7 Biggest Takeaways from Monday's Commemorative NBA Games
Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday has become a miniature Christmas Day for the NBA. It's another holiday on which the league likes to market some of its best games.
Your mileage may vary on whether you like that strategy, but it certainly leaves us with a lot of basketball to discuss and over-analyze. And this particular day brought us emerging rivalries like the Brooklyn Nets versus the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors versus the Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers versus themselves.
While the players may have preferred to stay home on the holiday, this was certainly a great day for NBA fans.
Pau's Out, Don't Pout
Pau Gasol has been benched for Earl Clark, prompting many people to scream at Mike D'Antoni for hurting Pau's trade value, along with his feelings. I personally don't get the reaction, seeing as how Clark has been outplaying Gasol and how Gasol's presence compromises L.A.'s strategy.
It's not D'Antoni's "system" that prevents Pau's constant presence on the floor—it's common sense. Gasol is too slow to guard athletic power forwards and even more athletic small forwards who get switched to the 4-spot.
The Laker offense also has a rough time spacing the floor when Gasol is either welded to the paint or bricking unguarded shots from the perimeter. D'Antoni has done far from a perfect job, but this one's on Pau and the people who constructed this "two centers, no bench" roster.
Don't Panic Over the Knicks
Not everything bad that happens to the Knicks should be considered a crisis. New York lost a close one at home, 88-85, to Brooklyn, prompting some hand-wringing about this team's direction.
Relax. Even if the Knicks are struggling, they're doing so in an anemic conference. Also, New York's struggles at least have an explanation.
Raymond Felton has been out, and he's key to the offensive attack. Without Ray, New York's relying on the ancient Jason Kidd for dribble penetration, and Carmelo is working with less space.
The Knicks should be fine, so long as they find a way to integrate Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire into their roles. There's still a lot of time to figure that out.
Stephen Curry Is the Best Three-Point Shooter
Stephen Curry hit four three-pointers in the fourth quarter to down the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, 106-99. In total, Curry nailed six of eight threes in a 28-point performance, and the only thing notable about that is how utterly unsurprising such a feat that was.
We expect Stephen Curry to make open threes as though they are layups. He's leading the league in three-pointers made per game and doing so on a ridiculous 46.4 percentage.
The Warriors now lead the league in three-point percentage, and Curry should get a large amount of credit for that. They're a team that struggles to draw fouls or get to the rim, but the long ball is doing a lot to carry Golden State's offense.
The Indiana Pacers Are Pukeball Kings
I'm not certain that Martin Luther King Jr. Day games should be held in Memphis, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that the Grizzlies play well on defense and badly on offense.
Fans enjoy offense over defense, which makes a Pacers-Grizzlies game an utter eyesore. The Pacers are the league's best defensive squad and second-worst offensive squad.
In the end, the ugly, the boring Indiana Pacers' way won out, with Indiana taking the game 82-81. The game would seem to symbolize how these similar teams are headed in opposite directions, as noted by ESPN's Kevin Pelton.
If the Grizzlies are to win in the playoffs, they must either get better at offense or historically great at defense. Both outcomes are actually possible.
Steve Nash Is Getting Picked On
The Chicago Bulls targeted Steve Nash in pick-and-roll defense en route to their 95-83 home victory. The results were brutal for the poor, aging point guard.
Kirk Hinrich torched Nash for a season-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
I knew Nash couldn't guard anyone, I just wasn't aware that Kirk Hinrich was capable of crossing anyone up in 2013.— Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson) January 22, 2013
It's looking increasingly like the Lakers will miss the playoffs this season. It's funny to think how fans would be angry if this particular team were on pace for, say, 53 wins. This squad has submarined expectations like no other.
James Harden Is Cheap and Good
I thought Kevin Durant had mastered the art of infuriatingly efficient basketball when he scored 37 points on seven made shots at Denver Sunday night. It turns out that KD's former teammate James Harden was primed for a strong rebuttal.
The free-throw master notched 29 points on five made shots in a 100-94 Houston Rockets win over the hapless Charlotte Bobcats. Harden drew a maddening 21 free throws on his array of flails and fake whiplashes.
Give credit where it's due—James Harden is good at drawing contact, real and false. It's why he leads the league in free-throw attempts and why he's sometimes difficult to watch.
John Wall Makes the Wizards Better
Small sample size alert: The Washington Wizards have been 4-2 since John Wall's return from injury. Lost in all our laughter at Washington's incompetence was that Wall, for all his shooting inefficiency, is a plus player.
He most dramatically demonstrated his value on Monday night by ripping Damian Lillard to seal the three-point road win at Portland. Though Wall only scored six points, he can be helpful based on defensive potential alone.
It also helps that the Wizards are getting contributions from Nene, unlike at the beginning of the year when Washington was without either guy. On a sour note, Bradley Beal crashed down to earth with a 1-of-7 shooting performance.
Since John Wall has been back, the Wizards have looked less like a freeform movement experiment and more like a basketball team.— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) January 22, 2013