NBA

Miami loses top seed as Brooklyn rolls, Memphis move to 17-2 without Morant

By Sports Desk March 26, 2022

The Miami Heat's slide continued on Saturday night, with a disappointing 110-95 home defeat against the Brooklyn Nets making it four losses on the trot.

Miami entered the week multiple games clear of the chasing pack, but after the loss against the Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers usurped the Heat as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The race for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs is far from over, as the top four teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics, are only separated by a half-game.

Things were ugly early for the Heat, with its once-feared defence giving up 40 points in just the second quarter to hand the Nets a 67-46 half-time lead, which was never threatened.

Kevin Durant led a balanced offensive performance from the Nets, finishing with a team-high 23 points on seven-of-14 shooting, while seven of his teammates scored at least eight points each.

The win was Brooklyn's seventh from their past nine games, with Kyrie Irving set to make his home debut the next time out against the Charlotte Hornets.

No Morant, no problem

The Memphis Grizzlies passed another real test when the Milwaukee Bucks came to town, sending the reigning champions home with their tails between their legs after a 127-102 result.

In one of the more unlikely storylines of this season, the Grizzlies are now 17-2 in games where their best player and MVP candidate Ja Morant has not played.

Emerging franchise centrepiece Desmond Bane rose to the occasion, scoring 20 points on nine-of-19 shooting to go with five assists, while Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr blocked two shots and snatched one steal to go with his 16 points and six rebounds.

Kings rookie continues to break out, Bulls finally beat a good team

With De'Aaron Fox missing yet again, Sacramento Kings rookie Davion Mitchell had his third consecutive game with at least 22 points and seven assists in his side's 114-110 overtime win against the Orlando Magic.

Mitchell's line of 22 points (10-of-23 from the field) with seven rebounds and nine assists comes after games of 25 points and seven assists against the Indiana Pacers, and 28 points with nine assists against the Phoenix Suns.

Meanwhile, after entering the game with a sputtering record of 3-10 in their past 13 games, the Chicago Bulls collected a much-needed 98-94 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since February 12, Chicago have only beaten two teams who currently occupy playoff spots – the Cavaliers, and the Toronto Raptors.

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    “Just playing at our pace,” was Bowers’ response when asked what the key to victory was for his team.

    “Our coach has been preaching playing at our pace, staying patient and taking care of the ball,” he added.

    When asked about his own performance, he felt he could’ve been even better.

    “I thought I did okay. I could’ve been a little more aggressive in the second and third quarters. I feel like I started off well and I ended well.”

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    The second game of the day was a preview of Saturday’s championship game between the unbeaten Horizon and Elite 1 Storm.

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    Forward Anton Ivey was man-of-the-match with 23 points and eight rebounds while guard Bobby Gray also chipped in with 19 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

    Ivey credited his team’s defense as the catalyst for this statement-making win.

    “Our gameplan was defense and we picked it up in the second half,” he said.

    He then made no secret of the plan going into Saturday’s finale.

    “Same gameplan, defense. We have to do the same things but execute better in the first half,” Ivey said.

    The Horizon finished the preliminary round with a perfect 3-0 record while this loss means the Storm finish 2-1.

     

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    Gasol played for the Lakers between 2008 and 2014, having arrived from Memphis, appearing in three NBA Finals and winning two championships alongside Kobe Bryant.

    Three of his six All-Star appearances came during his time in Los Angeles, before he left for the Chicago Bulls in 2014.

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  • LeBron agrees extension: How James became the NBA's highest-paid player LeBron agrees extension: How James became the NBA's highest-paid player

    Whenever people talk about the NBA, one name is rarely far away from any conversation.

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    The 37-year-old had been entering the final year of a contract worth $44.5m. His new deal includes a player option for the 2024-25 season according to ESPN, citing Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.

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    As the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, it was hardly surprising that James impressed from the start with the Cavaliers, averaging 20.9 points per game (PPG) in his debut season from 79 games.

    It was the 2005-06 season where he really exploded, though, averaging 31.4 PPG in the regular season, which remains his highest ever for a campaign, before recording 30.8 PPG in the playoffs, where the Cavs were eliminated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals by the Detroit Pistons.

    James took Cleveland to the postseason for five straight seasons, agonisingly losing the 2007 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, before taking the mantel again in 2009 as he put up 35.3 PPG in 14 playoff outings before Conference final heartbreak against the Orlando Magic.

    He had become a superstar in his home state of Ohio, though it seemed like championship glory was always going to elude him in Cleveland and so in 2010, it was time for a decision.

    LeBron brings the Heat

    The television event titled 'The Decision' did not go down universally well, it is fair to say, as James dramatically revealed he was leaving the Cavs for the Miami Heat.

    However, it turned out to be the catalyst for him to reach the next step as he was undoubtedly surrounded by more talent in Miami, and before long, much-deserved silverware.

    Linking up superbly night after night with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James reached the Finals every year in Florida, winning his first championship in 2012, before following it up in 2013 with another.

    His numbers were ever so slightly lower at the Heat than they had been in Cleveland, though that clearly owed to having more help from the likes of Wade and Bosh.

    James' first title win 2012 saw him average 30.3 PPG during the postseason, and led the way as he got some revenge on the Spurs in 2013, excelling in Game 7 to win his second championship.

     

    The Cavalier returns home

    In 2014, James came back to Cleveland with the desire to take his team to the promised land with him this time, and he did just that.

    Just as he had in Miami, James went to the Finals every year of his second spell with the Cavaliers, and every year they played against the dominant Golden State Warriors.

    After losing 4-2 in 2015, they returned to get revenge in 2016 as James starred on their way to an almost Hollywood-ending win against the Warriors, securing their first NBA championship.

    They were unable to repeat the trick as the Warriors beat them in both the 2017 and 2018 Finals, but reaching four Finals in a row was still more than Cavs fans could have realistically expected.

    Unfortunately for them, James was getting itchy feet again.

    L.A. dreams not always what they are cracked up to be

    James himself had a solid enough start to life in Los Angeles, posting 27.4 PPG for the Lakers in 2018-19, though injury issues sustained by him and several of his new team-mates led to a wobbly season, and therefore, no postseason for the first time for James since 2005.

    Inevitably, he came roaring back the following year and in spite of the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, James and the Lakers returned to win the "bubble championship", the fourth title of his career with a third different team.

    However, the 2020-21 campaign was one to forget as James recorded his lowest PPG for a season (25.0) since his rookie year, before the Lakers were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

    Was it all over for LeBron? Not likely. He responded to that setback by scoring 1,695 points in just 56 games last season at an average of 30.3 PPG, his best regular season return since 2005-06.

    James also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

     

    Unfortunately for him, his team-mates were unable to match those efforts and the Lakers again failed to even make the playoffs, which could be why they were so desperate to find the funds to tie James' immediate future down.

    His PPG has been higher in the playoffs than the regular season at every team he has played barring the Heat, where it was identical (26.9), proving the extent to which he is a clutch player and why it is imperative that the Lakers reach the postseason next year to make the most of the time they have left with him.

    Injuries permitting, it is also practically certain he will overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer next season (currently 1,325 points behind).

    Now that his new deal is agreed, you can be sure when that landmark arrives, LeBron will be wearing the same Lakers jersey Kareem did so famously.

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