Game Night! ft. Orlando @ Miami

NOT QUITE SWEET 16 FOR MIAMI BUT THEY GET THE WIN; LAKERS FIGHT BACK ON KOBE’S 42 WHILE THE KNICKS & SPURS SURVIVE WITHOUT LOSS OF KEY PLAYERS

Miami Heat (45-14) needed a late LeBron James basket to keep their win streak alive after scraping to a 97-96 victory at home to the Orlando Magic (17-45). James top scored with 26 points as a seemingly comfortable victory for Erik Spoelstra‘s side almost turned disastrous after a lax opening to the fourth quarter. Nikola Vucevic led the visitors with an incredible 25 points  and 21 rebounds in his second 20-20 game of the season (both against Miami) while Jameer Nelson added 14 assists to a 16 point haul.

Norris Cole nailed consecutive triples at the start of the second as Miami soon opened up a 55-40 advantage at half-time in complete control. The lead peaked at 19 points at the start of the third but Orlando rallied and hauled themselves to within three points heading into the fourth. Magic took the lead and held a 96-93 advantage with around 90 seconds remaining before Chris Bosh (17pts/10rbs) nailed a pair of free throws and Dwyane Wade (20pts) had a block to leave the game in the hands of the reigning MVP, who duly stepped up with the game winning drive to the hoop.

LA Lakers (31-31) battled back from 25 points down to defeat the New Orleans Hornets (21-41) 108-102 after a 42 point haul from Kobe Bryant. The visitors finished with a 20-0 run to bounce back from their defeat to the OKC Thunder the previous night despite finding themselves trailing 63-38 at one stage in the first half. Dwight Howard impressed with 20 points combined with 15 rebounds while Jodie Meeks stepped up off of the bench with 19 points. Meanwhile their rivals, the LA Clippers (44-19) enjoyed a 117-101 win at home to the Milwaukee Bucks (30-29) after Blake Griffin powered his way to a triple-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists.

STAT: Kobe tied his season-high points haul with his 5th 40+ performance of the campaign.

San Antonio (48-14) overturned a first half deficit to defeat the Chicago Bulls (34-27) 101-83 as the Spurs made it two wins out of two in the absence of Tony Parker.  Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 18 points, a feat that was matched by Tim Duncan who added 10 rebounds and five blocked shots to his stat-line. Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with a game-high 21 points while Joakim Noah pulled down 13 rebounds. Chicago led by as many as 14 in the first half but the visitors were unable to keep up with the hosts in the second and San Antonio steadily began to pull away with Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills all contributing points in double figures.

New York (37-21) survived a third quarter blip to see off the Detroit Pistons (23-40) 87-77 as they coped without the missing Carmelo Anthony. Amar’e Stoudemire and JR Smith combined for 42 points off the bench while Ray Felton had a game-high 26 points. The hosts had led by ten points by the end of the third quarter with Jose Calderon the orchestrator before finishing with SIXTEEN assists. In another all-Eastern clash, Boston (23-27) used a strong fourth quarter to overcome the Indiana Pacers (38-23) 83-81 on the road. Kevin Garnett had an 18-10 double-double for the visitors whilst providing the game winning assist in the dying seconds for Jeff Green to clinch the victory.

Memphis (40-19) became the fifth team in the West to record 40 wins on the season after a hard-fought 91-85 success against the Portland Trail Blazers (28-32). Marc Gasol had a game-high 23 points along with 12 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies to their NINTH win in their last ten, in the absence of All-Star Zach RandolphDallas (27-33) kept their alive their previously fading play-off hopes with a 112-108 home win over the Houston Rockets (33-29) who will now be looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack. The Mavericks jumped out to an early advantage and survived a late surge from the Rockets, who were fueled by James Harden‘s 28 points and 9 assists.

STAT: League rookie, Damian Lillard scored 20+ points in a game for the 30th time this season.

Cleveland (21-40) were another team to fight back from a significant deficit as they defeated the Utah Jazz (32-29) 104-101 after Kyrie Irving led the way with 20 points and 10 assists. Toronto Raptors (24-38) enjoyed a comfortable 98-71 win against the Phoenix Suns (21-40) while the Brooklyn Nets (35-26) recovered from a slow start to impose a defensive stranglehold on the Charlotte Bobcats (13-48) to come away with a 98-78 win. Joe Johnson led the way with 22 points as the Nets outscored their opponents 56-25 in the second half.

STAT: It was only Irving‘s third double-double of the season for the Cavs.

Golden State (35-27) used a strong third quarter display as a platform for their 87-83 win against the Sacramento Kings (21-42) as Klay Thompson nailed a crucial 3-pointer late on to finish with 20 points.  Atlanta (34-26) survived a fourth quarter resistance from the Philadelphia 76ers (23-37) to win 107-96 after 27 points and 11 assists from Jeff Teague. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-37) were led by Derrick Williams (16pts/8rbs) and Ricky Rubio (15pts/11as/7rbs/6st) as they held on to an 87-82 home win against the Washington Wizards (19-40), who were led by John Wall‘s 19 points.

Check-out the amazing play of the day as Jamal Crawford provides the fancy alley-oop for Blake Griffin to jam home: (NBA)

All-Star Saturday Night

Overall on All-Star Saturday Night, it was the Western conference who were victorious; beating their Eastern rivals 140-125 despite Team Bosh’s win over Team Westbrook in the Shooting Stars challenge which had began the night.

