Nikola Mirotic 28 points lead the Bulls over struggling Cavs

The Chicago Bulls beat the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night 99-93, sweeping the season series. Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls with 28 points including six 3-pointers and 10 rebounds. Mirotic tied season highs on both points and three pointers to move the Chicago Bulls within one game of Miami and Indiana for the 8 seed in the East.

Mirotic comments after the game

“I feel it’s my time now. It’s never too late,” Mirotic said. “It’s a very important moment for the team.”

Mirotic is averaging 24.8 points over the past four games, including 20 3-pointers. He becomes the first Bulls player to hit six 3-pointers in back to back games.

“It is great, it’s a great feeling,” Mirotic said after his performance. “I feel like my long shot has been great lately, I’ve also been making shots that are not 3s. Rondo has been finding me, he’s been looking for me.”

Mirotic Highlights from last night

Jimmy Butler getting help

Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for the Bulls, despite being popped in the eye in the second quarter. He went to the locker room but emerged back in the third to command the Bulls to the win.

Rondo helped ignite the explosion in the third quarter for the Bulls, dishing out 8 assists while the Bulls outscored the Cavs 37-21. Butler got the kind of help that keeps him fresh to take over the fourth quarter. He scored 10 of his 25 points in that period.

Playoff picture

The Bulls stand a game behind Indiana and Miami for the final spot in the playoffs with a remaining scheduled a lot easier than the other two teams. The Bulls face only one team with a winning record (Atlanta) while Miami plays the Raptors, the Cavs and Wizards. Indiana still has to take on the Cavs, Raptors, Bucks and Hawks.

–Al Milian

Magic touch of Whiteside gives Miami the win

Hassan Whiteside buzzer beater against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills was a magical touch. The Miami Heat improved to 36-38 in the season while the Bulls remain one game behind Miami for the 8th seed.

Goran Dragic lead the Heat with 28 points, a significant improvement over the last 3 games where he struggled offensively. He also grabbed a key rebound after the James Johnson miss late in the game that let to the winning play.

“I just tried to get the ball and when I did, I remember there were a lot of hands out there,” Dragic said. “It was like a jump ball. I just heaved the ball off, shot it. Luckily, he was there.”

Whiteside magic touch

Goran Dragic shoots the ball without looking at the rim just to get it off. Hassan Whiteside jumps behind Andre Drummond and tips the ball in with 0.3 seconds left. After video replay, it was confirmed that the basket was good.

“I was like, whatever happened, I’m going to chase this rebound like it’s our last,” Whiteside said. “So I was just like, ‘Let me try to get a hand on it any way I can.’ ”

Here is the play once again.

“Our guys want this so bad,” coach Spoelstra said. “They really care about each other. They’ve developed such a strong bond. Guys really love each other. They want to play well for each other. It’s bigger than just themselves.”

Let’s not forget another memorable play in the game, James Johnson’s monster dunk on Marcus Morris. Here is the replay.

Up next the Heat play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, on the second night of a back to back. But the heroics of Whiteside should provide the energy this team needs to get the next win.

–Al Milian

The Brothers Johnson, Heat come up short against the Celtics 108-112

The Brothers Johnson provided their usual energy and scoring off the Heat bench in their quest to beat the Celtics for the first time this season. Unfortunately, their effort fell short and the Miami Heat lost to the Boston Celtics at the Garden, 108-112.

The Heat managed to remain in the playoff picture as the 8th seed, but the Bulls closed the gap to within half a game.

The Brothers Johnson big effort

Tyler Johnson was the leading scorer for the Heat with 24 points off the bench, on 9-15 shooting. James Johnson had another great performance with 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.

I don’t think it was the offense that really got us, that is inhibiting us from winning games,” Tyler Johnson said. “I think it’s getting stops down the stretch. We scored 108 points, so that’s enough to get the job done.”

Hassan Whiteside played well in spite of his right hand injury. He scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds do add to his double double collection. Goran Dragic struggled once again in the absence of Dion Waiters, going 6-14 from the field.

