No. 1: Heat move into playoff picture -- The Miami Heat have been one of the NBA's hottest teams the last few months, winning 23 of their last 28 games to move into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Last night at home against the surging Minnesota Timberwolves, the Heat got a tough 123-105 win, but along the way lost starting shooting guard Dion Waiters to a sprained ankle. As Manny Navarro writes, the Heat aren't sure when they'll get Waiters back:
Waiters, who has been as big a key as anyone to the Heat’s turnaround following an 11-30 start, had to be carried off the court by his teammates late in the first half when he landed awkwardly after being fouled by Andrew Wiggins on his way to the basket.
The Heat said X-rays on Waiters’ ankle were negative and coach Erik Spoelstra said there’s no timeline yet for when the team’s third-leading scorer and starting shooting guard will return. When Waiters sprained the same ankle last month in a win at Minnesota he missed three games.
“I was hanging out with him a little bit in the training room,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a sprained ankle, same left ankle that he sprained in Minnesota. So I don’t know what his problem is with Minnesota, but he sprained it similar to the way he did last time. There’s no timeline on it. There’s no way to really tell until we get to the next day.”
“A lot of resolve has been built and the confidence we have is because of what we’ve had to deal with this year,” Spoelstra said of the Heat, which has dealt with more games lost to injury than any other team in the league this season.
“We’ve had this basically all year long. Somebody’s out, next man up. Our guys don’t blink at things like this. It’s unfortunate. You felt the crowd, that’s how we felt. But you have to move on and focus at the task at hand, and our guys have developed that kind of resolve. Tyler and J.J. have been a major part of our improvement in the second half of the season on both ends of the court. But with that second unit, they create a lot of actions and triggers for us. Tyler knew that he would have to step up and make some plays for us, and he did.”
With Friday’s win, Miami moved a full game ahead of the Pistons (33-36) for the eighth seed in the East. The Heat could have climbed to as high as the seventh seed if the Bucks lost to the Lakers later Friday in Los Angeles, but Milwaukee won so Miami is eighth going into Saturday’s action.
But nobody in the postgame locker room seemed too excited about that.
“I appreciate it,” James Johnson said. “We all do. But I don’t think we’re done yet, and I don’t think [making] the bracket was what our goal was.”
Said Whiteside: “Let’s just keep working. It’s like lifting weights. You start looking in the mirror, you start seeing muscles, you know you still got to keep lifting weights to keep that body. That’s how I’m looking at it, it looks good but we still got more work to do.”
* * *
No. 2: Bucks, Lakers turns physical -- The Lakers don't have much left to play for, having clearly to focusing on the future. But last night against the Bucks, things turned physical, and the Lakers came to each other's defense. As Mark Medina writes, the Lakers may be looking forward, but they still have each other's backs:
The play seemed like a momentum shift as the Lakers appeared on the verge of trimming a deficit to single digits.
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram had just forced a turnover by deflecting an inbounds pass. He then led a 4-on-1 fast-break in which he dished the ball to teammate Nick Young. Young leaped for a layup only for Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcom Brogdon to block the shot while making contact with Young’s right shoulder.
Afterward, Young called the play “just a hard foul.” But Young also believed Brogdon “was overaggressive with the foul,” so he expressed his displeasure by shoving Brogdon back. Bucks center Greg Monroe then pushed Young above his throat. So after believing “Monroe got a good shove in,” Young retaliated.
And then, just like that, the defining moment of the Lakers’ 107-103 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at Staples Center emerged in a matter of seconds.
Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. pushed Monroe away. Nance added afterward, “That’s never all right if you’re going to put hands on my teammates.”
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell separated Monroe from the scrum, too. Russell said afterward, “I just saw it kind of get out of hand really quick. It’s all reaction.”
Monroe kept trying to attack Young, and it appeared he would have done so if not for Nance, Russell and officials intervening. So to prevent Monroe from making any counter move, Lakers forward Brandon Ingram shoved Monroe away. Monroe then grabbed Ingram’s neck before pushing back. While Lakers rookie center Ivica Zubac separated Monroe from retaliating anymore, a security guard who Lakers coach Luke Walton later said works for the Bucks grabbed Ingram by his jersey before using force.
Once the skirmish ended, officials gave double technicals and subsequent ejections to Russell and Monroe for what they called “escalating a fight.” Young earned an ejection since he'd already picked up a technical earlier in the second quarter.
“It’s the game of basketball,” Young said. “They have to let stuff happen.”
* * *
No. 3: Pelicans fly high -- The New Orleans Pelicans have struggled since their midseason addition of DeMarcus Cousins. But last night against the Rockets, with Houston a bit out of sorts after bussing in from Baton Rouge, the Pelicans blew out the Rockets, 128-112. The Rockets say it wasn't about their late arrival, but as Calvin Watkins writes for ESPN.com, it probably didn't help things:
This had nothing to do with bus rides or the fact the opponent's season is falling apart. The Houston Rockets just couldn't hit enough shots, and even the easy shots they got failed to fall in when necessary. Take Eric Gordon's layup attempt in the middle of the third quarter that just rolled off the rim or Clint Capela missing the entire rim on a putback.
It was one of those nights as the Rockets were defeated by the DeMarcus Cousins-less New Orleans Pelicans 128-112 on Friday night.
The evening began when the Pelicans announced Cousins would miss the game because of a sore right knee and a right rib contusion.
It appeared to line up as another easy victory for the Rockets, who defeated the Pelicans by an average of 26 points and scored 125.5 points per game in two previous meetings, one of which involved Cousins.
Then the Rockets arrived. The first bus came from Baton Rouge, nearly a 90-minute drive, because the Rockets elected to stay there due to several conventions in town gobbling up hotel rooms.
When the second bus arrived with James Harden, Lou Williams and coach Mike D'Antoni a little more than an hour before tipoff, you still didn't worry about the Rockets.
But when the game started, Houston looked sluggish. The Pelicans made 50 percent of their shots in the opening quarter, and when the half ended, the Rockets had tied a season high in points allowed with 68.
Harden wanted nothing to do with using the bus ride as an excuse for the slow start.
"No, no," he said before a reporter could finish the question about the bus ride being an issue.
D'Antoni was philosophical about the ride.
"It's a nice excuse and we shouldn't have excuses we hang our hat on," he said. "There's people in the world that are having it a lot harder than somebody sitting on the bus for an extra half hour or so. We can't go there. It doesn't help, you can't go there. There's people worried about their Meals on Wheels or their health care, and we're worried about an extra half hour on the bus? I don't think that's quite right. You've got to put it in prospective and we didn't do it, it just happens."
* * *
Some random headlines: A lot of NBA players are getting potatoes in the mail ... Patrick McCaw says his primetime start for the Warriors last week was the worst game of his life ... The Hornets have reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with guard Briante Weber .. Isaiah Thomas has gone from being "The Pizza Guy" to being an MVP candidate ... The Blazers hope to get Evan Turner back tonight ... Shaq surprised a little girl who survived a dog attack and purchased new furniture for her family