Wednesday Morning Sketches: Where the Heat Slammed the Door, Again.

PENINSULA IS MIGHTIER: On a night where Dwyane Wade went 33 minutes without scoring, Lebron James picked up the slack as he has done throughout this post-season. His 35 points sparked the Heat to a 101-93 victory. As much of the basketball world marveled at Derrick Rose all year and this playoff season has been about the re-discovery of Dirk Nowitzki's greatness, King James made another statement regarding his place in the NBA. The stat line looks nice: 35 points/6 rebounds/6 assists/3 blocks/2 steals, but perhaps the most impressive part of Lebron's game tonight was his stifling defense on Chicago's best player. Although Miami used a variety of defenders against the league MVP, James was on him throughout most of the fourth quarter and overtime and Rose was limited to 23 points on 8 of 27 shooting from the field.


HOT HOT HOOPS: Take your pick over the most surprising element of this fascinating series. Haslem and Miller not just returning to the floor but integral members of an 8-man rotation? How about Bosh consistently scoring when the Heat needed baskets the most? The Heat's bench neutralizing what should have been a key advantage the Bulls supposedly enjoyed over the Heat? (What happened to all that size and toughness the Bulls had over the Heat?) There were little moments here and there from each supporting player. Mike Bibby with the timely three-pointer down 57-48 four minutes into the second half to stop a 9-0 Bulls run in the third quarter and cut their lead in half. Miller with those huge baskets in the second half to go along with his quality rebounding and trademark hustle plays. Mario Chalmers nabbing 4 steals and was perfect from the field (3-3 and 2-2 beyond the arc).


HEAT INDEX: Miller left the arena exhausted, battered and bruised after he finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, two clutch 3-pointers, an assist and a steal in 26 minutes off the bench. The Heat was not just effective when he was in the game, they were flat-out dominant. Stat gurus covering this series marveled at Miller's plus-36, meaning the Heat outscored the Bulls 69-33 when he was on the court. It's the second-highest plus-minus figure among all players in this postseason, trailing only Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki's plus-37 during Game 4 as the Mavericks closed out a series sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers. Miller admitted he desperately needed a breakout game after persevering through a frustrating season that's been filled with thumb injuries, concussion symptoms and other ailments that have contributed to arguably the least-productive season of his 11-year career.

ESPN CHICAGO: Three straight bad fourth quarters and one lousy overtime are a clear sign this Bulls team, despite overachieving during the season, is a year and a scoring 2 guard away from being playoff elite, and the Bulls still better hope the Heat somehow get worse next season. If, and when, there is a next season, I mean. It was an uplifting and unforgettable regular season, one that rejuvenated interest in professional basketball in Chicago and elevated Rose to MVP status, but a good regular season, and a still-blooming Rose, does not a title team make. The Heat proved that point, shot by shot, dramatic post-shot grimace by dramatic post-shot grimace.


EYE ON BASKETBALL: There was a lot of talk prior to Game 4 that the Bulls needed to send a physical message to the Heat. That whether it be Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas or someone else, the first Miami player to cruise down the lnae needed to take a clobbering. That's what a lot of people thought. That kind of thing can work a lot of the time to fire up a team and send a message. But it's about picking spots. The correct spots, that is. And Carlos Boozer did not pick a good spot for a flagrant foul. Chicago was leading 77-74 with 4:40 remaining as Chris Bosh went at the rim. He got a clear path because Joakim Noah overplayed a pass and slipped and Boozer rotated (properly) over to help. He fouled Bosh preventing two easy points, but for some reason followed through with his left arm and shoved Bosh to the floor. Boom, flagrant one. What Miami got was two free throws and possession of the ball which turned into four points and a one-point lead. Just like that.


TRUE HOOP: When Joakim Noah’s fine for using an anti-gay slur at a fan came in at $50,000 in the month after Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for directing the same term at a game official, fans were more outraged at the disparity in money than the actual comment. At least that’s how it played out in my Twitter replies timeline. People felt the NBA was sending the message that it valued its fans only half as much as it valued its officials. A league spokesman’s statement that Bryant’s fine was indeed larger because it included verbal abuse of an official only seemed to make Twitter users angrier. NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball operations Stu Jackson was at Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night and I asked him for clarification, specifically the inference that the league’s statement was that insulting a fan is half as bad as insulting an official. “That’s not the correct statement,” Jackson said. “The issue really is the term. In one case, in Kobe’s case, the term was used but directed at somebody who is in the game, without provocation. With Noah the argument can be made – and it happens to be true – that he was provoked, and he used a statement to a fan that passed by him. So it’s different circumstances. We’ll continue to evaluate each one of these incidents separately and make a determination. But we felt in this case a higher fine wasn’t warranted.”


ESPN LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Lakers have narrowed down the field of candidates they will consider hiring to replace Phil Jackson and have former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown at the top of their list, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking. Lakers owner Jerry Buss said in an interview Tuesday with Sirius XM Radio that the team was "very close" to filling its coaching vacancy. Yahoo! Sports subsequently reported that the Lakers had entered into "serious discussions" with Brown, who has been working as an analyst for ESPN since his dismissal by the Cavaliers after last season's second-round exit. ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Tuesday night that Brown and the Lakers have already exchanged contract figures, with a deal potentially being struck as early as Wednesday. But sources also told Broussard that a deal between the Lakers and the 2008-09 NBA Coach of the Year could collapse if Brown does not get enough security -- in terms of years and money -- to sufficiently empower him as coach. The deal on the table would run three years and pay Brown between $4 million and $4.5 million, with a team option for a fourth year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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