8 Takeaways from Friday Night's Star-Driven NBA Action
With a heavy, 12-game schedule and no football or baseball to pry away attention, the NBA was perfectly set up to dominate the sports world on Friday night.
With superstar performances littering those 12 box scores, commissioner David Stern rightfully laughed himself to sleep when the Chicago Bulls' 93-89 victory over the Utah Jazz closed a wildly successful six hours of hoops.
There were Stern favorites throughout the night.
The major markets were well-represented. Two teams from L.A., two more from New York, Chicago and Houston were all in action.
The superstars of Stern's league grasped the global audience with the requisite force of the night's numerous aerial assaults.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups returned to the hardwood for a South Beach showdown with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. All-Stars James Harden and LaMarcus Aldridge tried to one-up each other in Houston's Toyota Center just eight days before the pair will team up inside the same arena.
Paul George reaffirmed his All-Star status in Indianapolis, while Stephen Curry and Marc Gasol proved their snub status in Memphis. Carmelo Anthony heated up a chilled Minneapolis night. Tony Parker set out to prove that he's fine without his battle-tested running mates.
However, deputy commissioner Adam Silver took comfort in seeing the stars of tomorrow seizing their opportunity.
From Greivis Vasquez' first career triple-double in Atlanta to the 20-10 nights for a pair of Charlotte Bobcats (Byron Mullens and Gerald Henderson) and the newest Orlando Magic center (Nikola Vucevic), the youngsters showed the league will remain in good hands as today's stars flicker over time.
With All-Star Weekend just days away, read on to find out who validated their selections and who the fans (and coaches) might have overlooked...
Wrong Place, Right Opponent for the Lakers
The road has been a dangerous place for the Los Angeles Lakers. Their first 25 road games of the season netted just eight victories and a horde of questions.
Their 100-93 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night didn't do much to offer a solution. An immoral victory if there's ever been one, the Lakers needed a 31-15 fourth-quarter edge to rebound from a 20-point second-half deficit.
Kobe Bryant bounced back from a scoreless, hiss-free first half in which the "Black Mamba" attempted just two shots (via The Washington Post). Maybe he was simply conserving his energy, as the Lakers needed each one of his 14 fourth-quarter points to narrowly avoid what would have been a new low point in a season littered with them.
Or maybe, Bryant was simply waiting for Dwight Howard to revert to his new normal. His 12 first-half points were encouraging, but not enough to overlook a silent second half.
Double-digit efforts from Earl Clark and Steve Nash (17 each) helped the Lakers compensate for the two-quarter blanks shot by Howard and Bryant, and that proved enough against the lowly Bobcats (11-38, six straight defeats).
The Lakers won't salvage their season by scratching out wins against teams like the Bobcats, though, and they won't find many wins this way against stiffer competition.
Pistons Clown Road-Trippin' Spurs
The Detroit Pistons snapped the San Antonio Spurs' 11-game winning streak in the second game of the Spurs' annual rodeo road trip with a resounding 119-109 victory.
Tim Duncan (sore left knee) had missed all but two of the team's last eight wins, but San Antonio had compensated for his absence with MVP efforts from Tony Parker and enough out of the supporting cast to keep the streak alive.
There was no question that coach Gregg Popovich could have used his Hall of Fame center in this matchup, though. Greg Monroe bullied Duncan's understudies with a team-best 26 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Charlie Villanueva scored a season-high 21 points and matched his season best with eight rebounds in 33 minutes off the bench.
Brandon Knight poured in 24 points (on 21 shots), and rookie Kyle Singler hit double digits (14 points) for the fourth time in six games since the team traded Tayshaun Prince.
For the Spurs, it was just their 10th loss in 27 away games this season. But the league's best road warriors will have that mark challenged with seven stops left on their transcontinental journey necessitated by the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
Tony Parker scored 31 points for the third time in his last five games, but that wasn't enough, as his club afforded the Pistons a 21-point cushion in the second quarter. Six other Spurs scored at least eight points, but none were able to fill the massive scoring void created by a sidelined Duncan and Manu Ginobili (hamstring tightness).
Hay Day for Nene
The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't the only ones that can attribute a lost season to a rash of injuries.
The Washington Wizards have gotten just a combined 52 appearances from big man Nene and point guard John Wall in the team's 49 games this season. The Wizards have won nine of the 16 games that Wall has played, a far cry from the team's 14-35 mark overall.
Friday night's 89-74 dismantling of the fifth-seed Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of what a healthy Wizards team is capable of. Given the relative weakness in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, it's a shame that this team couldn't get healthy sooner.
Wall scored 15 points and dished out nine dimes, and Nene displayed his offensive wizardry with an efficient 20 points on a 9-of-13 night from the field (2-of-2 from the free-throw line). Rookie Bradley Beal returned to action after missing the past eight games with a sprained right wrist, scoring three points in 18 minutes of work.
As has been the case of late, defense was the story of the night in Washington. The Wizards have allowed just four opponents to hit the century mark in their past 25 games. The Nets' 74 points were just one clear of matching their season low.
It's tempting to praise Washington's defensive effort on Deron Williams (20 points, 7-of-20 from the field), but D-Will has been nothing more than a volume scorer all season (16.7 points on 13.4 field-goal attempts per game entering the contest).
The Wizards' smothering lock on All-Star replacement Brook Lopez (13 points, 3-of-11 shooting) was something to behold, though. It was Lopez' lowest scoring total of 2013 and the first time in nine games he'd been held below 15 points.
Amir-Aculous Finish for the Raptors
The final grade for the Toronto Raptors' Rudy Gay heist won't be given for some time, but it looks like the team did its homework.
Gay scored 17 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as his Raptors held off the Indiana Pacers 100-98. The extra session came courtesy of a replay-reviewed tip-in from Toronto big man Amir Johnson (14 points and 14 rebounds) during what could have been the longest 10 seconds of Indiana's season.
