The Miami Heat organization can thank me later for helping them out with their arena-naming rights because “American Airlines Arena” just doesn’t fit with that team.
Call it, the “Hot Tub” – because as Eddie Murphy once sang, and the Trail Blazers discovered tonight in their 117-104 – Good Gawd! It’s way too hot in the hot tub. (insert James Brown grunt here)
Although the Blazers once had a second-quarter lead of 14 points, then later rallied back from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter and even played Miami even through the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, eventually things just got too hot for Portland’s starters. Namely, that Miami Heat defense.
It’s true, officials Bennie Adams, Eric Lewis, Josh Tiven didn’t exactly give the Blazers favors. Miami shot seven more free throws than Portland.
Certainly, Nicolas Batum is probably still wondering why his bucket didn’t count around the 5:50 mark of the fourth quarter when LeBron James should’ve been called for goaltending.
Also, Wesley Matthews is likely still looking for that blocking call as he drove to the basket with 2:46 remaining, collided with Chris Bosh, crashed into the cameras on the baseline and heard no whistle.
So sure, the Blazers didn’t get a break but it must be said that after both of those plays, Miami got legitimate stops and defensive rebounds. When that goaltending call was ignored in the 97-97 game, the ball sailed out of bounds, Portland possession with about 2 seconds on the shot clock. The Heat defense extended Damian Lillard a bit further from a makeable 3-pointer and secured the rebound. On the other end, Dwyane Wade scored a bucket to give Miami the 99-97 advantage.
In the second play, Matthews hopped right back up from his crash, appearing like he wanted a confrontation after that no-call but LaMarcus Aldridge calmed him. The Blazers could’ve used those free throws because they trailed 111-102 at that point and hadn’t scratched the scoreboard in three straight possessions. But there was a silver lining because Portland retained possession once again, until … Bosh swiped a bad pass by Batum. The unstoppable James went streaking the other way and it was showtime. A thunderous dunk, a 113-102 lead and curtains for the Blazers.
After that brief time when the teams were locked in that 97-97 tie, Miami completely disabled the Blazer offense and restored order in the world. Because, who really thought the Blazers would be that close with the defending champion Heat AFTER the team had laid an egg against lowly Orlando?
But those Blazers not only stayed close but hung around the champs like they belonged. Shooting lights out with 53.4 percent from the floor (thanks largely to the second quarter) the Blazers nearly silenced all that noise inside the Hot Tub. Lillard finished with 33 points, Aldridge 29 and Matthews 20. The Blazers definitely needed more than 5 points from Batum – he scored as much as J.J. Hickson who was not a part of the game plan, obviously, as he sat on the bench through most of the game so that the Blazers could run with Jared Jeffries and Luke Babbitt.
The Blazers (25-27) have lost four straight and enter New Orleans one day after Fat Tuesday to try to save this road trip with bookend wins.