7 Takeaways from Saturday Night's Out-of-Hand NBA Action
Things got ugly during a seven-game, blowout-heavy slate of NBA action on Saturday night. Unless, of course, you were a fan of the teams on the winning end of some pretty lopsided scores.
If that's the case, there's an equal chance that you'll find some real beauty in these double-digit margins.
Five of Saturday night's seven games were decided by at least 13 points, and within those easy victories (or crushing defeats, depending on your perspective), there were some pretty spectacular performances.
LeBron James tossed up a casual triple-double, Danny Granger returned to an Indiana Pacers team playing all-time great D and JaVale McGee hammered home a whopping seven dunks.
In a pair of closer games, the Milwaukee Bucks got to see the unfavorable comparison between new teammates J.J. Redick and Monta Ellis up close, and the Washington Wizards put together a fantastic team effort to ground the Houston Rockets.
On the whole, Saturday night's games had a little something for everybody. Well, almost everybody. Fans of the Detroit Pistons are advised to move along. There's nothing to see here.
Washington Officially No Longer a Joke
It's hard to know when it happened, but the Washington Wizards are actually a decent basketball team. Following a 105-103 win over the red-hot Houston Rockets, John Wall and Co. are now a very solid 13-9 over their last 22 games.
The Rockets came out gunning, hoping to bury the Wizards early. As a matter of fact, Houston never really stopped firing, as it ultimately chucked up 46 three-point attempts. Nineteen went down, but in the end, the Rockets' scoring wasn't enough to withstand a huge second-half rally by Washington.
The Wizards outscored Houston 59-46 after the break.
John Wall captained the effort, dishing out 11 assists, and Bradley Beal continued his upward trend by scoring 21 points. The rookie has now improved his scoring average and field-goal percentage in every calendar month. Alongside the underrated Martell Webster, Beal gives the Wizards a pretty smooth wing duo.
Up front, the tandem of Nene and Emeka Okafor was too much for the undersized Rockets, who are still playing extremely small after trading away their entire power forward rotation at the deadline.
The hole Washington dug to start the season is far too deep for its recent stretch to provide any hope of a playoff run, but heading into next year, this is a team that really should be a postseason contender.
I know, I'm as shocked as you are.
Similar Records, Different Directions
Although the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic aren't separated by many games in the standings, Saturday night's game made it abundantly clear that these two teams are on vastly different trajectories.
And Kyrie Irving is the reason why.
His 12 points and nine assists on 4-of-9 shooting didn't set the stat sheet on fire, but Irving's total control of the game turned Cleveland's cast of inexperienced role players into a fully functioning unit.
Alonzo Gee got his lobs, Dion Waiters received a couple of dimes for dunks and even Tyler Zeller hit some jumpers because of Irving's setups.
Without a star of its own, Orlando ran around on a spectrum that spanned somewhere between disorganized and clueless.
Don't misunderstand, the Magic have plenty of young pieces with room to grow and a potential gem in center Nikola Vucevic. But without someone like Irving to put everything in order, there's little hope that Orlando will move out of the Eastern Conference basement anytime soon.
The disparity between these two clubs was most evident in the third quarter, as the Cavs rallied around Irving's leadership to turn a halftime tie into a seven-point advantage by the time the fourth quarter began.
And then Cleveland ran away with it in the final period, as Irving got to enjoy some rest on the bench. When the dust settled, Cleveland ended up winning by a decisive final score of 118-94.
In short, the Cavs are only three-and-a-half games ahead of the Magic in the standings, but they're miles beyond them in their quest to field a consistent winner—all thanks to Irving.
The Heat Are Getting a Little Ridiculous
LeBron James posted his third triple-double of the year, and Dwyane Wade put up a comically efficient 33 points on 14-of-18 shooting in a 114-90 pounding of the fading Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
At this point, everyone knows the Miami Heat are the East's best team, and all anyone's waiting for is that first glimpse of "that extra gear."
Well, we may have seen it Saturday night.
The Heat shot a blistering 58.4 percent as a team, forced twice as many turnovers (12) as they committed (six) and prevented the Sixers from scoring a single fast-break point. Even though Philadelphia isn't a playoff team, the Heat's frightening dominance on Saturday hinted at what postseason opponents are in for.
Winners of 10 straight, Miami is downright scary these days.
Pacers Double Down in Danny Granger's Return
The Indiana Pacers welcomed back Danny Granger on Saturday by doing the same thing they did the night before: crushing the Detroit Pistons. On the back end of a home-and-home set, Indy cruised by a final score of 90-72.
