Thursday was all about celebrations and showcases in the NBA. The day began with Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks playing the Detroit Pistons in the shadow of Big Ben in London, and ended with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant going head-to-head.
In between, the league announced the starters for the 2013 All-Star Game and staged a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Minnesota Timberwolves in which each team was missing a superstar talent.
Oh, and the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns played a game. But you know what they say about trees falling in the woods...
It was an eventful day in the Association, to say the least, especially given how light the schedule was. Let's have a look at what went down across the basketball landscape on this, the 17th of January.
The last time Carmelo Anthony set foot in London's O2 Arena, he walked away with a gold medal hung around his neck after helping Team USA top Spain at the 2012 Olympics. 'Melo scored a mere eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, marking arguably his worst performance of what was a spectacular summer overseas.
Anthony played much better in his return to the English capital with the New York Knicks on Thursday and, as expected, he emerged victorious. It certainly helps that the lowly Detroit Pistons were the opponents in question.
Not that the quality of the competition should take away too much from the value of 'Melo's performance. Anthony accounted for 26 points on 8-of-19 shooting to go along with four assists, three rebounds and two blocks. It was Carmelo's 25th straight game with at least 20 points—the longest such streak of his career.
That sort of effort, along with the 46-point performance from New York's bench, is exactly the sort that the Knicks will need to hang onto the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference until Raymond Felton returns.
The NBA announced the starters of the 2013 All-Star Game as voted on by the fans, and—Surprise! Surprise!—marquee names ruled the day while team success went out the window.
To be sure, some of the league's top teams will be well represented among the starters in Houston on February 17. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will represent the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat, as will Carmelo Anthony with the second-seed Knicks. The Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder—the two top teams out West—combined for three starters between Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Which leaves four spots to be filled. And two apiece were granted to members of the seventh-seed Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo) and the 11th-place Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard).
These four are not necessarily unworthy of inclusion; Kobe's leading the league in scoring, Dwight's tops in rebounding and Rondo's on track for his second straight assist title.
Still, it's tough to shake the feeling that at least a handful of players on successful teams got hosed by the fans at the ballot box. Isn't that right, Chris Bosh/Tyson Chandler/Tim Duncan/Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph?
Speaking of Tim Duncan/Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph, the 2012-13 All-Star balloting stood out as yet another example of the correlation between star power and market size. Seven of the starters will hail from among the top seven TV markets in America, including four from Los Angeles—Kobe, Dwight, CP3 and Blake Griffin.
Two others (LeBron and D-Wade) play for the Miami Heat, who reside in the nation's No. 16 market, but benefit from pree xisting stardom and championship success.
The only real exception? Kevin Durant, who tallied nearly a million votes more than people who live in Oklahoma City. Ben Golliver of SI.com:
Kevin Durant received 1,504,047 All-Star votes. The population of Oklahoma City per the 2011 census was 591,967.— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) January 18, 2013
What's troubling isn't that these big names wound up as starters, but that fantastic players from smaller markets went largely overlooked. Marc Gasol managed less than half as many votes as older brother Pau, despite enjoying a better season on a better team...but in relatively-tiny Memphis. Zach Randolph, also of the Music City, wound up on even fewer ballots, despite being a double-double machine. Even Tim Duncan, in his resurgent season, couldn't close the gap between himself and Blake Griffin to within 300,000 votes.
But, perhaps, the most troubling example came out of the East, where Paul George, the best player on the hard-charging Indiana Pacers, mustered a mere 80,060 votes. It would seem, then, that basketball is, indeed, a big-city sport.
The Los Angeles Clippers aren't doing Chris Paul's MVP campaign any favors. They stifled the Kevin Love-less Minnesota Timberwolves, 90-77, despite CP3 sitting out his third straight game with a bruised right kneecap. It was also the Clips' third consecutive win since losing to the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
Clearly, the Clippers are far more than a one-man team. Five players from L.A.'s side scored in double figures, including Blake Griffin with 20 points and Jamal Crawford with 22 points. Lamar Odom enjoyed perhaps his finest performance of the season, contributing 12 rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block to go along with his lone basket of the night.
All of which is to say, Paul had better heal up quick, lest he let his MVP candidacy slip away as the Clips continue to roll the rest of the NBA.
Grantland's Zach Lowe has made a habit of referring to Larry Sanders as LARRY SANDERS! this season, and for good reason. The third-year big man out of Virginia Commonwealth has been beastly for the Milwaukee Bucks this season, with 8.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and a league-best 3.2 blocks per game after Thursday night's efforts.
Sanders continued his emergence as a paint-protecting predator, pounding the Phoenix Suns for 19 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks to propel the Bucks to a 98-94 win.
Better yet, he made Marcin Gortat, a fairly sturdy center in his own right at 6'11" and 240 pounds, look like little more than a nuisance on the court. Gortat managed just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting and five rebounds.
And Sanders, normally a foul machine, did it all by racking up just three fouls.
LARRY SANDERS!, indeed.
Another big game against a top-tier team, another loss with positive takeaways for the Los Angeles Lakers. They nearly upended the mighty Miami Heat at the Staples Center on Thursday night, despite every statistical indication suggesting that the Lakers should've been blown out.
The Heat scored 19 points on 16 Lakers turnovers in the first half, and yet, LA went into the locker room with a one-point lead. Miami scored 40 more points in the paint and 16 more in transition, and limited the Lakers to 43.1 percent shooting. Kobe Bryant missed 14 of his first 17 shots, Dwight Howard managed only seven attempts all night, and Steve Nash struggled to direct the offense amidst Miami's stifling pressure on the perimeter.
And yet, the score was tied at 90 points apiece with just over two minutes left in the game. Los Angeles played hard, chasing after loose balls and actually helping each other on defense from time to time...sort of.
To be sure, the Lakers probably should've put up just such a fight. They came into the game with a record of 17-21, staring a playoff-less future square in the face, and were facing a Heat team playing its third game in four days and the last of a six-game road swing.
But hey, a close loss to the defending champs is, ummm, a close loss to the defending champs.
Whatever that's worth.
Somehow, the Heat were actually lucky to escape LA with a 99-90 win, thanks in no small part to LeBron James. The reigning MVP registered a season-high 39 points on a blistering 17-of-25 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a block.
Miami needed every bit of it, too, since Chris Bosh (seven points in 35 minutes), Ray Allen (nine points in 31) and most of the team's supporting cast outside of Dwyane Wade (27 points in 38) failed to show up.
Such has been the case for the Heat far too often this season. Luckily for them, LeBron is playing better than he ever has, and has shown no signs of slowing down.