James States Case for MVP in Possible Finals Preview

The Miami Heat edge Oklahoma City with LeBron James getting the best of Kevin Durant.

If this was a preview of the NBA Finals, NBA TV will have plenty more of those Hardwood Classics games to rebroadcast.

Miami vs. Oklahoma City was one of the most intense regular season games I’ve seen in years. The Miami Heat prevailed, 98-93, in a playoff atmosphere that featured physical play, down-and-dirty defense and clutch play by MVP candidate LeBron James.

The usually reserved Miami crowd came to life after their superstars, James and Dwyane Wade, were roughed up in the second quarter. Thunder bruiser Kendrick Perkins smacked Wade and was called for a technical. Later on, Russell Westbrook pushed James from behind on a breakaway dunk attempt. A flagrant foul was called, but that seemed to be the wakeup call the Heat needed.

“I know Russ. I don’t think he’s a dirty player,” James said in a TV interview at halftime. “I don’t know if it was uncalled for or not, but it’s playoff basketball. You get up and move on to the next play.”

It wasn’t playoff basketball, but it sure seemed that way. The defense was tight. Both teams nailed key shots. For once, OKC didn’t just overwhelm its opponent with athleticism and length.

James dominated the game the rest of the way, finishing with 34 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and four steals.

The other MVP candidate, Thunder forward Kevin Durant, scored 30 points, but had a game-high nine turnovers.

“We fought all game we had a tough stretch in the second quarter,” Durant said. “We got back in the game at the free throw line. Myself, I turned the ball over nine times. After all of that we still had a chance to win the game.”

Almost two weeks ago, the Heat laid an egg in OKC, losing by 16 points. This was a pivotal game for both squads as they are in a race for the NBA’s best record. The Chicago Bulls own the NBA’s top record at 42-13, but Miami (39-14) and OKC (40-14) are in the mix along with the San Antonio Spurs (38-14).

Chicago has surprised many with its consistent winning because last year’s MVP, Derrick Rose, has sat out so many games. But the Bulls can’t be expected to go far in the playoffs with Rose injured.

OKC is still the odds on favorite in the West despite the Spurs’ success. Why couldn’t the Heat and Thunder meet again in June?

“We learned that both teams are deserving of the lofty expectations of expecting to see them in the Finals because they are complete basketball teams,” ESPN analyst Tim Legler said.

Lakers Still Own Staples Center

For all of the flash and dash of guard Chris Paul, the power dunking of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and the exorcising of demons in the won-loss column, the Clippers can’t overpower Big Brother.

Not George Orwell’s Big Brother, that would be too political; it’s their Staples Center older sibling, the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that always flexes its muscles in the backyard.

Sure, Staples Center is both teams’ backyard, but only one team can truly call it home.

“The battle of L.A. is much overhyped,” ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “The Lakers are clearly, and have been forever, the dominant team in L.A. and until the Clippers can fill up some of the holes in their roster they’re going to have some up and down nights.”

The Lakers pushed around Little Brother again, 113-108 to take a 2 ½-game lead in the Pacific Division. Center Andrew Bynum took Little Brother’s lunch money then stole his girlfriend, finishing with 36 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

Paul, the smallest guy on the court, played gigantic with 22 points and 16 assists. Griffin posterized Lakers forward Pau Gasol a couple of times. He scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but couldn’t slow Bynum, who had his way with the Clippers’ frontcourt.

Kobe Bryant’s 31 points helped the Lakers’ cause, which gave them the season series against the Clips. The Clippers had won six games in a row after rumors spread that Coach Vinny Del Negro had “lost the team.” It was reported that the players didn’t want to play hard for them.

The Clippers are going through growing pains. They have two outstanding players in Griffin and Paul. The Clips have a lot of learning to do before they turn the corner.

“We gotta learn how to win these games and close these out,” Paul said. “I think it was a good learning process for us. It meant a lot and unfortunately we lost.”

They have to get over the hump, unfortunately for them, they have to do it in the House that Shaq built. The Diesel inherited all of the property thanks to the hard work of the Logo, Magic, Cap, the Big Dipper, the Clippers former GM and other ballers who put on the purple and gold.

The Black Mamba owns Staples Center now and it looks as if he has plenty of venom to keep unwanted guests from taking over.

Spurs Continue Their Winning Ways

How do they do it? Every year the Spurs are left for dead and somehow Coach Gregg Popovich pulls a rabbit out of his hat.

The Spurs won their ninth game in a row, escaping with a one-point win in Boston last night.

They’re in the hunt for the best record in the NBA. Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan is old. He averages 14 points and nine rebounds per game. Manu Ginobili averages 12 points per game. Tony Parker scores almost 20 per game and dishes out nearly eight assists per contest.

San Antonio gets contributions from everybody. Tiago Splitter gets almost 10 points per game. To the casual observer … who is Tiago Splitter and how does he contribute to an NBA squad? I know who this guy is, but even I don’t know how he gets that production.

Last year, the Spurs had the top record in the West and they were rewarded with a first round exit. It’s losses like that that make us assume the Spurs are an injury or two from being in the Lottery.

Tough Love Results in Another L

A month ago the Minnesota Timberwolves were an upstart team on the verge of breaking through the playoffs.

Now, they’re just breaking down. With Ricky Rubio out the rest of the season, power forward Kevin Love has to fend for himself.

There’s only so much he can do. Love had 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in another loss, this one to the lowly Golden State Warriors.

It’s the same script for Love these days: kick ass on the court, but his team gets its ass kicked in the end. Last month, Love scored more than 30 points eight times, including monster efforts of 51 and 14, 40 and 19, 30 and 21, 39 and 17; there are other notable numbers, but let’s face it, these are godly stats, the kind of stuff you see when you play “NBA Jam,” not when you hoop it up against other pros.

Hopefully, next season things work out and Rubio stays healthy. The Wolves are a fun team to watch, but Love can’t do it on his own.

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