10 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action
Sunday night's NBA action was thrilling from start to finish, with the Los Angeles Lakers taking the Oklahoma City Thunder down to the wire and the Boston Celtics rallying in double overtime against the Miami Heat.
Even the blowouts were a bit intriguing, as Dirk Nowitzki put on a small show against the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Hornets exposed a bit of a weakness in the Memphis Grizzlies lineup.
No matter which game you pick, they were all easily better than the Pro Bowl, which went along nearly unnoticed up against the NBA and the Royal Rumble putting eyes on the real athletic contests.
We saw two teams in games that felt like they were "must-wins," and they came away with wins.
We saw another two teams battle it out in explosive fashion for the second night in a row, and it lived up to the billing that it had created the previous evening.
If there are nights like this happening once a week then it's easy to say that the NBA has a terrific product on its hands. But this has nearly become a nightly occurrence, as storylines are constantly converging, growing and evolving on a nightly basis.
So if you missed any bit of the action from Sunday, I've got for you the biggest things to keep in mind moving forward, and what will end up affecting the league over the course of the next few weeks.
Dallas Is the NBA's Silent Frankenstein
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We've gone and made a big stink about the Los Angeles Lakers winning a whole two games in a row, but quietly, almost silently, the Dallas Mavericks are doing their best to show that they're going to put up a fight down the stretch.
They're only 7-10 with Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup, but with him in the starting lineup, they're a more impressive 6-5, topping Phoenix, 110-95, Sunday night.
Not only that, but they've won six of their last eight games with convincing wins over the teams that they should beat, and a few grind-em-out wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets.
As Dirk continues to get back into the swing of things, the thought of the Mavs transforming into a playoff team seems to get a tiny bit less far-fetched as the days pass by.
Plus, if they find a way to make themselves a nice move before the trade deadline, we could be looking at a very interesting team moving forward.
New York's Bench Is Looking Solid Again
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After Raymond Felton went down with a broken pinky finger, the New York Knicks had to experiment a lot with their starting lineup. Chris Copeland, James White, Marcus Camby, Iman Shumpert and Kurt Thomas all filled into the starting lineup.
For whatever reason, the team's bench struggled, with J.R. Smith struggling mightily and Amar'e Stoudemire staggering while the rest of the team attempted to sprint.
Things weren't going well.
On Sunday against the Hawks, they got a solid contribution from Smith and Stoudemire, and the rest of the bench was able to contribute here and there whenever possible in New York's 106-104 victory at home.
Smith dropped in 18 points and nearly shot above 50 percent from the floor. Stoudemire added 18 of his own, made six of nine shot and even grabbed eight rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
Respect the Ray Allen Backdoor Cut
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It happens almost every game for the Miami Heat, and for whatever reason opponents continue to ignore how effective it's been.
Every now and then, when the Heat need a bucket in crunch time, or just to throw a curveball at the defense, they'll run a play specifically for Ray Allen that doesn't involve him knocking down a corner three.
Allen will spot up in the weak-side corner as somebody (usually LeBron James) works in the high post on the other side of the floor. LeBron works so often in the high post now that it's instantly getting all of the defense's attention, and a weak-side Allen is usually a non-factor.
However, either Chris Bosh or Shane Battier will bounce out, screen Allen's man, and he's free to sneak along the baseline and find himself in the paint, alone, with a ball flying at him from a LeBron pass.
What results is two seemingly easy points.
Boston was victimized by it once late in the fourth quarter, which is ironic because they ran the play to perfection back when Allen was still in green. Lucky for them it wasn't the deciding factor.
Stretch Memphis' Big Men
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The Memphis Grizzlies have an obvious advantage over most teams in the NBA, as they've got a frontcourt that is nearly unrivaled.
Rudy Gay is excellent with the ball in his hands, cutting and slashing, but the real dominance comes from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, both offensively and defensively.
However, the New Orleans Hornets found themselves a way to get away with scoring through their big dudes but not getting completely outmuscled in the paint by the huge Randolph and Gasol.
They just shot over the bigs.
While Ryan Anderson made the biggest impact coming in off the bench, draining seven three-pointers and scoring 22 points in the Hornets' 91-83 vivtory, they also saw another big dude have an impact.
Some guy named Jason Smith has decided to kill the Grizzlies down the stretch.— Ron Higgins (@RonHigg) January 28, 2013
Jason Smith was drawing fouls, hitting jumpers and just being a menace in general, and it was all because he's able to stretch the Grizzlies out and keep them from hunkering down and feeling secure in their cave under the basket.
Los Angeles' Bench Is Now Unfair
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Before the season started, it looked as if the Los Angeles Clippers bench was going to be too chock full of good players for there to be any kind of set rotation throughout the season.
A few injuries helped out in creating a solid rotation, and the Clippers rotation started to look like one of the best in the league, if not the best.
Along the way, they tried to get everything possible out of Lamar Odom while he continually fell short, shot poorly, looked chubby and just played bad basketball in general. Odom has recently started to rebound better, and is even scoring more efficiently—something that didn't seem possible even a few weeks ago.
