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Heat 98, Bucks 86
Everyone in the Miami huddle was bracing for a grind to the finish. On the other end, the sense around the Milwaukee bench was that an upset was there for the taking.
Then the Heat landed a swift knockout punch.
Dwyane Wade scored 21 points, LeBron James finished with 19 and the Heat used a frantic start to the fourth quarter to pull away and beat the Bucks in Game 2 of the teams' Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night.
It was 68-65 entering the fourth. With James and four backups on the court, the Heat needed only 2 minutes, 22 seconds to outscore Milwaukee 12-0 and stretch the lead to 80-65 — ensuring the reigning NBA champions would take a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 on Thursday night.
"We held court," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We protected it for two games. We did what we're supposed to do. And that's it."
Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen all scored 10 points for the Heat. James' postseason streaks of 22 straight games with at least 20 points, and 16 straight games of at least 25 points, both came to an end.
Ultimately, none of that mattered.
"We didn't get into our game like we wanted to in that third quarter," James said. "But we went into the fourth with a (three-point) lead and we were able to jump on them."
Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points for Milwaukee, which got 16 from Mike Dunleavy and 14 from Larry Sanders. The Bucks' starting guards, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, combined for only 15 points — after teaming up to score 48 in Game 1.
"It's a series," said Sanders, who had a sore right ankle after he collided with Battier in the fourth quarter. "We made progress this game."
They'll need to make more, and do it quickly. James has never lost in 10 previous series where his team takes a 2-0 lead, and Wade is 8-0 in that same situation.
"In the playoffs you've got to find different ways to win," Wade said. "No matter what everybody says on the outside, (Milwaukee) is a good team. They played us very well."
For about 46 minutes, the Bucks played them even.
It was that 12-0 run that was the difference — in what finished as a 12-point game.
Andersen started it with a three-point play, James had a layup not long afterward and the Heat were starting to roll. Another basket by Andersen off a pass from Ray Allen made it 77-65, and James found Norris Cole for a 3-pointer that capped the flurry and made it 80-65.
Just like that, it was over, even to Miami's surprise.
"They were doing some things that had us spinning around a little bit defensively, got us on our heels, and offensively we never got into a rhythm," Spoelstra said. "So we figured we were just going to have to find a way to grind in the fourth quarter, figuring it was going to be a close game."
The Heat have raved about their depth all season, so they had no qualms about sending James out to start the fourth with Cole, Andersen, Battier and Ray Allen.
By the time starters like Wade and Bosh got back onto the court, the task was merely protecting the lead, which the Heat did with relative ease.
"We felt pretty good about the position we were in, giving ourselves an opportunity on the road with 12 minutes to go," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "You feel good about that. Then they come out, go on a 12-0 run and it changes the complexion of the game. Playing catch-up is very hard to do against a high-quality team like Miami."
Warriors 131, Nuggets 117
Golden State hardly missed much of anything Tuesday night.
Not its shots.
Not its injured All-Star.
Stephen Curry had 30 points and 13 assists and the scrappy Warriors handed Denver its first loss at home in more than three months, a stunner that evened their playoff series at a game each.
Rallying around injured David Lee, who cheered on the bench in street clothes, the Warriors got 26 points from surprise starter Jarrett Jack, a career-high 24 from rookie Harrison Barnes in his debut at power forward and 21 from Klay Thompson.
The sixth-seeded Warriors, who became the second road team to win in the postseason following Chicago's victory at Brooklyn on Monday, wrested homecourt advantage from the NBA's best home team in the series that shifts to Oakland for Game 3 on Friday night.
"They were knocking down shots," Denver's Andre Iguodala said in an understatement
Better than they ever had before in a playoff game, a franchise playoff-record 64.6 percent from the field (51 of 79).
"We are a very good shooting basketball team," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "We've got guys that can knock down shots. You talk about Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, in my opinion, they're the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game."
The third-seeded Nuggets were an NBA-best 38-3 at home during the regular season but needed Andre Miller's last-second shot to beat Golden State by a basket in the opener and extend their franchise-best winning streak to 24 games.
With Golden State losing Lee to a torn hip flexor and the Nuggets getting top rebounder and energizer Kenneth Faried back from a sprained ankle, this one looked like a mismatch, even Curry acknowledged.
And it was, only not the way the Pepsi Center crowd anticipated.
