7 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's NBA Action
Tuesday night was hardly the finest evening of basketball the NBA has seen this season. Three of the six games on the docket finished with double digit margins of victory, and five of the six featured the winning team owning a lead of at least 15 points along the way.
This, after a Monday that was rife with blowouts from sea to shining sea across the Association.
If not for an overtime thriller between the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers, January 15 may well have gone down as the least thrilling evening of the 2012-13 season.
Not that the night was at all lacking in storylines. The Hornets and the Lakers both continued their respective recoveries after welcoming pivotal players back into the fold. So, too, did the Nets with yet another win for P.J. Carlesimo. The Clippers also kept their roll going without the services of Chris Paul.
Still, let's all hope that the league's midseason malaise lets up soon, lest hoops heads be left to quench their collective thirst with little more than garbage-time ball.
The Eric Gordon Effect
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Basketball fans in the Bayou are quickly discovering why the Phoenix Suns stumbled over themselves to offer Eric Gordon, injury bug and all, more than $58 million this past July.
And why the New Orleans Hornets jumped at the chance to match it and retain their restricted free agent.
The Hornets won their sixth game in eight tries with EJ in the lineup on Tuesday, this time against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers, 111-99. Gordon registered a fairly efficient 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting, along with four assists, two rebounds and a steal in 32 minutes.
Gordon's scoring and shooting ability have proven vital to New Orleans' budding turnaround, but his impact extends far beyond the extent to which he sends the ball through the hoop. His mere presence on the floor forces the Hornets' opponents to account for another scoring threat and forces Austin Rivers to the bench. Where he clearly belongs, considering how historically bad Rivers has been as a rookie.
And, as sharp a shooter as Gordon is, he might be just as valuable as an off-the-dribble penetrator. He has the strength and quickness to get into the paint, and the passing instincts to find New Orleans' fleet of mobile bigs as they cut to the basket. He demonstrated as much at the Sixers' expense.
Considering how much the Hornets like their talls to cut along the baseline, Gordon's proficiency with regard to penetrating and passing should be a boon to the team's attack going forward. Now, New Orleans need not rely so heavily on emerging point guard Greivis Vasquez to make every play.
What Can Jrue Do for You?
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On the other side of the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia 76ers must be thanking their lucky stars that Jrue Holiday is in the midst of the breakout campaign that everyone expected he'd have last season. Otherwise, they'd be even further up a particular creek without so much as a paddle to get around.
Holiday had himself another fantastic performance on Tuesday. The fourth-year guard led everyone in points (29), assists (11) and steals (four) while chipping in five rebounds and four three-pointers for good measure. That showing upped Jrue's season averages to 19 points (on 45.8 percent shooting), 8.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals—all of which, save for the thefts, would register as career bests.
Holiday's numbers are certainly All-Star-worthy and, furthermore, are good enough to lead one to wonder where he ranks among the top point guards, at least in the Eastern Conference. Rajon Rondo, he of the nightly triple-doubles, is arguably the best on that side of the bracket, and Derrick Rose may well be back in the conversation once he makes his long-anticipated return from a torn ACL.
But beyond those two, who else in the East can challenge Jrue right now? Deron Williams' apparent decline has left him a few rungs lower on the ladder than before. However, his recent resurgence, coupled with that of the Brooklyn Nets, could put D-Will back in the conversation. Kyrie Irving has fared phenomenally well as a scoring point guard (when healthy) during his sophomore season, though he's not quite the all-around performer on both ends of the floor that Holiday has thus far proven to be.
Beyond that, the point guard pickings in the East are surprisingly slim. That, in itself, leaves Holiday among the cream of his particular crop.
Now, if only the Sixers could get Andrew Bynum back on the court. Then, perhaps, Holiday's talents could be better appreciated in the context of some winning basketball. Tuesday's defeat was the 17th in 26 tries for Philly since the start of December.
From Bad to Worse for the Charlotte Bobcats
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It seems like forever ago that the Charlotte Bobcats were 7-5, doesn't it?
They were the surprise through the first three weeks or so of the 2012-13 season. Kemba Walker looked like a legitimate scoring guard after struggling through his rookie season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was making good on his jack-of-all-trades designation, and the 'Cats, as a whole, were playing hard on both ends for new head coach Mike Dunlap.
Since then, the bottom has fallen out in Charlotte, and the team looks much like the one that finished the 2011-12 campaign with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. A 103-76 slamming at the hands of the surging Indiana Pacers dropped the 'Cats to 2-24 in their last 26 contests and extends their current slide to five straight. Which still pales in comparison to the 18-game skid that nearly carried the 'Cats through the entire month of December.
