Two of the hottest teams in basketball, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers, continued their dominance in wins over the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks respectively. Both matchups were potential playoff previews
The Knicks found themselves in a hole in the first quarter, with the Heat doubling them in points halfway through the quarter. While the Knicks were bricking free throws and turning over the ball, Miami was shooting over 50%, and had no turnovers. Tyson Chandler's foul trouble didn't help the situation either.
Despite everything Carmelo Anthony had going for him in the first quarter, Dwyane Wade had an answer for him. Wade had 12 points in only eight minutes in the first quarter, while Carmelo had finished the quarter with 14 points.
The Knicks came marching back in the second quarter though. A Steve Novak three, followed by another Anthony layup cut the lead to only two points with six minutes to play. Then, on the next possession following a Heat timeout, JR Smith sunk a three to give the Knicks their first lead of the day.
MSG played a major factor in the east coast matinee in the first half. Knicks fans made sure LeBron James heard it every time he touched the ball. When Woodson told Novak to enter the game, Knicks fans probably had their loudest cheer of the first half. The World's Most Famous Arena definitely gave the Heat issues early on, but they adjusted.
Nonetheless, a pair of LeBron James free throws gave Miami a 46-44 lead at the half. Anthony finished the first half with 20, while James and Wade had 14 each. Miami had the advantage on the glass, out-rebounding the Knicks by double-digits.
Two minutes into the third quarter, James went down with an apparent ankle injury. Replay showed he stepped awkwardly on a spectator's foot, causing him to fall back in pain. No worries for James though, as he returned to the game following a timeout by the Heat.
The third quarter was an exchange of back and forth buckets, with the Heat leading by three heading into the final quarter.
Despite an early late run by the Knicks to put themselves up four, the Heat eventually pulled ahead late in the fourth quarter. A 12-1 run would give them a seven point lead with four minutes to play. The Big Three combined for more than 75% of Miami's point production. James and Wade couldn't be stopped late in the fourth, while New York struggled to make anything.
Although the game finished in an eight point loss for the Knicks, it was much closer than the final score showed. Carmelo Anthony shined with 42 points, nine rebounds, and five assists on great shooting numbers. The rest of the team just wasn't on his level, as the rest of the Knicks shot 17-46.
As for the Heat, this game showed they can win tough games on the road, after struggling in the past few weeks. Wade started off the game strong for the Heat, while LeBron finished it off, for a change.
With the first game fully living up to expectations, round two in Los Angeles had a lot to live up to. Would a surprisingly impressive Kobe-less Lakers team continue to strive against the Mavs, or would Dirk show them who's boss?
The Mavs jumped out to an early lead, led by Jason Kidd's strong shooting. The future Hall of Famer is only averaging five points per game this season, but he already had eight points in only five minutes. The quarter started off strange with Nowitzki, Gasol, and Bynum all scoreless on a combined 0-9 shooting.
Despite being severely outshot by Dallas, the Lakers were only down five after the first quarter.
Unlike the first game of the double header, the pace of this game was very slow at first. With Kobe out the past five games, Metta World Peace has stepped up in his spot, averaging 17 points per game, but he started off the game weak on 1-6 shooting. Instead, the Lakers were led early on by Ramon Sessions, who had 10 points in the first quarter.
With 2:26 left in the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki hit his first shot of the game, ending a 0-6 slump. Pau was 1-4 at this point while Bynum was 3-10. But despite Dirk's woeful shooting, the Mavs as a team shot over 50% from the field while the Lakers shot under 40%. In spite of their poor shooting, the Lakers only trailed the Mavericks 54-48 at the half.
The Lakers would come back in the third though and take a brief lead, behind Metta World Peace's eight third quarter points. Bynum and Gasol also came back strong in the third quarter, and both were in double figures by mid third quarter.
Following two Andrew Bynum free throws and a three by Matt Barnes, the Lakers entered the fourth quarter up one.
The Mavs came back strong in the third quarter, and led the Lakers by as much as seven with about six minutes to play. The Lakers would respond to the Mavs' run with a run of their own, causing the Mavs to call timeout up by only one. Not one player on the Mavs was having an "on" day, but instead five different players were in double-figures.
The timeout by the Mavs seemed to do nothing, as the Lakers continued to pound the ball inside and continue to score. Not only did Metta World Peace and Andrew Bynum pick up their play in the second half, but Ramon Sessions continued to ball. In arguably his best game as a Laker, Sessions finished with 22 points and 5 assists.
The Mavs never gave up though, and tied the game up in the final minute, sending the game to overtime. This game definitely lived up to the expectations that Game 1 set. By mid fourth quarter, the tempo picked up, and shots were falling every possession.
Down 110-108 with 15 seconds left in OT, Dallas called timeout with one last chance to tie up the game, or go for the win.
Jason Terry slalomed through defenders and got a great chance to tie up the game with a layup, but his angle was altered by Matt Barnes, resulting in a missed shot at the bottom of the rim. After Pau Gasol iced up the game with two free throws, the Lakers took home the win, 112-108.
The Mavs shooting cooled down in the second half, and Dirk never got in rhythm. He ended the day on 9-28 shooting.
This game showed that the Lakers are tough enough to battle with elite teams, even without Kobe. It also showed that they can play comfortable at their tempo, and at their opponents' tempo. An all-around team effort, the Lakers had four players with 18+ points (Bynum, Sessions, Gasol, and World Peace).
Both games were exciting and gave us a good tease of what May and June basketball will look like. If it's anything close to what we watched today, we are all in for a treat.