"We're a resilient team, said that all year. When guys go down, other guys step up," said Curry, who played through a tender left ankle after turning it late in the third quarter. "We showed that tonight. Big road win for us. We've got to go home and protect our homecourt."
Even without their All-Star, the Warriors outrebounded the Nuggets 36-26.
"We didn't do much of anything very well," Nuggets coach George Karl lamented. "I don't think I ever coached a game when a team got three 35-point quarters, maybe in my career. Ever."
The best anybody shot against Denver during the season was 54 percent, by the Los Angeles Lakers way back on Nov. 20, and the most points the Nuggets had allowed was 126 at San Antonio on Nov. 17.
Ty Lawson and Corey Brewer each scored 19 points for Denver and Iguodala and Miller both had 18, but the Nuggets were playing catch-up from the middle of the second quarter and couldn't keep up with so many of the Warriors' shots falling, negating Denver's league-best transition game.
George wins Most Improved Award
Pacers forward Paul George spent the past summer turning himself into a better player.
Now he's planning to dedicate himself to becoming the NBA's best all-around player.
A few minutes after accepting the league's Most Improved Player Award, the 6-foot-9 swingman promised to work even harder to attain the biggest rewards of all — an NBA title and perhaps an MVP.
"I think I can play at an MVP level. I think that's very much within reach," George said. "For me, it's all about being consistent and having that aggressive mindset."
George has already emerged as one of the league's top young players, which explains his runaway victory in the balloting. He received 52 of 120 first-place votes and 311 points, more than double the total of New Orleans' Greivis Vasquez, who had 13 first-place votes and 146 points. Milwaukee's Larry Sanders was third with 141 points and was one of three players to receive 10 first-place votes.
As part of the award, a 2012 Kia Sorrento will be donated to the Hawthorne Community Center, George's hand-picked charity.
George is also expected to be one of the top vote-getters for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, an honor coach Frank Vogel lobbied hard for Tuesday.
The question is whether George has what it takes to challenge for the league's top individual honor.
"With the physical talent he has, with the drive he has, there's no ceiling for him," Vogel said.
If 2012-13 proved anything, it's that George is a man of his word.
Before leaving town after last season's Eastern Conference semifinal loss to LeBron James and eventual champion Miami, George walked into Vogel's office and promised to come back with a more aggressive mindset and as a more versatile scorer.
LeBron James' guidance helped him reach those goals.
The two worked out together in Las Vegas as the U.S. team prepared for the Olympics, but all the while George was watching and learning from the best — not just James.
"It was huge. Me, growing up, idolizing guys like Kobe, watching his whole regimen, watching what time he got up to work out, watching what he was putting in his body," George said. "The younger guys, we was totally the opposite, so I had to kind of take notes and follow what they were doing."
The results impressed his teammates, coaches and many around the league.
George averaged 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds this season, both career highs, and was the only player in the league with at least 140 steals and 50 blocks. He earned his first All-Star appearance, led Indiana to its first Central Division crown in nine years and became the fourth Pacers player to win the Most Improved Player Award since 2000. The others were Jalen Rose, Jermaine O'Neal and Danny Granger.
In 2011-12, George averaged 12.1 points and 5.6 rebounds and made just 19 of 52 shots from the field in the 4-2 playoff loss to the Heat.
AP source: Cavs, Mike Brown agree to deal
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that Mike Brown has agreed in principle to a contract with the Cavaliers to return as their coach for a second time.
Brown has not yet signed his new deal, but has agreed to take the job, according to the person who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing. The person said Brown's hiring could be announced Wednesday.
Brown went 272-138 and went to the playoffs all five season with the Cavs, teaming with LeBron James on a run to the NBA Finals in 2007. He was fired after the Cavs lost to Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals. He spent one full season with the Lakers and was fired by Los Angeles five games into this season.
Bobcats fire Dunlap after one season
The Charlotte Bobcats say they've fired coach Mike Dunlap after just one season.
The Bobcats went 21-61 under Dunlap, finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA ahead of only the Orlando Magic. Charlotte won just seven games in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season but more wins weren't enough to save Dunlap's job.
The move means the Bobcats will have a third head coach in as many seasons as owner Michael Jordan continues to look for what he feels is the right person for the job.
Dunlap replaced Paul Silias, who was fired after the Bobcats went 7-59 in 2011-12, the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106).