Friday, March 2, 2012

LeBron and Durant put up MVP-type games

LeBron James and Kevin Durant put up huge nights Thursday to continue their MVP-type seasons.
Kevin Durant had a big game early Thursday and LeBron James returned serve later that night as two of the biggest stars in the NBA continue their monster seasons. 

In the Miami Heat's 107-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, James put up a stat line that’s never been recorded in the NBA, finishing with 38 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals, a blocked shot and no turnovers. 

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since individual turnovers were tracked beginning in the 1977-78 season, no NBA player has had a game with 35 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five steals and no turnovers. 

The Miami Heat have won nine straight games, all by at least 12 points. LeBron’s 2008-09Cleveland Cavaliers are the only other team in NBA history to win nine games in a row, all by at least a dozen. 

This all came after Durant nearly outscored the Orlando Magic by himself in the fourth quarter, helping theOklahoma City Thunder erase an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and win in Orlando for the first time since March 13, 2004. They were the Seattle SuperSonics back then; the franchise had lost seven straight games in Orlando. 
Durant had 18 points in the fourth quarter -- the most he’s scored in any quarter this season -- just three fewer than Orlando scored as a team. 

Oklahoma City ran its win streak to seven games, tying its longest of the season and just two short of its longest since moving to Oklahoma City. 

In his first four NBA games in Orlando, Durant averaged 15.3 points per game and shot less than 32 percent from the field. He was held below 18 points in three of those games -- remember he had 18 in the fourth quarter alone Thursday -- and the SuperSonics/Thunder lost all four. 

He's played in Orlando twice in five days this week, including Sunday’s All-Star Game, and they may not want to invite him back. He averaged 37.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in two wins and took home the All-Star Game MVP trophy. 

Orlando led by as many as 14 in this game, but were outscored by 14 in the fourth quarter alone. The Magic shot 32 percent from the floor while the Thunder went 10-for-15 and Durant made five of his six attempts. 

Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for more than half of Oklahoma City’s points (67 of 105), the 19th time they’ve outscored the rest of their teammates this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s more than any other NBA duo this season. 

It’s been a good formula for the Thunder so far -- they are 14-5 when Durant and Westbrook score more than half the team’s points. The next two duos on the list, Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol (14) and Bryant-Andrew Bynum (11), have losing records when outscoring their teammates. 

The duos of James-Chris Bosh and James-Dwyane Wade are the only others to do that 10 times this season, and the Heat are 7-3 when each duo outscores the rest of the team.

LeBron James fills void, leads Heat to 9th straight win

LeBron James
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Looking ahead to the prospect of facing the Trail Blazers without Chris Bosh, Heat coach Eric Spoelstra told LeBron James he was going to need a "Magic Johnson-type" night from him.
James delivered.
The Miami star scored 38 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and added six assists and five steals, to lead Heat to a 107-93 victory in Portland on Thursday night.
It was the ninth straight win for the Heat, who at 28-7 are off to their best 35-game start in franchise history.
Dwyane Wade added 33 points and 10 assists for the Heat in their first game since the All-Star break. Miami hadn't played since a 102-88 victory at home over the New York Knicks last Thursday.
The Heat were without Bosh because of a death in his family. The All-Star was also expected to miss Friday night's game at Utah, but it is not yet known whether he will play Sunday when Miami visits the Los Angeles Lakers.
Spoelstra said he approached James at shootaround, saying he needed a little bit of everything from his star.
"Really, it was as simple as this: 'We need a Magic Johnson-type, not necessarily performance, but awareness," Spoelstra said. "Man, he really took the challenge. It's his ability to do all these different things in the course of one game."
James said he, in turn, told his teammates that he was going to guard everyone.
"We had a big piece of our team out, so I definitely had to step up my game to bring home this win," he said.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points for the Blazers, who were coming off a 104-95 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. Portland (18-18) has lost eight of its past 12 games.
It was never much of a contest, and the Blazers trailed by as many as 25.
Aldridge, coming off his first All-Star appearance, was clearly frustrated.
"I'm at the point where we can't keep talking about what we need to do," he said. "We have to go out and do it."
Before the game, the Blazers activated center Joel Przybilla, who was signed by the team earlier this week.
Przybilla, who spent more than six seasons in Portland before he was traded to Charlotte last season, has not played since last March. An 11-year NBA veteran, the 7-foot-1 center finished with four points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 19 minutes.
A fan favorite, he was treated to a standing ovation by the Rose Garden crowd.
"Miami is on a mission. They are focused on winning a championship," Przybilla said afterward. "And we want to get where they are, we want to get to the level they're at."
The Blazers jumped out to an early 14-6 lead, but the Heat came back to tie it on Wade's lob pass to James for the dunk. James and Wade combined for all of Miami's points to that point.
The Heat extended the lead to 30-21 on Mario Chalmers' jumper. They kept the Blazers at bay the rest of the half, going up 45-34 on Udonis Haslem's 15-foot jumper before taking a 60-42 lead into the break. James and Wade accounted for 41 of the team's points.
The second half was more of the same. James went to the bench in the fourth quarter with the Heat still holding a sizable lead. But the Blazers chipped away a bit, coming to within 91-78 on Wesley Matthews' reverse layup.
James' break was brief and the Blazers got as close as 95-85 on Nicolas Batum's 3-pointer with 4:35 left. James answered on the other end with a 3-pointer of his own.
James has scored 30 or more points in 15 games this season. Wade has scored at least 20 points in 10 straight games.
Last season, James scored 44 points against the Blazers, a record high for an opponent at the Rose Garden, in a 107-100 overtime victory for the Heat. The road team has won the past five games in the series.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan said he was proud that his team didn't "fold up the tent" when it was clear they weren't going to win.
"I don't think our guys did that tonight. They kept scrapping," he said. "We had a slow second quarter. That was the big quarter for us. But for the most part, I thought we kept competing."
Game notes
Spoelstra was selected as the NBA's Eastern Conference coach of the month on Thursday after leading Miami to a league-best 11-2 record in February. It's the third time he has earned the honor. ... Former Blazer Scottie Pippen was at the game. ... Batum cut his lip in the second half but returned. ... The game was the only meeting between the Heat and the Blazers this season. ... Portland placed C-F Kurt Thomas on the inactive list because of a concussion he sustained the night before in Portland's loss at Denver. ... It was Miami's fifth straight win on the road.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kyrie Irving (34 points, 9 assists) was named MVP of rookie-soph game

