Post Up: Red-Hot LMA

by April 24, 2014

Heat 101Bobcats 97 (Miami leads 2-0)

There aren’t any moral victories in the Playoffs. Even if there were, the Charlotte Bobcats, who in 10 years of existence haven’t won a single postseason game, probably wouldn’t want to hear about it. But the ‘Cats put up a gritty effort against the Heat, taking their cue from the hobbled Al Jefferson, before falling short of victory in the final seconds. Dwyane Wade (15 points) ripped the ball away from Chris Douglas-Roberts in the corner with two seconds to go, stealing away Charlotte’s chance at a game winner.

LeBron James was locked in and led the Heat with 32 points on 11-17 shooting. He affected the game with his passing, picking up 8 assists and a couple more hockey assists in the process. Chris Bosh was a killer for Miami, scoring 20 points and finding his stroke (8-11 shooting, 4-5 from long range) that went missing for most of April.

The Bobcats appeared to be done midway through the fourth when they went down 91-77, but a 10-0 flipped that script. But after narrowing the gap to four points, Charlotte couldn’t find a way to get over on Miami, despite Kemba Walker (16 points, 8 assists) dropping in two big-time triples, including one with 11 seconds to go after a nearly botched possession.

Bosh answered Charlotte’s big run with two buckets, and Miami’s star trio forced their way to the line to finish the game off. LeBron took a forearm to the neck late in the game from Josh McRoberts (8 points, all in the second half) that somehow wasn’t called a flagrant, but shook it off and finished out the game.

The Bobcats are left wondering what could have been in this one if Big Al was totally healthy. The post professor felt another rip in his injured plantar fascia in the first quarter, according to coach Steve Clifford. Even though he soldiered his way to 18 points and 13 boards, Jefferson’s limp was pretty noticeable all night. While the effort earns the veteran even more respect, it was painful just to watch him drag the foot around as he went just 1-3 in the fourth quarter.

With Jefferson going to the locker room early for some retaping, the Bobcats easily could have folded. They turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, leading the 18 points for the Heat. That usually spells death against Miami and their lethal transition game, but Charlotte was able to clean up their act in the second half, when they committed just 2 TOs. The ‘Cats gave the Heat a taste of their own poison in the fourth quarter, forcing 6 TOs, but couldn’t capitalize. Charlotte got a breakout performance from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who put up 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Gerald Henderson made the most of his opportunities in the fourth and finished with 15 points.

The series shifts to the Queen City on Saturday, where Charlotte will try to avoid going down 3-0.—Brett Weisband

Mavericks 113 – Spurs 92 (Series tied 1-1)

The Mavs used stifling defense and a balanced attack (again) to take down a Spurs team that incessantly shot themselves in the foot Wednesday night. By winning Game 2 on the road, Dallas won its first game in San Antonio since November 26, 2010.

This Dallas team pulled out the victory with their trio of guards—Monta Ellis (21 points, 3 assists, 3 steals), Devin Harris (18 points, 5 assists, 7-9 on 3-pointers) and Jose Calderon (12 points, 5 assists)—being too much for the Spurs to handle. When these three players came off high picks, San Antonio had no idea how to handle them. Go under, fight over—nothing seemed to work.

With the guards pulling their weight, Dirk Nowitzki (16 points, 5 rebounds) found his touch after a rough start. With Tiago Splitter (6 points, 5 rebounds) using his length and quickness on defense, Dirk couldn’t make a shot early on as the Big German missed his first six shots. Similarly, the Mavs only had six points after seven minutes into the game and trailed 13-6. As the game moved along, though, Dirk began to find his shot while the Mavs found their touch as well. Late in the 2nd quarter, after Nowitzki knocked in a three-pointer to give the Mavs their largest lead of the game (56-41) at that point, he had hit four of his last five shots and seemed to be in a groove.

Manu Ginobili (game-high 27 points, 5-6 on 3-pointers) was the only reason the Spurs stayed in Game 2 as long as they did. He scored 10 of the final 12 points for the Spurs to cut the deficit to five points before halftime. The potential Sixth Man of the Year used timely three-pointers to keep his team within striking distance. He also drew calls when getting into the lane but, just like the rest of his teammates, he couldn’t hit his free throws. The Spurs ended the game shooting 18-29 (62.1 percent) on free throws while the Mavs shot 15-16 (93.8 percent) at the line.

Along with missed free throws, another self-inflicted wound for the Spurs was their turnovers. During the regular season, San Antonio averaged 14.1 tpg. They had 15 turnovers at halftime alone. By the end of the game, the Spurs had 24 turnovers, which led to a season-high 33 points off turnovers for the Mavs. These 24 turnovers also helped the Mavs score 23 points on 8-8 shooting in transition. (They only had 5 points on 2-4 shooting in transition in Game 1).

Shawn Marion (20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) was a major reason his team remained active defensively. The veteran small forward played one of his best two-way games of the season, making a significant impact both offensively and defensively.

