Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 12:10 AM
Count Miami Heat megastar LeBron James as one guy who doesn't wish to have his heart broken on this Valentine's Day!
The best basketball player on the planet - who right here and right now is playing his best ball ever following six consecutive games of 30-or-more points along with 60- percent-or-better shooting percentages from the floor - has demonstrated to one-and-all that he's dead-set on bringing back a second consecutive NBA championship to the city of sun-and-fun and it's quite possible that when destiny plays out in this year's playoffs the Heat will be right there with a rematch against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.
But first things first:
On this 2013 Valentine's Day, James and the Heat must prove it's better than that shaky 12-11 road record - it's hard to believe that the defending champions have struggled so much on the road this year but maybe this right-before-the-All-Star Game-break tilt is what turns this beat around for good.
And if Heat v. Thunder isn't enough to get your hoop heart beating on this special day for lovers, than how about the in-laws showdown between the two pro hoop squads that hail from Los Angeles?
So, without any further ado or any interruptions from your friends at Hallmark, here's tonight's TNT previews of Heat vs. Thunder and the all-Los Angeles showdown between the Clippers vs. the Lakers:
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MIAMI (35-14) at OKLAHOMA CITY (39-13) - 8:05 p.m. ET, TNT
No doubt these most recent NBA Finals antagonists come into tonight's prime-time, high-profile duel from opposite ends of the spectrum despite the gaudy winning percentages - the Heat's playing .714 ball these days while the Thunder's even better at .750 - as Miami has rock-n-rolled its way to six straight wins including that 117-104 win/cover against 11-point road dog Portland this past Tuesday night.
The Heat - who banked the franchise's 1,000th regular-season victory in that tilt - was not exactly a one-man wrecking crew in that twin-figure victory even though King James did register 30 points on 11-of-15 field-goal shooting and forward Chris Bosh (apparently all the way back from his recent flu bug woes -- he missed three games with the illness that has bogged down several teammates in recent days) kicked in a whopping 32 points with 11 rebounds.
In fact, Miami shot a staggering 58.1 percent from the floor in that win against the Trail Blazers (that's 43-of-74 made FGs) with guard Dwyane Wade adding a somewhat quiet 24 points and now the so-called "big three" will look to storm into the break with a seventh straight win and standing in the way is an Oklahoma City squad that's fresh off a resounding 109-94 loss at Utah two nights ago.
Looking ahead, wouldn't you say?
Okay, so OKC's superstar scorer Kevin Durant lost his cool in that clash but otherwise the Thunder was basically quite lifeless - but do keep in mind that four consecutive major blowout wins by Oklahoma City preceded that loss in Salt Lake City - and now we'll see if Okie City can get a little revenge not only for last year's NBA Finals loss to Miami but for that Christmas Day clash when the Heat snagged a hard-fought 103-97 win as 2 ½-point home favorites.
You might recall that game's intensity level was turned up with double "techs" called on Wade and Oklahoma City big man Serge Obaka - there was all kinds of pushing-and-shoving that ensued - and so it's safe to say there's a fair share of bad blood between these sides for this Valentine's Day showdown and the $64,000 question is will James continue to rise above the fray and crank out yet another 30-point, 60-percent shooting game or will Durant (see game-high 33 points in that first regular-season go-around with Miami this year) bang out a "W" for the second-best team in the NBA's Western Conference (behind San Antonio, of course) and thus set the stage for what could be an epic NBA Finals come June?
Here's a couple of things to watch for tonight:
Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook - the recently named Western Conference Player of the Week -- shot a miserable 5-of-19 from the floor in that first get-together against the Heat back on December 25th as he finished with a deceptive stat line of 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists while Miami shot a smooth 19-of-19 on free-throw attempts.
Maybe Westbrook doesn't shoot 26.3 percent from the field again and perhaps the Heat won't again be perfect from the charity stripe but the fact is Okie City must get some scoring from folks other than Durant/Westbrook while the flip side says the Heat bench has to shoot it better than that first meet when Miami's reserves netted just three field goals on 16 FG attempts - ouch!
Finally, while James has been stupendous during this six-game streak, the Heat must get its fair share of in-the-paint points.
