NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Wade rides to the rescue in Heat comeback — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen all made big plays during the Heat’s wild comeback against the Indiana Pacers, but it was the performance of Dwyane Wade that truly stood out in a contest that felt much more like a playoff game than it did a regular season game in December. His game-high 32 points provided the Heat the opportunity needed to storm back and snatch the game. It was work that we’ve seen sparingly from Wade this season as he nurses the soreness in his knees. It’s finishing work the Heat will need more of, particularly in their matchups against the Pacers, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
The Heat trailed 88-80 after Pacers firebrand Lance Stephenson converted a driving layup, but the Heat’s defense steadied itself from there and, thanks to some clutch three-pointers, the home team outscored the Pacers 12-4 over the final 4 1/2 minutes.
“We just kept grinding,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished with a game-high 32 points. “We knew we were getting some good opportunities, but we just couldn’t pull it as close as we wanted, but we knew we weren’t far out of it.
“We got some great defensive stops that allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and get us back in this thing. You don’t want this team in half-court every possession, so we had to get stops, and we went with the bigger lineup with [Chris Bosh] and [Chris Andersen], and we were able to get more rebounds and get out and go a little bit.”
Wade was 8 of 11 in the second half and matched Paul George point for point in the final 24 minutes of the game. Both players had 18 points in the second half; George finished with 25 points to lead Indiana.
Pacers forward David West was an unstoppable force for long stretches in the second half until Heat coach Erik Spoelstra plugged Andersen in the paint alongside Bosh. The combination, along with James at his hybrid point-forward position, came through with needed stops.
A running dunk by Wade with 2:47 remaining cut the Pacers’ lead to three points, and, after a pair of missed jumpers by the Pacers, Bosh knocked down a three-pointer with 90 seconds left to tie it at 92-92. Bosh finished with 15 points.
“Our guys are fearless, no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “They would want to play every single game like this, with this type of intensity and drama and having to make big plays down the stretch.”
No. 2: Asik could be headed for Boston at any moment: — All that’s left for the Houston Rockets to do is finalize whatever the best deal is for their disgruntled big man Omer Asik. The Boston Celtics have emerged as the clear frontrunner, according to multiple reports, including one from our very own Fran Blinebury (who reports that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is weighing all of his final options before executing a deal by his self-imposed deadline that ends today). Rockets coach Kevin McHale and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have a longstanding relationship as former teammates, friends and trade partners (Kevin Garnett …), so Asik going to Boston will shock no one. Still, there are other possibilities in play until something gets done officially:
The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.
Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.
The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.
Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.
With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page —@paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.
If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.
The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.
No. 3: Gasol no longer on the trading block? — You can go ahead and remove Pau Gasol‘s name from the list of big men who could be moved … right now. According to a report from ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, the Lakers are no longer shopping their four-time All-Star. Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni got sideways last week but repaired the damage quickly and moved on. Now, instead of his name being swirled around in trade rumors alongside Houston’s Asik, Gasol appears to be safe … for now:
The Lakers entered the 2013-14 campaign fully intending to keep Gasol for the whole season and then to explore the feasibility of re-signing him in the summer. But ESPN.com reported last week the Spaniard’s recent public complaints about how he’s been used in D’Antoni’s system, as well as some subpar play, prompted L.A. to begin assessing its trade options.
However, the way Gasol quickly made amends with conciliatory comments about D’Antoni during the team’s recently completed 2-2 road trip has eased concerns. Gasol had 21 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 96-92 win in Memphis on Tuesday night, after totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds Monday night in a loss to Atlanta. In the two games, Gasol made 16 of 21 shots to raise his overall shooting percentage to .439.
“I just think people go through periods of slumps where you question things,” D’Antoni said of Gasol after Tuesday’s win. “Like I said, we were out of whack. Different things go on. But Pau’s an All-Star, he’s one of the best players in the league, he worked through it and he’s back to normal.”
Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Lakers, before Gasol’s resurgent play, engaged in exploratory talks with several teams but never got too far with any of the calls.
Among the teams they spoke with were the Rockets, sources say, but those conversations never got serious, even with Houston determined to trade disgruntled center Omer Asik before a self-imposed Thursday deadline.
Sources say the Lakers do have certified interest in Knicks center Tyson Chandler, but New York appears to have no interest in fielding offers for Chandler at this time, having just welcomed the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year back to the lineup after a fractured fibula sidelined Chandler for the past 20 games.
ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported Saturday that the Lakers, facing a slew of injuries in the backcourt, made an inquiry about the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert, but sources say those talks were likewise merely exploratory.
The Lakers are still assessing their long-term plans and whether there’s a way to keep Gasol beyond this season, with the 33-year-old headed for unrestricted free agency in July. Sources say that team officials have communicated to Gasol in various ways that they remain interested in keeping him in L.A. beyond this season.
No. 4: Warriors surging, catching Spurs at perfect time — It certainly sounds good in theory, the Golden State Warriors finally catching their breath after a road-heavy start to this season and now catching the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs when they are on their heels a bit, and at Oracle Arena. The Spurs will be without Tony Parker (shin contusion). The Spurs, of course, have a way of destroying the best plans, as Matt Schwab of the Oakland Tribune points out:
The reigning Western Conference champions will return to Oracle Arena on Thursday night, playing on back-to-back nights on the road, without injured point guard Tony Parker (shin contusion).
But don’t try selling any softened Spurs scenario to Warriors coach Mark Jackson.
“With no Parker, it makes a difference, but they still find ways to execute and hurt you,” Jackson said. “Kory Joseph had success against us in the playoffs. Patty Mills can disrupt the game. He has a scoring mentality. They added (Marco) Belinelli, so they’ve got guys that know how to win ballgames.
“It’s still going to be a challenge for our defense and us overall.”
The Warriors got their mojo back in a 104-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, as David Lee became David Lee again with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Andre Iguodala returned triumphantly from a 12-game absence after suffering a strained left hamstring. Klay Thompson helped limit Eric Gordon to five points on 1-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes, employing what Jackson called “elite defense.”
Moreover, Stephen Curry continued his electrifying run with 28 points and 12 assists. The pieces all fit together, just as they did during an 8-3 start to the season before Iguodala went down.
“Really good team effort,” Iguodala said. “We moved the ball really well, but at the same time Steph was in a really good rhythm within the flow of the game. It was really helpful when we defend the ball like we do, and when we move the ball and he’s able to attack without having to force everything.
“Everything was just comfortable, in a rhythm. You could tell he was in his comfort zone, and the same with David Lee.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Clippers pop the Pelicans, thanks to DeAndre Jordan‘s stellar work … It wasn’t pretty, but the Knicks get it done in the clutch against the Bucks … Kyle Korver is working on more than just a 3-point streak, the Hawks’ shooter is doing it from all over … Pistons’ big man Andre Drummond has only scratched the surface of his immense potential.
ICYMI(s) Of The Night: A little friction in Miami (between LeBron James and Mario Chalmers) never hurts, especially when you finish the way the Heat did against the Pacers …