Thursday, March 1, 2012

Heat at Blazers: Rainy Days and Runaways

Before last night, the Heat had not played in a full week and would be without Chris Bosh due to a personal issue. Facing a Portland team whose record has probably underrepresented their true talent level, one could have thought that Miami's 8 game win streak was in trouble. LeBron James would soon put those concerns to rest.

The Heat would run away with this game by running away. Both Miami and Portland have been playing uptempo styles this season ranking 9th and 7th in pace, respectively. Portland's increase in speed has been diametric to their plodding style of old. Miami has also been keeping their foot on the accelerator ever since Erik Spoelstra had his off-season epiphany while studying the University of Oregon's football team. It has indeed worked wonders; the Heat lead the league in offensive efficiency.

So naturally, both teams came out gunning and pushing the tempo. LeBron, despite starting with a missed layup, led the Heat on his way to a 12 point, 4 rebound, and 4 assist first quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge was the go-to man for Portland, hitting 4 of his first 5 shots for 8 points. Wade and James' 22 combined points in the first quarter gave the Heat an 8 point lead.

In a season that has been full of disappointment for former Blazers with Brandon Roy retiring and Greg Oden requiring even more surgery, the second quarter began with a dash of hope. Joel Przybilla played his first minutes of the season after returning to Portland and made a couple of effective defensive plays. He was unable to stop Dwyane Wade, however, who would have a 12 point quarter. LeBron would hit a 3 pointer and then a quick 2 at the end of the quarter on a 2-for-1 to give the Heat an 18 point halftime lead.

The Heat would reamin in control for the rest of the game. Double team traps leading to turnovers (the Heat  had 18 points off of Blazer giveaways) and LeBron's transition savvy would be enough for Miami to hold the lead. Even a 7-0 run for the Blazers in the third quarter only brought the lead down to 18. And just when the Blazers looked like they could cut the deficit to 14 at the beginning of the fourth on a Ray Felton breakaway layup, LeBron came up with one of his trademark chase down blocks. The Blazers only got as close as 10 points before a dagger three pointer from LeBron dashed Portland's hopes.

James finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. He was aided by Wade's 33 points and 10 assists. Aldridge led the Blazers in scoring with 20 on 10-18 shooting. In a game between two breakneck teams, Portland's 16 turnovers proved to be costly.

Miami stretched its winning streak to 9 and now trails Oklahoma City, which won earlier that night, by just 1 game in the win column. Portland, which was on the second night of a back-to-back, falls to 18-18 and will remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in.

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