Note that back in December's game the Heat outscored the Thunder 42-to-28 in that points-in-the-paint category with James, Wade and G Mario Chalmers (20 points in first meeting) all too often allowed carte blanche to the hoop - let's see if Obaka and Company deliver some physically fierce blows this time on Miami's many drives to the tin.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (37-17) at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (25-28) - approximately 10:35 p.m. ET, TNT
Okay, so the "Grammy Road Trip" for both the Clippers and the Lakers finally ended this past Tuesday night with Kobe Bryant scoring his only field goal with 2:12 left in the weird 91-85 non-cover win against the Phoenix Suns and you could say the Lakers get the advantage here is having Wednesday night off while the Clips went mano-to-mano with Houston but consider that only three NBA teams currently sport better winning percentages than Vinny Del Negro's club (that's aforementioned San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami) and that's not too bad when you stop to think about the following:
First off, LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul (16.6 ppg and 9.5 assists-per-game) has missed a dozen tilts and - in all - only three Clippers have played in the team's first 54 games and none of them were named Blake Griffin (okay, he's missed only two games en route to averaging a team-leading 18.4 ppg) but in this all-hands-on-deck game the Clippers again try to win LA's collective hearts against one of those puzzling teams in this 2012-13 season.
Consider that the Lakers already have lost both of their regular-season games against the Clippers this year:
There was the 105-95 Clippers win back on November 2nd when Bryant's 40-point night wasn't enough for the "home" team and than there was the January 4th tilt when the Clippers copped a 107-102 triumph as Paul's 13 assists led the way while Bryant's 38-point showing again occurred in vain.
Note that these city rivals won't meet again till April 7th - by than the Lakers' playoff fate might be sealed (as in dead!) as Mike D'Antoni's team remains on the outside looking in these days at a post0-season berth - but all we know is this is the last meaningful NBA game till Tuesday and the revived Clips may want to make a final statement before the break.
Get the chips and dip ready, folks!
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THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK - SPARTY AND HOYA GET SOME LOVIN'
Think Tom Izzo's Michigan State team wanted to send out a message to one-and-all the other night?
Michigan State's electric 75-52 home win against 1-point fav Michigan thi9s past Tuesday evening not only brought down the joint at the Breslin Center but it served national notice not to forget about a Spartans team that exited that win at 21-4 overall and a Big 10-leading 10-2 - and who would have thought that after all the chatter regarding the likes of Indiana, Michigan and even Ohio State?
The forget-me-not eighth-ranked Spartans - who sport bench strength from a chap named Denzel Valentine, by the way - are a legit Final Four team this spring even if the "in-the-know" media hasn't often included Izzo's club in the mix and the next real test for gang green is Tuesday's home tilt against Indiana and than that's followed by back-to-back roadies against Ohio State and Michigan.
Tell us right now that M-State is gonna get two-of-three there and we'll write it in blood that the Spartans have a shot at all the marbles come March/April.
The other forget-me-not team on our Jim Sez radar screen here is the Georgetown Hoyas: The Associated Press' 15th-ranked squad that may rank a dismal 118th nationally in scoring offense (64.3 ppg) but 8th nationally in scoring defense (55.7 ppg) and note the Hoyas have not lost a game since way back on January 19th when John Thompson III's crew fell at South Florida 61-58.
Since than, G-town has won six games in a row and this team is beginning to resemble - to some degree - the John Thompson Jr. teams of the 1980s that tended to peak in the beginning of February and often times stayed on a high peak right through the Final Four.
In Monday's 63-55 win/cover against 4½-point road dog Marquette, the Hoyas exploded on an 8-1 run following a technical foul called less than eight minutes into the second half on Golden Eagles boss Buzz Williams - the win came despite Hoyas' star Otto Porter connecting on just 6-of-15 FG tries en route to a 21-point outing and despite the fact Georgetown shot just 20-of-52 overall from the field but defense, sound play in the game's final five minutes when the Hoyas never seem to beat themselves and Thompson's sage sideline leadership spelled out yet another Big East win for the Hoyas (18-4 overall and 8-3 in league play) who enter Friday night's ESPN tilt at Cincinnati with a boat-load of momentum.
On a day when folks do a lot of talkin' about "heart", both Michigan State and Georgetown have it in grand abundance ...Now we'll just have to see if that and a few breaks along the way can get either/both deep in this upcoming NCAA Tournament.
NOTE: Get our College Basketball Weekend Previews in tomorrow's Jim Sez plus stay tuned for our NBA Report Card Grades as we zoom straight ahead into the All-Star Game break.