by Adam Figman | @afigman
The Spurs, in the opening night of a three-game road trip, seemed like they might’ve spent a little too much time thinking about their matchup with Boston (tonight) and not enough on the Knicks, who were up first. New York came out firing hot, scoring 72 first-half points and finishing with a 54.9 percent shooting rate. For what it’s worth, San Antonio put up tons of points as well, but the Knicks kept a narrow lead for the majority of the 48 minutes and created some separation in the final stretch. Oddly, with about three minutes remaining and only a 10-or-so point differential, Coach Popovich took out all of his starters, either as a punishment for their weak effort or an attempt to save some energy for tonight’s game. The Knicks were led by the (suddenly) usual three dudes: Wilson Chandler (31 points, 9 rebounds), Amar’e Stoudemire (28 points, 9 rebounds) and Raymond Felton (28 points, 7 assists). They’ll have some solid momentum as they begin a road trip in Phoenix on Friday, and, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be the Celtics right about now. Something tells me the Spurs are coming out real, real serious tonight.
Here’s an interesting element to the way the Heat play: For long stretches of time, they often look like an incredibly average basketball team. You watch a few quarters of this, and you think, Man, with a solid strategy and some great shooting, anyone can beat these guys. Then they turn it on. No group can go on a quick scoring run like these guys can. Not a one. And that’s exactly what they did in the fourth quarter last night, negating three mediocre quarters and earning an easy victory. The W marks 19 of 20 for the Heat, who were led by Dwyane Wade and his 34 points.
As much as Orlando has been winning as of late (six in a row), they still can’t crack the top 3 in the East—and the Bulls are to blame. Chicago has now won five straight (and 14 of 16), and the Raptors just couldn’t keep up against the red hot home team. Luol Deng dropped 24, and six Bulls scored in double figures during the victory.
Don’t really know what’s going on here. The Thunder haven’t really looked bad—they’ve won plenty and are among the top teams in the West (they’re in fifth as I write this)—but it’s hard to watch them on a nightly basis, or look at a couple of the teams they’re behind in the standings, and not think, You know, they could, or should, be better. I won’t speculate as to what exactly the issue is or where the blame should go—maybe you guys have some thoughts—but I’ll definitely be paying attention moving forward. This one was pretty close, but the Grizzlies held the Thunder off in the final minutes, getting huge nights from Zach Randolph (31 points, 16 boards) and Rudy Gay (27 points).
A slightly different story than that Spurs-Knicks game here. In a defensive struggle, the Mavs edged the Blazers and looked as though they found themselves a solid Caron Butler replacement, too. Deshawn Stevenson, that is, who scored 18. Dallas hosts the Thunder tomorrow night in what should be a good one.
The Hawks took a 14-point lead into halftime, and though the Kings threatened in the final minutes—some Tyreke Evans buckets held with that—Atlanta hung on for the win. Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson combined for a cool 60 spot, while Evans led the Kings with 29. I know they need to do what’s best for Tyreke’s health, but given all of these losses, it’s tough to imagine just how bad Sacramento would be if Evans elects to go with season-ending surgery—which, at this point, seems kind of inevitable.
The Lakers might not have solved all of their problems just yet, but they did put them on hold for the time being, cruising to an easy victory against a severely less talent Pistons squad. After a back-and-forth first half, LA came out energized and focused, and their opponents just didn’t stand much of a chance. And I’ll end this shindig with a congrats to Mr. Kobe Bryant, who, with 17 points of his own, passed Dominique Wilkins for 10th on the all-time scoring list. Respect.
Actual Stats: Zach Randolph: 31 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals.
Moment of the Night: Not much went right for the Spurs last night, but they did get a hell of a posterization from DeJuan Blair, who banged on Ronny Turiaf something fierce. Ronny’s frustration led to a chest bump, then a T, but it didn’t help us forget what took place seconds before. Check it: