by Anton Kudriavtsev/ @TheDiesel
Josh Smith stepped in for the injured Al Horford and put up his own All-Star numbers with 29 points and 16 rebounds as the Hawks took down the Wizards. Atlanta led through halftime and sustained a Wizards comeback attempt as they answered back with a 12-4 run and never trailed in the 4th quarter. John Wall scored 18 points with 6 assists but was just 2-of-7 from the free throw line, contributing to Washington’s woes at the stripe (8-of-18 overall). The Hawks, on the other hand, converted 26 of 35 free throws on their way up the Eastern standings. Will they get the 3 seed over Chicago to face the guaranteed 2nd round buy-in otherwise known as the 6-8 seeds of the East?
The good news for the Hornets is that they played well and over-achieved as usual thanks to floor general Chris Paul. The bad news is that the Lakers are treating wins like lost jewellery – once you get it, you hold on to it for dear life. Despite CP3’s ultra-efficient 21 points (on just 11 shots) and 15 assists, Kobe poured in 32 points with 9 rebounds and 5 assists while Pau Gasol went into Black Swan mode with 34 points and 10 rebounds. An impressive 1-2 punch finally coming together in a key win? Sure, but I was disappointed that Kobe didn’t pay tribute to his latest SLAM cover by scoring 146 points. A close game down the stretch, Bryant’s 3-pointer with 3:20 left to play gave L.A. the lead for good as they look to take back the 2 seed from Dallas in the standings. The Hornets were undermanned (without Okafor and Ariza), yet they were still able to claw back into the game from being down 14. Paul’s ridiculous floater off the glass tied it at 92 apiece with 3:43 left, but the Hornets were limited to a single three-pointer for the remainder of the game. This is what happens when you’re taller and score 23 of 27 free throws versus New Orleans’ 4 attempts. I don’t mean to judge by appearance, but Aaron Gray looks like he’s been working on his XBox game more than his actual game. The Lakers looked sharper and they only turned the ball over a season-low 4 times as they look to get back on track.
Led by Dirk Nowitzki’s 25 points, the Mavs extended their win streak to 8 games with a victory over the Bobcats. Instead of relying on Jason Kidd’s travel-triple to win games, Dallas built up a lead early and absorbed a late run by Charlotte. D.J. Augustin led the ‘Cats with 21 by the team shot just 37% from the field and still haven’t beaten the Mavs since moving to Charlotte (0-14, to be exact). Did anyone else’s League Pass go crazy in this game? In the 2nd quarter, all players’ faces turned an Avatar-like blue and jerseys of opposite colors for me.
Speaking of blue faces, the Cavaliers set the NBA all-time record in failure with their 24th straight loss, this time to the Blazers. The frustrating aspect is not necessarily the epic losing streak, but that the team lost in the exact same way over the last two dozen games. Cleveland stayed competitive for the first 3 quarters, even having a slight lead in the 4th before falling apart. Wes Matthews scored 31 for the Blazers but it was Andre Miller (7 points, 13 assists) who delivered the knockout blow. Looking at his stats you’d think he made as much impact as Taylor Griffin on the Suns, but ‘Dre’s shots all came in the 4th quarter, including a tough 12-foot fadeaway to put his Blazers over the top. Fittingly, Cleveland’s last possession was a mess that ended with the ball bouncing off of J.J. Hickon’s stone hands and eventually, a missed lay-up. I realize it’s a record, but is there really a need to put it on the NBA. com’s homepage with an amber alert labelled “breaking news”? I don’t think the Nets got that kind of treatment last year. Not depressed yet, Cavs fans? After viewing this “Not Top 10″ list, you will be.
