8 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's Injury-Plagued NBA Action
Injuries are an inevitable part of the game of basketball. But rarely, if ever, do they factor into the NBA news cycle to such an extent as they did on this day.
Word of Pau Gasol's partially torn plantar fascia came to devastate the Los Angeles Lakers and shake up the landscape of the basketball world in the afternoon. Gasol's was surely the biggest injury-related item of the day.
But it was far from the last. A fistful of shorthanded squads took to the hardwood amidst the inherent intrigue and insanity that accompanies a 13-game slate. The Indiana Pacers pressed on without Danny Granger, as they have all season. The Boston Celtics sought to keep perfect their record in the wake of Rajon Rondo's torn ACL. The Miami Heat hosted the Houston Rockets while Chris Bosh took a sick day. Tim Duncan spent his evening resting sprains in his knee and ankle.
And the Los Angeles Clippers did their best to persevere through the annual onset of the "Clipper Curse" while Jamal Crawford joined Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on Vinny Del Negro's growing list of DNPs.
How did those teams fare in the absence of their stars? And what else went down on this first Wednesday of February?
Read on to find out...
Ariza-n to Believe in the Wizards
Rare is the occasion that Trevor Ariza is worthy of mention, much less the star of the show. The journeyman wing out of UCLA did plenty to earn more substantial attention on this night, and not just because his Washington Wizards upended the New York Knicks for the first time in 11 meetings.
Though that certainly has plenty to do with it.
More importantly, Ariza played a critical role in helping the Wizards pick up just their 13th win of the season against the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. He scored a season-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including five three-pointers, with four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 33 minutes off the bench.
What's more, his defense on Carmelo Anthony (31 points on 10-of-23 shooting) was respectable, at the very least. The Wizards may be John Wall's team, but they can't hope to turn themselves into a winning outfit any time soon unless they can coax performances like Ariza's from their supporting cast going forward.
Indy Goes Three-for-Three...and Handily
The powers that be, within the NBA and elsewhere, did the Indiana Pacers no favors when they rescheduled a previously snowed-out game against the Chicago Bulls for February 5. That meant the Pacers would have to play their way through a lockout-style back-to-back-to-back to start the month.
Apparently, the Pacers didn't mind. They saw their streak of 100-plus-point games snapped, though I doubt they'll find much about which to complain following their 88-69 smackdown of the Philadelphia 76ers. Indy shot an unsightly 39 percent from the field but limited Philly to 34.4 percent while forcing the Sixers into 15 turnovers (and 20 points off of them).
It was precisely the sort of workmanlike effort we've come to expect from the Pacers this season. Roy Hibbert (18 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks) took advantage of Philly's lack of size inside, but nonetheless misfired on 12 of his 20 attempts. Paul George and David West chipped in 15 points apiece. George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill combined to clamp down on Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, who combined for a modest 21 points on 8-of-32 shooting.
And to think, this team is still awaiting the return of Danny Granger. Indy will finish the month with seven of eight games at home and plenty of opportunities to build on their burgeoning success therein.
Which is to say, they should have fun beating up on the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons (twice).
A(nother) Big Game for the Big Ticket
The Boston Celtics moved to 5-0 since Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL, thanks in no small part to Kevin Garnett. "The Big Ticket" registered a season-high 27 points on 11-of-18 from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 at the free-throw line to lead the C's to a 99-95 win over the Toronto Raptors.
KG was particularly prolific in the fourth quarter. He scored 11 points in the final frame to help Boston turn a 10-point deficit into a four-point triumph at the Air Canada Centre.
Of course, Garnett wasn't the only one responsible for Boston's latest outcome. He was but one of six Celtics to score in double figures, including a 12-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance from Paul Pierce.
It's these sorts of showings, particularly from Garnett and Pierce, on which the C's must rely from here on out if they're to make the best of their situation sans Rondo. Boston may not be wise to count on a pair of aging 30-somethings to carry such a heavy load, but absent a stunning trade before the Feb. 21 deadline, what choice does this team have?
Memories of My Melancholy Music City
It'll be some time before the score from the Rudy Gay trade is finally settled. So far, though, the Memphis Grizzlies haven't made out so well. A 103-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday was Memphis' third such result in four tries since shipping Gay to the Toronto Raptors.
Good thing the Washington Wizards were sprinkled therein.
As for the Grizzlies' latest, that 11-point margin of defeat hardly conveys the carnage contained therein. Memphis trailed by as many as 23 points overall—and 21 in the fourth quarter—before Larry Drew decided to give his second unit some more run. Tayshaun Prince was particularly pitiful for the Grizz, accounting for just six points on 3-of-9 shooting.
