screen and splashed in the winning three over Dwight’s outstretched hand.
Solace for Houston fans: Chandler Parsons threw down the dunk of the night.