7 Takeaways from Friday Night's NBA Action
Brace Hemmelgarn, USA TODAY Sports
Another Friday night, another boatload of blowouts in the NBA. Eight of the 12 games were decided by 10 or more points, and only one (the Chicago Bulls vs. the Brooklyn Nets) came down to the final few moments.
Rudy Gay made his debut in a Toronto Raptors uniform, the Los Angeles Lakers continued their road trip without Dwight Howard, and the Bulls took the floor without Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer.
So, before you go about celebrating your Super Bowl weekend, have a look back at what the Association had to offer on the first day of February.
1. The Pacers' Place
In case you hadn't noticed, the Indiana Pacers are for real. Their 102-89 annihilation of the Miami Heat announced as much.
The win was Indy's 13th in a row at home and third straight over the defending champions in the regular season. The Pacers' record improved to 28-19, and all without All-Star swingman Danny Granger.
The game was bound to be an emotional one for both teams after the way they battled during the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. But, as it turns out, only one of them showed up.
The Pacers led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, amid a surprisingly productive offensive effort (55.7 percent from the field) and a job well done by Lance Stephenson, who limited Dwyane Wade to 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting.
With Granger due back before the All-Star break, don't be surprised if this squad emerges as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. Their defense-first, grind-it-out style is the sort that should play well in the postseason.
2. A Cold Night for the Heat
Want to know why there's been any hesitation over anointing the Heat the prohibitive favorites to defend their NBA title? Look no further than their loss to the Pacers.
Once again, Miami's inability to rebound and inconsistent defensive effort came roaring to the forefront. Predictably enough, the Heat lost the battle of the boards, 34-25, to an Indy team with a long, lanky front line of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George.
But the bigger concern was the Heat's overall defensive ineptitude. They allowed one of the NBA's most inefficient offenses to score 102 points (including 48 in the paint) and shoot well better than 50 percent from the field.
If LeBron James and company can't hold down the paltry Pacers, how can they hope to stand tall against the most offensively efficient teams that stand in their way (i.e. the New York Knicks, the Oklahoma City Thunder)?
Of course, this could all change come playoff time, and probably will. The Heat have shown the ability to flip a switch when the situation demands it.
But such a lackluster approach has landed many an elite team in hot water in years past. Miami would be wise to get its collective house in order before its problems endanger the team's bigger pursuits.
3. Rudy Gay Is a-OK
It'll probably take weeks, months or even years to determine who truly won and lost the Rudy Gay trade.
But, for one day at least, the Toronto Raptors looked like big winners. They flat-out demolished the Chris Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Air Canada Center, 98-73.
And, as expected, Gay played a pivotal role in the effort in his Toronto debut. The former Memphis Grizzlies star scored 20 points in 33 minutes, including a pair of jaw-dropping alley-oop connections with DeMar DeRozan.
It won't be long until Rudy assumes his rightful place in the Raps' starting lineup. Regardless of role, though, Gay gives Toronto yet another high-flier and a bona fide go-to scorer on a squad that now ranks among the most athletic in the NBA.
And with the Boston Celtics losing Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season, the eighth seed in the East is ripe for the picking now that the Raptors have the requisite bodies to make a run.
4. Tuff Juice's Hijinx
Lost in the kerfuffle of the Clippers' blowout loss was this sneaky play that Caron Butler pulled on Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas.
With the clock winding down on the game, "Tuff Juice" pretended to go in for a cordial high-five with Valanciunas. Little did the 20-year-old rookie know that Butler was simply after the ball of leather that was in his other mitt.
So, like a sneaky thief, Butler stole the ball and drove to the other end of the floor, where he earned a pair of free throws...with less than three seconds remaining and the Clips already down by 27.
On its own, Butler's play seems like little more than an innocuously entertaining instance of a veteran picking on a naive youngster. But if your aim is to make mountains out of molehills, Butler's mischief here comes off as yet another instance supporting the Clips' reputation as a fight-picking, call-contesting, flop-inducing bunch of spoilsports.
Really, though, it's more comical than anything.
5. A Playoff Preview in the Big Apple
Jason Szenes for The New York Times
If the playoffs began today, the New York Knicks would meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. These same teams met at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
As expected, the hosts emerged victorious, 96-86.
Carmelo Anthony led the way with 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a steal, though he also accounted for a game-high seven turnovers. He got plenty of support from Raymond Felton (14 points, eight assists) and Tyson Chandler, who pulled in a season-high 20 rebounds. Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith also contributed 17 points apiece off the bench.
All told, it was just the sort of effort you'd expect from the No. 2 seed in the East.
The Knicks out-boarded the big, bad Bucks and held them under 40-percent shooting while knocking down 13 of their 35 three-point attempts.
Expect similar results if/when these squads go toe-to-toe again come playoff time.
6. Blow It Up? Says Who?!
David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports
Remember when the Boston Celtics were cooked? Done? Through? Kaput?
Remember how Rajon Rondo's season came to an end on account of a torn ACL? And Jared Sullinger followed suit with back surgery?
Well, apparently, the Celtics didn't get the message. Their 97-84 win over the Orlando Magic was Boston's third in a row since Rondo's exit and moved the team back to the .500 mark.
This came on the heels of a six-game skid that seemed to officially mark the end of the C's pursuit of anything better than the eighth seed in the East.
That may still be Boston's ultimate fate, especially with Toronto and Philadelphia facing potential improvement.
For now, though, it's evidently too soon to stick a fork in the C's—as long as they still have Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to carry the day.
7. The Lakers Hang on Without Dwight Howard
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
While Dwight Howard was resting his shoulder back in L.A., the Lakers were busy piling up points against the Kevin Love-less Minnesota Timberwolves.
L.A. came away with a 111-100 win to snap what had been an eight-game road skid and extended their winning streak over Minnesota to 20 games. Pau Gasol pulled in a double-double (22 points, 12 rebounds), Kobe Bryant (17 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) fell two helpers shy of a triple-double and Steve Nash stuffed the stat sheet with sevens (17 points, seven rebounds, seven assists).
But as good as everything looks in the box score—including 36 points off the bench and a 57-40 rebounding edge—it's easy to overlook the Lakers' myriad shortcomings in this particular game.
They led by as many as 29 points in the first half, but let the T-Wolves pull within four points amid a massive fourth-quarter scoring drought. Moreover, Minny managed to hit 46.1 percent of its shots against a typically subpar Lakers defense.
Still, a win's a win, especially for the Purple and Gold. The Lakers now sit at 21-26 on the season, within three-and-a-half games of the eighth-place Houston Rockets.