NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Heat continue to struggle — The Miami Heat lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 105-95 last night to fall to 4-7 over their last 11 games. The loss also marks the 12th time the Heat have fallen to an opponent with a losing record. At this point last year the Heat were on game 25 of their eventual 27-game winning streak , but now they struggle to find a resolution to their current woes. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald has reaction after Saturday night’s loss:
The anger finally boiled over late Saturday night, after another uninspired Heat effort that featured entirely too many miscues and entirely too many defensive lapses.
“So I figure I’ll be the first one to say ‘We suck,'” Chris Bosh declared after the latest demoralizing setback, a 105-95 loss to the Pelicans at Smoothie King Arena.
“This is unacceptable,” Bosh added. “If we don’t change this, we will be watching the championship from home.” He said one problem is “we’ve been keeping things in” all season. “There’s no passion.”
LeBron James also made no attempt to conceal his disgust after Miami’s seventh loss in its past 11 games overall, and its 12th defeat against a team with a losing record.
“Too many excuses,” he said. “We’ve got to stop excuses. Guys on the floor need to produce. It’s that simple.”
For the seventh time in the past 11 games, the Heat allowed a team to shoot at least 49.3 percent. The Pelicans, who entered shooting 45.9 percent for the season, closed at 51.2. Ahead by four points after three quarters, New Orleans scored 29 in the fourth on 12 for 20 shooting.
“The floodgates went open in the second half,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Their guards did a great job breaking us down. We couldn’t keep them out of the paint. This is new territory for us. We all know we have to play much more committed defensively.
“Yes, our locker-room is frustrated, as it should be. We’re not accustomed to these types of standards from the defensive end. We did not defend, did not have that tough, gritty personality.”
No team gives up a higher shooting percentage of corner threes than the Heat, and the Pelicans victimized Miami with several in the second half, including daggers from Anthony Morrow and Luke Babbitt. And keep in mind that this was a New Orleans team missing three of their best shooters: Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Andersen.
There were visible signs of disgust during the game, including James yelling and gesticulating after a Morrow three pushed the Pelicans’ lead to 85-76 with nine minutes left. Spoelstra also appeared particularly animated with his team during an ensuing timeout.
But none of that emotion helped, with the Pelicans extending their lead to 16 soon after.
There were inexcusable defensive breakdowns, including a second-quarter sequence when Morrow somehow scored on a layup on an out-of-bounds play with one second left on the shot clock. (Ray Allen appeared to be the primary defender.)
There were too many second-chance points for the Pelicans (13), too many fast-break points (21 to Miami’s 11) and too many uncontested forays to the basket, many the result of Heat guards being beaten off the dribble.
“We can’t relax versus teams we’re supposed to beat,” James said before the game. “Not saying we’re entitled to win, but we don’t focus the whole game.”
James conceded that “this is the toughest season we’ve had since Year One because of everything that comes with trying to repeat. We are the target every single night. We have to find our motivation every single night.”
VIDEO: Play of the Day: Trey Burke
No. 2: Burke hits game-winner — Utah Jazz rookie Trey Burke hit the first game-winner of his NBA career last night against the Orlando Magic. The shot pushed the Jazz to a meager 23-47 on the season, but the moment was one Burke always imagined as a child. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune has the story:
Trey Burke used to rehearse for his moment every day when he was younger.
Utah’s rookie point guard would shoot by himself for hours at the gym, imagining an expiring clock, a narrow deficit, an entire game on his shoulders. He would shoot over brooms and ladders, impersonating long-armed defenders contesting his jumper.
He got his chance in real life on Saturday night. Before 19,228 at EnergySolutions Arena, Burke hit the game-winner, a dagger from the corner over Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. The shot gave the Jazz an 89-88 victory over the Magic and broke a six-game losing streak.
“I knew that I had to get a lot of arc on it,” Burke said. “Victor was flying at me and I knew if I shot it the way I regularly did, it was going to either miss or get blocked. I knew we didn’t have a lot of time, so I had to be ready to shoot the ball right away.”
Burke came up huge when it counted. Even before his game-winner, his 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining gave the Jazz a 79-77 lead, just as Oladipo had given Orlando an advantage with two free throws.
In what’s been a difficult season, Utah’s looked for bright spots wherever they can be had. And on Saturday, the Jazz could’ve easily surrendered their seventh consecutive loss in ugly fashion. Instead, Gordon Hayward drove the lane and made a fantastic pass, and Burke proved capable of hitting a big shot.
“The ball went in the hole,” Utah coach Ty Corbin said. “After putting ourselves in a bad position, I thought the guys did a good job to close the game out. They understood the pace, Gordon made a great pass to the corner and Trey made the shot. It’s great to see the young guys show a lot of character. We could’ve fell apart there when we fell behind, but they played it out.”
In a maturity-filled final two minutes, Corbin said his guys had four possessions that needed to go right, and they executed each time. Down 83-81, Richard Jefferson went to the basket, got fouled and made a free throw. Down 85-82, Hayward created contact, drew another foul and hit two more freebies. Down 87-84, Hayward dished to Derrick Favors for a lay-in. And then came Burke’s big play.
Each possession was critical. A misstep anywhere in that sequence, and the game is probably over.
