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By Ryan GlasspiegelFollow Sports Rapport on Twitter

Tonight’s Games

Hawks @ Celtics (7:30 ET on ESPN – Series tied 1-1)
Bulls @ 76ers (8:00 ET on ESPN2 – Series tied 1-1)
Lakers @ Nuggets (10:30 ET on ESPN – Lakers lead 2-0)

About Last Night

Photo Credit: Knicks Wall

With the exception of Games 1 and 2 of Thunder-Mavericks and Clippers-Grizzlies, the games really haven’t been that interesting thus far. That should change next round in the Western Conference when the Spurs play the winner of Clippers-Grizzlies and the Thunder play the Lakers. Unfortunately, the Eastern Conference only might be interesting in two rounds if the Celtics play the Heat but even then I’d be shocked if the Celtics won two games in the series with the way the Heat are playing.

Is it good or bad for Miami if they find themselves in the NBA Finals rested but comparatively untested?

Heat 87, Knicks 70 (Heat lead 3-0)

- “I hope y’all appreciate LeBron James,” Charles Barkley said (and I’m paraphrasing). “He’s the best player in America and it’s not even close. The way that he makes all those players around him is incredible.”

He didn’t have to say it but the juxtaposition with Carmelo Anthony was obvious. “I’m starting to feel bad for Melo,” Dan LeBatard tweeted. “I suspect that it, unlike Carmelo himself, will pass.”

The Heat are playing with a synergy and collective focus on both ends of the floor that is vastly superior to that of last season. There’s no real point in watching their games from now until the NBA Finals except to open your mouth wide in gaping awe at LeBron’s athletic prowess. This is a special team and special player that we’re watching right now and I’m fascinated to see if their potential is consummated.

- In the Miami Herald, Zach Schonbrun talks about the Heat’s stellar second half defense:

Shortly before Game 3, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke of the team’s need to rediscover its defensive “identity” after a lapse-filled second game Thursday’s first half — particularly early in the second quarter — might qualify in Spoelstra’s mind as a defensive letdown. But Miami managed to turn up the energy in the second half, enough to make up for its languid offense, and then some.

The Heat held the Knicks to only three field goals in the third quarter (3 for 15) and five in the fourth for 30 total points. New York shot 24.4 percent in the second half after making 38.9 percent of its shots in the first. “That was as good as we could play in the third quarter,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “I thought we did a very good job in that quarter to make it hard on their offense.”

- In excellent deadline writing for the NY Daily News, Mike Lupica juxtaposes the two teams:

Oh, maybe they could have gotten a game off Miami if Iman Shumpert hadn’t gotten hurt and if Jeremy Lin were still in the game. But they weren’t going to beat the Heat this season, not going to beat them next season. So now the Knicks have lost 13 straight playoff games going back to April of 2001. A night that started out big and loud and excited at the Garden ended up sounding like next season is already here, ended with the Heat and the great LeBron James showing you just how far away the Knicks are from being a real contender.

Understand something: The Knicks got beat, 87-70, by the Heat’s “C” game Thursday night. From the time the Knicks were ahead by that 40-29 at the end of the first half, they scored 30 points the rest of the game. LeBron had a terrible first half, turned the ball over, spent an awful lot of time growling at the refs. Didn’t matter. Didn’t matter that he had to sit down with four fouls (seven minutes and change left in the third quarter) because there was Dwyane Wade to remind you why he is the greatest wing man in the game. Wade scored 20 without breaking a sweat. LeBron James ended up with 32 points in Game 3 and he shut down Carmelo Anthony any time he had to guard him, because one of the things they never talk about with LeBron is that he has been the best on-the-ball defender in the NBA for a while.

- On ESPN.com, LeBron expert Brian Windhorst notes a change:

Down the “a–hole” chants came, loud enough and clear enough for everyone to feel comfortable participating and for everyone watching on TV to make them out. At its root it was about James not signing with the Knicks in 2010. But it was also a reflection on what the Knicks fans felt about James during this series. The more they chanted, the worse James seemed to play.

They had him where they wanted him.

Only they didn’t really. Even as he was struggling to make a jumper, struggling to get a call and struggling with teammates as he barked in their direction even when it was sometimes his fault, James was fighting. Last year when things went badly, and they went very badly in the NBA Finals, James’ reaction was to disappear. Stand in the corner. Stare into space. It happened at times the year before, too.

This time when James’ problems arose he did the opposite. He did not fade, he pushed even when pushing caused more problems. He continued to handle the ball, he continued to attempt to attack the basket and he continued to stay engaged on defense as he was part of an effort that has smothered Anthony again.

 Thunder 95, Mavericks 79 (Thunder lead 3-0)

- The Mavericks were in trouble when they gave it their all in Games 1 and 2 and came up just short. In this game, the defending champion Mavericks showed their age. It was like they were up past their bedtime. Part NBA title hangover, part shortened season, part losing 2012 Defensive POY Tyson Chandler, part Lamar Odom’s not working out, the Mavericks’ title defense now looks like it was doomed from the start. The extent to which the Thunder have been running past them indicate the beginning of a changing of the guard. It remains to be seen whether they can get past the Lakers and Spurs but the Mavericks probably need to rebuild if they want to contend for another championship.

- In the Dallas Morning News, Kevin Sherrington says Mark Cuban’s gambles proved costly:

Mark Cuban made his case for the Mavs’ chances to defend their title before the season even started, then watched a series of moves calculated on a gamble more than a year away blow up in his face, one by one.

First he trades the best center the organization ever had, only to watch him named the Defensive Player of the Year. Banished, too, are DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea, vital pieces last season, dismissed as little more than obstructions to next year’s roster. He acquires Lamar Odom, who proves as fragile as a teenager’s psyche. He figures the chances of an old team repeating in a weird, labor-shortened season simply too great to pass up the chance to sign Dwight Howard and/or Deron Williams, and it turns out he was wrong about that, too.

The Mavs could be leading this series instead of finding themselves down and all but out after a 95-79 loss to Oklahoma City. Tyson Chandler alone could have been the difference in one if not both losses in Oklahoma City, games lost by a total of four points. He might have given his old teammates the same kick in the shorts in an embarrassing Game 3 performance that he provided last season, when Dirk Nowitzki called him the team’s MVP.

- In the Oklahoman, Barry Tramel praises Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka:

Many are the reasons the Thunder won with ease. Kevin Durant opened the game hot. Russell Westbrook opened the second half hot. The Boomers took care of the ball. But reason No. 1 is because Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins claimed the two most precious pieces of real estate on the court. The rim and the paint.

The Thunder big men contested every close shot, grabbed every grabbable rebound and didn’t let Dirk Nowitzki and friends have anything easy. Ibaka blocked four shots and it seemed like 40. “He’s a presence in there,” Mav coach Rick Carlisle said. “They have a presence at the rim that’s effective.”

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