Biggest Takeaways from Wednesday Night's Suspenseful NBA Action
Some League Pass nights are more exciting than others, and Wednesday night was one of the good ones. Four games were decided by three points or fewer, and that's not even including one game that went into double overtime.
We also saw a lot of Western Conference playoff hopefuls face off Wednesday night. Utah tried their luck against the reinvigorated Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets and Lakers tried to prove who between them has been more disappointing this season. Houston and Minnesota showed flashes of what could be exciting, ascendent basketball in a down-to-the-wire game that involve hype magnets Ricky Rubio and James Harden.
J.R. Smith: Sloppy Closer
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J.R. Smith was roundly ridiculed for taking a pressure shot on Christmas that perhaps should have gone to Carmelo Anthony. A day later, with Anthony out with a hyperextended knee, Smith reminded everyone of why he's confident in taking heavily contested jumpers with the game clock screaming.
It is Smith's second incredible game-winner this season. Some of you may remember a similar feat off the dribble against the Charlotte Bobcats:
J.R. Smith's biggest flaw is that he can't differentiate a good shot from a bad one. But buzzer-beaters are often terrible shots, no matter who's doing the taking. So if your team needs someone to succeed taking an awful attempt, Smith is probably best suited to coming through.
That Lakers Defense Isn't Fixed
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For all the talk of Princeton offense, triangle offense, D'Antoni's system and Steve Nash, L.A.'s biggest problem tended to get obscured: This team can't guard right now.
Los Angeles entered Wednesday's game against the Nuggets as the 15th-ranked defensive team. I have not calculated Thursday's defensive efficiency ratings, but I'm guessing that the 126 points ceded to Denver won't help the Lakers much there.
Nash and MWP have no answer for the Lawson/Gallo pick-and-roll.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) December 27, 2012
Pick-and-roll defense against speedy guards—it's been plaguing Los Angeles for a while, probably since back to when the team was in Minnesota. It was also something that Dwight Howard was supposed to fix.
Unfortunately, Dwight is still gimpy and L.A.'s defensive lapses still nag them. This looks like a fringe playoff team right now, but nothing more.
Los Angeles did make a spirited fourth-quarter comeback before an errant Metta World Peace layup led to a Denver three-pointer on the other end. This was Denver's game to lose, which shouldn't have been a surprise. L.A. had a tall order in handling a back-to-back at altitude, right after a nationally televised dogfight with the New York Knicks.
Even though this was a tough one for the Lakers to win, the lack of defensive play is concerning.
Warriors Look Like a Playoff Team
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The Warriors crushed the Jazz in Utah, and the 94-83 score doesn't accurately speak to how lopsided the victory was. Though it's only one game on an 82-game schedule, the GSW victory felt like it carried more import. The Jazz were a playoff team last year, and the Warriors are perpetually desperate to get back to the postseason.
Golden State had hit a rough skid, recently dropping games to the Kings and Lakers. A few more L's and the Warriors would go from fifth place to clawing and scrapping for their lives in an insanely competitive conference.
By so thoroughly besting a healthy Jazz team, the Warriors showed that they appear to indeed be a playoff squad in 2012-13, while the Jazz have a slim chance at the postseason. Utah's ultra-big frontcourt was enough last year, but this season has seen improvements from Golden State, Houston and Minnesota.
Utah better hope the Lakers never get it together, or it's going to be a long season in Salt Lake.
Stephen Curry continues his funny trend of hitting better from outside than inside. He went 4-of-7 on threes and 3-of-11 on twos, with one of the twos coming in the form of a no-look flailing layup.
Even When Winning by 13, Miami Plays Down to the Competition
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I don't believe in trap games, but some thought that Charlotte might beat Miami a day after a more important Heat win over Oklahoma City. Though the Heat started off by running up a lead on the Bobcats, Charlotte made the "trap game" theory seem plausible with a second-half surge that put the game in doubt by the fourth quarter.
Then, LeBron James continued his hot streak from deep by nailing two three-pointers with under seven minutes to play. The Heat took it from there, stretching the lead to 13 by the buzzer:
LeBron is unreal. His stupid 3s keep going in.— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) December 27, 2012
It's hard to tell a bad three from a good three with James lately. LeBron is hitting a shade under 43 percent of his long tries this season. That figure should regress to the mean some, but if he finishes the season anywhere close to this number, then free throws (70.3 percent) are the lone weakness in his game.
The Only Exciting Pistons-Hawks Game in Recent Memory
Not everybody was impressed with Atlanta for winning at home in two overtimes versus the lowly Detroit Pistons:
Whoever wins the Hawks-Detroit game, the Hawks still lose— J. Doug Hatings (@basquiatball) December 27, 2012
Granted, nobody brags about sweating one out against Detroit, but the Pistons have been better of late. While "only the ninth-worst point differential in our conference" isn't the best slogan, Detroit has made the trek from "embarrassingly horrendous" to "respectably mediocre."
Rookie Andre Drummond has been a big factor in moving Detroit from bad-horrendous to mediocre. The young big man had 16 points on nine shots, with 12 rebounds, while playing many of the crunch-time minutes.
The game would have been sealed up had Horford made a go-ahead free throw at the end of the fourth, or if Smith had made a game-winner at the end of the first overtime.
Atlanta actually got good performances from their main guys. Josh Smith had 31 points and Al Horford had 22, with both shooting over 50 percent. It's just hard to beat long Austin Daye three-pointers sometimes, I suppose.