8 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's Shocking NBA Action
Despite a dearth of key matchups with crucial playoff implications, the smorgasbord of games the NBA offered on Tuesday was replete with noteworthy (if not downright eye-popping) results.
There was the Miami Heat's push for their 19th straight win. There was Dwight Howard's hack-heavy return to Orlando. There were shocking results between the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Bobcats, and between the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves, that weren't quite so shocking upon further review. There was the biannual Lopez family reunion, as well as another edition of John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving that was absent one of the two young stars.
Not to mention the Dallas Mavericks' late-season push for a playoff revival and Zach Randolph's latest return to Rip City.
What, then, did we learn about the Association on this, the second Tuesday of March?
The Truth About the Boston Celtics
Any loss to the Charlotte Bobcats for a playoff team counts as a bad one, especially when said loss comes by 26 points.
But at least the Boston Celtics have an excuse for handing the 'Cats their most impressive win of the season. Head coach Doc Rivers decided to give Paul Pierce the night off, partly invoking the rigors of daylight savings in his reasoning.
Jeff Green, who started in Pierce's place, wound up with 14 points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal, but it was far from enough to fuel Boston's otherwise anemic offense. The C's shot just 40.9 percent from the field and managed all of 76 points against the NBA's worst defense. They also allowed Gerald Henderson to score a career-high 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor.
Surely, "The Truth" would've made a significant difference in this particular outcome. But a 26-point difference?
Actually, yeah, probably. There's no need for C's fans to panic, though essentially ceding what'd otherwise be a "gimme" game at this point in the season could ultimately drag down Boston's fringe pursuit of home-court advantage in the end.
Ricky Rubio Steals the Show
Like Doc Rivers with the Celtics, Gregg Popovich decided to sit some of his stars (i.e. Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard) shortly after playing the Oklahoma City Thunder. And, like the C's, the Spurs wound up with a 20-plus-point pounding as a result.
But the real story here had less to do with San Antonio giving up what would've, could've and probably should've been an easy win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and more to do with the evening Ricky Rubio put together. The second-year guard tallied the first triple-double of his NBA career, with game-highs of 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. Two of those came at the end of a series of sick behind-the-back dribbles, as seen above.
It was easily Rubio's finest showing in what's been a frustrating, slow-to-develop season for the T-Wolves. Rubio came into the game having averaged 12.9 points, 9.3 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 steals over his previous 16 games while demonstrating more confidence and pep in his step since returning from a torn ACL.
The 2012-13 campaign may be a lost one in Minny, but it's performances like this one from Rubio—and the 24-point win of which it was a part—in which long-suffering T-Wolves fans should take heart for the future.
Home Is Where the Free-Throw Line Is
Dwight Howard's first game against the Orlando Magic in central Florida went almost exactly as everyone expected it would. The fans booed Dwight rather lustily during the pregame introductions. The Los Angeles Lakers held the Magic at arm's length for most of the evening on the way to a 106-97 win.
Howard, for his part, turned in arguably his finest performance in purple and gold, scoring a season-high 39 points to go along with 16 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal. He was active, engaged and energetic throughout, as if motivated by the vitriol from fans in every corner at the Amway Center.
He also spent a ton of time at the free-throw line. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn shamelessly employed the Hack-a-Howard tactics that helped Orlando steal a win in LA earlier this season. All told, the Magic sent Dwight to the line 39 times, thereby tying an NBA record that Howard himself set last season against the Golden State Warriors.
Better yet, Dwight converted 25 of them, including 23 of the last 30. Perhaps the added in-game practice will pay dividends in the weeks to come as the Lakers look to secure a playoff spot out West.
And even if it doesn't, at least Howard will have the smug satisfaction of dominating his old team in a big win for his new one.
Kyrie Irving Trumps John Wall from the Bench
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards have played six times in the last two seasons, but only twice have Kyrie Irving and John Wall been healthy enough to go head-to-head. Wall's Wizards won those two meetings, both of which came during the second half of the 2011-12 season.
Interestingly enough, Washington has lost the other four, including Tuesday's 95-90 result, in which Wall was a key participant. The third-year point guard put together his finest game since returning from a knee injury in mid-January, with season highs in points (27), rebounds (seven) and assists (14).
But it wasn't enough for the Wizards, even with Irving sidelined by a shoulder injury. Cleveland built up a double-digit lead in the second half, with rookie guard Dion Waiters leading six Cavs in double figures with 20 points of his own, and managed to hold off hard-charging Washington in the end.