Los Angeles' 96-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers was punctuated by the closest thing that Lamar Odom's seen to a triple-double in ages, putting in eight points, six assists and a whopping 13 rebounds.
If he's going to be able to do this on a somewhat regular basis, it looks as if the Clippers have yet another solid weapon to bring in off the bench.
Stop Blaming Westbrook, Seriously
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It seems all too easy to do. Russell Westbrook was 6-of-22 shooting for the day, he missed three fourth-quarter shots, and grabbed himself a technical foul down the stretch in Oklahoma City's 105-96 loss to the Lakers.
However, keying in on the negatives for Westbrook seems to be an all too familiar theme with every Thunder loss.
Looking at the good Westbrook pulled off paints an entirely different picture. He scored 17 points, had an impressive nine rebounds, and 13 big assists in the game. In the fourth quarter, he dropped in an assist to a Kevin Durant three-pointer and scored five points.
The fact is that the Thunder had a poor shooting night as a team, including Durant, who was 10-of-26 for a below-average 38 percent on the day.
Oklahoma City was outplayed down the stretch, and the Lakers just made more shots in the fourth quarter. It's as simple as that. In the end, the thing that Westbrook needs to be most thoroughly criticized for is the shirt he wore to the arena on Sunday.
Russell Westbrook walks into Staples Center with another interesting outfit twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 27, 2013
The Knicks Can't Afford to Lose Raymond Felton Again
In the first effective game back with the New York Knicks, Raymond Felton really showed the people of New York what they were missing while he was out with a broken right pinky finger, and that's somebody to control the tempo of the game.
It seemed as if Jason Kidd would be able to do a fine job filling in, but Kidd's game is slow, and is starting to look like he's best used as an off-ball shooter and an occasional ball-handler here and there.
Felton came back after a poor return performance against the Philadelphia 76ers with 12 points and 10 assists in the win over Atlanta.
Not only that, seven of his 10 assists led to three-pointers, including five of Carmelo Anthony's nine long balls on the day.
J.J. Redick's Trade Stock Is Peaking at the Right Time
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J.J. Redick is getting so good that the Orlando Magic might actually need to start thinking about keeping him around and re-signing, rather than shipping him off for a few draft picks.
Of course, if they are still planning to move him, there's no time like the presence. He's absolutely on fire.
He's put up double-figure scoring numbers in 10 straight games, a streak that has seen him shoot 55 percent from the floor and 53 percent from the three-point line, while averaging nearly four assists per game.
Unfortunately, Orlando has won just three of those 10 games.
Their most recent loss, a 104-102 drop to the Detroit Pistons, saw Redick score 31 points, a career high, and drop in 10 of 17 shots, eight of which were three-pointers.
At halftime, J.J. Redick has 21 points. He's 7-10 from field and 6-7 from three-point range. This is why teams are trying to acquire Redick.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) January 28, 2013
If he's going to be moved, it better be before he hits a cold streak.
Once Again, the Lakers Aren't Done Yet
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The bi-weekly Los Angeles Lakers resurrection is here, and this time it might be completely and totally legitimate. Or not, I'll let you know in a few games.
Even still, to look at the Lakers over their past two games with all of their players healthy, contributing and working as a team is like seeing a completely different team that looks like it could make some noise if they keep things steady.
What's caused the brand-new look of the Lakers? Of course it has something to do with Kobe Bryant. He's racked up 14 assists in each of their last two games.
Kobe Bryant joins Twitter.Suddenly, he learns how to pass.Twitter is a God.— Marv Albert (@NotMarvAlbert) January 27, 2013
Not only are the Lakers passing better, but every single one of them is doing a better job scoring efficiently. In their win over the Jazz, they saw five players score in double-figures, and that number grew to six players in their win over OKC.
If they can continue to play as a cohesive unit, and Kobe realizes that shooting too much is actually a bad thing, this ship might be able to find their way back on course.
The Next Few Weeks Will Be Interesting in Boston
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The only thing that could overshadow a heroic two-game winning clip for the Los Angeles Lakers is a major injury. Just that news broke on Sunday as the Boston Celtics were doing their best to keep a hold of a lead over the Miami Heat.
As the Celtics worked their way to a double-overtime 100-98 win over the Heat, news broke that Rajon Rondo would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
Of course, the news broke, the Celtics rallied and ended up winning the game, which ended up giving Celtics fans everywhere some weird bit of hope for the rest of the season.
Perhaps they rally together, form some sort of crazy chemistry and find another way to wriggle into the Eastern Conference Finals without Rondo.
Or maybe one game is a bit too small a sample size to really judge how a team will play without their star player.
The fact is that it's starting to make a lot more sense for the Celtics to break up the band, throw the rest of this season and next away, and look toward re-tooling around a rehabilitated Rondo, Avery Bradley and whoever else they can pick up along the way.
Whatever the decision, it's going to be made in the next few weeks, as the All-Star Game and the subsequent trade deadline draws near. A lot of interesting changes are going to be made in Boston, and it's quite possibly going to shake up the landscape of the entire NBA.