“The poise that they showed down the stretch was really good for this young group,” Corbin said. “We didn’t create the pace that we wanted to, but I liked the way we finished the game.”
No. 3: Hickson to miss remainder of season — The season for the Denver Nuggets’ J.J. Hickson is done after an MRI showed a torn ligament in his right knee. This is an unfortunate event for Hickson, who despite losing his starting role, was playing major minutes for the Nuggets. Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post has reaction from Denver and information on who will replace Hickson in the Nuggets’ rotation:
The news came Saturday that the Nuggets have lost their fourth player for the rest of the season because of an injury when J.J. Hickson’s MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The rest of the season is just 13 games, but he joins Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee and Nate Robinson, who all underwent season-ending surgeries.
Hickson is the third Nuggets player to go down because of an injured ACL.
Hickson is the Nuggets’ leading rebounder at 9.2 per game, and is the fifth-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game.
“He’s had a good season for us,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “J.J. has shown that when he was a starter, and lately as he’s come off the bench, regardless of whether he plays a ton of minutes or he plays lesser minutes, he’s still always around that double-double mark. He’s an elite rebounder for the minutes that he plays.”
Hickson’s absence opens the door for former Washington Wizards forward Jan Vesely to get additional playing time. He has played in only 10 games since coming to the Nuggets at the trade deadline and has averaged 10.4 minutes.
That will change as the rotation does.
“I’m sure (Vesely) kind of wants to get out there and go against his old team,” Shaw said.
He sure does.
“I’m really excited about it,” Vesely said. “It will be a tough game. Washington is playing really good the last couple months. We have to get ready for a fast tempo on both sides. We have to play fast, and they will do the same thing.”
Shaw has wanted to get a bigger sample size from which to evaluate Vesely, a former NBA lottery pick.
“He has a high basketball IQ,” Shaw said. “He has a really good feel for the game. Obviously, his athleticism is off the charts. He’s not very polished offensively of just being able to throw the ball to him and say ‘Get us a bucket.’ But he knows that and he plays within his limitations, which I like.
“Unfortunately, he hasn’t had that much of a chance to get on the floor, but with J.J. being out … we should be able to get a good look at him.”
No. 4: Kidd didn’t panic during slow start — When the Brooklyn Nets struggled early this season, coach Jason Kidd received much of the blame. But now with the Nets finally hitting a groove and playing well (they’re 10-2 over their last 12 games), Kidd reveals that he made sure to never panic during his team’s slow start. Harvey Araton of The New York Times has the story on how the Nets are reacting to the Phil Jackson hoopla across town with the New York Knicks:
In fact, pretty much everything that Jackson, the Knicks’ new president, and James L. Dolan, their owner, were promising as they exchanged vows last week at Madison Square Garden had been established at Barclays Center, where the Nets won Friday for the 11th straight time, 114-98, against the Boston Celtics.
In the true spirit of the Jacksonian triangle, they distributed the ball as if it were a family heirloom, collecting 30 assists and making 56.4 percent of their shots.
“No one cares who scores,” Kidd said. “It’s all about Brooklyn.”
[Billy] King, who was allowed to construct one of the N.B.A.’s deepest rosters without the owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov’s butting in, had a relaxed (albeit rare) pregame chat with reporters. That’s the kind of interaction unseen around the Garden since Donnie Walsh regularly defied Dolan’s longstanding policy of hiding executives behind a wall of silence.
Although the Knicks narrowly escaped in Philadelphia for their eighth straight victory and crept closer to the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff position, the Nets moved to a game and a half behind first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division, with the growing possibility of a top-four playoff seeding.
It was all enough for Kidd to almost crack a smile.
“There was never a panic, like, maybe I should have kept playing,” he said when asked if he had had sleepless nights and second thoughts when the Nets were wallowing in the depths of the conference, along with the Knicks, earlier this season.
Had Kidd not retired from a brilliant playing career, he would be among those kissing Jackson’s 11 coaching rings, eyeing a long-shot first-round series against Indiana or Miami, instead of leading a more versatile group that, as Paul Pierce said, can be one of the better teams in the East.
And yet … and yet ….
For all the Nets have accomplished since the turn of the year and as low as the Knicks sank (19 games under .500 until their current run), Dolan indisputably regained the upper hand last week in the continuing spend-a-thon against Prokhorov with the mere signing of Jackson to a five-year, $60 million contract.
In other words, the Nets, much like the Knicks, could look significantly different in a season a two. Neither team might be a serious championship contender any time soon. But we can count on both to be among the league leaders in dispensing cash and systemically sharing the ball. The players and the purists should be happy about that.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Philadelphia 76ers extended their losing streak to 24 games. … On the other end of the spectrum, the San Antonio Spurs won their 13th straight game. … Anthony Davis dominated the Heat for 30 points and 11 rebounds. … The Washington Wizards’ Drew Gooden was fined $15,000 by the league for his incident with Nick Young.
ICYMI of the Night: Chris Paul dished out the 6,000 assist of his career last night to become the 30th player in NBA history to accomplish the feat. Paul is third among active players in career assists behind only Steve Nash and Andre Miller.
VIDEO: Paul hits 6,000 assists