8 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's Surprising NBA Action
Just because February is almost over doesn't mean the NBA need slow its roll into March. Tuesday's slate was short on high-profile matchups, but was hardly wanting for exciting developments and the unfolding of ongoing storylines.
Two overtime games, three others that came down to the wire in regulation, a coach practically jumping ship on his own team, a West Coast dunk-fest, and a melee in the Midwest all but guaranteed as much.
Who'd have thought an eight-game schedule during the usually forgettable tail end of February would've (or even could've) yielded as much intrigue as it did?
No Need to Check the Box Score
Doug Collins has a nasty habit of getting down on himself and his players when the situation (inevitably) turns sour. He seemed to hit that point with his Philadelphia 76ers when NBA insider Ric Bucher reported that Collins has been closely monitoring the play of rookie Moe Harkless, who was traded to the Orlando Magic as part of the deal that brought Andrew Bynum to the City of Brotherly Love.
For once, Collins didn't need to check the box score to see how Orlando's bounty was faring. He needed only to look up and see his Sixers stumbling and losing against the Magic, 98-84, to get a better sense of what might've been.
Harkless registered a modest line of 10 points (on 3-of-4 shooting), four rebounds, two assists and a steal. Nikola Vucevic, who was essentially a throw-in from Philly's end in the Dwight Howard deal, gobbled up 19 boards to go along with 12 points and a block. Arron Afflalo, Orlando's biggest catch (albeit by way of the Denver Nuggets), led all scorers with 16 points, in addition to seven assists, six rebounds and one steal he chipped in.
As for the Sixers, they shot a miserable 39.5 percent from the field against one of the NBA's worst defenses. All told, Philly has now dropped a season high six straight games (and seven of eight) to fall five games back of the Milwaukee Bucks (more on them later) in the race for the eighth seed in the East.
Just another reason for the notoriously sensitive Collins to be upset with his current club.
Malice at the Pacers' Palace
Any in-game brawl involving the Indiana Pacers is bound to grab headlines, even more than eight years clear of the "Malice at the Palace."
So when Roy Hibbert shoved David Lee during the fourth quarter of the Pacers' 108-97 win over the Golden State Warriors, and tempers flared to the point where players and coaches were spilling into the rows of photographers and camera men at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it was only a matter of time before images of Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal climbing into the stands started dancing in the heads of all viewers.
Luckily, Tuesday's tussle was far more docile than the one that may or may not have cost Indy a shot at the title back in 2004-05. Hibbert was ejected and four other players (David Lee, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and David West) picked up technicals, and some (if not all) of the participants figure to garner suspensions from the league office.
Other than that, this particular fight isn't likely to register in the annals of NBA pugilism much beyond this season.
Dog Days for the Defending Champs
As expected, the Miami Heat ran their season-best winning streak to an even dozen at the expense of the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night.
Except, few could've anticipated that the Heat would need not one, but two overtimes to dispatch a team that's lost twice as many games as it's won. Then again, who could've foreseen Marcus Thornton scoring 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting (8-of-12 from three)—the most points for a bench player in the NBA this season?
The Heat made rather spectacular use of the extra time. They tied a franchise record by scoring 141 points, 79 of which came from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. James fell two rebounds shy of notching his fourth triple-double of the season and second in his last three games.
It was just the sort of game that a defending champion like the Heat might easily lose during the dog days of February. Miami played poor defensively, allowing the Kings to shoot 51.6 from the field, including a scorching 14-of-27 from the field.
But, rather than calling it a day and turning their attention toward a Friday date with the streaking Memphis Grizzlies, the Heat summoned their resolve to pull out a victory and keep their streak alive.
Are the Bulls Burning Out?
It was only a matter of time until the Chicago Bulls ran out of steam, wasn't it? Tom Thibodeau's done a masterful job of squeezing every last drop out of his squad sans Derrick Rose, but said squeezing appears to be catching up to the Bulls now.
A 101-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped Chicago to 4-8 in February, with only a national TV date left to salvage the worst month of Thibs' tenure in the Windy City so far.