But the bigger concern was Memphis' once-stout defense. The Grizzlies allowed an opponent to hit triple digits for the third time in five games after surrendering that much scoring just four times through the first 43 contests.
An offensive slide is to be expected in the wake of Gay's departure, even for a team as inept on that end as Memphis already was. But if the Grizzlies' defense continues to give way, their hopes of so much as sniffing a single series victory in the postseason will dissipate as well.
From Golden to Burnt
Speaking of mid-tier Western Conference playoff teams on the fritz, the Golden State Warriors were taken to task for the second time in as many nights. The Thunder made quick work of the visiting Warriors, leading by a comfortable margin throughout en route to a 119-98 final.
To be sure, a 21-point loss to the defending champs out West isn't nearly as embarrassing as, say, giving up 140 points and 23 three-point makes to the eight-seed Houston Rockets. What's more, with Andrew Bogut currently forbidden from playing the second half of back-to-backs, it wouldn't have come as any shock for the Dubs to get pounded inside.
But to surrender a 64-40 edge in points in the paint is unacceptable for any team, including the Warriors, that aspires to be a solid defensive squad. Neither can Golden State hope to outgun an opponent as loaded with skill and athleticism as the Thunder when OKC is so easily able to turn 19 turnovers into 29 points.
Not to mention the 20 points the Thunder tallied in transition.
Better days are surely ahead for the Warriors, though they'll be doomed to little more than a first-round postseason exit if they don't pick up their defensive performance, particularly against playoff-bound opponents.
No Chris Bosh? No Problem!
The Miami Heat had their hands full on Wednesday. They were forced to face the scorching-hot Houston Rockets, who tied the NBA single-game record for made three-pointers the night before, without the services of Chris Bosh, who sat out on account of illness.
The Rockets gave the Heat all they could handle. James Harden strung together a spectacular line of 36 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three steals in his first visit to South Beach since the 2012 NBA Finals. Omer Asik (15 points, 14 rebounds) registered a daunting double-double of his own. Houston, as a whole, shot a solid 48.8 percent from the field.
Never fear, though. Miami sprinted out to a 17-point lead in the third quarter and hung on in the end behind 30-plus-point efforts from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. D-Wade was particularly prolific, nailing all 13 of his free-throw attempts and blocking a three-pointer by Harden in crunch time to seal a 114-108 win for Miami.
It was a solid effort all around for Miami, which couldn't quite be said of any of its three previous outings.
"Mini LeBron" Plays the Part
The Los Angeles Clippers were in dire need of a big performance from an unexpected source on Wednesday. Chris Paul missed his ninth game in a row with a bruised knee cap. Blake Griffin sat out his second with a hamstring strain. Even sixth man Jamal Crawford was a no-go with a sore right shoulder.
Not good news, to say the least, especially for a squad that had dropped its last three games in a row.
Enter Eric Bledsoe. The gifted point guard left his fans in the blogosphere drooling with 27 points, six rebounds, three assists, six steals and three blocks in 41 minutes against the Orlando Magic. Bledsoe was a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor, hounding Jameer Nelson and E'Twaun Moore defensively while making Orlando's backcourt work hard to slow him down.
To be sure, leading the Clips to a win over this Magic team doesn't count as all that much of an accomplishment. The loss extended Orlando's latest losing streak to 11 games, just after riding a 10-game skid from late December into January.
Still, a win's a win, and the Clippers sorely needed one of those. They can't reasonably count on Bledsoe to be "The Man" for too long going forward. But if he does, indeed, continue to shine in the absence of L.A.'s other stars, then the Clips' best bargaining chip should yield an even greater return if/when they opt to trade him.
Spurs Still Streaking Sans Timmy
Did the San Antonio Spurs feel bad for the Minnesota Timberwolves missing Kevin Love, or was Tim Duncan really bothered by sprains in his ankle and knee?
The answer is the latter. Definitely the latter.
Still, that didn't stop the Spurs from scooting by the T-Wolves on the road, 104-94, to extend their season-best winning streak to 11 games. Tony Parker led the way with a game-high 31 points to go along with eight assists, five rebounds and two steals.
But Parker was hardly alone in his excellence. He had plenty of help from Danny Green (28 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals), Kawhi Leonard (19 points, 10 rebounds) and a Spurs D that limited Minny to 40.7 percent shooting from the field.
Of course, this is how the Spurs have always done it—as a team. As crucial as Timmy is to San Antonio's title hopes, it's games like these, wherein bit contributors are afforded opportunities to play big minutes, that help to flesh out a deep, tightly knit roster that can go deep into the postseason.