by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Hawks 88 (9-8), Mavericks 87 (10-7)
Al Horford (17 points, 12 rebounds) came through in the clutch, hitting a jumper with 4.2 seconds left to finish off a methodical comeback by the Hawks. Without sharpshooter Kyle Korver, Atlanta really struggled from distance, shooting 3-15 on 3-pointers. But with Jeff Teague (game-high 25 points, 6 assists) leading the way, the Hawks outscored Dirk Nowitzki (16 points) and the Mavericks 24-12 in the fourth quarter. If Chicago can’t find a way to rebound from losing Rose and the New York squads fail to get over their slow starts, Atlanta might legitimately be the third best team in the East. The most surprising play for the Mavericks came from DeJuan Blair (9 points, 18 rebounds), who dominated a front court that was much bigger than him. Even in the loss, the Mavs can be glad to have some toughness that has seemed to be loss since Tyson Chandler left town.
Clippers 104 (12-5), Kings 98 (4-10) OT
Jamal Crawford (31 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds) is making a case to win Six Man of the Year again, making two free throws in overtime to cap off a 10-0 run. DeMarcus Cousins (25 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks) played well up to the five extra minutes of basketball, when he missed a shot, fouled DeAndre Jordan on an and-one and turned the ball over when it was still a one-possession game. Derrick Williams (12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) started in his first game for the Kings, already looking more comfortable than before. Darren Collison (15 points) filled in for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (21 points, 12 rebounds) had his 10th consecutive double-double, making the case that he is currently a better big man than Cousins. J.J. Redick (13 points) has made at least one three-pointer in every game this season but left this game in the third quarter with an injured right wrist.
Bobcats 92 (8-9), Bucks 76 (2-13)
Al Jefferson (23 points, 12 rebounds, 11-18 from the field) finally gave Charlotte a strong performance that gives reason for his massive contract. Unfortunately, it was against the team with the longest losing streak in the League (11 games). The Bucks continue to look out of sorts, shooting 28-84 from the field as two of their top paid players—OJ Mayo (5 points) and Ersan Ilyasova (0 points)—shot 2-17 from the field. Just as good teams always seem to have someone step up from night to night, the Bucks seem to have someone not show up from night to night. Bismack Biyombo pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds but still has little to no low-post moves in his skill set. Cody Zeller also pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds in only 19 minutes Gerald Henderson (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) might not have the best field goal percentage this season, but has failed to reach double-digits only twice.
Spurs 109 (14-2), Magic 91 (6-10)
San Antonio took control of this game early on and took control without Tony Parker. Midway through the second quarter, Orlando cut the deficit to 41-40 on a Ronnie Price (5 points, 5 assists, 18 minutes) 3-pointer. Up to that point, Aaron Afflalo (17 points) was doing everything he could to keep his team in the game. But with Marco Belinelli (19 points, 6-8 from the field, 4-4 on 3-pointers) having one of his best games of the year, he helped San Antonio go on a 17-0 run that would put this game out of reach for good. Orlando got within 10 on a Nikola Vucevic (12 points, 7 rebounds, 8 turnovers) free throw with 5:50 to go in the third quarter, but the Spurs responded yet again with an 11-2 run, capped off with a Jeff Ayres (4 points, 6 rebounds, 10 minutes) alley-oop dunk. Vucevic and Glen Davis (10 points, 8 rebounds) could only do so much down low as the Spurs outrebounded the Magic 43-28 and had a 44-24 points in the paint advantage. Nine Spurs contributed 6 or more points as this team continues to play some of the best team-ball in the NBA.
Heat 90 (13-3), Raptors 83 (6-9)
The only time Toronto led in this game was 7-6 early in the first quarter. The Raptors were able to cut the deficit to 83-81 with 4:40 to go on a Rudy Gay (Gay won’t allow me to give you his stats) layup; however, the Heat went into one of their modes defensively, forcing the Raptors to shoot 0-6 the rest of the way. (Toronto didn’t help themselves, either, by shooting 2-6 from the free throw line during this time.) LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to score 49 points, grab 13 boards, dish out 9 assists and snag 5 steals on 19-33 shooting from the field. DeMar DeRozan (25 points, 7 rebounds) continued his hot start to the season as Kyle Lowry (15 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 7 turnovers, 5 fouls) was all over the place Friday night. The Heat pushed the ball as they always do, having a 13-2 fast break points advantage.
