5 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action
It was a bit of the new and a lot of the old on Monday night's four-game NBA schedule.
Some familiar faces rose to the occasion in Detroit and Salt Lake City, while some new ones dominated the landscapes of Denver and Toronto.
The Los Angeles Lakers entered the night on a four-game winning streak, but a trip to Denver's Pepsi Center is as daunting as road ventures come in the NBA. The Washington Wizards hoped to end their road woes on their north-of-the-border excursion, while the Atlanta Hawks looked to continue their winning ways on the road against a battered Detroit Pistons team.
The Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz held the title as the game of the night for their back-and-forth contest in need of an extra session to be decided, but with all four games averaging a 7.3-point scoring differential, it was hardly the night's only excitement.
Boston O.T. Party
The Boston Celtics limped into Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena losers of four of their past six games. But the Celtics rediscovered their winning ways in a place that aging teams rarely do—overtime.
Thanks to some timely offense from 15-year veteran Paul Pierce, the Celtics salvaged a 2-3 showing for their five-game road trip with a 110-107 win.
Pierce had been struggling of late, scoring 13 points or fewer in four of his last six games (shooting below 34 percent three different times). It appeared he may have been heading for more of the same, after he finished the first half with just six points.
Perhaps sparked by the promise of a return home after the game, he awakened at intermission. He scored seven points in the third quarter, six more in the fourth, and seven of Boston's 13 points in overtime.
But he wasn't the only player deserving of credit for the win. Five of his teammates scored in double figures, led by defensive-stopper Avery Bradley's 18.
The Celtics outshot the Jazz 47.7 to 44.3 percent from the field, but Utah's blistering 47.1 three-point percentage helped erase all of an eight-point deficit heading into the game's final quarter.
Utah opened the period on a 13-2 run (which included seven points from Gordon Hayward), but a Brandon Bass converted an and-one opportunity to stop the bleeding and allowed the Celtics to make enough plays to force an extra session.
No Danilo, No Problem
Danilo Gallinari (bruised thigh) was a late scratch for the Denver Nuggets in their Monday night Western Conference showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But coach George Karl flexed his team's two biggest strengths (depth and home-court advantage) by snapping the Lakers' four-game winning streak with a 119-108 win.
Gallinari's stand-in, Wilson Chandler, missed his season high by one point, pouring in 23 on the strength of his 10-of-18 shooting display.
Chandler had largely flown under the radar since making his decision to travel overseas during the 2011 NBA lockout, in which his Chinese Basketball Association deal did not include an opt-out clause. He came back stateside with a five-year, $37 million contract from the Nuggets, but hip surgery held him out of all but eight games last season.
With Gallinari and first-year Nugget Andre Iguodala on the roster, Chandler has struggled to find his way in Karl's rotation. His 21.3 minutes per game are the fewest he's played since his rookie season of 2007-08.
But more showings like this one could put the versatile Chandler in line for more playing time going forward. He has the size (6'8", 220 lbs), strength and quickness to play either forward position and, along with Gallinari and Iguodala, gives Karl some flexibility with his lineups.
With the win, the Nuggets improved to 24-3 at home.
Another Dwightmare Performance at the Free-Throw Line
Dwight Howard's free-throw struggles have been well documented over the course of his first season with the Lakers.
His 49.3 percentage at the charity stripe is the worst such mark among all players with at least 50 free-throw attempts on the season. But on Monday night, he'd have gladly taken a 49 percent success rate.
Surely there was more to the Lakers' loss than Howard's free-throw woes, but there's one number that stands out in the game's box score: 11. That would be an 11-point loss for L.A. (119-108) and 11 missed free throws from Howard (3-of-14).
Howard has pleaded for more involvement in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, and this game probably did little to calm his burning desires. He finished the night with just eight official field-goal attempts, which tied him with Steve Nash for fifth most on the roster.
Clearly, the D'Antoni-Howard dynamic is a work in progress. Whether or not one (or both) return to the franchise next season, this is a relationship in dire need of repair if the 28-30 Lakers are ever going to make their postseason push.
Kobe Bryant tried to fill both the scoring (29 points) and distributing (nine assists), roles that he's played over the course of the season, but his need for an interior complement was glaring.
With Pau Gasol (foot) all but lost for the remainder of the regular season, the onus is on D'Antoni and Howard to find a way to coexist. The Lakers' success hinges on their ability to do so.
Smith, Horford Have Hawks Soaring
Al Horford finished with 23 points and matched his career high with 22 rebounds, and Josh Smith added 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists as the Atlanta Hawks (32-23) routed the Detroit Pistons (22-37) inside The Palace at Auburn Hills.
While the rest of the basketball world waited for Atlanta general manager Danny Ferry to drop the first domino (Smith) at the trade deadline, the Hawks quietly played some of their best basketball of the season. Monday's win was their 10th in their past 15 games, and fifth in their last six tries.
The versatile (and impending free agent) Smith dominated the trade talks, but it was Horford who really dominated Detroit's defense. He hit 10 of his 13 field goals (including his first made three of the season) and grabbed seven offensive rebounds.
And Horford's efficiency carried over to his teammates. Atlanta finished the night with a slash line of .506/.424/.833, a performance that grows even more amazing considering it scored just 26 points in the paint.
Detroit's depleted backcourt (Brandon Knight, knee, and Will Bynum, suspension, were both unavailable) was repeatedly exposed by Jeff Teague. The Hawks point guard had his sixth 20/10 game of the season (20 points, 12 assists) and first with only one turnover.
Smith's uncertain future will likely remain the talk surrounding the Hawks over the season's final months, but the team has the chance to put the focus back on the hardwood with a sustained playoff run. With the victory, Atlanta moved percentage points ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Real Deal Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal couldn't stay out of the rumor mill at the NBA trade deadline, no matter how many times the Washington Wizards said he was unavailable.
On Monday night, he reminded the basketball world why he's such a coveted player...and why Washington would not let him out of its grasp.
Beal scored a team-high 20 points in the Wizards' 90-84 win over the Toronto Raptors inside Air Canada Centre. He needed just 13 shots to hit his mark (connecting on eight of them) and added six rebounds, two assists and one steal in his 39 minutes.
It was the rookie's fourth 20-plus point effort in his seven games since returning from a five-game absence to rest his sore wrist. He's connected on better than 47 percent of his field goals and 50 percent of his three-point attempts during this stretch.
Beal left the University of Florida after just one season and entered the NBA with a reputation as a shooter based more on his shooting form than actual results (he shot just 33.9 percent from deep as a Gator). While he's had his struggles from the field this season (39.8 field-goal percentage), his perimeter shot has shown flashes of where scouts thought it was headed (37.2 three-point percentage).
Beal took home the Rookie of the Month honors in the Eastern Conference in both December and January and looks headed for his third straight award with performances like this one.