After a pair of David West free throws gave the Pacers a four-point lead with 10 seconds left in regulation, Johnson converted on his second tip attempt. West snatched the ball and tried to hit a streaking Lance Stephenson near half court.
But West's pass was stolen by Gay, who found Johnson before tumbling across the half-court line. Johnson split two defenders and raced through the paint, missing on his attempted floater but converting a follow-up as the buzzer sounded.
In overtime, it was Gay's turn for a heroic performance. He scored four of Toronto's final six points, including the game-winner on a step-back jumper with less than two seconds left on the clock.
This is why the Raptors were willing to sacrifice the steady hand of Jose Calderon and the potential of Ed Davis. It's why they comfortably absorbed Gay's $17.9 million 2013-14 salary and potentially his $19.3 million player option the following season.
Gay is far from a perfect player, but he's the closest thing the team has had to a go-to scorer since Chris Bosh crossed the border in 2010.
A Golden State of Disarray
If this were the Golden State Warriors of recent years, a three-game road losing streak to the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies wouldn't have been ominous; it would've been expected.
Even with the Warriors' emergence in the Western Conference playoff race, this was going to be a brutal road trip.
But if the Warriors want to consider themselves among the conference's elites, Friday night's game with the Grizzlies was one they had to have.
The Warriors outshot the Grizzlies 48 percent to 46 percent from the field and kept the points-in-the-paint and turnover battles in a workable range (36 to 40 and 15 to 13, respectively).
But with Jarrett Jack unavailable (shoulder) and Carl Landry plagued by foul trouble (four in fewer than 13 minutes), the Warriors struggled to find scorers to complement All-Star David Lee (26 points) and should-be All-Star Stephen Curry (32 points) and left Memphis with a 99-93 defeat.
Rookie Harrison Barnes (six points, 2-of-8 shooting) has struggled to find his niche. Sophomore Klay Thompson failed to reach double figures (nine points) for the second time in his last three games while fumbling through a disastrous six-turnover performance.
Golden State has the chance to salvage one victory from its four-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday. They can ill afford to let another conference game get away, as their 15-15 in-conference record is the worst among the West's top six seeds.
South Beach Showtime
While the Los Angeles Clippers were glad to welcome Chris Paul (bruised kneecap), Blake Griffin (strained hamstring) and Chauncey Billups (foot tendinitis) back to the fold on Friday, the trio might be wishing they'd waited another night.
Behind another MVP performance from LeBron James (30 points, 9-of-11 from the field, 4-of-5 from deep), the Miami Heat scorched the Clippers 111-89. It was his fourth consecutive 30-plus outing, all of which have featured at least five rebounds and five assists.
The "King" spent his 31 minutes of work claiming his throne and then spent the fourth quarter polishing his crown (or whatever it is kings do in their downtime) as his teammates carried out the assault.
Dwyane Wade played his usual supportive role (20 points, seven assists and six rebounds), but with Chris Bosh and Ray Allen both sidelined by illness, coach Erik Spoelstra needed someone else to carry the scoring load.
That someone was Mario Chalmers, Spoelstra's over-criticized point guard. Chalmers (18 points, five three-pointers made) not only stymied the efforts of Paul (three points, 1-of-5 from the field) but also harassed the Clippers' coveted trade chip Eric Bledsoe (seven points, 2-of-6).
Throw in a combined 22 points and five threes from Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis, and the party started earlier than expected on Biscayne Boulevard.
Beard over Brawn in Houston
The on-again, off-again Houston Rockets are clearly back on.
They have their bearded leader to thank for that.
When the eighth-seeded Rockets welcomed the ninth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers to the Toyota Center a week before the arena will host the All-Star festivities, the Rockets got more out of their All-Star representative. It was close, but James Harden outperformed LaMarcus Aldridge, and Harden's Rockets held on for a 118-103 victory.
Harden flirted with perfection over the game's first 24 minutes. As each side headed for the locker room, he carried this stat line with him: 20 points (8-of-8 FG, 2-of-2 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), eight assists and three rebounds.
By the time the final horn had sounded, his numbers were nearly as impressive: 35 points (13-of-16, 4-of-5, 5-of-6), 11 assists, seven rebounds and a steal. It was Harden's third double-double in his last four outings, which includes a triple-double.
But he wasn't alone in registering some notable numbers. Chandler Parsons (20), Jeremy Lin (16) and Patrick Patterson (16) each poured in double figures and shot better than 50 percent from the field.
Portland got its own All-Star performance from Aldridge, who abused Houston's frontcourt to the tune of 31 points and 11 rebounds. Nicolas Batum needed just 12 field-goal attempts and six free throws to tally 24 points.
Melo-Dramatic Come-from-Behind Win for NY
Behind 36 points from Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks held off the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-94 in Minneapolis.
New York trailed by 11 with just seven minutes left in the game, but Anthony was determined not to let this should-be win slip away. He connected on half of his 26 field-goal attempts, adding nine rebounds and a pair of assists to his stat line.
With Kevin Love still sidelined (hand), coach Rick Adelman again struggled to identify a consistent scorer. Luke Ridnour (20 points) and Derrick Williams (19) led the way for Minnesota, and that probably says it all.
Minnesota's horrendous three-point performance (1-of-13) was poor enough to offset a rough night for New York's marksmen (8-of-26 from deep).
Thanks to Anthony's brilliance and double-digit efforts from four of his teammates (J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Novak), the Knicks were able to steal their sixth win in seven games behind a dominant 30-18 fourth quarter.
Considering the Knicks' stay was extended an extra night, thanks to a wide-reaching snowstorm on the East Coast, their brief two-game road trip became bearable with the win.