Post Up: Playing With Fire
A few Eastern Conference teams are red hot.
by Adam Figman | @afigman
Dwight Howard might be the wheels, rims, leather seats, carburetor, alternator, paint job, and some other car parts I’m forgetting, but—from the looks of it—Jameer Nelson is the engine that drives the Magic forward. Without him, they were lost last night, as the Hawks pushed ahead in the fourth quarter and took it home. Both teams shot terribly (Atlanta: 38.8 percent; Orlando: 37.8 percent), though the one percent difference was huge. (Yeah, probably not.) Josh Smith led the Hawks with 19 points (plus 13 boards), while Al Horford added 16. Dwight also had a decent 14 and 13 in his return to the court, but it wasn’t enough. Oh, and if you don’t think SVG’s guys were missing Nelson, check the box score—the entire team combined for 9 assists, and backup-made-starting point guard Chris Duhon had a meager 2.
Now let’s discuss some slightly warmer (read: fiery hot) East Coast squads.
I had a feeling the Knicks were getting thrown under the bus a little too soon early on, but I didn’t see a revitalization quite like this coming. Admit it: Neither did you. Amar’e Stoudemire’s (34 points, 5 boards) offensive onslaught continued, and though he was out-rebounded by Kevin Love (33 points, 15 rebounds), it was New York that jumped ahead with a strong third quarter and then hung on to get the W. The last time these two met, Love beasted with that 31-31 performance, so I guess D’Antoni’s crew will gladly settle for 33 and 15. Other noteworthy Knicks: Raymond Felton scored 18 and dished 11; Danilo Gallinari put in 17, and drained a clutch three that helped seal things up in the final minutes; and rookie Landry Fields scored only 2 but led the team on the glass with 10 boards. Michael Beasley scored 25 for the TWolves, who shot 53.2 percent and started off the contest with a ridiculous hot streak, hitting everything in sight and jumping out to an early lead—but it was eventually squandered quickly in the second half. NYK has now won 10 of 11 (five straight), and will try to extend that streak in Toronto on Wednesday.
Using the Knicks’ take-advantage-of-the-schedule-while-you-can strategy, the Heat have begun surging as well, winning five in a row in convincing fashion. The latest victim was Milwaukee, who shot only 34.6 percent and didn’t stand much of a chance. Dwyane Wade led the charge this time, dropping 25 points (plus 14 boards and 5 dimes) in the effort. LeBron James went for 17, 7 and 6, and Chris Bosh put up a mild 16 and 12 night. The Heat had a strong fourth piece though, with an efficient 18-point, 6-for-6 shooting performance from Carlos Arroyo. When the role players successfully complete their, um, roles, Miami is damn near untouchable. The Heat should have a tougher test on Wednesday, when they travel to Utah to play Deron Williams and friends.
While the media puts the two winners above front and center, nobody will be paying attention to the Pacers, who—though they’ve dropped a few the past week or so—have developed into a strong team with reborn playoff hopes. They handled the Raps easily last night, grabbing a 13-point lead after a quarter and only building on it from there. A well-balanced effort led the way, as all five Indiana starters plus Brandon Rush (26 points) scored in double figures. Shoot 55.3 percent (47-85) from the field and 50 percent (13-26) from three and you’ll be in good position to win against anybody in this League. The Pacers will now travel to Milwaukee to face the struggling Bucks tomorrow night.
In one that I’m sure will rile up this site’s commenters, the Bulls turned a small lead into a big lead in the third quarter and the Thunder simply couldn’t get back into it. The world wanted a Russell Westbrook vs. Derrick Rose showdown, but there was none to be had; Chicago was led by Carlos Boozer (29 points, 12 rebounds), while Kevin Durant (29 points, 14-14 from the line) took the forefront for Oklahoma City. In the point guard sector, DRose shot only 3 for 13 en route to 11 points (he added 9 assists), and Westbrook scored 15 points (with 7 dimes and 3 steals) in the loss. Quality defense, huh? I won’t get involved in the “who’s the best (or second best, or third best) pg in the League” debate, if only because something tells me you guys will take care of that one. Which I appreciate! I’ll be reading and will chime in on occasion. The Bulls are now 11-8, staying ahead of the Pacers—by just a game—for the time being.
Led by Deron (27 points, 8 dimes), the Jazz easily took care of the Grizz, who have now dropped four straight. CJ Miles added 20 off the bench (Sidebar: Who’s the Sixth Man of the Year so far? Anyone else think CJ is in the running?), while big man Al Jefferson went for 12 and 10. Remember that Paul Millsap hype? It died down fast, and his slump continued as he scored 7 on 3-11 from the floor. Zach Randolph (17 points, 14 boards) was a bright spot for the Grizz, who could really use a Knicks-like schedule (no shots!) to get back on track. Coming off the losses to Denver and Utah, they’ve now fallen to 8-14, and are in Phoenix for what should be another tough one Wednesday (#WesternConferenceProblems).
The Clippers dominated the middle two quarters, and held off a late Sacramento run to hang on for the victory. The win is just their fifth, and came behind a great night from Eric Gordon, who scored 29 and distributed 5 dimes. Blake Griffin had a mild 13 and 11, while Kings swingman Omri Casspi went off, leading his crew with 21 points and 10 boards in 34 minutes. Sacto will move on to host Washington Wednesday, while the Clips have an All-L.A. Everything battle against the Lake Show scheduled for tomorrow night.
Performance of the Night: Call me crazy, but I thought the Bulls’ victory was the most impressive, so I’m giving this to Boozer. Chicago’s newest big man had 29 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal.
Moment of the Night: It wasn’t exactly Griffin over Mozgov, but LBJ’s coast-to-coast in Milwaukee seems to represent the current state of the Miami Heat. Can’t stop, won’t…