10 Biggest Takeaways from Sunday's NBA Action
Sunday night's NBA action capped off a weird, wild weekend of round ball, and it included a stellar performance by Tim Duncan, an actual win by the Los Angeles Lakers, and some big fourth-quarter basketball.
With the Lakers finally getting a win under their belts after a long layoff, a strange admission from Carmelo Anthony, the return of a much-needed piece for the Denver Nuggets, and a bum foot from an important piece in Indiana, there's a lot to talk about.
I could go on and on about the individual games and what made most of them as exciting as they were, but what seems most important is to tease out exactly what mattered, and what each of those important pieces from the day will mean.
There's a lot to get to, so there's no reason for any more delay. Let's go ahead and take a look at what made the cut for the most important happenings over the long day of basketball on Sunday.
Who Needs Food?
In what was perhaps the strangest admission we've heard from an NBA player in quite a while, Carmelo Anthony told reporters after New York's 100-87 win over the New Orleans Hornets that he has fasted for the past two weeks.
I haven’t had a good meal in about two and a half weeks. No meats, no carbs, anything like that. So I don’t know how I was out there competing at high level. It’s been some games this past week where your body just feels depleted out there and you’re trying to find a way to get some energy.
Anthony has done this during the course of the season before, and he's explained in the past that he's not abstaining from sustenance altogether. Rather, he's on what's called a "Daniel Fast"—abstaining from meat, fish, breads and sweets.
It's crazy to think about an athlete playing at a high level without proteins and carbs, but Anthony kept up his scoring over the 15-day period. Carmelo averaged 32 points per game over the stretch (six games), but shot a relatively low 42 percent.
P.J. Carlesimo Makes Deron Williams a Better Shooter
It's been over two weeks since the Brooklyn Nets fired Avery Johnson, and P.J. Carlesimo is looking like a genius, as the Nets are 7-1 since.
Even better, Deron Williams has turned a corner as far as his shooting woes go, averaging 17.5 points on just under 45 percent shooting with his new head coach.
In the process, the Nets have gone from a mediocre 15-14, to a pretty darn good 22-15 after Sunday's 97-86 win over Indiana. It seems to be a combination of things keeping Deron's shooting up over the course of the past eight games.
Strictly speaking, there has been a lot more picking-and-rolling going on in Brooklyn, which has led to more offensive spacing, and a few more open shots and shots at the rim for Deron.
However, I'm not going to rule out the fact that not having to listen to Avery Johnson squeak away every day doesn't have something to do with it.
Wilson Chandler's Return Was Insanely Encouraging
Wilson Chandler was one of the few NBA players to spend the majority of the 2012 season playing ball in China, so when he returned last season, we only got to see a handful of games from him. There was a lot to be desired.
At the start of this season, there was a lot of encouraging reports about Chandler, and it seemed like he was on pace to come back and help the Nuggets immensely.
Chandler had hip surgery over the summer, however, and he played just three games before the team decided to sit him until he was deemed well enough to play.
In his return against the Golden State Warriors, a 116-105 Nuggets win, he was downright stellar.
Not only did he help jump-start Golden State's tremendous fourth quarter (more on that later) with two steals and two points, but he ended the game with 14 points, six rebounds, an assist and three steals.
Lance Stephenson Has Become Unbelievably Important for Indiana
I say Stephenson is unbelievably valuable to Indiana mostly because it seemed as if he was relatively useless before this season. Until the guy shooting 36 percent and 11 percent from downtown ended up becoming an efficient scorer and a pretty good defender, almost overnight.
Lance Stephenson exited Indiana's loss to the Brooklyn Nets with an injured right foot in the second quarter.
At that point, the Pacers were up 49-46, but watched as they saw the lead swing 14 points in the other direction in the second half.
Now, it would be silly to point to Stephenson's absence as the sole reason as to why the Pacers lost, but they missed him.
Without Stephenson, Indiana was forced to play Gerald Green more than they would have liked, and Orlando Johnson at all, and the result wasn't pretty.
Tim Duncan's Defensive Player of the Year Chatter Is More Than Hype
Normally, I'm one to take a look at block and steal numbers and move past them in stride. There's a ton more to a defensive player than just the number of times they end up knocking a ball out of an opponent's hands.
I can't really do that with Tim Duncan this season.
Not only is Duncan averaging a combined 3.4 blocks and steals, but he's doing it while committing fewer than two fouls per game.
The fact that his athleticism is almost nonexistent these days means that most of his blocks and steals are due to superior defensive positioning, not just jumping higher than another dude.
Even more impressive, Duncan has just six games all season in which he's registered one block or less. That's pretty darn consistent.