Damian Lillard wins the Skills challenge title

Damian Lillard wins the Skills challenge title

 Skills Challenge: Damian Lillard:

Portland’s rookie Damian Lillard was crowned 2013 Skills champion after defeating Jrue  Holiday in the final. The six contestants were split into their respective conferences before the winners from the East and West met in the final. Lillard posted a time of 28.8 seconds in the first round to fend off the challenge of Jeremy Lin and Tony Parker while Holiday’s score of 29.3 helped him into the final over Brandon Knight and Jeff Teague as the Eastern trio won the Team round due to a higher overall score. In the final, Philadelphia’s Holiday set the time to beat with 35.6 but Lillard completed the course error-free in 29.8 to be crowned champion.

Foot Locker 3PT Challenge: Kyrie Irving

Rising star Kyrie Irving took the 3-point crown with an unbelievable shooting display in the final round. The Cleveland Cavalier scored an impressive 23 points to win the contest with Matt Bonner slightly behind on 20. Irivng was the first to go for the East in the Team round and his 18-point total could not be matched by either Paul George (10) or Steve Novak (17) who was left to rue a poor shooting effort from the top of the arc. Bonner was the last to go for the West and his 19 points edged him into the final over Ryan Anderson (18) and Stephen Curry (17) although the Western conference won the Team round 54-45.

Slam Dunk Contest: Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross won the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest after receiving 58% of the votes in the final round against the defending champion, Jeremy Evans. The Toronto Raptors guard finished with an incredible 99 points from his two dunks which saw him defeat 2007 champ Gerald Green (82) and James White (77) in the Eastern section.  Evans gave himself a chance of winning victory for the second year running with 90 points good enough to beat Eric Bledsloe and the BBVA Rising Stars MVP Kenneth Faried (both 89) before losing out on the public vote. Check-out the winning dunk in slow-motion below: (NBA)

NBA 3-Point Contestants: EAST v WEST

The 2013 Foot Locker NBA 3-Point Contest takes place in Houston on Saturday 16th February and faces a different format this year. Of the six contestants selected, the final will pit the best of the East against the best from the West to be crowned 2013 Champion. Here are six players trying to earn that accolade along with their respective statistics:

Eastern Conference

Paul George  (Indiana Pacers) 115-298 3PT (0.386%)- 36th in the league; 9/13 3PT v New Orleans Hornets 21/11/12 (also Career-high)

Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers) 82-193 3PT (0.425)- 13th in the league; 5/5 3PT v Charlotte Bobcats 06/02/13

Steve Novak (New York Knicks) 96-215 3PT (0.447)- 3rd in the league; 5/7 3PT on three occasions (Most recent v Sacramento Kings 02/02/13)

Western Conference

Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) 149-333 3PT (0.434)- 2nd in the league; 8/13 3PT v Charlotte Bobcats 21/12/12 (also Career-high)

Ryan Anderson (New Orleans Hornets) 159-396 3PT (0.402)- 28th in the league; 8/13 3PT v Phoenix Suns 23/11/12 (also Career-high)

Matt Bonner (San Antonio Spurs) 37-83 3PT (0.446)- 4th in the league; 3/3 3PT on two occasions (Most recent v Brooklyn Nets 10/02/13)

Final Prediction: Steve Novak v Matt Bonner

Knicks' sharp-shooter

Knicks’ sharp-shooter

My Predicted Champion

My Predicted Champion

In the Spotlight: Kyrie Irving

NBA Rookie to NBA All-Star in the space of a season.

At just 20 years of age, Kyrie Irving has been selected as an NBA All-Star in his second season as a pro.

Irving has now been touted as a possible starter following an injury to Rajon Rondo which will rule the Boston Celtics’ guard out for the season. Kobe Bryant was a year younger when he made his NBA All-Star debut in 1998 which shows how impressive Irving’s achievement is.

The Cavs’ guard is building his reputation as ‘Mr. Fourth Quarter’ as he continues to take the responsibility of key shots down the stretch. Most recently Irving scored 13 points of 35 in the last three minutes to inspire Cleveland to a 115-110 victory against Oklahoma.

On 10 occasions so far this season, Irving has posted 30+ points in a game including a career high night in New York when he dropped 41 on the Knicks. These notable statistics help place the young superstar in sixth position for the season’s leading scorers charts with 24ppg. Irving was forced out for three weeks with a finger injury prior to Christmas but has picked up where he left off in recent weeks.

In his first season in the NBA, Irving finished the season with a very respectable points average of 18.5 whilst providing 5.4 assists a game on average. He also earned the MVP honours in the Rising Stars Challenge in which he will compete in again in 2013. Irving‘s rookie season was marred with a broken hand which required during the summer of 2012

The #1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft was named NBA Rookie of the Year for 2012 to follow in the footsteps of reigning MVP Lebron James, who also claimed the award in 2004 when he was playing in Cleveland. Since Lebron’s high profile departure, Cleveland have yet to reach the play-offs and will do very well to stop it from being three years in a row. The Cavs had made it beyond the regular season for five straight seasons during James‘ time with the club under Mike Brown.

LBJ moved to Miami and became an NBA Champion within two years and there will be plenty of teams interested in the services of Irving should the opportunity present itself in the future. Surely it’s a case of when and not if with Irving displaying signs of being a potential MVP within five years.

You can follow Kyrie Irving on Twitter: ( @KyrieIrving )