The Miami Heat are officially in serious trouble—not getting a serious challenge—but trouble, as in can lose this series to the Indiana Pacers after a blowout defeat last night left the Pacers up 2-1 in the series. And one team that’s not in serious trouble is San Antonio, who laid waste to the LA Clippers to defend their home floor and take a 2-zip series lead. TheSportsNotebook recaps the games and looks ahead to a playoff doubleheader on Friday…
Indiana 94 Miami 75: Roy Hibbert was great when he had the opportunity to be, and Dwayne Wade was awful when he couldn’t afford to be. That’s the microcosm of the Pacers-Heat game. Hibbert was a dominating force inside for the Pacers, with a 19 points/18 rebounds night while Wade shot a woeful 2-for-13 from the floor and finished with an unbelievable five points. Miami, apparently frustrated by their inability to hit three-pointers in the first two games of the series, decided to unleash from long range on Thursday night and they ended up 4-for-20. Conversely, Indiana used its interior edge, one decidedly enhanced by the injury to Chris Bosh. David West chipped in a 14/9, while Pacer fans had to be heartened to see Danny Granger get into the series, with a 17-point night. If you’re Miami, look at it this way—you got 25 from Mario Challmes and maybe that’s a sign Wade’s running mate is going to start contributing and you have three shots to pick up a win in Indy, presuming you defend the home floor in Games 5 & 7. Do that, maybe Bosh makes it back, and you can restore some order. But on the floor right now, Miami has no answer for Indiana’s inside game and that has nothing to do with whether or not LeBron wants to take a winning shot.
San Antonio 105 LA Clippers 88: For as much joy as the city of Los Angeles is getting in hockey and baseball right now, thanks to the Kings and Dodgers (and maybe the Angels before it’s all over), their NBA season looks to be headed for an ending within the next week. One night after the Lakers went a 2-0 hole against Oklahoma City, the Clippers take a bad beating, because they aren’t defending the perimeter and their stars are coming up short. Chris Paul had eight turnovers and Blake Griffin had one rebound. You can say both players are hurt—and that’s almost surely true—but that doesn’t explain why everyone else lets San Antonio shoot 52 percent from the floor. And lest we make this all about LA shortcomings, let’s also point out how much the Spurs’ depth shone again on Thursday night. The team hit 10 three-pointers, but it wasn’t Manu Ginobli doing the damage. This time it was Daniel Green, who bagged four treys. The NFL motto of “Next Man Up” applies even more perfectly to Gregg Popovich’s team.
Tonight the Lakers start what they hope will be the comeback trail against Oklahoma City. Los Angeles’ needs are pretty clear—they need both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to both have big games, and do it both rebounding and scoring. Oklahoma City has a nice defensive presence inside with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, but they don’t match up with a motivated and focused Bynum/Gasol tandem. With Metta World Peace back in the lineup the defense has seen a noticeable uptick on the perimeter, but at the end of games Kobe Bryant has to show he can execute better than Kevin Durant, a rather mindboggling question given the respective stage of their careers. And when I say “execute” I don’t mean score. Create a shot for someone else if necessary. Take a look at the recap Jeff Fogle over at Stat Intelligence did on the Laker meltdown on Wednesday, essentially pointing out that Kobe completely blew this one. The 27 hours that define the LA season start tonight—this series comes right back Saturday night with a back-to-back and the Lakers need to sweep.
Boston’s playing with house money tonight in Philadelphia, having reclaimed homecourt advantage. Will they come out focused and looking for the kill, or hunker down and just try and win home games in Games 5 & 7 to advance? They can do the latter and win the series, but if they want to make the NBA Finals, there’s no team in basketball that needs the rest an early clinch would provide.