The issues were all too familiar for the Bobcats. A poor offensive performance against the league's stingiest defensive squad was to be expected, especially for a Charlotte team that scores the third fewest points per 100 possessions of any in the Association.
But allowing the second-worst offense to pile up 103 points, including 19 on the fast break, is anything but encouraging for Dunlap and company. Neither is getting beaten on the boards by 29 rebounds in this, a matchup between the second-best and the second-worst teams by rebounding percentage.
I'll let you guess which is which.
Hello Brooklyn, How Ya Doin'?
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The good times continued to roll for the Brooklyn Nets in the P.J. Carlesimo Era. Tuesday's 113-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors was the Nets' ninth in 10 tries since Avery Johnson was deposed, perhaps on account of Deron Williams' disapproval of the Little General's offensive schematics.
Brooklyn's Big Three of D-Will, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez combined for 64 points, and Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic both scored in double figures off the bench.
To be sure, this was hardly Brooklyn's most impressive effort under Carlesimo. The hapless Raps hung tough through the first three quarters and managed to shoot past the century mark against a Nets defense that's been decidedly mediocre this season. As expected, given Brooklyn's personnel.
Realistically, the victory was simply another example of the scheduling gods smiling favorably upon the Nets' new coaching regime. Of the 10 games the Nets have played since making the switch on the bench, only three have come against teams with winning records.
But...well, a win's a win, and Brooklyn has enough of them to be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference as of mid-January.
The Return of the Crossover
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It'd been some time since Jamal Crawford registered a truly awe-inspiring outing. The Los Angeles Clippers' sizzling sixth man hadn't topped the 20-point plateau since Christmas Day against the Denver Nuggets, when he scored 22 for the second time in as many games.
Apparently, a downed Chris Paul and a poor defense were all Crawford needed get himself back on track. Crawford popped off for a season-high 30 points in 29 minutes off bench to propel the Clips to a 117-109 win over the Houston Rockets that, by and large, wasn't as close as the final tally would suggest.
Crawford picked up half of his points in the fourth quarter, 12 of which came during a 2:22 span early in the period.
To be sure, Jamal wasn't the only Clipper who shone particularly bright on this particular night in Houston. Eric Bledsoe went off for 19 points, five assists, seven rebounds and two steals. Blake Griffin also helped to cover for CP3's absence with a season-high eight assists to go along with 19 points, four rebounds, one steal and one block.
But Crawford is the player whose presence truly sets L.A. apart from the competition at present. He may not make the All-Star cut, but the fact that he's managed to put himself in the conversation for such an honor speaks volumes of his contributions the Clips' 30-9 campaign.
Here Comes Ty Lawson
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Don't look now, but Ty Lawson is finally playing up to the value of his lucrative extension, and the Denver Nuggets are on a roll as a result. Lawson scored 24 points and a game-high 12 assists to lead the surging Nuggets to a 115-111 overtime win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The victory was Denver's sixth in a row, seventh in eight games, and ninth in 11 tries since getting creamed by the Clippers on Christmas Day.
Lawson's been particularly prolific for much of that period. He's scored 20 or more points in three of his last five games—two of which were accompanied by double-digit assists.
Not that Lawson's been racking up big numbers against the cream of the crop defensively, but the speedy point guard's play has been crucial to the Nuggets' recent turnaround from a slow start to the season nonetheless. Denver will need Lawson to assert himself as the top dog going forward if the season itself is to amount to anything more than a first-round flameout in the playoffs.
Something to Build on for the Los Angeles Lakers
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Two wins do not a streak make, especially when they come against middling to subpar competition from the Eastern Conference.
But in the case of the Los Angeles Lakers, a win's a win, and a blowout's a blowout.
The Lakers played the kind of game that their fans have been hoping to see for much of the season in a 104-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Dwight Howard dominated on both ends, to the tune of 31 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. Kobe Bryant chipped in 31 points on an efficient 19 shots, while dropping six dimes and limiting Brandon Jennings, an LA native, to 12 points and just one assist. Steve Nash kept the ball moving to the tune of 11 assists to accompany eight points in 33 minutes.
More importantly, the Lakers limited the Bucks—a team defined by energetic size inside and quick play on the perimeter—to 35.8 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from three.
To be sure, the Bucks are hardly world-beaters themselves. They came into the evening ranked 25th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in effective field-goal percentage, which accounts for the added value of the three-point shot.
And the Lakers were hardly perfect themselves. They lost the rebounding battle (54-46), in large part because they gave up 21 offensive boards to Milwaukee.
But you'd best believe that nobody in LA is about to swear off a 16-point victory, not with the Miami Heat coming to town on Thursday.