Post Up: Tough To Beat

by December 30, 2012

by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz

Last night, the Warriors continued their dominance at home, the Bobcats losing streak rolled on and James Harden lost to his old team.

Hornets (7-23) 98, Bobcats (7-23) 95
After a 7-5 start, the Bobcats have turned into their old selves. It appeared they were headed for mediocrity this season—a big step up from the awfulness they produced in 2011-12, but that’s no longer the case. With Saturday’s loss at home against a Hornets team which is pretty bad, too, Charlotte has dropped 18 straight.

The Bobcats held a lead early in the fourth and had a chance to win it late. They trailed by nine with 47 seconds remaining, but a quick 5-0 run got them back in it. After Eric Gordon, who finally made his season debut, split a pair of free throws, Hakim Warrick made a pair, cutting the deficit to three. It remained that way with five seconds left, when Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions each missed game-tying three-point attempts for Charlotte.

Eric Gordon shined in his return, making 5/13 shots from the floor and 12/14 from the line in 23 minutes. He finished with 24 points, 7 boards and 2 steals. It’s the exact kind of line we can expect from a healthy Gordon, and he’s capable of even more if he can consistently handle 30+ minutes. Anthony Davis scored just 8 points, but grabbed 10 boards and blocked 3 shots. Ryan Anderson scored 19 off the bench.

The Bobcats wasted a great effort from second-overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who, facing the first overall pick in Davis, may have been playing with a chip on his shoulder. He connected on 11-of-14 shots for 22 points, and added 9 boards and 2 blocks. Kemba Walker added 19 and Warrick, who was traded from New Orleans to Charlotte earlier this season, double-doubled with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawks (19-9) 109, Pacers (17-13) 100
Atlanta pulled away late  in the third quarter last night, going on a 16-6 run to open up a 16-point lead. Indiana made a strong push late, cutting the deficit to three with 5:18 to play, but the Hawks held them off.

Lou Williams was the high-man with 21, and added a big 12 assists in 38 minutes as a starter. Al Horford continued to play well. He scored 20 points (10/13), grabbed 6 boards and handed out 6 assists. Kyle Korver also stayed hot. The sharpshooter finished with 16 points on 4 threes. He added two steals, and has scored 29 points with 5 steals over two games for Atlanta this weekend.

David West was big for Indiana, making 11-of-18 shots for 29 points. He’s averaging over 17 points per game this year, and has definitely stepped up with Danny Granger still sidelined. Paul George posted 18 points, 9 boards, 8 assists, 2 steals and 5 turnovers—the most of any player in the game. He’s typically more careful with the rock, and has developed into a scary player for the Pacers.

He’s averaging around 16.5 points, 7 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2 threes per game this season. He’s gotten progressively beter, and is already one of the East’s top shooting guards (Wade’s still number one, but take your pick between George, Ellis and Joe Johnson for second-best).

Lance Stephenson was solid once again, scoring 13 points with 5 rebounds in 32 minutes. He’s turning into a sweet find for the Pacers.

Raptors (11-20) 123, Magic (12-18) 88
The Magic’s run as a shockingly-pretty-good team might be over. Once a solid 12-13 after four straight wins, they’ve now lost five in a row and face the Heat on Monday, followed by the Bulls and Knicks at home before a west coast road trip sends them to Portland, Denver and LA (Clippers)—brutal. This has a Bobcats-ian losing streak written all over it.

Last night, they were dominated by a bad-but-sort-of-talented Raptors team. DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 21 points on 14 shots. Jose Calderon started over Kyle Lowry (16 & 6), and finished with 15 points and 10 assists in 24 minutes. Toronto was pretty good with Calderon running the show, but he’s been getting kicked aside for Lowry. Lowry’s a very good player, but Toronto has to figure out how to play the two guards together or move one of them.

On the bright side for Orlando, rookie Andrew Nicholson had a big game. He shot 10-for-14 from the field, and finished with 22 points and 7 boards. Nikola Vucevic went for 8 points and 9 rebounds. JJ Redick was terrible—2/12, 9 points in 27 minutes.

