Biggest Takeaways from Tuesday Night's NBA Action
It was another exciting Tuesday night of action in the NBA. Of the 10 games on the schedule, five came down to the wire, at least two unexpectedly so. The Association was abound with big performances by young guards (Brandon Jennings, O.J. Mayo) and grizzled veterans (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan) alike.
And that's to say nothing of the evening's statistical anomalies. One team pulled out a win despite getting out-rebounded by 28 caroms, while the league saw a pair of triple-doubles from unlikely sources. Two stars—a rookie (Dion Waiters) and a veteran (Pau Gasol)—returned to active duty, with mixed results for their respective squads, while another (Ricky Rubio) sat out for his.
Oh yeah, and LeBron James did some rather LeBron James-like things.
A ho-hum evening, I suppose. That is, if you find it a bore to watch the ordinary and the extraordinary become one and the same on the basketball court.
Jordan Crawford Can Play
An All-Star, Jordan Crawford is not, but the kid can certainly play. The wily wing for the Washington Wizards has been on the NBA radar ever since he dunked on LeBron James at a summer skills camp while still playing at Xavier.
He occasionally plays like the King, too. He posted a LeBron-like triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, while nearly leading the miserable Wiz to an upset of the visiting Atlanta Hawks. It was Washington's first triple-double since April Fool's Day of 2011, when Crawford pulled a comparable feat.
Anyone who thinks it wise to trust Crawford to produce anywhere near this level on a night-to-night basis would be similarly foolish. He's a volume shooter, first and foremost, one whose current shooting numbers (39.5 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from three) are more the norm than the exception. Crawford's the sort of player who needs the ball to be effective, but won't have quite so much freedom if/when John Wall's knees heal up.
In the meantime, though, Crawford deserves credit for making Wizards basketball worth watching, if only from time to time.
Joakim Noah, All-Star at Large
Crawford wasn't the only guy to post an unexpected triple-double on Tuesday. Joakim Noah registered one of his own—the second of his career—to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 100-89 win over the visiting Boston Celtics.
Noah's 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists were accompanied by three blocks, a steal and a well-rounded defensive effort against Boston's paper-thin frontcourt. The multi-skilled big man out of Florida came into the evening averaging career highs in points (13.7) and assists (4.3) along with a strong 10.5 rebounds.
Much of the jump can be attributed to a massive increase in playing time. Noah's averaging an astounding 40.3 minutes per game—second in the NBA, behind only teammate Luol Deng.
The Bulls have needed every one of those minutes to stay afloat sans Derrick Rose this season. Noah's efforts have helped Chicago to build a solid 14-10 record, good enough to lead the Central Division and sit as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Noah's workload figures to lighten once Rose returns. For now, though, he's done an admirable job of being the Bulls' Mr. Everything, and deserves a trip to the All-Star game for it.
The Juice Is Loose
Speaking of should-be All-Stars, O.J. Mayo continues to play his own way to Houston in February. The scoring guard piled up 26 points on just 12 shots along with eight assists, three rebounds and three steals to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 107-100 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
To be sure, the Sixers were once again a short-handed bunch. Jrue Holiday missed his third straight game with a sprained left foot, and Andrew Bynum was in street clothes, as he has been all season.
But it's not as though the Mavs had a full complement, either. Dirk Nowitzki is still out on account of a knee injury, leaving Dallas with little more than a hodgepodge of spare parts picked up over the summer.
Luckily, at least one of them is performing above and beyond his pay grade. Mayo's performance on Tuesday was his 14th of the 20-plus-point variety this season. The Mavs will need Juice to keep shooting the lights out until Dirk gets back.
And even then, they'll need all they can squeeze out of him to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
Hacking: Not Just for Dwight Howard Anymore
There was no shortage of noteworthy takeaways from the San Antonio Spurs' 112-106 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City.
The Spurs fell behind big on the road in the third quarter against an uptempo team for the second time in as many nights. Tim Duncan once again played like he was 10 years younger, tallying a season-high 31 points, 18 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and two steals. Danilo Gallinari finally found his shooting stroke in crunch time.
But all of that pales on comparison to the way that Gregg Popovich's posse employed the Hack-A-Dwight...with Dwight Howard nowhere in sight. The Spurs resorted to intentionally fouling JaVale McGee in the third quarter amidst a 13-point deficit, and rightly so. McGee came into the evening shooting 57.5 percent from the line.
The tactic worked...sort of. McGee missed six of his eight hack-induced attempts, but the Spurs failed to capitalize on the other end.
It was a strange turn of events for JaVale, to say the least. Typically, McGee's the one handling the goofballing.
But, on this night, it was the best coach in basketball using McGee as a pawn in another of his own silly games.
Who Needs Rebounds?
Pat Riley was once known for preaching a simple, time-tested credo—No Rebounds, No Rings.
No more, it seems. His Miami Heat came into Tuesday's action ranked 18th in the NBA in rebound percentage and rebound differential. Yet, they were/are still widely considered a strong bet (if not a lock) to advance to the NBA Finals out of the Eastern Conference to earn an opportunity to defend their title. The Heat could still count on the "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to anchor Erik Spoelstra's floor-spreading small-ball system.
To heck with rebounds. Who needs 'em?
Apparently, not the Heat. They yielded a 28-rebound advantage to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves and still managed to emerge with a 103-92 victory. According to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, Miami's win was just the fourth in 110 attempts in NBA history by a team that gave up a differential on the boards of 28 or more.
For this team, though, the result made perfect sense. LeBron stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, four blocks and a steal. Bosh and Wade combined for 39 points. The Heat, as a whole, scored 25 points off 20 Minny turnovers, pushed the pace for 24 points in transition and nailed 13-of-25 three-point attempts.
Looks like Riles needs a new aphorism.
D-Will Still Not Happy with the Nets
Remember Deron Williams' complaints about his discomfort in the Brooklyn Nets offense? You know...how he's worried about his team's reliance on perimeter isolations and one-on-one post-ups?
Don't expect them to stop any time soon. The Nets managed all of 90 points in a two-point loss to the Utah Jazz. Just 14 of those came by way of D-Will.
Worse still, Brooklyn had a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession and got nary a touch from Williams. Joe Johnson would've done well to pull the Nets even and had enough possession down the stretch to do so.
But, instead, he deferred to Gerald Wallace, who bricked a three from the top that Reggie Evans failed to put back.
Williams seemed to recant his concerns prior to the game, though he might choose instead to take his case directly to Avery Johnson again.
Lakers' Problems Beyond Pau Gasol's Solving
The Lakers welcomed Pau Gasol back into the fold with open arms (and open lanes) against the Charlotte Bobcats. The skilled Spaniard was a shaky shot, but was more spry on his feet after missing L.A.'s last eight games. He finished the game with 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
The rest was business as usual for these Lakers, which is to say, a frustrating mix of poor shot selection and lackadaisical defense. Kobe Bryant had his 30 points, Dwight Howard had his double-double and the defense relinquished another big game to an opposing point guard. This time, it was Kemba Walker lighting up LA for 28 points to go along with seven assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Not to mention 20 points and six assists off the bench from former Laker Ramon Sessions in his first trip back to the Staples Center in a Bobcats uniform. Or the edge Charlotte owned in points in the paint. Or the way the Lakers allowed an 11-point lead in the second quarter to flip into an 18-point deficit in the third.
Clearly, the Lakers still have issues up the wazoo. But hey, Pau is back, Steve Nash will be soon enough...and LA still might be hopeless to slow down pick-and-rolls and dribble penetration.