Post Up: Westbrook’s Monster Return

Russell Westbrook returns in a big way; the Mavs sneak by the Raptors; Portland finally loses.
by November 29, 2014

Bulls 109 (10-6), Celtics 102 (4-9)

The Bulls finally sent out the starting five they envisioned pushing them to a deep run in the Playoffs. Derrick Rose (21 points, 4 assists) finally played a complete game a looked healthy while Jimmy Butler (22 points, 10-12 on free throws) played just as aggressive as he’s been playing without his star point guard. These two make a dangerous backcourt punch, both being initiators of the offense. Down low, Pau Gasol (15 points, 15 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (15 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 blocks) gobbled up plenty of rebounds on their way to double-doubles and helped the Bulls outrebound the Celtics 52-42. These two picked up 10 of their rebounds in a fourth quarter, in which Chicago outscored Boston 24-11. Jared Sullinger (23 points, 10 rebounds) held his own against the Bulls’ big men, while Avery Bradley (18 points, 7-12 from the field) found his touch during this day game. As has seemingly been the case the past few years, if the Bulls can remain healthy, they will inevitably be serious contenders late in the season.

Warriors 106 (13-2), Hornets 101 (4-13)

Stephen Curry (26 points, 6 assists) couldn’t find his shooting touch but found a way to impact this game in a positive manner. Marreese Speights (27 points, 23 minutes) is certainly making a case as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Curry and Speights led the way the entire night while Klay Thompson (17 points, 3-5 on three-pointers) contributed a handful of treys. These three helped lead a 21-6 run in the fourth quarter when the Hornets’ offense stalled, which has happened frequently this season. Charlotte’s early season struggles get worse and worse, as they are now nine games below .500. Brian Roberts (20 points, 8-12 from the field) had a great game off the bench while Kemba Walker (13 points, 13 assists) showed his true point guard abilities. But the glaring issue remains Lance Stephenson (11 points, 8 assists, 6 turnovers). The new Hornet has yet to find his role with Charlotte and is too reckless with the ball. If this team wants to climb out of the bottom of the East, they’ll need Stephenson to look like the Pacers player who almost became an All-Star. The Warriors have now won eight games in a row and face the Detroit Pistons Sunday afternoon.

Hawks 100 (8-6), Pelicans 91 (7-7)

For the second straight game, Anthony Davis (14 points, 11 rebounds, 5-14 from the field) looked human, never finding his touch around the rim with Al Horford (10 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Paul Millsap (13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks) each holding their ground. Point guards Jeff Teague (26 points, 7 assists) and Dennis Schroder (11 points) had a great dynamic and balanced each other well. When these two are clicking, the Hawks offense flows so much better. Swingman DeMarre Carroll (19 points, 6-9 from the field) had one of his best offensive games since returning from injury. The Hawks shot 50.0 percent from the field and the Pelicans only managed to shoot 40.4 percent from the field, as Austin Rivers failed to make any of the eight shots he hoisted. Ryan Anderson (20 points, 7 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday (20 points, 7 assists) were the only Pelicans who consistently made shots on the night. As a team, New Orleans put up a season-low 28 points in the first half, which they couldn’t overcome down the stretch.

Bucks 104 (10-7), Pistons 88 (3-13)

Despite a monster game from Andre Drummond (26 points, 20 rebounds), the Bucks easily won this East matchup due to a big second and fourth quarter. The game remained close throughout the first and third quarter, but Milwaukee outscored Detroit 58-35 during the other two quarters. To start the fourth, Ersan Ilyasova (22 points, 8 rebounds) poured in 10 points during a quick 16-5 that turned a close five-point game into a blowout. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points, 4-9 on three-pointers) tried to keep shooting his team back into this one, but with Josh Smith (13 points, 9 assists, 3 blocks, 6 turnovers, 6-15 from the field, 1-4 on free throws) tossing up bricks and Brandon Jennings (thumb) sidelined, there weren’t enough offensive options for Detroit to compete Friday night. The Bucks didn’t have a single starter in double figures, but thanks to four bench players in double-digits and another with nine points, they took down the Pistons with a balanced attack. Don’t look now, but Jason Kidd’s young, scrappy and long Bucks have won three in a row and are sitting at fourth in the East—only half a game behind the Bulls. It won’t be too long before we can no longer consider this simply a hot, illegitimate start to the season. This might be a potential playoff team.

