Biggest Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action
Another bout of Linsanity is upon us as Jeremy Lin visited his old team. The New York media tends to crowd out all other noise on nights like this.
There were other games, trust me on this.
We had a gritty, brutal, brawl of a game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls. The Oklahoma City Thunder faced off against the San Antonio Spurs for Western Conference supremacy. We also had a second Ricky Rubio sighting against a strangely competent Orlando Magic team.
See? We don't need the Lakers or Heat for a storyline-laden night of NBA action. We may, however, need different combinations of teams for more competitive games. There wasn't a close contest in the bunch on Monday.
5. Clippers Cruise
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The Los Angeles Clippers have won 10 games in a row, after downing the Detroit Pistons 88-76. The other Los Angeles team even evoked praise from the often critical (but always intelligent) expert NBA gambler Haralabos Voulgaris:
Clips look real good right now, not a fan of them tossing alley oops off the backboard when they could dribble out game clock, but good team—Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) December 18, 2012
Lob City just can't contain itself, going for fancy alley-oops when the game could still be lost. When it comes to L.A.'s streak, I have these words of warning: The win streak has come against tomato-can opponents.
It won't always be so easy.
4. Orlando's Magic
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The Magic won yet another game, besting the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-93. They're confounding prognosticators everywhere in skirting a .500 record. In the larger picture, ESPN has their playoff odds slated above the Lakers chances.
That's right, there's a very real possibility that Orlando makes the playoffs and Dwight Howard's current team doesn't.
Orlando continues to do it with defense, holding Minny to a mere 40.6 percent from the field. It's why this Magic team is flying under the radar right now: They have no standout offensive performers, and the wins are coming at the less glamorous end of the floor.
Regardless of how the wins are coming, Jacque Vaughn deserves Coach of the Year if Orlando makes the postseason.
3. Bulls vs. Bears: A Battle of Vicious Creatures
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This was a beautifully ugly 80-71 game. It was also a completely predictable outcome.
Both teams struggled to drive against wheat-thresher defenses; the Bulls shot 37.3 percent from the floor, the Grizzlies shot 37.5.
In the end, Memphis triumphed because Mike Conley was able to convert difficult shots. The game served as a reminder that both squads boast impressive defenses but struggle to run an effective offense.
Memphis looked much improved on offense earlier in the season, but team "grit and grind" has ground to a halt, falling out of the top 10 in offense efficiency (via ESPN). For the Grizzlies to have playoff success, they must improve their offense by trade or by strategic tweak.
2. Lin's Revenge
While I would characterize this as Jeremy Lin's revenge, he certainly wasn't vengefully tweeting after the game ended:
Had a fun time back at MSG tonight...lots of great memories!! Thx to all the fans who showed out. All glory to God! twitter.com/JLin7/status/2…
—Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) December 18, 2012
Jeremy was on point in his return, putting up 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting to go along with eight assists. He was decisive and aggressive, even after getting walloped by Tyson Chandler. It also helped Lin that Iman Shumpert remains out with an injury:
Lin basically said that Shumpert was Knicks' key absence tonight. Can't argue w/ how NYK couldn't contain Lin + Harden on the perimeter.
—John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) December 18, 2012
Monday night was a reminder of Lin's capability, if not an insight as to what he could accomplish at Madison Square Garden. He's a talented player and should not be simply dismissed as a flash in the pan.
He's shot horribly this season, but if Lin can improve his jumper, that 2011-12 hype will be justified.
1. Oklahoma City Runs the West
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Admit it, you thought they'd fall off this season.
After the Dwight Howard and James Harden trades, many had Los Angeles winning the West. When the Lakers stumbled out the gate, the Spurs and Grizzlies were looked to as front-runners.
From the confusion, the Thunder have emerged, looking better than ever. Serge Ibaka crushed San Antonio, thrashing the Spurs to the tune of 25 points and 17 rebounds.
Now that OKC's Big Three has come to include Ibaka, he's been playing outstanding ball. I expected his improvement to come on the defensive end, but he's instead becoming an offensive force.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had quiet nights, going for a combined 12-of-31. In the past, off nights may have doomed Oklahoma City. That is not the case anymore.