7 Takeaways from Friday Night's Lopsided NBA Action
For better or worse.
Three nail-biters in three tries on Thursday gave way to a slew of blowouts on this, the final Friday of January. Of the 10 games on tap, eight (eight!) were decided by double-digit margins, including the Boston Celtics' 12-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks in double overtime.
The lone exceptions? The Cleveland Cavaliers' five-point triumph over the Central Division-rival Milwaukee Bucks and the San Antonio Spurs' six-point result over the Dallas Mavericks in a game in which Tim Duncan didn't participate and Manu Ginobili played just eight minutes.
And, realistically, the game wasn't even that close. The Spurs led by as many as 26 points in the third quarter.
Not that there weren't plenty of interesting subplots therein. Let's have a look at some of those, shall we?
Washington Wizards Are Winners Again with John Wall
The Wizards moved to 5-3 on the season with John Wall in the lineup by way of a 114-101 win over the Kevin Love-less Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
That mark may not seem so stellar, until you consider A) Washington was an NBA-worst 5-28 before Wall returned from a knee injury and B) the three losses came by a combined 12 points.
Moreover, Wall outdueled fellow point-guard-phenom Ricky Rubio in rather convincing fashion. The third-year guard out of Kentucky registered 14 points, one rebound, two blocks and five assists with just two turnovers, while limiting Rubio to four points (on 1-of-8 shooting) and hounding him into five turnovers against six assists.
It's no wonder, then, that the Wizards had such high hopes for the 2012-13 campaign before Wall fell victim to the follies of his own body. Like the New Orleans Hornets with Eric Gordon, the Wizards can now use the rest of the season to play spoiler and build some solid chemistry in anticipation of a more successful (and healthier) 2013-14.
Kyrie Irving: All-Star Assassin
Speaking of young point guards, how about this Kyrie Irving fellow?
The reigning Rookie of the Year celebrated his first All-Star selection with yet another brilliant performance to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 113-108 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks. Irving topped the 30-point mark for the eighth time this season with 35 on 12-of-17 shooting and a perfect 9-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Not to mention the five rebounds, two assists and two steals with which he filled out the rest of the box score.
Irving was particularly pivotal in crunch time...as usual. He scored eight of the Cavs' final 12 points, including each of the last six to seal their 12th win of the season.
Honorable mention to Marreese Speights with 10 points (eight in the fourth), six rebounds and two steals in his Cleveland debut. But, once again, the spotlight belongs to Kyrie, who's quickly establishing himself as one of the deadliest scorers in the NBA.
More Highs and Lows for the Houston Rockets
The Rockets did well to pull away from the New Orleans Hornets in a 100-82 win on Friday, given how well the Hornets have played of late. The victory was Houston's second in its last three games after stumbling through a seven-game losing streak.
Not that the road to the "W" was all that smooth. The Rockets, who boast the NBA's worst team-turnover percentage, gave the ball away 21 times—12 of which were credited to the backcourt tandem of James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
Then again, it's hard to argue with everything else those two youngsters did. Harden celebrated his first trip to the All-Star Game (on the Rockets' home court, no less) with 30 points on just 15 shots, including a 12-of-12 performance at the free-throw line, to go along with eight assists, four rebounds and a steal. Lin, for his part, chipped in 13 points on six attempts, with five rebounds, eight assists and a whopping six steals to boot.
Sloppy ball has worked well enough for the Rockets so far. They're now 23-22, good enough for eighth place in the Western Conference, and have thrived by way of a fast-paced, perimeter-oriented offense that emphasizes attacking the basket at every opportunity. The Rockets may not make the playoffs, but they'll be fun to watch all season nonetheless.
Suit-and-Tie Showdown Turns into a Blowout
The Memphis Grizzlies' 101-77 stomping of the Brooklyn Nets was about much more than just one solid squad demolishing another or two All-Star snubs (Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez) going head-to-head the day after learning they wouldn't be making the trip to Houston in mid-February.
Though, admittedly, those did make for intriguing subplots.
As it turns out, this game was all about bragging rights between Justin Timberlake, a minority stakeholder in the Grizzlies, and Jay-Z, a minority owner of the Nets. Prior to the game, Jay-Z tweeted out a photo of himself and JT—with whom he collaborated on the hit single "Suit and Tie"—sharing a drink and watching the game on an iPad.
Nets vs Grizzlies? Right now?! Oh the irony. twitter.com/S_C_/status/29…— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) January 26, 2013
With the way the Grizz ground up the Nets, one would assume that Mr. Carter wound up with the tab.
Another Low Point for the Boston Celtics
Things went from bad to worse for the Boston Celtics on Friday. A day after losing to the New York Knicks in "Cheeriogate: Part 2," the C's engineered a stunning collapse in a 123-111 defeat to the similarly submarining Atlanta Hawks in double overtime.
As poorly as Boston played in getting outscored in the second overtime period, 16-4, the real travesty came during the second and third quarters, when the Celtics allowed the Hawks to peck away at what had been a 27-point advantage.
Rajon Rondo registered his second triple-double in as many games and Kevin Garnett had himself a fine performance before fouling out with 24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a steal.
But, once again, the C's were undone by their own mistakes. Boston gave the ball away 21 times, leading to 24 points for Atlanta and, more importantly, a sixth consecutive loss.
Kobe Bryant Does It All to Stop the Bleeding in Lakerland
Kobe Bryant's done his best to put the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles on himself of late.
Or, rather, he's given plenty of lip service to that approach in the gloomy media scrums that have followed each of the Lakers' last four losses.
But on Friday, the Black Mamba backed up his leadership talk with arguably his most complete performance of the season. Rather than trying to shoot the Lakers to victory, Kobe opted to play the part of Swiss army knife...and he did so to perfection. Bryant tallied 14 points, nine rebounds, 14 assists, three steals, a block and just three turnovers in 35 minutes to lead the foundering Lakers to a much-needed 102-84 win over the visiting Utah Jazz at the Staples Center.
In doing so, Kobe fell just one rebound shy of his second triple-double of the 2012-13 season and came within one assist of equaling his best single-game mark in that department.
At long last, the Lakers looked like an actual team—sharing the ball, playing defense, hustling from time to time—and Kobe's efforts were emblematic of that.
The Purple and Gold will need plenty more performances like this against competition of all shapes, sizes and capacities going forward if they're to get themselves back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
Seattle's (Potential) Past and Future Collide in California's Capital
As expected, the Zombie Sonics dominated the Maybe-Reborn Sonics in their Friday-night showdown.
Which is to say, the Oklahoma City Thunder throttled the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena by a score of 105-95 .
The win, though impressive in some ways, seemed more rote than anything for the best team in the West. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 24 points (on just 12 shots) to go along with 11 rebounds and five assists. Russell Westbrook did his fair share (and then some) with 18 points and a game-high 14 assists. Kevin Martin came off the bench with 24 points, including four made threes.
In other words, it was just another day in the NBA for the Thunder, who extended their league-best record to 34-10.
So, really, the specter of an indirect Seattle connection was probably the more interesting storyline. The Maloofs seemed set to sell the Kings to a group led by hedgefund magnate Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer before Sacramento's own billionaires—namely, Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov—opted to intervene.
Wherever the Kings wind up going forward, don't expect them to challenge the Thunder anytime soon.
At least until they clean house.