Tuesday night was a short one in the NBA, though the sweetness of it depends on your perspective.
If you like watching talented juggernauts fall, it was a good night. The Miami Heat and the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers both suffered road losses, at the core of which were troubling implications for the season going forward.
Indeed, the schadenfreude across the basketball world was palpable.
It was also a good night if you enjoy seeing teams from the middle of the country succeed. The Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves all triumphed over teams with more coastal orientations.
And if you prefer to be done watching basketball before 11:00 p.m. Eastern (8:00 p.m. Pacific), then the second Tuesday of the New Year was good for you, too. Just five games comprised the evening's slate, and none started later than a few minutes past 8:00 p.m. on the Eastern seaboard.
Still, each game offered something intriguing to consider in the days, weeks and months going forward.
If rebounding were all that mattered in basketball, Reggie Evans would rank among the best players in the NBA.
As it stands, the guy knows his role and performs it exceedingly well. The bearded big man ripped down an astounding 23 rebounds in 27 minutes as a starter for the Brooklyn Nets in the team's 109-89 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The occasion marked Evans' 14th double-double of the season, despite this being only his 10th start.
Evans' exploits on the boards are hardly surprising. He came into the evening leading the NBA in rebounding percentage (i.e. the share of misses a player rebounds while he's on the floor).
Reggie's long been a rebounding specialist and has slid into that role quite comfortably with the Nets. He's averaging 8.3 rebounds in just 21 minutes a night, while scoring just 3.2 points per game. Evans actually managed to undercut his scoring average on Tuesday, with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Thanks in no small part to Evans' efforts, the Nets came away with their fourth win in a row and their sixth in seven tries under P.J. Carlesimo.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist (or a basketball savant, even) to figure out that the Miami Heat prefer to play high-scoring basketball. They came into the evening ranked third in offensive efficiency (points per possession) and second in three-point percentage.
Nor is an advanced degree required to decipher that Miami struggles when the pace of play slows and the importance of rebounding is magnified. The Heat stood 21st in rebounding differential and 20th in rebound percentage and were 0-4 when failing to top the 90-point mark.
Make that 0-5 after Tuesday's eight-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, in which Miami mustered a season-low 77 points. The Heat were outrebounded by the startling margin of 55-36, albeit by one of the top five glass-cleaning teams in the league.
Nonetheless, the fact that the Heat continue to struggle mightily in board-oriented, grind-it-out games—and that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade haven't been able to bail them out—doesn't bode well for this team going forward. What happens when Miami gets to the postseason and the pace of play slows and they can't keep the opposition off the glass in crucial moments?
Of course, it's still only January—the Heat have plenty of time to get their act together and play some hard-nosed ball.
Still, the weaknesses in Miami's small-ball scheme are glaring and will likely remain so unless this team finds the proper "on" switch for defense and rebounding.
Is your team down in the dumps? Has it lost game after game while attempting to escape a disappointing rut?
Never fear. If you want to turn your season around, just fire your coach. Or agree to a mutual parting of ways, or something.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the third team to make a coaching change this season. Scott Skiles vacated his post ahead of the team's matchup with the Phoenix Suns on Monday in a move that, according to David Aldridge of NBA.com, had been coming for some time.
And, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets before them, the Bucks commemorated their coaching change by having an assistant (Jim Boylan) take over as the interim coach and lead his team to victory.
It certainly helps that the opponent in question was the Suns, who now stand at 12-24 after the 108-99 defeat. Even so, kudos to the Bucks for snapping their four-game skid and moving back over the .500 mark.
To their credit, they didn't have to fire their coach outright to make it happen. Just make him hate the team so much that he bows out.
Good news for the Lakers: Dwight Howard's labrum is "only" separated, not torn. Pau Gasol hasn't been cleared to play in the wake of his concussion, but should return to action relatively shortly. And Jordan Hill should be back next week after recovering from a hip injury.
Bad news: the NBA didn't decide to allow the Lakers to postpone their games until all their players got healthy.
Which means that any result between now and then—"then" being that elusive day when L.A.'s stars are all fit to play at once—is bound to be compromised to some extent.
Pitting this short-handed squad against the red-hot Houston Rockets didn't help matters. The Lakers shot out to an 18-4 lead in the first quarter, but were ultimately undone by the young legs, perimeter scoring and attacking style of the Rockets, who won handily, 125-112. The loss was the Lakers fourth in a row, while Houston won its 10th game in its last 12 outings.
And, really, it was all too predictable in the end. Without a shot-blocker inside to protect the rim, the Lakers were helpless to stop the Rockets' penetration. Houston finished with 60 points in the paint and shot 55.2 percent from the field overall.
James Harden and Jeremy Lin combined for 50 points and 14 assists, Carlos Delfino burned the Lakers for five threes and...well, the list goes on.
The point is, the Lakers stink right now. Losing three giants doesn't change that, and the schedule will do them no favors.
Remember when the Atlanta Hawks looked like a threat to steal a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference?
Yeah, me neither.
A 108-103 road loss to the Kevin Love-less Minnesota Timberwolves dropped the Hawks into a virtual tie with the surging Indiana Pacers for the No. 3 seed in the East. The defeat was Atlanta's third in a row and fourth in its last five games since climbing to a season-high 10 games above the .500 mark.
Atlanta's offense came back online in Minneapolis, but the defense continued its slow regression toward the mean. The Hawks surrendered 13 offensive rebounds and 50 points in the paint and managed to force a mere 10 Minnesota turnovers.
It didn't help, either, that Atlanta fell behind by as many as 16 points in the first half before finally putting up a fight in the end.
Chances are, the Hawks will settle in as the fourth or fifth seed in the East by season's end, and this rough patch is simply a reckoning with that reality. Still, if the Hawks are to soar again, they'll need to get back to playing the smothering D that got them so close to the top of the Eastern Conference in the first place.
They also need to hope that Devin Harris, currently sidelined by a foot injury, isn't the key to their turnaround.