Suffering defeat at the hands of the lowly Cavs would be bad enough with Kyrie Irving in the lineup, but the All-Star guard sat out on account of a sore right knee, leaving one-time high school phenom Shaun Livingston to run the show. Livingston hit a pair of late free throws to seal the deal for Cleveland as part of a 15-point performance.
As for the Bulls, they can only hope that Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer aren't run completely ragged before Rose returns.
Deron Williams Saves the Day!
No Joe Johnson? No problem for the Brooklyn Nets.
For one night, anyway. The Nets had dropped their last two games sans Iso Joe before pulling out a 101-97 nail-biter against the New Orleans Hornets.
Leading the way was Deron Williams, who finally played like the All-Star that he should be from year to year. He tied his season high with 33 points—including the last 11 of the game for Brooklyn—along with eight assists.
Normally, it'd be foolish to draw too much from a narrow road victory over a lottery-bound team. But for the Nets, who have their sights set on home-court advantage in the playoffs after sitting out the postseason in each of the last five years, every win counts.
Especially when the road to victory brings the best out of a struggling D-Will.
The Buck(s' Slump) Stops Here
February has been none too kind to the Milwaukee Bucks. They came into Tuesday's action with a 2-8 this month. After scrambling for a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline and coming up with "just" J.J. Redick, it was about time the Bucks turned activity into achievement.
Which they finally did, at the expense of the Dallas Mavericks by way of a 95-90 win at the American Airlines Center. Redick chipped in 14 points off the bench, while Monta Ellis stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points (on an unusually efficient 8-of-17 shooting), three rebounds, nine assists and six steals.
The Mavs, for their part, put up quite a fight to keep themselves on the fringes of the playoff race in the Western Conference. Dirk Nowitzki led six of his teammates in double figures with his first 20-20 game in nearly 10 years.
But even that wasn't enough to keep the Bucks from solidifying their standing as the East's eighth seed.
A Race to the Bottom Between the Suns and T-Wolves
You know what else we learned on Tuesday night? That the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Phoenix Suns both stink, and that they're much closer to one another in the standings than one might expect.
The T-Wolves and the Suns stumbled into overtime with an abysmal 77 points apiece and, after an extra five minutes, managed just another 13 between them, with Phoenix eking out the "W." Neither team truly deserved to win, though the Suns, by virtue of the edge in field-goal percentage (.407 to .344) and rebounding (56 to 52) might've deserved the result slightly more in this instance.
Not that the result will have any lasting impact that either team would care to discuss. The victory was the 19th of the season for the Suns, which is just one fewer than the (once playoff hopeful) T-Wolves have tallied for themselves. Both squads have struggled this season in the absence of franchise stars—the Suns without Steve Nash, who joined the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer; and the T-Wolves sans Kevin Love, who's been sidelined by a hand injury for the majority of the 2012-13 campaign.
All in all, another forgettable night in a regrettable season for two of the Western Conference's most disappointing bottom-feeders.
Dunks on Dunks on Dunks for Lob City
The Los Angeles Clippers did to the Charlotte Bobcats what you'd expect the Clippers to do to the Bobcats, even without the services of Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe.
That is, they dunked and dunked and dunked some more over the defenseless 'Cats on the way to a 106-84 romp. Blake Griffin led the way with 24 points on an astounding 11-of-14 shooting, along with seven rebounds and six assists, in a mere 31 minutes. Chris Paul took it easy in the scoring column (seven points on 3-of-7 shooting), but accounted for 13 of LA's 34 dimes on the evening.
Everything else played out according to plan, as well. The bench chipped in 43 points and the Clippers defense limited the clawless 'Cats to 40.7 percent from the field.
More importantly, the victory guaranteed that the Clippers would start the season 5-for-5 in months with winning records. They'll have an excellent opportunity to secure an above-.500 mark for the campaign as a whole on Thursday, when they take on a Pacers squad that's likely to be absent a few key components as punishment for the scuffle with the Warriors.