After missing all 55 games this season with patellar tendonosis, Granger returned to shoot a rusty 1-of-10 from the field. His errant jumpers didn't much matter, though, as the Pacers put the clamps on the overmatched Pistons less than 24 hours after pummeling them by a score of 114-82 on Friday.
And things got ugly in a hurry:
Indiana's defense is in a class by itself. Per 100 possessions, the Pacers allow a full two points less than the NBA's second-stingiest outfit, the Memphis Grizzlies. Just for reference, that's a bigger difference than the one that exists between the Miami Heat and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Bad shooting aside, Granger looked like he belonged with the Pacers, rotating intelligently and communicating on D. If he can reintegrate himself into what has become a historically punishing defense, it won't really matter how much of a scoring lift he provides.
The key now is finding a way to utilize both Granger and new alpha dog Paul George together. If the Pacers can pull that off, they'll be the only team capable of giving the Heat a real run in the East.
JaVale McGee Likes to Dunk
Perhaps you've heard: JaVale McGee has a penchant for throwing it down. If you were at all unfamiliar with that notion, the Denver Nuggets center's seven slams against the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night should have made it clear.
Sure, the larger takeaway from this one is probably the fact that the Nuggets finally won a road game after losing four straight. But come on, they beat the Bobcats. How big of a story is that?
Instead, let's focus on the fun stuff. McGee's seven dunks comprised just half of Denver's team total. The rangy, first-quarter spike in the clip above was just the beginning.
He tossed in a no-look lob from Corey Brewer with 10 minutes left in the fourth and got out on the break for a two-hander just minutes later. And if my math is correct, there were four more scattered throughout the rest of the game.
Denver's activity wasn't just limited to dunks, though. It logged 10 blocks, 11 steals and dished out 30 assists as a team. That kind of energy, mixed with a much heavier dose of home games down the stretch, could easily validate many preseason predictions that featured the Nuggets winning at least 50 games.
Oh, and on the night, Denver made a terrific 53 percent of its shots.
All of those slams had something to do with that.
J.J. Redick Makes the Bucks Better; Monta Ellis Does Not
In his first game as a Milwaukee Buck, J.J. Redick showed the members of his team's starting backcourt what offensive efficiency looks like.
I haven't been able to find any reaction from Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but there's a pretty good chance that the concept baffled them.
Redick scored 16 points on just nine shots and handed out seven assists in 35 minutes off the bench.
Al Horford spoiled Redick's debut by tossing in a go-ahead hook shot with under six seconds left, a bucket that gave the Atlanta Hawks a 103-102 victory. And while that result was disappointing, the Bucks' overall performance should be cause for a bit of optimism.
If Redick can continue playing at his current level, it's likely that he'll eat into Ellis' and Jennings' minutes. And that can only be a good thing because neither of Milwaukee's diminutive guards has Redick's combination of defensive competitiveness and high-percentage shooting.
Famed NBA gambler Haralabos Voulgaris, for one, is on board with playing Redick over Ellis:
Monta Ellis as pg won't work. Terrible passer, watch where guys are catching the ball when he passes to them, just hit JJ in the shins— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) February 24, 2013
And before anyone mentions Ellis' layup that put the Bucks ahead with 10 seconds left (or his 14-point, 10-assist line), please stop. A basketball court has two ends, and Devin Harris and Jeff Teague spent all night taking turns torching Ellis.
Maybe the highlight plays will decrease, but if the Bucks actually care about playing winning basketball, they'd be smart to feature Redick in an increasingly prominent role. If that comes at Ellis' expense, so be it.
Clips Get Healthy with 3rd-Quarter Explosion
The L.A. Clippers looked like they might have still been a little groggy in the first half of their late-Saturday matchup with the Utah Jazz.
The unofficial diagnosis was probably a case of acute BH, which we in the medical community know by its formal name as "Blowout Hangoveritis." Thanks to a 116-90 beatdown from the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 21, it's almost certain that the Clips were afflicted with BH.
And the only known cure for BH is to pay it forward.
The Clippers got healthy in the third quarter, turning a two-point halftime lead into an 18-point advantage to start the fourth quarter. And the final score of 107-94 probably understates how dominant the Clippers actually were in the second half.
Blake Griffin and Caron Butler combined to score 19 points in six minutes to start that big third period, and Chris Paul was right in the middle of everything. CP3 got credit for just three assists during that burst, but his total offensive control was also responsible for putting those guys in positions to draw a boatload of shooting fouls.
If there were any lingering questions about the Clippers' fitness and focus after their embarrassing loss to the Spurs, it's safe to say they've been answered now.
Unfortunately, for the Jazz, now they're stuck with a nasty case of BH themselves.