LeBron Takes Over Late, Heat Defeat Knicks | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / May 21.
  • LeBron Takes Over Late, Heat Defeat Knicks

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    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    LeBronNEW YORK – Any and all notions that the Eastern Conference’s road to the NBA Finals doesn’t go through the Miami Heat have now evaporated.

    They evaporated in a flurry of late, big-game plays on both ends from LeBron James, every shot J.R. Smith missed in the fourth quarter and with the realization that Sunday’s 99-93 Heat victory at Madison Square Garden was No. 14 in a row for the reigning NBA champions. 

    “It was huge, it was our next game, it was our next challenge,” James said. “We’ve had a few this week. We had Memphis come into our building (on Friday), a very good team, one of the best teams in this league. Today, New York, one of the best teams in our league as well, so to come here, against a team that’s very good at home, who has played well at home and to get the win under the circumstances, to gut it out is good.”

    A pair of 20-point Knicks victories over the Heat on Nov. 2 and Dec. 6, respectively, feel like a lifetime ago. The Heat are 29 games over .500, seven games ahead of the rest of the Eastern Conference, James appears to be completely locked in and the Knicks (35-21), now 7.5 games behind the Heat in the East, continue to meander as the regular season begins to wind down.

    “Our guys showed some more mental toughness and resolve in the second half,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team overcame a 16-point first half deficit. “In the second half, we just focused on playing our game and competing and trying to dig back into it and make plays in the end. We had so many plays going down the stretch, a lot of them on the defensive end.”

    Many of those late-game plays came from James, whose 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, only furthered the assumption that he is on his way to a fourth MVP award at the age 28.

    One particular sequence summed up the second half. With the Heat trailing, 87-85, he drove into the lane before dropping off a pass to Chris Bosh for a layup to tie the game. Dwayne Wade scored the next time down for an 89-87 lead, followed by James blocking Tyson Chandler down the other end, then tipping in a Mario Chalmers missed 3-pointer for a 91-87 lead with 4:05 to play.

    After James intercepted one of several puzzling cross-court passes thrown by Smith on Sunday, he capped the scoring with an emphatic, one-handed dunk with 23.6 seconds to play.

    James’ big fourth quarter only came after he twisted his left knee midway through the third quarter as he came down awkwardly after trying to control an alley-oop thrown by Wade from just inside halfcourt.

    James did not come out of the game, then played the entire fourth quarter.

    In between the offensive exploits, James drew Carmelo Anthony on defense, helping to hold him to eight points and 3-for-11 shooting in the second half after he scored 24 and shot 6-for-8 from the field in the first half.

    “I was concerned, I still am a little bit,” James said. “I had the doctor look at it, but I’ll be alright. I was able to finish the game strong, but you’re always a little worried. We have to fly to Minnesota, so I believe I’ll be in the lineup tomorrow though.”

    Assuming James is fine and does play Monday in Minnesota, this Heat team is healthy and this current level of play shows no signs of slowing down. After the Timberwolves, the Heat are home for the Orlando Magic on Wednesday and the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday. The Timberwolves, Magic and Sixers have a combined record of 59-113.

    All told, over the final 26 games of the regular season, the Heat will play just 10 games against teams that currently have a .500 record or better. That fact should help the Heat put a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, and maybe even get some rest down the stretch for the core of the lineup if Spoesltra so chooses.

    In short, things are lining up very nicely for another Heat title run a year after James finally got that monkey off his back.

    “His motor is limitless and I don’t want to it for granted,” Spolestra said. “I don’t to just assume he can play 40-plus minutes, but he had to do it on both ends. “I couldn’t get him out in the fourth quarter. If I tried, he probably would’ve strangled me. He had to take the challenge in the fourth quarter against the toughest cover in the league and create a lot of plays for us on the other end. Either scoring or facilitating us, he was strong and was the strongest after 40 minutes of basketball.”

    **For Video, Notes & Quotes, read the NBA.com notebook here.

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