Mavericks 106 (12-5), Raptors 102 (13-3)

The Mavericks came into this road game without many quality wins on the year, but they certainly earned one Friday night as they pryed the game away from the gritty Raptors. Monta Ellis (30 points, 6 assists, 3 steals) put on a show in the final 12 minutes, having his own 10-0 run that gave the Mavs a 97-83 lead with 2:21 to go. But as the Raptors have been doing all season long, they never stopped fighting. Even without DeMar DeRozan, who left in the third quarter with a strained left groin, Kyle Lowry (25 points, 7 rebounds) kept making clutch long balls and layups, eventually making this a 99-96 game with 33.9 remaining. Ellis, though, continued his huge fourth quarter with some made free throws and another layup. The Mavericks have so many guys who can step up each night that Dirk Nowitzki (15 points, 8 rebounds, 1-7 on three-pointers) can have an off night and his team can still steal a big road win. Defensive specialist Al-Farouq Aminu (14 points) also helped pick up the slack, showing a nice stroke in knocking down two three-pointers. Jonas Valanciunas (8 points, 13 rebounds) and Patrick Patterson each pulled down double-digit rebounds while Amir Johnson (20 points, 9 rebounds) almost joined that group. The Raptors outrebounded the Mavs 55-37, as this has been an early problem for the Mavericks. If they want to continue finding success this season, more Mavs players other than Tyson Chandler (11 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) will need to crash the boards on a consistent basis.

Clippers 102 (10-5), Rockets 85 (12-4)

The Clippers put together one of their most complete games of the season against a quality opponent in the Rockets. Blake Griffin (30 points, 10 rebounds) played like one of the best power forwards in the League, taking advantage of the lack of interior defense with no Dwight Howard (knee). Fellow big man DeAndre Jordan (7 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks) didn’t score as much, but played very well on the defensive side of the court. And on the perimeter, Jamal Crawford (21 points, 2 steals, 4-8 on three-pointers) had another one of those nights when it looks like he could make it from anywhere on the court. After Tarik Black (11 points, 9 rebounds) split a pair of free throws to start the second quarter, the Rockets only trailed 26-25. Then behind plenty of big shots from Crawford, the Clippers used a 11-0 run to take a double-digit lead and lever look back. James Harden (16 points, 6 assists, 5 turnovers, 5-12 from the field) never seemed to find his rhythm in this one, as his Rockets shot 39.0 percent from the field and 10-37 (27.0 percent) on three-pointers. The Clippers have now won five of their last six while the Rockets have split their last six games.

Thunder 105 (5-12), Knicks 78 (4-13)

He’s back. And in a big way. Russell Westbrook (32 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 12-17 from the field) returned from his broken hand Friday night and looked as comfortable as ever. The point guard nailed four of his first five jumpers, had a highlight baseline slam and did it all in only 23 minutes. Even without Durant, Westbrook alone turns this team from a depressing bottom-feeder into a scary team that could sneak into the bottom half of the Playoffs. Derek Fisher had no answer for the point guard he used to back up, and offensively, the Knicks looked lost without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms). While none of the starters reached double-digits, Amar’e Stoudemire (20 points, 9 rebounds, 25 minutes) continued to be the bright spot of the season so far. He has accepted his diminished role and excelled in the process. Unfortunately for STAT, who only missed one of his eight field goal attempts, the rest of his teammates shot a dreadful 22-67 (32.8 percent) from the field.

Pacers 98 (7-9), Magic 83 (6-12)

The Thunder weren’t the only team that a major piece of their starting lineup back Friday night. David West (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 23 minutes) made his season debut and looked fresh in his 23 minutes. They will need his presence down low if they want to climb back into the playoff race. CJ Watson (9 points, 4 assists) also made his season debut off the bench, knocking down all four of his shot attempts. These two clearly help provide some depth for Indiana. Even with these two returning, the star of the game had to be new Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (24 points, 9-15 from the field), who has now reached 20 points in back-to-back games. A key momentum swing of the game came in the third quarter, when the Pacers’ defense looked stout and held the Magic to only 14 points in those 12 minutes. They also outscored Orlando 48-28 in the paint and outrebounded their opponent 53-32. Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks), Tobias Harris (14 points, 4 rebounds) and Victor Oladipo (14 points) all held their own but didn’t get much help from their teammates.