The Heat took a five point lead before half-time, but the Celtics erased that lead outscoring Miami 32-17 in the third quarter. The Heat regained the lead in the fourth when Goran Dragic hit his first and only three pointer of the game with 6:20 left, 95-94.

Opportunity at the end

After a series of lead changes, Boston took control of the game in the final minutes. Hassan Whiteside made two huge free throws to get Miami within 2 with 11 seconds remaining. Miami fouled and put Jae Crowder at the line and he made both free throws. Tyler Johnson’s layup at the other end was blocked by Al Horford and James Johnson missed a three pointer after grabbing the offensive rebound. Boston wins 112-108, Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 30 points.

–Al Milian

Hassan Whiteside battles through injuries in Heat loss to the Raptors

Who was not impressed by Hassan Whiteside’s courage last night against the Raptors? He decided to go to battle with his teammates at the time they needed him the most. Unfortunately the Heat struggled offensively and the Raptors got the win, but Whiteside once again showed signs of growth and toughness.

Hassan manages a double double

Even with 13 stitches in his shooting hand protected by a customized padding, Hassan managed to score 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to record his 50th double double of the season. He was the leading scorer for a Miami side that scored 33 points in the first quarter and had nothing else going the rest of the way.

The rest of the Heat struggle

Goran Dragic went 5-18 from the field for 13 points and J. Rich added 12. The absence of Dion Waiters was felt on a night like this, especially when DeRozan scored 40 points for the Raptors. James Johnson, one of the key pieces off the bench scored just 10 points on 3-14 shooting. The Heat never got it going from three point territory as well, going just 6-23 for the night.

Hassan sprained his left ankle

Late in the game Hassan sprained his left ankle and somehow found the strength to keep on playing. This was the positive takeaway from this game, the maturity and resilience that Hassan continues to display. Heat teammates and Coach Spoelstra took the chance to praise Whiteside after the game.

“Very inspiring, just to see him out there battling,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was a physical game, he really gave us a presence in the paint.”

Goran Dragic on how proud the team was of Hassan last night.

“He was unbelievable to have an impactful game like he had with 13 stitches and at one point he twisted his ankle and he was a dominant force.”

Difficult road ahead for the Heat

The Heat play the next three games on the road against the Boston Celtics, the Detroit Pistons and the New York Knicks. Boston won the previous 3 games, Detroit is ahead 2-1 in the season series and the Knicks are 1-0 against the Heat this season.

DeMar DeRozan leads the Raptors comeback against the Bulls

DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.

DeRozan scored 42 points and led the Raptors to an overtime win over Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors trailed by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter, but came back in a thriller finish at the Air Canada Centre.

DeRozan on the win

“You don’t want to have something lingering like that and go a couple of seasons where you can’t beat a team,” DeRozan said. “When you’re a competitor, just to have that in the back of your mind, it sucks.”

PJ Tucker hit a couple of threes in the fourth quarter that cut the Bulls lead first to 11 with 5:39 remaining and the second one got it down to 6 with 3:50 left in regulation. DeMar DeRozan assisted Tucker in both of those plays.

Jimmy Butler made a couple of plays down the stretch, first scoring and then stealing the ball on a bad pass by VanVleet on his way to another bucket. Chicago had a 4 point lead with 1:12 remaining when DeRozan answered with back to back buckets to force the game into overtime.

Victory in overtime

Cory Joseph gave Toronto a comfortable 121-115 lead with 17 seconds left in overtime. Butler cut the lead to 2 points with 2 seconds left, but time ran out in Chicago. The Raptors beat Chicago for the first time since December 31, 2013.

Ibaka, Lopez trade punches

Serge Ibaka and Robin Lopez were ejected from the game after trading punches in the third quarter. Ibaka pushed Lopez in the back and then Lopez slammed the ball from Ibaka’s hands. As players and referees try to intervene, Lopez throws a punch at Ibaka and misses. Ibaka counters barely hitting Lopez. Hockey like atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre.