Oh, and as far as Sunday goes, all he did was end the game with 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and seven blocks in San Antonio's 106-88 blowout over Minnesota.
The Lakers Are at Least Better Than the Cavs
The Los Angeles Lakers have finally landed their first win of 2013, and despite the facetious subhead, I do think it was a good win for the group.
Not only did they get a legitimately solid game from Dwight Howard in his unexpected return with 22 points and 14 rebounds, but the rest of the team played like he had been there all along in the 113-93 thrashing of Cleveland.
Earl Clark had another solid game and is starting to look like he's got a legitimate role with this team moving forward, Steve Nash put up 10 points and nine assists in 28 minutes while getting just four shots off, Kobe had an incredibly efficient 23 points on 14 shots (also on 28 minutes), and Darius Morris and Antawn Jamison combined for 30 points off the bench.
When they do this against a team that's not one of the worst defensive bunches in the NBA, I might start to get excited about them again, but it was against the Cavs.
Big Night for Glamorous Defense
I've mentioned how I'm not the biggest fan of using blocks and steals as a measurement for calibrating who is and isn't a good defender, but I'd be lying if I said they're not fun to watch.
If you're with me on that one, then Sunday was the day for you to catch some basketball and get an eyeful of glamor defense.
Out of the gate, we already know that Duncan led the way with seven blocks and three steals, but a ton of other players ended up with big block or steal numbers.
Other huge numbers of the night came from Paul George grabbing six steals, Andre Iguodala grabbing five of his own, and Roy Hibbert recording six blocks.
Meanwhile, Andrei Kirilenko, Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving, Alonzo Gee, Metta World Peace, Marquis Daniels, Amir Johnson and Wilson Chandler each registered at least three steals.
And LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Carl Landry, Brook Lopez, Larry Sander, Amir Johnson (again), Tyson Chandler, Al-Farouq Aminu, Nikola Pekovic, Danny Green and Earl Clark all had at least two blocks.
Nick Collison Isn't a Terrible Fill-in
The Oklahoma City Thunder were at a relative disadvantage in their 87-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, but it wasn't incredibly visible thanks to Nick Collison's superb fill-in work.
The Thunder were without Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, meaning they were not only without two very good defenders, but two of the guys with the strangest names in the NBA.
It seemed like their defense never missed a beat.
As far as the stat sheet goes, Collison piled in just eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and pulled down three rebounds in 22 minutes, but it's more about what he does on the floor than the numbers he collects.
Collison is in the right place on defense on almost every possession, ready to step up and bump a big dude, or use his unheralded foot speed to get out and help on the perimeter if need be.
He wasn't flashy, and you're probably going to see two highlight plays from him all year, but he's a terrifically solid basketball player.
Milwaukee Continues to Win Thanks To, and in Spite Of, Their Backcourt
The Milwaukee Bucks have watched quietly as their team has run to a 19-17 record, putting them in a good spot to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
All that has happened as their two most important offensive players, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, have shot a combined 40.3 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from the three-point line.
In other words, they are dependent upon chuckers.
Sunday night was no different, as they combined for 36 points on 40 percent shooting, but an acceptable 38 percent for three in Milwuakee's 107-96 win over Toronto.
A lot of love has to go to John Henson's 19 points (seven of which came in the fourth quarter), but Ellis and Jennings are still their fourth-quarter guys.
The duo combined for eight points, four assists and a block in the fourth, as they were getting the ball fizzing around and taking advantage of the stops the defense was getting.
It's so confusing to see these players that were built to play in the early 2000s leading a playoff team. No wonder Scott Skiles hated coaching them.
Denver's Fourth Quarter Was What We Expected of Them All Year Long
The Denver Nuggets were playing a fine game against the Warriors through three quarters. They were down by eight points heading into the fourth, but the 87-79 lead didn't seem insurmountable.
Boy was that ever the right observation.
Denver scored 37 points to Golden State's 18 in the fourth, dominating for all 12 minutes of the final period.
The Nuggets were able to force eight changes of possession in the fourth quarter, whether they were steals (five of 'em), blocks that led to changes in possession (including a big nasty one by Kenneth Faried), bad passes or offensive fouls by Golden State.
In the period, Denver missed just six shots, made three jumpers, and got to the rim, making 11 shots in the lane.
This is what everybody thought Denver was going to be able to do—not outscore their opponents by 19 points every quarter, but go on stretches where their athleticism leads to huge runs, aggressive looks at the rim, and a scrambling defense.
In the end, it was a magnificent fourth quarter, but they haven't done it nearly as much as we would have expected up to this point.