6 Takeaways from Sunday Afternoon's NBA Action
There was some kind of Super Bowl thing happening during the evening, so the NBA decided to be nice to the NFL and let them get a few viewers by scheduling just three games on Sunday afternoon. And they all ended up having some sort of intrigue.
While the Toronto Raptors were doing their best to hang with the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics continued on their quests to keep their playoff hopes alive despite huge losses from injuries.
The Lakers continued on their comeback trail with an important win over the Detroit Pistons (although Los Angeles tried everything in its power to give the game away near the end).
Meanwhile, the Celtics took a long, hard look at the teams behind them in the playoff race and made it known that a silly little torn ACL to their star point guard followed by season-ending back surgery for one of their most important bench players wasn't going to slow them down.
And the Raptors-Heat contest may have ended up a bit lopsided, but it was a much more interesting game than the final score indicated.
It's Nearly Impossible to Beat Miami Without Three-Pointers
The Miami Heat are 15-2 when opponents make just six or fewer three-pointers against them, so when Toronto ended up making just four threes against Miami on Sunday afternoon, it shouldn't shock anybody to learn that the Raptors lost 100-85.
It makes sense that this is the case, too. Teams generally have two weapons to use against the Heat if they want to walk away with a win. Miami is an incredibly poor rebounding team, and they're below average when it comes to defending the three-point line.
When the Heat are able to focus on putting together a complete defensive performance every night, they are nearly impossible to take down.
In wins, the Heat allow opponents to shoot just under 33 percent from the three-point line, while they're watching as opponents shoot a ridiculous 43 percent from downtown in losses.
Toronto started to fall behind late in the fourth against Miami, and Terrence Ross ended up air-balling two straight three-pointers.
They couldn't get back into the game from then on out.
Boston Is Jason Voorhees
They're never going to die, are they?
A lot can be said about the Los Angeles Lakers' most recent run toward playoff contention, but the Boston Celtics have decided to disregard any troubles that they may have had when people started to talk about blowing the roster up.
At this point, they're collectively no different than Jason Voorhees, proving it once more in a 106-104 win over the Clippers.
Oh, you chained Jason to a giant rock and left him at the bottom of a lake to drown? No problem, he'll be back a half dozen more times to chop Crispin Glover's face in half with a cleaver.
What's that? The Celtics just lost Jared Sullinger to back surgery after Rajon Rondo tore his ACL a few games back?
No worries, Jason Terry will go ahead and hit his first real important shot of the season with the Celtics, while Jason Collins somehow hits five free throws in the game to pour in seven points off the bench.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett could both get smallpox tomorrow, and I would be forced to go put a few bucks down on them to win the NBA championship.
The Lakers Have the Same Old Problems...
For months now, we've talked about how the Lakers offense was too turnover-prone, how they gave up way too many fast-break points and how their defense always seems to fail them down the stretch.
Well, that's exactly what happened in their 98-97 win over the Detroit Pistons, only they came away with a victory instead of yet another embarrassing loss without the services of Dwight Howard.
The Lakers turned the ball over 14 times Sunday afternoon, which is right in line with what they've been doing all season long. With those 14 turnovers, the Pistons were able to push the tempo (mostly in the second half) and outrun the Lakers to find a way to end up with 22 fast-break points.
Not only that, but the Lakers yet again found a way to get up big in the first half, just as they did against the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves their previous two contests. The only problem was that they squandered the lead yet again.
The Lakers were up by as many as 18 points, 72-54, in the third quarter, yet they started to turn the ball over and take bad shots, and they ended up fighting to win by just a point.
They may be winning games, but they're still not anywhere near the caliber of team that could make it past even the second round of the playoffs.
...But They're Finding Ways to Mask Them
Of course, there's a reason they're able to continue to play with reckless abandon on offense, and a bit of a lackadaisical sense of disregard on defense, and still come away with wins. They've changed their offense for the better.
Even though Kobe Bryant finished the win against the Pistons with just five assists (compared to the dozen or so we've been used to for a few games), the offense they're running is an all-inclusive pass-a-thon that's targeting their hottest players and inserting the ball into the post.
It's no longer the isolation-heavy offense reliant on Kobe distracting the defense to the point that Steve Nash can figure out a way to get the rest of the team involved throughout the game.
Not only that, but they're also using their offense in a way that leads to more high-percentage shots, a greater chance at collecting offensive rebounds, or just making the shot—which in turn cuts down on how often their opponents are able to sprint to the other end of the floor and put a shot up.
They haven't completely gotten rid of the problems that have plagued them all year, but they've found a way to minimize them along the way.
Toronto Looks Promising
For three quarters against the Heat, it looked like the Raptors might find a way to pull out the win, or at least to get the game to come down to the wire.
Unfortunately, their shots stopped falling, and Miami's interior defense kept them from getting to the paint as frequently off the cut or with an entry pass down to a big fellow.
One of the biggest problems that hit them along the way was that they couldn't hit three-pointers.
They're mediocre shooters collectively, but with Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross—along with Rudy Gay, who can hit a long ball every once in a while—it's not like they don't have the weapons.
This was just a night when the shots didn't fall, and Ross ended up air-balling two shots down the stretch, which is a total aberration.
Give them time to learn how to play with Gay as their leading scorer, and they're going to have an offense dominated by slashers and shooters.
The Clippers Are Incredibly Pedestrian without Chris Paul
When Chris Paul was in the lineup, there were few people who would argue against the Los Angeles Clippers being the second-best team in the Western Conference.
They were 29-10 and had beaten every team necessary to cement themselves as the best team in California and one of the three best teams in the league.
When their star point guard is on the sidelines, though, they just don't have the same kind of competitive nature. They're not well-led, and they fall back into old habits that would normally get blamed on Vinny Del Negro.
Paul has missed 10 of Los Angeles' past 12 games, and they've put together a very uninspired 5-5 record in that time, with losses to the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics.
However, I suppose it's fair to point out that four of those five losses have come on the road, and they've been competitive in most of them.
Hopefully, this is just another midseason absence for Paul, and that's it. Otherwise, the Clippers have no chance of making it past the second round of the playoffs if he's sidelined once the playoffs come up.