7 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's Trade Deadline NBA Action
Such was the case on this particular Wednesday. After an uninspiring evening on Tuesday to resume the regular season after the All-Star break, the Association returned in full force with a veritable smorgasbord of scintillating affairs to satiate the appetites of hoops heads everywhere.
Not that there weren't plenty of beatdowns on the docket. The Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers were among those involved in games that weren't particularly riveting in the closing moments, to say the least.
Still, between clutch performances from Kyrie Irving and James Harden to LeBron James dropping dimes down the stretch for the Miami Heat, there was plenty to get the average fan excited, and even more to build on what's shaping up to be an enthralling stretch run to close out the 2012-13 season.
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It's tough to tell what, exactly, is to be made of the Memphis Grizzlies' current five-game winning streak.
On the one hand, it's encouraging to see the Grizz grind out five victories after dropping three of four in the immediate aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. On the other hand, the most recent four, including an 88-82 nail-biter against Rudy's Toronto Raptors Wednesday night, have come at the expense of sub-.500 squads.
The lone exception? A 99-93 win over the Golden State Warriors, who are mired in a six-game slump.
But...well, wins are wins, and these ones have helped to solidify Memphis' pursuit of home-court advantage in the postseason. The Grizzlies will have plenty more opportunities to pad their record in the weeks to come, with dates against the Orlando Magic (twice), Portland Trail Blazers (twice), Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets upcoming.
Changing the Pace
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Don't look now, but the Indiana Pacers appear poised to make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference.
That is, if their 125-91 annihilation of the New York Knicks is any indication. The Knicks had all their principles (save for Rasheed Wallace) available, but were nonetheless held to 33.7 percent shooting on one end and allowed the Pacers to pile up a season-high 74 points in the first half, including 44 in the second quarter alone.
Perhaps the only noteworthy positive for New York was Tyson Chandler's 11-of-11 performance at the free-throw line.
On the other end, Paul George led five Pacers in double figures with 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and Lance Stephenson ignited the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with an impressive dunk in transition. Who needs Danny Granger when these guys (along with David West and George Hill) are piling up points as is?
Not that the Pacers won't gladly welcome their former All-Star into the fold when he's good and ready to play, or that he won't be able to contribute to what's shaping up to be a potential run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
What I'm trying to say is, watch out for Indy. The Pacers are now just a half-game back of New York for the No. 2 seed in the East, with the Miami Heat (against whom they're 2-0 this season) squarely in their sights.
Bench Bails out Miami Heat
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The Miami Heat's winning streak seemed all but over, with the Atlanta Hawks primed to put all Josh Smith trade talk on the backburner with a big post-All-Star-break victory of their own. The Heat stumbled to a 10-point deficit through the first three quarters, with Dwyane Wade (5-of-14) and Chris Bosh (0-of-8) struggling mightily from the field.
Then, well, the fourth quarter happened. Ray Allen and Shane Battier combined for 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, LeBron James tallied eight of his 11 assists, and the Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the final period on the way to a decisive 103-90 win—Miami's eighth in a row.
Miami's bench hasn't been particularly productive for most of the season, due in no small part to Ray Allen's inconsistent play off the pine. But if the Heat are to repeat as champions (and survive the slog of the regular season), they'll need steadier contributions from their reserves, like the ones they coaxed from Allen and Battier Wednesday night.
With an assist from LeBron, of course.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist...That Is All
What's there to learn from the Charlotte Bobcats' 105-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons in a battle of Eastern Conference lottery teams?
Not much. Except that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will crush your face if you're not careful. The rookie's clearly got some hops—and a bright future ahead of him.
The Bobcats can only hope MKG can learn from losing to a middle-aged Michael Jordan one-on-one.
Also, Kyrie Irving
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As long as we're on the topic of youngsters doing impressive things in meaningless games between teams counting ping pong balls, how about the performance Kyrie Irving turned in on national TV?
The second-year guard scored a game-high 35 points—including 20 in the fourth quarter—along with seven assists and five rebounds to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers past the New Orleans Hornets, 105-100.
Kyrie clearly came away the victor in all aspects of his battle with fellow No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, who registered 12 points and four rebounds of his own for the Hornets. All told, it's been a productive six-day stretch for Irving. First, there was the sick shake on Brandon Knight during the Rising Stars Challenge. Then came the Three-Point Shootout title, followed by his first appearance in the All-Star Game.
Now, a win, with yet another clutch fourth quarter from one of the NBA's brightest young stars.
FEAR THE BEARD!
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Things didn't go so well for James Harden the first two times he went up against his old 'mates this season. The Houston Rockets lost their first meeting to the Oklahoma City Thunder by 22 points and their second by 30 points, with Harden shooting a combined 9-of-33 (27.3 percent) from the field.
As it happens, the third time was, indeed, a charm for The Beard. Harden's final line was nothing short of astonishing—a career-high 46 points on 14-of-19 from the field, 7-of-8 from three and 11-of-12 from the line, with eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block in 44 minutes. More importantly, Harden scored 14 of those points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field to fuel a 29-12 Rockets run over the final 7:13 of the game to help Houston pull out a 122-119 win over the reigning Western Conference champions.
More impressively, though, Harden's performance managed to upstage some outstanding showings from Kevin Durant (his second career triple-double), Russell Westbrook (28 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) and Rockets backcourt buddy Jeremy Lin (29 points, six rebounds, eight assists).
Because The Beard gets what The Beard wants...period. Even if it means turning a pair of intriguing trades into mere footnotes for the time being.
Lakers Honor Past, Present and Future
An emotional night for the Los Angeles Lakers turned into one befitting the memory of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss at the Staples Center. The evening began with a stirring montage of Dr. Buss' life, followed by a pitch-perfect speech by Kobe Bryant.
And capped off by a 113-99 blowout win over the archrival Boston Celtics, which undoubtedly had the legendary owner smiling down from somewhere. Seven Lakers scored in double figures, with Kobe and Steve Nash chipping in seven assists apiece.
Surely, though, Dr. Buss would be more pleased if this particular victory turned out to be part of a late-season playoff push for the Purple and Gold. The Lakers remain 3.5 games behind the Houston Rockets in the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
But with Dwight Howard supposedly settled in for the rest of the season (after pouring in 24 points and 12 boards) and the "JB" patches firmly affixed to their jerseys, the Lakers have every motivation to make the most of their remaining schedule.