NEWS OF THE MORNING
Heat win the numbers game over the Pacers | Pierce becomes the 18th player to reach 25,000 | Brewer the most unlikely 50-point scorer … ever? | Raptors ready to hang another banner | Clippers to get Crawford back tonight
No. 1: Numbers that matter favor the Heat in Pacers series — LeBron James made sure the Miami Heat evened their regular season series with the Indiana Pacers, going off for 36 points in the Friday night showdown on NBA TV and making sure there were no doubts heading into the playoffs that the two-time NBA champs are ready for all challengers. But while the Heat own the numbers game over the Pacers, Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote believes there are quite a few assumptions being made about the two teams everyone feels are destined for a playoff rematch in the Eastern Conference finals:
The Heat’s game against the Pacers here Friday night understandably was billed as the battle for No. 1 — for the top conference playoff seeding as the NBA postseason fast approaches. It was supposed to be crucial because it would determine who would have home-court advantage in a deciding Game 7 in these teams’ inevitable Eastern finals rematch.
Nice, neat little story line.
Only one small problem with the premise.
It assumes both teams will advance that far, a presumption that seems mighty flattering right now to one of those teams.
The Pacers look disheveled and done, frustrated and finished. They look lost, their downward spiral continued by a decisive 98-86 Heat victory at the downtown bayside arena, an outcome putting Miami in control of that top seeding.
Here is why the outcome had to be so disheartening for Indiana fans and such a shot of adrenaline for Miami’s chances of a third consecutive championship.
The Pacers were the Pacers again, healthy, rested and supposedly re-energized after their fatigued starters recently were given three consecutive day off.
And the Heat still was not the Heat, not fully, not with Dwyane Wade missing a ninth consecutive game on account of a strained left hamstring.
Yet LeBron James with 36 points led his depleted champions to a resounding triumph that tipped on a 16-0 Miami run to open the second half.
The Heat has too much offensive firepower, even sans Wade, for light-scoring Indiana, which has too little in the way of a counter-punch. Pacers top scorer Paul George has not been anything special most of the second half of this season, and Miami seems to have discovered a weapon to stop Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, the 7-2 behemoth who is a lumbering slug against the rest of the NBA but tends to take a star turn against Miami.
The Heat’s not-so-secret weapon against Hibbert? His name is Udonis Haslem. He held Hibbert to a whispering five points and one rebound Friday. Haslem had fallen out of the rotation this season but seems to be a big factor again as the playoffs loom.
“It’s great to have U.D. back,” James said of Haslem. “He’s the heart and soul of our team.”
Haslem gave up 6 inches and 55 pounds to Hibbert but won the matchup with hustle, with knee burns on wood earned diving after loose balls. Haslem turns 34 in June, right around the time of the NBA Finals. With obvious affection, coach Erik Spoelstra calls him “our old warrior.”
“He set the tone early,” Spoelstra said. “It’s what going on in here, which you can’t teach.”
As he said “here,” Spoelstra tapped his finger on his chest, over his heart.
No. 2: Paul Pierce joins the exclusive 25,000-point club — Not that he needed the boost, but is there any doubt that Paul Pierce will join the Hall of Fame club one day now that he’s scored his pass to the all-exclusive 25,000-point club, becoming just the 18th player in NBA history to reach that mark? It’s a nod to not only his elite scoring ability but also his dedication to the craft and the longevity it takes to reach such heights. Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com helps put Pierce’s accomplishment into better perspective:
Pierce became the 18th player in NBA history to score at least 25,000 career points in Friday night’s 93-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center.
“I told him, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood,’ ” said teammate Kevin Garnett, who is also a member of the exclusive club.
” ‘Truth’ has been a big part of this league. He’s one of my great friends, best friends. We’ve had some accomplishments together, done some great things together, and tonight it was all about him. I’m happy for him.”
Pierce, Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are the only four active players in the league to have reached the milestone.
“It’s better to be in the championship club obviously,” Pierce said when told of the comment from Garnett, with whom he won a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. “Statistical things, they come and go. There’s gonna be players in the future that pass me up, but when you win, that lasts forever. It’s great. I’m gonna enjoy being part of history. It’s just a testament to my hard work and consistency over the years and good health.”
Pierce came into Friday night’s game just five points shy of reaching the mark. He knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining in the second quarter to give him 25,001 career points. Pierce had started off 1 of 5 from the field before draining the milestone shot.
“It’s hard not to [think about it],” said Pierce, who finished with 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. “Everybody’s talking about it. My family’s here, my friends that’s all they’re talking about, and I was the same way when I reached the 20,000-point mark. I remember I couldn’t hit a shot in the first quarter because I was pressing just to get it. I’m just glad it’s over with and I can just focus on the rest of the season.”
Pierce received a nice ovation from the home crowd after his accomplishment was recognized by the public address announcer.
The 36-year-old has averaged 21.3 points per game during his 16-year career. He spent the first 15 seasons with the Celtics, and currently ranks second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list behind John Havlicek.
