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IN THE LANE
SHOWDOWN LOOMS: Having had his share of moments against the Heat while coach of the Charlotte Hornets, it comes as no surprise to Steve
that his Orlando Magic are faced with a playoff-race showdown Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “If you looked at the six teams [at the All-Star break], to me if there was one thing you knew, you knew that Miami would be playing better at the end than they were then,” Clifford told the Orlando Sentinel of the evolving scenario at the bottom of the East playoff race. “That’s the one certainty, just because of the way they are. And we can still be the other team that does that.” Of the race, Magic guard
said, “We shouldn’t think about what the Heat are doing. It’s about us and playing good basketball and winning games.” Added Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, “It’s not so much about the other teams. It’s about what we do. We know we’re gonna have a chance to play our way into the playoffs, so we just take it one day at a time.”
The Heat’s week then will close out with a Saturday game against the Knicks and former Heat assistant David Fizdale, who has been balancing getting his young team to the finish line and also preparing for free-agent recruiting. “Right now,” he told reporters. “I’m so far away from that, guys. I’m like in a dark room right now with these guys. Free agency for me is like millions of miles away.” Only it isn’t, and it likely will be when Fizdale’s personality ultimately comes into play for the Knicks.
NUMEROLOGY: Just as the Heat will do sooner rather than later for Udonis Haslem, the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday retired Nick Collison‘s jersey, No. 4. In many ways, Collison was the Thunder’s Haslem, retiring last season after a 15-year career that included only 15 appearances his final season for 75 total minutes. Said Thunder center Steven Adams to the Oklahoman, “He’s more of a culture-builder. That guy, you know? He’s one of these dudes that’s constantly professional and very . . . he’s not emotionless, but he’s pretty steady. Said Thunder guard Raymond Felton, with Haslem-like reverence, “He was a big brother. He was a guy that had been in this organization his entire career.” In Oklahoma City a game before the Collison ceremony, Haslem said of culture players such as himself and Collison, “They know you’re gonna sacrifice beyond measure to do what it takes to help the team. Nick has earned those guys’ respect from that aspect.”
FAREWELL TOURS: Speaking of farewells, the San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of a stretch that included Dwyane Wade‘s final appearance at the AT&T Center, to be followed by Thursday’s retirement of Manu Ginobili‘s jersey, with upcoming games remaining against Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki, who both might retire after the season. “Whenever you lose those guys, people who have been household names for so long, you feel it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told the Express News. “The good thing is we have a lot of young players who keep matriculating and turning out to be good players. So we will be in good shape, but we will miss those guys when they finally stop.”
BEING PRESENT: Even with his seven-game maternity break, the only road venues Wade did not play amid this retirement season have been Indiana and Memphis. At a question-and-answer session in New York, Kobe Bryant spoke of the meaning of such a commitment. “There are kids in the crowd and families in the crowd . . . this will be the only time they get a chance to see you,” he said, in addressing the approach of players taking games off for rest. “They save up their hard-earned money to watch you perform. So, you can walk and perform, get there and perform.” NBA coaches to win at least 300 games with more than one team, with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers this past week joining the group that includes Heat President Pat Riley. Rivers has done it with the Celtics and Clippers; Riley did it with the Lakers and Heat. Phil Jackson, George Karl, Dick Motta, Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens also have done it.
Even amid the NCAA Tournament, Zion Williamson also looms over the NBA, with a trickle-down impact to the Heat. Clifford Evan Fournier THEN NEW YORK: