Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. Everyone in the building had to know Dwyane Wade would bounce back Wednesday from a dreadful Game One in Atlanta. The question was whether anyone else on the Heat would. The answer was a resounding yes as Miami built a 13-point halftime lead and kept the Hawks at arm's length during the second half of a 108-93 victory. Wade was back to his usual Hall of Fame-caliber self after a 19-point game one in a 33-point, seven assist, five-rebound performance in which he hit on six of 10 three-pointers. Daequan Cook hit six from behind the arc as well en route to 20 points as the Heat wound up with a postseason team-record 15 made three-pointers. Jermaine O'Neal, perhaps inspired by a visit to the locker room by legendary Heat center Alonzo Mourning before the game, had 19 points, six rebounds and four blocks. Udonis Haslem stepped up when the team needed him most. He nailed the first of back-to-back jumpers with 4:35 to play while Dwyane Wade was on the bench with five fouls and the Heat was up by only five points, its slimmest margin of the second half. The Hawks countered with six players in double figures but no with more than Mike Bibby's 18 points. Ronald Murray had 15 points off the bench, but needed a team-high 15 shots to make that total, going just 4-for-15 from the field. Most egregious for the Hawks was their defense, which followed up a triumphant playoff debut in which they held Miami to 64 points by allowing 56 percent shooting in Game 2. Consistency is a word that is sure to come up in practice for both teams leading up to Game 3 Saturday.

2. Dwight Howard was saddled with foul trouble thoughout the night Wednesday, and attempted just six shots. Orlando had a sorry night from behind the arc as well, making just six of 23 three-point attempts. Yet the tone for the Magic after Game 2 against Philadelphia was an encouraging one. That's primarily because of rookie Courtney Lee, who led the team with 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the floor in a 96-87 win over the Sixers. Lee's mix of strong drives to the basket early and hot mid-range shooting late bailed out the Magic, who were in danger of heading to Philadelphia down 0-2. Howard wound up with just 11 points in 30 minutes, but nonetheless was able to assert his influence on the boards, where he had a game-high 10. Rashard Lewis had eight rebounds to make up for his 1-for-5 night from three-point range as the Magic's 44-37 edge on the boards was key to limiting Philadelphia's possessions. The Sixers shot a slightly higher percentage from the floor thanks to a triumvirate of options Wednesday. Andre Miller led all scorers with 30 points and added seven rebounds, Andre Iguodala had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Thaddeus Young wound up with 20 points. No other Sixer scored more than five points, however, and as a unit the rest of the team shot just 7-for-26. Lou Williams, counted on for production off the bench, hardly delivered on a 2-for-10, four-point night. The Magic discovered they have more options than they thought when it comes to key performances. The Sixers just need more guys playing at an average level.

3. Chauncey Billups has won a Finals MVP award, but has never before been such a dominant force in the postseason. Billups continued his mastery of Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets with 31 points, three nights after scoring 36 points in Game One, as the Nuggets went up 2-0 with a 108-93 win. Billups made four of six attempts from behind the arc, bringing his total of made three-pointers to 12 for the series. He shot 8-for-15 from the floor and 11-for-11 from the line, where he is a perfect 19-for-19 in two playoff games. He's also helped to slow Paul, whose 14 points Wednesday and 21 from the first game still total less than what Billups scored in Game 1. Dahntay Jones has shouldered the majority of the load against Paul, showing off the kind of defense that has made him a starter on a quality team. Jones even went 5-for-5 for 11 points on the offensive end, where whatever he gives the Nuggets is usually a bonus. Carmelo Anthony deferred to Billups, Jones and the team's other hot hands, dishing out nine assists while still posting 22 points. It was a night when it all seemed to click for Denver and all New Orleans encountered was frustration It was a decent offensive night for the Hornets supporting cast, but still not enough. David West had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Peja Stojakovic was 5-for-9 for 17 points, and James Posey had 12 points and eight rebounds, all beneficiaries of Paul's 13 assists. New Orleans is running out of options, and time, as the Nuggets prepare to put the series out of reach Saturday.

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