Even worse, Hedo Turkoglu (remember him?), who hadn’t played since the Magic’s season opener, played 23 minutes and was a team-worst -37 on the floor. He made 3-of-8 shots with 5 boards and 3 assists. He could be an interesting guy to watch around the trade deadline if he picks his game up.

Nets (16-14) 103, Cavaliers (7-25) 100
The Nets won their second game in two nights on Saturday, but it wasn’t pretty. They led big early on, but let the Cavs hang around. Brooklyn led by 11 early in the fourth, but the Cavs pulled within one on a Kyrie Irving jumper with 5 seconds left. After a pair of Joe Johnson free throws, an Irving three was just off the mark, ending the game. Considering the Nets fast start (34-24 in the first quarter) and recent firing of Avery Johnson, that could have been a terrible loss.

Brook Lopez was huge, scoring 35 points on 20 shots with 11 rebounds and a block. He’s piled up 32 rebounds in his last three games, and 72 over his last seven. New coach PJ Carlesimo will get the credit for Lopez’s seemingly new-found rebounding skills, but the improvement really started under Johnson.

Deron Williams went for 15 points and 7 assists. Reggie Evans pulled down 10 boards in 22 minutes, but, far more amazingly, made 5-of-6 free throws.

CJ Miles exploded for Cleveland, making 8-of-10 from deep and 11-of-15 overall for 33 points in 34 minutes off the bench. He’s another guy that a wing scorer-needy team (Lakers?) could look to around the trade deadline. Tristan Thompson had a big night too, going for 17 points, 15 boards and 2 blocks. He’s developed into a nice rebounder this season and has been great since Anderson Varejao went down. Tyler Zeller (12 & 7) was good too, and it looks like a great time for the Cavaliers to move Varejao elsewhere for some younger players or picks.

Bulls (16-12) 87, Wizards (4-24) 77
The Roseless Bulls are just four losses behind the amazing Knicks (so are the Bucks, by the way). That’s pretty impressive. They’ve done it by just playing well enough to win.

They’re silently 7-5 on the road—giving them a better win percentage than Miami and New York away from home. If Rose comes back and plays well, they’ll have a chance to do some real damage in the Playoffs.

Last night, playing in Chicago, they got 17 points from Marco Belinelli, 15 and 12 from Carlos Boozer and 10 points, 7 dimes and 6 boards from Kirk Hinrich. It wasn’t the prettiest offensive performance (39.1 percent overall), but they forced the Wizards to shoot below 37 percent.

Washington’s leading scorer was Bradley Beal, who scored 14 points on 15 shots. Emeka Okafor has been coming around lately, and posted 11 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks. Garrett Temple led the Wiz in minutes and shot 3-of-11 with 4 turnovers, so that should tell you all you need to know about this one.

Grizzlies (19-8) 81, Nuggets (17-15) 72
Sometimes the Nuggets just don’t have it going. Last night they didn’t have it going. The team’s high scorers were Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, who each scored 12 points. Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson combined to shoot 3-for-15. Kenneth Faried was limited to 4 rebounds.

Still, though, they led by three points entering the fourth quarter. But the Grizz second unit, featuring Marreesee Speights, Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless, put the home team up two with under six minutes to play. From there, Memphis closed the game on a 13-6 run.

The Grizzlies won on the glass and held Denver to a 17:16 assist-to-turnover ratio. Rudy Gay led the team with 19 points. Speights went for 8 points and 10 boards in 16 minutes, and Ellington knocked down a pair of threes.

Thunder (23-6) 124, Rockets (16-14) 94
With four minutes left in the second quarter, a Jeremy Lin three-point play cut a Thunder lead to two. From then until the end of the half, OKC outscored Houston 16-0, and took an 18-point lead into the break. They stayed hot in the third quarter and made this a blowout.

Russell Westbrook was Oklahoma City’s high-scorer. He went for 28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals. Kevin Durant knocked down 8-of-18 shots for 26 points with 3 steals and 2 blocks. Nick Collison double-doubled off the bench. Reggie Jackson has completely stolen the backup point guard gig from Eric Maynor. Jackson was a +12 in 18 minutes, while somehow Maynor was a -4 in 5 minutes in a game that the Thunder won by 30.