Celtics 103 (7-11), Cavaliers 86 (4-12)
Boston continued its roller coaster of a season, moving back into the 8th spot in the East. Cleveland, on the other hand, never led in this game and still looks like a mess. The Cavaliers missed 12 of their first 13 shots, ending with only 10 points for the quarter. They trailed by double-digits the rest of the way. Jeff Green (31 points, 5 rebounds) had his best game since taking down the Heat at the buzzer and Brandon Bass (12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) had his best 3-pointer since…well, ever. Kyrie Irving (17 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers) hasn’t been consistent all year, leading to his team’s slow start, and even with all the buzz off the court, Dion Waiters (21 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 6 turnovers) held his own. Jordan Crawford (11 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) had his third career triple-double and Avery Bradley (21 points, 2 steals, 9-11 from the field, 3-4 on 3-pointers) had the hot hand all night long. These two proved to be the better, more efficient backcourt on the night.
Lakers 106 (9-8), Pistons 102 (6-10)
Other than Pau Gasol (13 points, 12 rebounds), no one playing for the Lakers Sunday night is making more than $4 million this season. The Pistons have 6 players making more than $4 million. The Lakers were led by Wesley Johnson (season-high 27 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 9-11 from the field), who is making less than $1 million this season, and 62 points from their lethal bench. These numbers prove that the Lakers have over performed this year while the Pistons haven’t had the start expected from management. Part of the slow start is due to Josh Smith’s (8 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 5 turnovers, 4-16 from the field, 0-4 from the free throw line) erratic style of play and inability to fit into this roster. Nick Young (12 points) took a crucial charge against Smith with 2.7 seconds left to seal the deal. The Lakers found a way to pull out a victory even though the Pistons demolished them down low, having a 76-28 points in the paint advantage. Part of the problem was self-inflicted, as Detroit shot 12-25 from the free throw line, including Jennings (19 points, 9 assists) going 1-3 from the line with 16.7 seconds left in the game. Jordan Hill left the game in the third quarter with an injured left ankle. Andre Drummond (13 points, 11 rebounds) had his 11th double-double of the season and sixth man Rodney Stuckey (22 points), who has failed to reach double-digits only twice this season, is averaging 22.8 points in the last 4 games. Even with all these positive statistics for individuals, until this Pistons team starts playing winning basketball, general manager Joe Dumars’ seat will continue getting hotter.
Rockets 114 (12-5), Nets 95 (4-12)
These two teams made big splashes this past summer, revamping everything about their images. However, one team is surging while the other is floundering. With their fourth consecutive victory, Dwight Howard (12 points, 7 rebounds) and the Rockets led this game wire-to-wire, leading by 32 at one point. Chandler Parsons (game-high 21 points, 6 rebounds, 6-6 on 3-pointers) continues to be one of the most underrated players in the League. With James Harden (9 points, 7 assists, 1-4 from the field) having an off-night, Omri Casspi (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3-3 on 3-pointers) and the also revamped Houston bench came through, scoring 56 points. As a team, the Rockets shot 19-32 (59.4 percent) from deep, having an offense that looks more and more like the one during Howard’s Magic days. Brook Lopez (16 points, 1 rebound) returning to action didn’t do much, as Joe Johnson (5 points, 2-10 from the field), Andray Blatche (0 points, 0-6 from the field) and Paul Pierce (2 points, 1-6 from the field) all looked slow and old. (Also—1 rebound for Lopez…really?) Johnson’s and Pierce’s isolation-heavy style of play is not working in this system right now, and with a new, unexperienced head coach in Jason Kidd, the necessary adjustments aren’t being made to fix this mess. And while Brooklyn has a 2013-14 payroll of over $100 million, their best player on the night was Tyshawn Taylor (16 points, 12 assists), who is making less than 1 percent of this payroll.