–Al Milian

 

Damian Lillard unstoppable against the Heat last night

Damian Lillard put on a show last night against the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. He scored a season-high 49 points, shot 14 of 21 from the field, including nine 3-pointers as the Blazers continue their playoff hunt.

A night for the record books

Lillard becomes the first player to score 49 points in 21 attempts or less since Amar’e Stoudemire did it nearly 10 years ago. In the same night he becomes the first Trail Blazer to reach 1,000 career 3-pointers for the franchise.

Terry Stotts on the team and Lillard

“I love the edge that we’re playing with,” Terry Stotts said. “I think it’s more about the sense of urgency with the playoffs at stake and knowing that we have no margin for error. And I think Damian’s leading the charge with that.”

Lillard and the Blazers are running at full steam when the team needs it the most. CJ McCollum continues to play excellent basketball and the new acquisition Jusuf Nurkić has plug a lot of holes in the Blazers defense. In addition, the 7-foot Bosnian is a constant threat at the other end of the floor in the pick and roll with Lillard and McCollum.

The Blazers are one game away from the Denver Nuggets and the 8th seed in the playoffs with 13 games to go.

–Al Milian

 

Kawhi Leonard for MVP gains traction

Kawhi Leonard vs Portland

Kawhi Leonard had another monster game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. He scored 34 points, shot 4-7 from three, grabbed 9 rebounds and ditched 6 assists. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough as the Blazers topped the Spurs at home 110-106. The Spurs fell one game behind Golden State for the league’s best record.

Race for MVP

Kawhi Leonard’s stock continues to rise in the race for Most Valuable Player. Russell Westbrook (OKC) leads the league in triple-doubles with 33, James Harden (Rockets) is having another excellent season and so is Lebron James (Cavs), but Kawhi Leonard has the Spurs one game behind Golden State for league’s best record.

Winning matters and if the Spurs finish with the best record in the NBA, Kawhi should beat Westbrook, Harden and Lebron for the MVP trophy. Out of the three other players, Harden’s Rockets have the best record at 47-21.

Rockets @ Spurs on March 6, 2017

Looking back at this game, James Harden scored 39 points and had 12 assists for the Rockets. Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points for the Spurs, including 17 in the 4th quarter, but it was his impact on the defensive end of the floor that gave the Spurs the win.

“Kawhi wanted it badly, and he went and took it,” San Antonio coach Popovich said.

Harden gave the Rockets a 108-107 lead making one of two free throws with 39 seconds left in the game. Kawhi followed that with a three pointer and then blocked a James Harden layup from behind with 18 seconds remaining.

“The block is what makes him special,” Popovich said. “Obviously, the 3, you know, Harden makes 3s, Kawhi makes 3s, Steph Curry makes 3s. Everybody does that. But I don’t know who goes to the other end and does what he does. Not that many people, on a consistent basis, an entire game, game after game.”

Lebron James might be the other player in this race that can match Kawhi Leonard’s impact on the defensive end. There are fifteen games left in the season and the MVP race continues to heat up. Kawhi Leonard is one of the best two way players in the game and he deserves to win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

–Al Milian

 

 

March Madness is in full swing, tip-off today with First Four

All 68 teams are in, eager to proof that they have what it takes to win it all. For the next two-plus weeks basketball fans will go on a frenzy and college students have a lot of cheering to do.

The Favorites

The top teams in the nation compete for the national championship. Powerhouses like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Villanova, Gonzaga, Arizona, Kentucky and Louisville are among the favorites to take the big prize home. Lower ranked schools like FGCU get another shot at the big boys.

The most exciting part of the tournament, the upsets that knock down the favorites and destroy so many brackets on the way. Four years ago FGCU entered the NCAA Tournament as the 15 seed in the West and ended up upsetting 2 seeded Georgetown with a 78–68 win in the first round. It is extremely hard to pick the upsets and only a hand full of gifted (or lucky) ones get it right. Are you one of them?

My Plans for March Madness

This year I am planning on watching more games and becoming more familiar with the process. Before, I would just fill out a few brackets and hope for the best. I have some catch up to do, I have not even made my picks yet. According to Las Vegas oddsmakers Duke and North Carolina are the favorites to win the NCAA tournament.