No. 3: Brewer the most unlikely 50-point scorer ever? — Welcome to the 50-point scorer’s club Corey Brewer, we had no idea you’d be joining the party. Since you’ve never scored 30 points in a game in your seven seasons in the league … until Friday night, of course, when you smoked the Houston Rockets for half of a hundred. Brewer also joined the elite list of Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to score 50 points and collect six steals in the same game. The other three guys are either already in or locks for the Hall of Fame. Brewer … is not, as Ryan Feldman of ESPN Stats & Information explains:
Brewer is the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 50 points in a game without having previously scored 30 points in a game.
The lowest previous career high for a player to score 50 points in a game was 26 by Terrence Ross (earlier this season for the Toronto Raptors) and Tony Delk (in 2000-01 for the Phoenix Suns).
Brewer, in his seventh NBA season, is the most experienced player ever to score 50 points without having previously scored 30.
The only other players to score 50 before ever scoring 30 among players with at least two full seasons of NBA experience were Delk (fifth season in 2000-01) and Willie Burton (1994-95 season with the Philadelphia 76ers was his fifth season).
Brewer averaged 9.9 points per game in his career entering Friday, the fifth-lowest career scoring average for a player at the time of scoring 50 points. The lowest was Ross, who averaged 7.4 before scoring 51 back in January.
Brewer now averages 10.0 points per game, the fifth-lowest career scoring average for any 50-point scorer (including every career game for players after they scored 50). The lowest on that list? Walt Wesley (8.5 career points per game), who joined the 50-point club with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 1970-71 season.
And let’s not forget about a few other notables:
Tracy Murray, who scored 50 for the Washington Wizards in 1997-98, averaged 9.0 points per game for his career.
Phil Smith and Phil Chenier both joined the 50-point club in the 1970s before ever scoring 30 in a game.
Dana Barros had eight 30-point games, all for the 76ers in 1994-95, his only season averaging more than 13.3 points per game. That season, he scored 50 against the Rockets on 21-of-26 shooting.
No. 4: Raptors ready to hang another banner with Atlantic Division title wrapped up — No one said it was going to be easy, the Toronto Raptors getting to the top of the heap of the Atlantic Division. After all, the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks were both projected to finish ahead of them in the race this season. But as the sun rises this morning north of the border, it’s the scrappy Raptors (losers to the Knicks Friday night on their home floor) who have emerged victorious in the chase. Losing your way into winning a division title makes for a rather odd but satisfying celebration, according to Cousin Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:
The lone banner signifying Raptors success will soon have another flying next to it in the Air Canada Centre.
It was an odd celebration — barely a celebration at all — but the Raptors did manage to secure the second Atlantic Division title in franchise history on Friday night.
Coach Dwane Casey was deconstructing a 108-100 loss to the New York Knicks at about the same time the players were bemoaning a lost opportunity and the Atlanta Hawks were providing a helping hand by beating the Brooklyn Nets to hand the division to the Raptors.
So while there were commemorative t-shirts mandated by the league — Atlantic Is Ours, they said — there was hardly a raucous celebration raging in the locker room.
“It sucks that we lost the game, especially with us trying to hold on to the third spot (in the East) but it feels great to win the division,” said DeMar DeRozan. “I don’t think anyone would have picked us to win it, so it is definitely an accomplishment.
“The feel is we are still anxious, we want more, we aren’t satisfied with anything. We still have much basketball to play and have a long road to go.
“We want to take advantage of it, not just get there and say we got there and say we got there when people doubted us. We feel like we can go in there and make some noise.”
No. 5: Clippers Crawford set for a Saturday return — The best sixth-man in the business is set for a Saturday return, per Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com. And it comes at the perfect time for the Los Angeles Clippers, as they welcome back Jamal Crawford in the lead up to the first round of the Western Conference playoffs:
Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford practiced with the team Friday and is expected to play Saturday against the Sacramento Kings.
Crawford has been sidelined the past five games with a strained left calf. It was the same injury that sidelined him for eight of nine games last month.
The Clippers are officially listing Crawford as a “game-time decision” for Saturday but he is expected to play for the first time since March 29.
“I think it’s huge from a chemistry standpoint to get everybody back healthy,” Crawford said. “At that point we’d just be missing Danny [Granger]. Just to get back into rhythm after missing some [time] would be huge. You want to play your best heading into the playoffs.”
Granger, who has missed the past six games with a strained left calf, shot with the team on Friday and is hoping to return for the team’s playoff opener next week.
Coach Doc Rivers last week thought Crawford and Granger would be out until the playoffs started, but with Crawford coming back and Granger on track to return next week, Rivers could have a fully healthy roster for the first time this season just as the playoffs begin.
“I think it’s great,” Rivers said. “I think it’s great for him and the team.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers have changed their tune now that the No. 1 seed seems to have slipped away … The Warriors bounce back, bounce Lakers and clinch playoff berth … Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva is facing an uncertain future … The Atlanta Hawks mourn the death of “Sweet Lou” Hudson …
ICYMI(s) of the Night: Steph Curry goes off again and Big Al Jefferson shreds the competition inside once more …