He might have only played 14 minutes, but DeJuan Blair (8 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) took advantage of his time on the court and had a great defensive game. Carlisle saw Blair moving well on defense and bringing a lot of energy, so he extended the big man’s minutes.

Carlisle, who didn’t get a single Coach of the Year vote, showed the Coach of the Year just how much a coach can affect a game. Carlisle is one of the best in the League at handing out minutes on a game-by-game basis, going with who is playing well for each specific game. He also implements multiple defensive schemes, including his effective man-zone, throughout a playoff series. He proved his worth Wednesday night.

The oddest part about Popovich’s coaching was his inability to have his team get Tim Duncan (11 points, 7 rebounds, 4-5 from the field) the ball in the post. After the Big Fundamental had a fantastic Game 1 as he had 20 field goal attempts, Duncan seemed to be a nonfactor most of Game 2. While Marco Belinelli (7 points, 5 rebounds) and Patty Mills (5 points) hoisted up 14 shots, Kawhi Leonard (6 points, 5 rebounds), Danny Green (6 points) and Duncan had 13 shots combined. That is not the type of shot distribution this team wants. Tony Parker (12 points) had a decent game but didn’t get the Spurs in an offensive rhythm like he did in Game 1.

(The Spurs, though, shouldn’t get down after Wednesday’s loss. This team responded to blowout losses multiple times during last year’s NBA Finals…with their own blowout victories.)

With the 21-point victory, the Mavs handed the Spurs their second-worst playoff loss at home in the Duncan era. The only one worse? Dallas beating them 113-91 in 2006. It might have taken the Mavs a couple years to remind themselves how to take down the Spurs, but they did so in commanding fashion with the series now moving to Dallas for two games. I won’t go as far to say that Dirk’s squad is favored now, but they certainly have a legitimate chance to make this series go the distance.—Jay Wallis

Blazers 112 – Rockets 105 (Blazers lead 2-0)

NBA fans got a sneak peek at the movie “Godzilla” weeks ahead of its May 16 release date Wednesday night. LaMarcus Aldridge is the science fiction monster in red, black, silver and white and Houston is Tokyo.

All told, LMA decimated the Houston Rockets for 43 points on 18-of-28 shooting (in only 36 minutes!) to lead his team to a 112-105 victory and a 2-0 series lead in a series that everyone, including me, thought that the Houston Rockets should/could/would be winning.

No way Houston can win this thing, though, if they can’t contain LMA. Dude was completely unstoppable. It was like he had a cheat code. The stat sheet says he missed 10 shots, but it sure as hell didn’t seem like it. No one had any answers for the guy, especially Omer Asik. I mean, Asik and Destroy couldn’t stop LMA if he had a chloroform rag, two lead pipes and Wesley Snipes’ gang from Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video.

“What can they do to stop him? He was great once again, just like Game 1,” Damian Lillard said. “When a lot of guys couldn’t get going and couldn’t hit shots, he just carried us. He played like an MVP again.”

Sidenote: I bet it’s really, really friggin’ hard for Chicago Bulls fans to watch LMA cook in these playoffs knowing that they traded the rights to the former Universtiy of Texas standout and a second rounder to Portland for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa’s contract.

Humblebrag: LMA is the first player to score 40 plus points in consecutive playoff games since LeBron did it in 2009.

“Definitely not on this type of stage in this moment,” LMA said of his performance. “This is definitely the best I’ve felt going into a game, and I think this team in general just believes in me so much. They just ride the wave so well. … I think having 15 guys have your back like that, it’s great.”

Things started off well enough for the Rockets. Dwight Howard, who finished with a team-high 35 points and 14 boards, put on his Superman cape and went off, demanding the rock and scoring his team’s first 13 points. His 19 first quarter points surpassed Hakeem Olajuwon’s record for most points scored by a Rocket in a quarter (Utah 5/5/95).

But just as D12 was showing up and showing out, LMA12 was quietly answering back with 11 by the end of the first. And while Dwight’s foul trouble was his kryptonite, LMA kept serving up J’s like a Las Vegas casino buffet.

And where the @*#! was James Harden? His defense or lack thereof is becoming the stuff of comic legend. The Beard finished with a paltry 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Really? Lillard didn’t fare any better with 18 on 3-of-14 from the field (Patrick Beverley was all over him like pine tar on Michael Pineda), but the floor general found other ways to lead his team to the promised land, with 8 rebounds and 11 dimes.

I hate to say it, but it looks like Portland fans should start buying organic brooms. Going up to the Blazers’ house down 0-2 is not a sexy proposition and with Harden’s subpar play and the Rockets inability to stop LMA or blatant defiance in double-teaming him at least, there aren’t too many scenarios that end with the Dwight Howards taking this series back to Space City.

“We don’t have our same flow, our same mojo that we had throughout the season,” said Harden. “We don’t have our same swag … we’ve got to get that back.”

No sh-t, Sherlock.

Game 3 is Friday at Portland. Maybe by then the Rockets will have gone to Home Depot to by a few kitchen sinks to throw at LMA.—Maurice Bobb