The Heat fail in the clutch -- again

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The Heat fail in the clutch -- again

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- This does not sound like a winning formula. Miss 24 of 29 shots in one stretch, on the road. Watch an 11-point, second-half lead turn into a deficit. Have your entire team get outscored by two players in the fourth quarter. Somehow, it worked for the Indiana Pacers. And with one part of the Big Three gone, the Miami Heat might have a very big problem. David West scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Pacers took home-court advantage away from Miami by beating the Heat 78-75 in Game 2 of the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday night -- after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both came up short on key opportunities in the final minute. "Defense and rebounding," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "We built this team, we started talking about smash-mouth basketball, about winning the war in the trenches, and that's with defense and rebounding. That's what I grew up watching Eastern Conference basketball being like. We understand offense is going to come and go, especially like a great defensive team like these guys ... but we're pretty good, too." The series is tied at 1-1, with Game 3 in Indianapolis on Thursday night. James scored 28 points for Miami and Wade finished with 24, though both failed to convert big chances late. James missed two free throws with 54.3 seconds left and Miami down one, and Wade was short on a layup that would have tied the game with 16 seconds remaining. Moments later, a few of the Pacers were leaping in celebration at midcourt of Miami's floor, something that Wade said was noticed afterward. "The game is not lost or won with two free throws," James said. "But I definitely want to come through for my teammates. So I'll get an opportunity again. I know I'll be at the line again in that situation. Just go up and make em." Miami was without Chris Bosh, who's sidelined indefinitely -- almost certainly the rest of the series, possibly longer if the Heat advance -- after he strained a lower abdominal muscle in Game 1. His absence was noted in many ways. Miami shot 35 percent, got outrebounded 50-40 and besides James and Wade, no other Heat player scored more than five points. According to STATS LLC, it was the first time in Heat franchise history that only two players scored more than five points in a game, regular-season or playoffs. After Wade's missed layup that would have tied the game, he remained on the court for a few extra seconds, looking exhausted until James -- who said Wade would make that shot "10 out of 10 times" -- pulled him up. "Chris was missed, no doubt about it," Wade said, after he and James outscored Indiana 21-17 in the fourth. "But that's not the reason we lost this ball game." The Heat were outscored 28-14 in the third quarter, shooting 3 for 17 in that period. They didn't score in the final 2:41 of the game, and when Mario Chalmers missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it on the last play, Miami dropped to 1 for 16 from 3-point range on the night, 1 for 22 in the series. "Welcome to the playoffs, for us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's how we're viewing it. This series has started. They won on our home court. Now we have to collect ourselves, gather ourselves and get ready for Game 3. That's all that matters right now." George Hill had 15 points, Danny Granger scored 11 and Paul George added 10 for Indiana, which made only 38 percent of its shots. The Pacers had been 2-9 this season when shooting that poorly, yet got a split in Miami anyway. "I feel like we should be 2-0," George said. James had a chance to give Miami the lead with 1:22 left, but his shot was blocked from behind by George, who was fouled two seconds later. He missed both free throws, keeping the Indiana lead at 76-75. And after Wade missed a jumper, James was fouled by Granger -- his sixth -- battling for the rebound with 54.3 seconds remaining. James missed both shots, and Indiana held on from there. "Their third-leading scorer had five points and that's what you want to do," Granger said. "If LeBron James gets 11 assists they are probably going to win. They scored a lot, but we stopped everyone else." Emotions picked up considerably in the fourth. Wade was steaming when he missed a shot after trying to create contact with Indiana's Dahntay Jones with 9:53 left. As Wade argued, Jones went the other way and set Leandro Barbosa up for a score that put the Pacers up 63-56. Chalmers turned the ball over on the next possession, and as the Pacers took off for what set up as a 2-on-none break, Wade caught Darren Collison from behind and knocked him over. A flagrant-1 was called, Collison hit both free throws, the Indiana lead was nine and tensions were suddenly high. It all seemed to spark Miami. The Heat scored the next six points. James -- who got hit in the head by Granger with 7:25 left, sparking a bit of shoving that led to double-technicals given to both players -- added a putback off an offensive rebound and Wade did the same about a minute later, getting Miami within 69-66 with 5:57 left. The whole game was a grind. Indiana scored 16 points in the first seven minutes of the first half, then scored 17 in the next 17 minutes. And even after a drought like that, Miami's lead was only 38-33 at the break. Miami was 0-for-7 on shots that would have pushed its margin to double digits in the first half. "Playoffs," George said, "are about grinding it out." James missed a free throw that would have tied it with 4:30 remaining, but after George got the rebound, James dove in to create a jump ball situation. The MVP easily won the tap, sending it to Wade, whose bank shot over West put Miami back on top 72-71. Barbosa scored on the next Indiana possession. The Pacers weren't rattled, and never trailed again. "We never felt like we were the underdogs," Granger said. NOTES: James' six steals were a Heat playoff record. ... Trying to exploit the size advantage with Bosh out, the Pacers got 7-foot-2 C Roy Hibbert three shots in the first 1:11 of the game. He got three the rest of the game. ... Wade is now 39-11 in home playoff games. ... James will play his 100th playoff game Thursday.

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

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USA TODAY

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

Remember when the season began and we were talking about the likelihood of Illinois ending a three-year NCAA tournament drought?

Yeah, about that.

The Fighting Illini were again walloped on the road Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, their fourth road defeat in as many games during conference play. Against Michigan, Purdue, Indiana and Maryland, the losses have come in extreme fashion, by a combined total of 73 points, an average of 18.3 points.