Kyrie Irving
ORLANDO -- Maurice Cheeks initially seemed a bit offended by the question.
The former championship point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, who was as tough and proud as they came in his heyday, was asked before Friday night's "Rising Stars" showcase game at Amway Arena what he thought about the new golden age of players at his old position these days.
"Golden age?" Cheeks shot back. "Point guard is obviously different than when I was playing. Point guards are able to do more things. They can score, they can rebound, they pass; they do a little bit of everything. In my golden age, we pretty much did one thing. And we had the ability to score, but our job was pretty much to set up our team. These guys' abilities go far beyond that now."
Just consider Kyrie Irving as Exhibit A. If Cheeks needed someone to embody the spirit of the message he was trying to relay, Irving stepped to the forefront. Right on cue. Irving showed style, speed, pizzazz, grit and a million-dollar smile throughout a night when he shined brightest among the league's top young stars to lead Team Chuck to a 146-133 victory in the Rising Stars Challenge showcase that featured the league's best rookies and second-year players.
The No. 1 pick in last June's draft, Irving was a can't-miss prospect who couldn't miss a thing Friday night. Irving made 12 of 13 shots, finished with 34 points, 9 assists and 2 steals to earn the game's most valuable player award -- a distinction that validates his status as the league's future at the position.
The Cleveland Cavaliers catalyst isn't too shabby in the present, either.
"You know, it's kind of unfortunate that it comes in an All-Star Game," Irving said of what he believes was the best shooting display he's ever had in a game at any level. "These stats don't carry over to the season. But at the end of the day, it was still fun to get out there with those talented guys."
Cheeks was the product of a show-me-something-first era of point guards. So it's understandable if he's not completely ready to anoint the league's current crop of young guards as a certified movement just yet. But the facts are the facts. There's a renaissance at the position in the NBA, and the future kept flashing before Cheeks' eyes every time Irving, Washington's John Wall or Minnesota's Ricky Rubio darted up the court, dunked emphatically or dished a behind-the-back, no-look assist.
Defense is only a rumor in these kind of games. But it doesn't dispute the notion that if these guys have the ball moving forward for their respective franchises, then the league certainly is in great hands. What we saw Friday night is just a snapshot of what the league has become at point guard.
Scary athletic.
Imagine if Dennis Johnson had LeBron James' leaping ability. You might have the makings ofRussell Westbrook. Or what if Isiah Thomas' speed and attacking style was meshed withRay Allen's shooting stroke. Those were the sort of hybrid flashes Irving displayed Friday night.
"They're better athletes," said Cheeks, who coached a team that included Irving and Wall. "From the smallest guy to the tallest guy, they dunk the basketball, rebound the basketball very well."
Cheeks, of course, is modestly selling his era a bit short. He shared an era in the 1980s with Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Thomas, John Stockton, John Lucas and many other dynamic players at the position.
But there's an undeniable youth movement that's spreading across the league now. At least 15 of the NBA's 30 teams are run by point guards with four or fewer seasons of experience. Irving, Rubio, Wall and Kemba Walker represented the newer faces in that group Friday. Derrick Rose and Westbrook, who are both in their fourth season, will headline the class in Sunday's All-Star Game.
Nestled within those units are the likes of Tyreke EvansStephen CurryBrandon Jenningsand Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson, among others. It led to some bold talk among those who claim to be ushering in a changing of the guard. There aren't many teams in the league that can say they aren't encouraged by the prospects they have at the point guard.
"This class of guys, we have a great chance to be special at the position -- and that's coming from someone [Cheeks] that was special at the position," Wall said Friday. "As long as we continue to grow, get better, watch film and keep figuring out what to do, but we still have a lot to learn, a lot to do."
Cheeks, an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, has seen Westbrook's rapid development from a raw and athletic talent to a skilled and elite catalyst alongside Kevin Durant. Ron Adams, who coached Friday's losing team that included Rubio, Jeremy Lin andBrandon Knight, as an assistant in Chicago has also witnessed Rose mature in three seasons from a rookie to the league's reigning MVP.
"It's kind of an interesting time in the league," Adams said. "All of the guards on our team are very good players and have come along well this season, but there are so many good point guards in this league right now. We have one that I'm partial to, but there's just a lot of great point guards."
Irving is just proving to be the latest product in the NBA's promising and deep point guard pipeline.