Nuggets 97 (9-6), Knicks 95 (3-12)
Similar to the Rockets and Nets game, this matchup consisted of two teams headed in two different directions. New York’s late-game execution was laughable, just as its season has been thus far. Even though they hadn’t held a lead all night, Andrea Bargnani (22 points, 5 rebounds) and the Knicks cut the deficit to 96-93 after Raymond Felton (8 points, 7 assists) set his feet and hit a big 3-pointer with 31.4 seconds left in the game. After the Knicks and Nuggets players fumbled the ball near the sideline, Iman Shumpert (11 points, 7 rebounds) found himself with ball and took it in for an uncontested layup. Ty Lawson (22 points, 8 assists) then hit 1-2 free throws, leaving the Knicks with a good chance to tie this game up. Yes, the Knicks did go to Carmelo Anthony (27 points, 7 rebounds, 8-22 from the field). And yes, all they got was a shot blocked by 6-4 Randy Foye (17 points, 3-8 on 3-pointers). JJ Hickson (13 points, 11 rebounds) had his third double-double this season while Nate Robinson (16 points, 6-11 from the field) picked up a technical foul in the fourth quarter for arguing and looked like the Nate Robinson of Chicago…for better and/or worse.
Pacers 93 (15-1), Wizards 73 (7-9)
Paul George (game-high 23 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) and the Pacers simply took care of business, as they have done all season long. After Trevor Ariza (14 points, 4 rebounds) led the Wizards to a 10-6 lead in the first quarter, Indiana quickly responded, outscoring their opponent 22-8 to finish the quarter. Washington responded by outscoring Indiana 22-15 in the second quarter with Marcin Gortat (17 points, 10 rebounds) holding his own against Roy Hibbert (13 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block). This was only Hibbert’s second game of the season with less than 2 blocks. However, as they have done all year long, the Pacers owned the third quarter, extending their lead back to double-digits. Just as he started to convince many that he had taken that “leap,” John Wall (8 points, 9 assists, 4-14 from the field) regressed in a game when his Nene-less and Beal-less team needed him most. He’ll get a chance to bounce back against the Hawks on Saturday.
Thunder 113 (11-3), Warriors 112 (9-8) OT
With the way these matchups have been going, it might be time to ask the NBA if we can force these two teams to play each other at some point in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook (34 points, 7 assists, 5 steals) came up big all night and made the game-winning shot you have probably seen by now. Behind 11 first quarter points from Harrison Barnes (26 points, 10-15 from the field), who was starting in place of Andre Iguodala, the Warriors found a way to fight off the Thunder’s 6-0 start to the game and trailed 32-28 going into the second quarter. This game remained back-and-forth for the entire night, as neither team led by double-digits at any point. Kevin Durant (25 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists) and Serge Ibaka (18 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks) played their part while all five Warriors starters scored in double-digits and carried the entire load of the team. Until Iguodala comes back, this will be the case most nights. With the dramatic overtime win, Westbrook’s squad remains undefeated at home (8-0) and remains on their winning streak (6 games). Stephen Curry (32 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) was just as electric as his opponent’s point guard but missed his final three shots in overtime.
Pelicans 121 (7-8), 76ers 105 (6-11)
The Sixers certainly get up and down the floor, but they may never play defense again. New Orleans shot 54.8 percent from the field, had 25 fast break points compared the the Sixers 6 and had a field day in terms of open looks. Eric Gordon (season-high 26 points, 7 assists) had his best game of the year and Anthony Davis (22 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) continued doing what he’s been doing down low all season, making a case for Most Improved Player of the Year. He has been the staple in redefining what the New Orleans franchise is all about. Sixth man Ryan Anderson (18 points, 8 rebounds, 4-9 on 3-pointers) has found his role while Philly’s sixth man Tony Wroten (career-high 24 points, 9-13 from the field) wants to take the Most Improved Player of the Year award for himself. Evan Turner (22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) led the way for the Sixers while Michael Carter-Williams (10 points, 10 assists, 5 turnovers) recorded his fifth double-double of the season. With the Sixers losing 7 of their last 8 games, it can officially be said that their hot start has cooled down.
Suns 121 (9-7), Jazz 101 (2-15)
Eric Bledsoe (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) came off the bench Friday night, finally returned from his day-to-day left shin injury. After Utah jumped out to an unexpected 9-0 lead to start the game, with Marvin Williams (team-high 18 points, 7 rebounds) leading the way, Phoenix quickly got back into this game. During the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second, sixth man Markieff Morris (23 points, 8-13 from the field) scored 8 straight points, making jump shots, layups and free throws. Just as surprising as the Suns start has been Miles Plumlee’s (15 points, 10 rebounds). The second-year center, who had his fifth double-double of the season, could be aiming for Most Improved Player of the Year. There’s not much to say about this abysmal Jazz team that is currently winning the Tank for Wiggins sweepstakes. Trey Burke (13 points, 6-14 from the field) snapped his 3-game streak of shooting below 30 percent from the field.