And those numbers would be much bigger if not for a garbage-time 18-6 run to close out Saturday's 66-57 loss to the Wolverines. The game saw Michigan's lead grow as big as 21 with fewer than six minutes to play. It was another blowout, even if the final margin of defeat was in single digits.

How this continues to happen is frankly somewhat mind boggling. Illinois entered the season with experience, health and depth and have kept all of those traits throughout the campaign. But the experienced players who were believed to lead the Illini to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013, Groce's first season, simply haven't shown up.

Malcolm Hill has, and he deserves a pass in this critique. Hill, the only Illinois player who scored in double figures Saturday, ranks fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 17.8 points a game. He also ranks in the top 20 in rebounding (5.9 rebounds a game), free-throw percentage (79.4 percent) and minutes played (32.4 minutes a game).

Maverick Morgan, too, has been a bright spot. He's shooting 60 percent from the floor, good for fourth in the Big Ten, and is averaging 13 points a game over the last 10 games.

But where has everyone else gone? After a stellar non-conference season, Tracy Abrams' production has fallen off a cliff, and he's just 1-for-21 from 3-point range against Big Ten competition. Jalen Coleman-Lands hasn't been very reliable, averaging almost two points fewer per game and shooting almost five percent lower from 3-point range than he did during his freshman season a year ago. Mike Thorne Jr. was supposed to be the team's starting center, but he's not even averaging 15 minutes a game. Second-year guys like D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan have barely seen the floor. Michael Finke has had good games and quiet games. This veteran team is more and more reliant on freshmen Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols for sparks that only rarely come.

The biggest issue has been the defense, with the team allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the field. That number has been significantly worse in conference play, up to 50.8 percent. Saturday was better, Michigan shooting only 45.1 percent and only 40 percent in the second half, when its lead grew largest. But the Wolverines, also a poor defensive team, clamped down on the Illini, who only shot 45.8 percent and more importantly turned the ball over a whopping 17 times, leading to 22 points for the home team.

With consistently subpar defense and inconsistent offense — a win over the same Michigan team just 10 days earlier saw Illinois drop 85 points on red-hot 64.2-percent shooting; where was that Saturday? — has been a recipe for disaster.

Coming into the conference season, it seemed Illinois was a prime contender for a spot in the Big Dance's field of 68. After all, only one disastrous week prevented the non-conference season from being a success. The Illini scored wins over name-brand opponents North Carolina State, VCU, BYU and Missouri, with that nightmarish week featuring losses to West Virginia and Florida State, the current Nos. 7 and 10 teams in the country.

But despite the high rankings of the Mountaineers and Seminoles, that resume has weakened. North Carolina State is just 2-5 in ACC play, and Missouri has just five wins this season, a nasty record that includes 10 straight losses. BYU and VCU aren't at the top of their respective mid-major conference standings.

That has made Illinois' conference showing all the worse as the tournament hopes flicker. The two wins have come at home against Ohio State and Michigan teams that stumbled out of the gates themselves. The losses, as chronicled above, have been convincing to say the least, and the one that came at the State Farm Center, against Maryland, featured an ugly second-half collapse after Illinois went to the locker room with a lead.

With typical bottom-feeders like Penn State and Nebraska improving their play this season, there aren't many noticeably winnable games remaining on Illinois' schedule, with just the season-finale at Rutgers looking like a surefire win, though the Scarlet Knights are no longer winless in Big Ten play after beating the Huskers on Saturday. What it means is a gauntlet the rest of the way for the Illini. There are plenty of home games, but does the venue matter when the Illini are playing like this and their opponents are of a significantly higher caliber?

Groce's seat is undeniably warm, and the heat could crank up if the campaign progresses as it has played out to this point. Would a fourth straight season without an NCAA tournament invite mean Groce's tenure would be over in Champaign? That's difficult to say, as Groce has secured one of the best recruiting classes in the country for next season. Illinois' best recruiting work in years would be in real danger if he's axed before his Class of 2017 arrives on campus.

But the on-court results are starting to get predictable, and not in the way games were predictable back during Illinois' glory days a decade ago. 

How about this: Last week's 23-point shellacking at Purdue was the 12th loss by 20 or more points of the Groce Era, which is in its fifth season. Bruce Weber, who coached the Illini for nine seasons, had three such losses during the course of his entire tenure. Prior to Weber, it was Bill Self, who had one such loss in his three seasons. Prior to Self, it was Lon Kruger, who had four such losses in his four seasons.

You have to go all the way back to 1980 to find the last time Illinois missed the NCAA tournament in four straight years.

Right now, the future is a mystery. What we do know is that the present is not going well.

Deerfield defensive end Josh Maize pledges to Miami of Ohio

Deerfield defensive end Josh Maize pledges to Miami of Ohio

Deerfield three star ranked defensive end Josh Maize (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) gave Miami of Ohio and head coach Chuck Martin his verbal commitment on Sunday morning. Maize was making a weekend official visit to the Oxford, Ohio based campus and left for the airport verbally committed to the Redhawks.

"I'm about to board my flight but I wanted to let you know that I'm committed to Miami (OH)," Maize said. "It's a great fit for me and I knew that I found the right place for myself so I committed.

"Miami of Ohio is just a great fit socially as well as academically. They also have amazing facilities plus the last two guys that plays my position for them (rush end/outside linebacker) one is in the NFL and the other one is about to get a shot to play in the league. The Miami coaches will be able to develop me into that type of player for them."

Maize had 13 scholarship offers and also made official visits to Wyoming and UConn before giving Miami of Ohio his verbal commitment.