Spurs 112 (11-4), Kings 104 (9-7)

The Kings have been one of the fun, hot teams early on this season, but the stable Spurs took care of their opponent thanks to a huge night from their All-Star point guard. Tony Parker (27 points, 8 assists, 10-17 from the field) set the tone early and often, running this machine to perfection. He received help from Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard (19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals) and third-year big man Aron Baynes (10 points, 5-6 from the field, 14 minutes), who has surprisingly faired well in his increased role. With Tiago Splitter (calf) still sidelines, Baynes has taken advantage and become a reliable contributor off the bench. The Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins, who woke up “feeling sick,” according to head coach Michael Malone. Rudy Gay (23 points, 8 rebounds, 8 steals) stepped up in his absence while Carl Landry (12 points, 10 rebounds) notched a double-double with increased minutes. Sacramento, though, just couldn’t stop the San Antonio machine that kept scoring every time the Kings started to creep closer. The Spurs are one of the best teams in the League at making “timely buckets.” After their rocky start, they have now won nine of their last 10.

Nuggets 122 (8-8), Suns 97 (10-7)

Remember when Denver was 2-7, Brian Shaw was on the hot seat, Kenneth Faried (11 points, 9 rebounds) looked like the bad guy and Ty Lawson (11 points, 10 assists) seemed like the only decent player on the Nuggets roster? That was only 12 days ago. Now, the Nuggets are starting to look healthy, exciting a dangerous team offensively, with Lawson leading the charge. Seven Nuggets scored in double-figures, led by Arron Afflalo (22 points, 11-13 on free throws). The shooting guard incessantly attacked the lane, helping his team shoot 32-36 (88.9 percent) on free throws. The Suns, who were without leading scorer Isaiah Thomas (ankle), actually had plenty of contributors off the bench. Four bench players reached double-figures, led by Gerald Green (12 points). But Eric Bledsoe (16 points, 4 assists) was the only starter in double-digits as Miles Plumlee (0 points, 1 rebound, 17 minutes) epitomized Phoenix’s struggled down low. They have so many different scoring options and energy guys, but the Suns still lack any sort of strong presence in the paint. And the Nuggets took advantage, outrebounding the Suns 58-34. This game was over after 36 minutes, as the Nuggets had scored 33 points in each of the first three quarters and led 99-70.

Grizzlies 112 (14-2), Blazers 99 (12-4)

This game featured two of the best teams in the West with two starting lineups that looked almost identical to last year’s squads. But the Grizzlies’ starting lineup won this game, as all five players reached double-figures, four grabbed at least five rebounds and two dished out nine assists. The Blazers’ nine-game winning streak has now been broken. If the season ended today, Marc Gasol (26 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds) could make a case as the League’s MVP. He represents everything this Grizzlies team is about, affecting the game offensively and defensively. The argument comes in deciding which side of the court he has a larger impact on. His point guard in Mike Conley (21 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) almost picked up a triple-double in the double-digit win. Opposing guards Damian Lillard (20 points, 9 assists, 3 steals) and Wesley Matthews (26 points, 7-12 on three-pointers) led the way for the Blazers, but they had three players who played at least 10 minutes and failed to score any points. After the first 12 minutes, the Blazers actually led 25-23 and went on to hold a 35-32 lead with 6:53 left in the second quarter. Thanks to some big shots from Quincy Pondexter (10 points) and Jon Leuer (7 points) right before halftime, Memphis took a 52-43 lead into the locker room. The Grizzlies really lock down when they close out quarters so well. They built their lead in the third quarter and never looked back. With the Raptors’ loss, the Grizzlies are now in sole possession of the best record in the NBA.

Lakers 119 (3-13), Timberwolves 120 (4-10)

Kobe Bryant (26 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 10-18 from the field) had one of his most efficient games of the season, but he couldn’t make the most important shot of the night. After a tight game throughout with neither team leading by more than 11, the Lakers trailed 120-119 with 2.8 seconds to go after Thaddeus Young (22 points, 8-13 from the field) knocked down a free throw. Nick Young (16 points) committed the bad foul that sent the other Young to the line for the crucial free throw. Coming out of the timeout, Bryant received the inbounds pass at the top of the three-point line and fired away from straight on…and missed. The injury-ridden Timberwolves received a major boost from veterans Mo Williams (25 points, 11 assists) and Young. But the story of the night for Minnesota had to be Zach LaVine (28 points, 5 assists, 11-14 from the field, 2-2 on three-pointers, 25 minutes), who torched every Lakers defender thrown at him. LaVine did a little bit of everything scoring-wise, showing his high ceiling if he starts to find his consistency and shooting touch. It looks bad for both of these teams right now, but Minnesota certainly has plenty of growing and maturing potential.