James Harden dropped 25 points on his old team, though he made just 6-of-17 shots. All of the damage came in the first three quarters, as he sat out the final period because of the big deficit. Marcus Morris played a great game—24 points, 6 boards and 4 threes.

OKC won the rebounding battle by 17, committed two fewer turnovers (despite coughing the ball up 22 times), scored more points in the paint and hit more field goals, threes and free throws. Tough to lose a game like that.

Timberwolves (14-13) 111, Suns (11-20) 107
The Suns had a good chance at a road win last night, but couldn’t deliver. They led by one with under six minutes to play, but after a pair of Kevin Love free throws they never regained the lead. They had the ball down three with eight seconds left, but coughed it up in the final seconds.

Love finished with 23 points and 18 boards—the usual. Nikola Pekovic was big with 28 points and 11 boards. Ricky Rubio didn’t play because of back spasms, so Alexey Shved started instead, and went for 12 points and 10 dimes. Minnesota has a very strange roster, but it’s been working pretty well so far.

Luis Scola led all scorers with 33 points for the Suns. He made 16-of-26 shots from the field, and also grabbed 10 boards. He’s a really good offensive player if given a chance to be. Goran Dragic tallied 16 points, 13 assists and zero turnovers. Shannon Brown scored 21.

Bucks (16-12) 104, Heat (20-8) 85
After dropping Friday’s game in Detroit, you had to figure the Heat would come out strong and beat a Milwaukee team with a solid record but history of occasionally not showing up. That wasn’t the case.

The Bucks led by 12 points at halftime, though that lead was erased in the third quarter. Miami turned a 56-44 deficit into a 64-60 advantage in under eight minutes. But Milwaukee held their ground, and trailed by just two after three quarters.

The Bucks caught fire in the early fourth, exploding for a 26-5 run. They maintained that lead for the remainder of the game, and knocked off the defending champs in impressive style.

Brandon Jennings made 8-of-16 shots for 25 points, and tallied 7 assists, 4 steals and 2 threes. Larry Sanders played like he has all season, and finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. He’s my pick for Most Improved Player so far.  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute went for 19 and 7.

The Heat got a combined 50 points on 39 shots between LeBron James and Dwyane wade. However, Chris Bosh made just 5-of-14 shots, and Ray Allen shot 1-of-6. Miami won the rebounding battle, but committed an astounding 21 turnovers compared to Milwaukee’s five. LeBron gave it away six times, and Bosh, Wade, Allen, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole each joined him with multiple giveaways.

Blazers (15-14) 89, 76ers (14-17) 85
This game was very close throughout, though Portland had an edge for the entire second half. Philly had the ball down three with 45 seconds left, but couldn’t execute late in the game.

The Blazers were led by Nicolas Batum (22, 7 boards, 8 assists), Damian Lillard (20 points) and JJ Hickson (16 & 13). They hit four more threes and four more free throws than the Sixers on the night.

Jrue Holiday led Philadelphia with 29 points. He made 13-of-23 shots and just missed a triple-double with 9 boards and 9 assists. Spencer Hawes made just 2-of-10 shots, but finished with a double-double. Both teams have exceptional young point guards.

Warriors (21-10) 101, Celtics (14-15) 83
Golden State led by 17 at the break, but that was cut to single-digits to start the fourth quarter. They were able to re-open a big lead, though, and didn’t have to sweat much in the last few minutes.

Stephen Curry and David Lee each scored 20 or more points. Strangely, Lee grabbed just 5 rebounds but the Warriors still won on the glass. Harrison Barnes had 15 points and 8 rebounds, while Festus Ezeli rejected five shots.

The Warriors made a ridiculous 12-of-19 from downtown, and shot 52.1 percent overall. Boston shot just 36 percent from the field. The Warriors have been awesome all season long, and they were much, much better than the Celtics last night. Granted Rajon Rondo was not playing so Boston gets something of a free pass, but every night Golden State looks more and more like a legitimate playoff team. They could be a very tough first-round draw for a top Western Conference team.

Courtney Lee led Boston with 18 points. Paul Pierce and Jeff Green combined to shoot 6/31.