Kevin Martin would like to thank his high school coaches from not forcing him to change his shot. Martin scored 31 points and went 15-of-15 at the free throw line as his Rockets overcame the Grizzlies in overtime. Zach Randolph contributed 22 points and 17 rebounds for Memphis whose 5-game win streak comes to an end. The Grizzlies seem to struggle with back-to-backs as their energy declined down the stretch, scoring just 22 points in the final quarter and overtime. Luis Scola scooped more than an ice cream shop to the tune of 17 points, 6 of which came in extra minutes after his Rockets rallied from a 14-point deficit earlier in the game. Houston have won the last 10 games if they held their opponent to less than 100 points while Memphis are now a half game behind Portland for the final playoff spot in the West.
Milwaukee’s offense has been about as steady this season as Egypt’s government, as the Bucks continued to struggle with a loss to the Pistons. Shooting just 39%, Andrew Bogut led the way with 18 points and 9 rebounds but the rest of the starters were a combined 14-of-41 as Detroit put the game away with a 12-2 third quarter run. T-Mac scored 20 while Rip Hamilton was brought out of semi-retirement and scored 15 points off the bench. “I thought it was a joke” Hamilton said. No, Rip. The joke is the fact that they still haven’t traded you yet despite you not playing the previous 13 games.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points in three quarters before sitting out the rest of the way with a flared elbow/ego while J.R. Smith picked up the slack with 10 of his 14 points coming in the 4th to carry the Nuggets over Minnesota. The Wolves let everyone through the lane like a security guard close to retirement, giving up 50 points in the paint as Denver shot 54%from the field and 40% from long distance. Kevin Love held the rebounding portion of the evening down pat, with 19 boards in addition to 18 points while Mike Beasley got back on track with 23 points and 5 assists. Bottom line: no stops, no wins for the Wolves. I imagine Kurt Rambis’ whiteboard has a new motivational phrase: “At least we’re not as bad as the Cavs, right?”
Analyzing this game only affirms the notion that the Thunder are on their way up the elite totem pole while the Jazz seem to be stuck in 1st gear. Although the Thunder would shoot a blazing 56% from the field (with an unreal 61% from triple land), Utah started out 11-of-11 from the field, with Millsap (34 points, 10 rebounds) and Jefferson (21 points) doing the most damage inside. After getting a lift from their bench with Maynor scoring a quick 8 points in the 2nd quarter, the Thunder decided to drive and dish for the rest of the game, and it worked. OKC made a season-best 13-of-21 three-pointers, led by Russell Westbrook’s 33 points (4-of-4 from distance) and 10 assists while Durant added 21 points. Westbrook’s last 3-pointer came on a posssession where Jeff Green was motioning that Harden was wide open, but Russ let it fly and smiled with his “I got this” look. After starting out effective (check out the crossover on Harden and wraparound dish to Jefferson in the highlights), Deron Williams finished with just 14 points (on 15 shots) and 11 assists and his Jazz begin to look worn down in the 2nd half while the young Thunder penetrated and detonated from distance. The Thunder continue to grow and mature, showing a veteran poise in close games and an iron will against tough opponents. OKC are now 6-3 on the second night of back-to-back games.
Avenging a 30-point loss to the Bulls earlier in the year, the Warriors relied on their dynamic backcourt to get the win and snap Chicago’s 6-game win streak. Monta Ellis soared for 33 points and 5 assists while Steph Curry added 23 in a game that saw Golden State command the lead with a late 15-0 run into the 4th quarter. Derrick Rose was a quiet 14 points and 10 assists (inefficiency heads will have a field day against him) while Boozer led the Bulls with 21 points and 10 boards. The Bulls looked out of sync for most of the night and led for the last time with 11 minutes to play before failing to defend Golden State’s potent scoring down the stretch (Ellis and Curry scored 13 of the 15 critical points). Random stat of the night: tonight was the first time in 101 games that the Warriors attempted 10 or more free throws (23-13) more than their opponent.
“Check My $tats” of the night: Pau Gasol – 34 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block. Sometimes being selfish is good.
I have an idea for the NBA’s new line of time-travelling “Encouragement” commercials: Greg Oden. “Hey, Greg. Five years from now…actually, you should probably enjoy your basketball life while you still can.”
I’m out like Rip’s emotions.