Of course, with both teams squarely out of the playoff hunt and, in turn, knee-deep in NBA draft lottery territory, it's tough to tell who actually "won" this edition of "Two Young Point Guards Passing in the Night."
Winning by Routine for Miami
You know a team is on a roll when its best player shoots just 3-of-11 from the field and the playoff-bound opposition still can't narrow the final margin of defeat to anything resembling single digits.
Such was the case with the Miami Heat, who improved their home record to an NBA-best 30-3 and extended their season-high winning streak to 19 games with a 98-81 victory over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
LeBron James scrounged up a so-so 15 points, but stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals in a modest 30 minutes while helping four of his teammates into double figures in the scoring column. Dwyane Wade led the way for Miami with a game-high 23 points along with six assists, four rebounds and five steals.
Wade and James' defensive efforts were emblematic of Miami's overall domination on that end of the floor. The Heat forced 22 Hawks turnovers (14 by theft), held Atlanta to 42.3 percent shooting from the floor, including 5-of-22 from three, and snuck out an edge on the boards against a squad that, despite its considerable size, still ranks among the bottom 10 in the NBA in rebounding percentage.
Not unlike the Heat.
Still, it's tough to get too excited about this win over the Hawks, seeing as how it came so shortly after Miami's evisceration of the Indiana Pacers. Now, if the Heat carry their winning streak through until March 31, when they pay a visit to San Antonio, then there'll be plenty about which to be excited.
After all, that'd put Miami's surge at 29 straight, just four shy of the Lakers' all-time record of 33 in a row.
Sibling Rivalry at the Barclays Center
It's no secret that Brook Lopez is the better NBA player of the Lopez twins. Brook has started all but seven of his games as a pro, while Robin has started a shade over half of his. Brook scores more, rebounds more and racks up more assists, be it overall or on a per-36-minute basis, per Basketball-Reference.
In six previous head-to-head matchups, Brook (17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists) had far outperformed his shaggy-haired brother (10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.2 assists), though Robin's teams had won four of those six meetings.
But on Tuesday, Brook left no doubt as to which of the giant identical twins was the superior player. He abused his brother for 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with five rebounds, three blocks and a steal to propel the Brooklyn Nets to a 108-98 win over the New Orleans Hornets.
Not that Robin's evening was anything to thumb your nose at. All he did was pour in 15 points and eight rebounds, with a block of his own.
Still, if the numbers left any room for doubt, then the bit of fratricide shown in the video above should help to clarify the Lopez family hierarchy.
The Mavs Are Not Yet Dead
Just when you thought the Dallas Mavericks were dead in the water, they've started to show some signs of life. A 115-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center was Dallas' third straight on the road and fourth in a row overall, marking the first time all season that the Mavs had put together such streaks.
Dallas used a balanced attack to upend Milwaukee, which saw Monta Ellis chip in a game-high 32 points. Vince Carter led five Mavs in double figures with 23 points off the bench, including 13 in a contentious fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki added a double-double of his own (19 points, 11 rebounds), and Mike James, he of the myriad 10-day contracts, contributed 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds in just his fourth start of the season for Big D.
More importantly, the latest victory kept the Mavs within three games of the Lakers in the race for eighth place out West. Dallas will play 12 of its final 20 games at home, but will have to overcome the Purple and Gold in LA if Nowitzki and company are to extend their playoff streak to a 13th year.
The Memphis Grizzlies Grind Their Way to New Heights
Never in their 17-year history as an NBA franchise had the Memphis Grizzlies been 24 games clear of the .500 mark.
That is, until Tuesday night, when the Grizzlies ground their way through a 102-97 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden to improve their record to 43-19 on the season. Mike Conley, Jr.'s career-high 15 assists fueled an uncharacteristically efficient scoring night for the Grizz, who shot 51.3 percent from the floor, turned the ball over just 11 times and tallied 31 helpers on 39 makes.
The victory also moved Memphis to a perfect 20-0 when scoring in triple digits while pushing the team mere percentage points ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference standings. That tete-a-tete will come into greater focus on Wednesday, when the Grizz drop in on the Clips at the Staples Center to continue their four-game road swing. Memphis has lost twice in convincing fashion this season against the Clippers, who bounced the Grizzlies from the playoffs in a thrilling seven-game series last spring.
If the Grizz are keen to announce themselves as legitimate title contenders without Rudy Gay, they'll have to continue to win games not just against middle-of-the-road opponents, but also opposite the elite with whom they want to belong.