The Bracket

Click on the link below to get a copy of the bracket and good luck with your selections.

http://i.turner.ncaa.com/sites/default/files/external/printable-bracket/2017/bracket-ncaa.pdf

 

 

 

Dion Waiters emerging as the go-to guy in crunch time for the Heat

When the game is on the line, it’s Dion Waiters showtime. The Miami Heat guard has emerge as the go-to guy in crunch time and he continues to do an excellent job.

The Dion Waiters Show

His latest episode was against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. It was a close game in the fourth quarter with the Heat up 95-91 when Dion hits a three-pointer to make it 99-91. Charlotte gets back to back buckets and again Dion hits a three with two minutes left. Charlotte makes another push and back comes Waiters with an off-balance three pointer. Those back to back to back threes by Dion kept the Heat ahead of the Hornets and created enough margin to get the victory at home.

Monday night in Cleveland, the Heat entered the fourth quarter with a comfortable 18 point lead. After LeBron, Kyrie and Co. made a run, it was a five point game with 1:07 left in regulation. In the next Heat possession Waiters misses and Lebron misses at the other end. Next possession, Dion Waiters with the clock expiring hits a 32-foot three off the glass with 12 seconds left to seal back to back victories against the defending NBA champions.

And the sweetest one of all, against the Golden State Warriors back on January 23rd, 2017. It sealed the victory in game four of that 13-game win streak that turned the season around for the Miami Heat. “In the hands of Waiters, three seconds left for three and the win, Yeeesss” said Eric Reid, Miami Heat announcer “Dion has done it”

At this point in the season, Dion Waiters has established himself as one of the leaders of this team. His confidence and willingness to take the big shot is unbelievable and he has proven it against the best two teams in the league. Dion has earned the trust of his teammates to take the responsibility of leading this team at the end of games.

Coach Spoelstra on Dion

“He’s fearless,” Spoelstra said. “That irrational confidence, sometimes it drives you nuts.”

His confidence might drive coach Spo nuts sometimes, but Miami Heat fans are enjoying every minute of it. As long as he continues to hit those shots, they are all for it. The Dion Waiters show must go on…

–Al Milian

 

 

 

Dirk Nowitzki joins NBA royalty with 30,000 points

Dirk Nowitzki became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points. A baseline jumper in the second quarter of the game against the Lakers on Tuesday night got it done for the big fella.

The beginning

Two teams were interested in Dirk Nowitzki in anticipation of the 1998 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks. After negotiations between the Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks, Nowitzki was drafted with the ninth pick by the Bucks and then traded to the Mavericks for their sixth pick (Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor).

“That was probably the longest eight minutes of my entire life,” Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks coach said. “I don’t think there’s any way Dirk would have gotten past 10 for sure.”

Road to 30,000 points

Since his second season in the league, Dirk has led the Mavericks in scoring. He averaged 17.5 points and played all 82 games in the 1999-00 season and went on to improve his point average in the next three seasons. Dirk’s best season as a scorer came in the 2005-06 campaign when he averaged a career high 26.6 points. He improved his shooting percentage, setting personal season records in field goals (48.0%) and three point shots (40.6%).

That same year he took the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA final against the Miami Heat. After taking a 2-0 lead in the series, Dallas lost the next four games in a row. In the 2006-07 Dirk Nowitzki won the MVP award, leading the Dallas Mavericks to franchise-high 67 wins and the first seed in the playoffs.

Five years after his first appearance in the NBA finals, Dirk and the Mavs got a re-match against the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals. Dallas beat the Heat in six games and Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA finals MVP.

30,000 career points

Six years later, Dirk Nowitzki reached 30,000 career points joining Kobe Bryant (Lakers) and Karl Malone (Jazz) as the only players to do it with one franchise. At the age of 38, Nowitzki plans to play another season for the Mavericks. If he averages 14 points and plays all 82 games he has a shot at passing Wilt Chamberlain for number five in the all-time scoring list.

–Al Milian