7 Takeaways from Saturday Night's Arresting NBA Action
There were seven games on the NBA slate Saturday night, and six of them featured at least one playoff team.
The only contest between lottery squads saw a milestone reached that only seven other men have achieved in league history. There was one big upset on the night, and your only hint is that it involved an enormous evening from John Wall.
Continuing a familiar and annoying trend, numerous playoff-bound teams sat marquee starters for additional rest.
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs each sat two members of their respective Big Threes, the Atlanta Hawks fielded a D-League lineup, and the Denver Nuggets began life without Danilo Gallinari.
The only game not worth mentioning in detail saw the Milwaukee Bucks clinch their first playoff berth in three years, so congratulations are due to head coach Jim Boylan.
In the midst of all that—and with the March hare still driving the nation mad—here are seven takeaways from all the action on Saturday night.
Not Keeping Pace with New York
The Indiana Pacers have by far the most efficient defense in the league. Indy allows just 95.9 points per 100 possessions; the second-place Memphis Grizzlies allow two whole points more (per ESPN).
But something went horribly wrong against the Wizards, who whipped the Pacers with a cat o' nine tails for the 104-85 victory in Washington.
John Wall dropped 37 points and Kevin Seraphin scored 15 off the bench, as Washington shot 49.4 percent from the field.
It would be too easy to chalk up this 19-point drubbing against a lottery team to Paul George's no-show night (two points on 0-of-8 shooting in 34 minutes). This loss was the check engine light glowing on Indiana's dashboard.
For most of March, the Pacers looked like the second-best team in the East by a fair margin. The ailing New York Knicks stumbled on their West Coast trip and Indy figured to have the No. 2 seed locked up. But New York has reeled off 11 consecutive wins and now lead the Pacers by two games. The fourth-place Brooklyn Nets also gained ground on Indiana, closing to within 3.5 games.
The Pacers are especially reliant on their home-court advantage, as they are a sub-.500 squad on the road. But the disappointing loss Saturday comes on the heels of a 97-75 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Indianapolis.
Since Danny Granger is not walking through that door for them this season, the Pacers should consider this a major gut check time with just five games remaining before the playoffs.
John Wall Is a Wizard
John Wall ran rings around the Indiana Pacers' formidable defense, but his stat line doesn't even capture just how good his night was.
Wall finished with five assists, four rebounds and two blocks, one of which came on a layup attempt by 7'2" Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
The Washington Wizards began the season in a historically inept fashion. With Wall out due to injury, the Wizards lost 28 of their first 32 games. Since his return, they are 25-19 and have won nine straight at home.
The third-year pro is averaging 17.6 points, 7.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He's even dragged his shooting percentage up to 43.9 percent. While he does struggle as a perimeter shooter, he's fast enough to nullify that with his funny-car explosions through the paint.
Washington has built up a talented core around Wall, with rookie Bradley Beal joining proficient veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor and Martell Webster.
While this season is another wash for them, Washington is a franchise on the rise. If GM Ernie Grunfeld plays his cards right, the Wizards could be playoff-bound as soon as next season.
LeBron James Actually Played in a Game
Of course the Miami Heat beat the Philadelphia 76ers by 19 points, but the big news was that LeBron James actually played in the game.
He returned from a three-game furlough and scored 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting, adding five assists and four rebounds. Chris Bosh's sore left knee and Dwyane Wade's balky ankle kept them off the court.
Mario Chalmers played in his second straight tilt after a three-game absence, scoring 11 points with four dimes. Rashard Lewis, Norris Cole and Ray Allen all scored in double digits off the bench, while Chris Andersen hauled in 15 boards in 25 minutes.
Miami has already secured the top seed in the East, but with the win they remain 3.5 games ahead (four in the loss column) of the San Antonio Spurs for the league's best record.
Miami looks set to coast into the postseason as the league's elite. Four of their final six games come at the AmericanAirlines Arena, and their two road contests are against lottery teams.
Yet again, it seems to be just a matter of resting up and preparing for the playoffs before Miami turns up the heat on their opponents.
Anything can happen in the NBA, but it will take a mammoth effort to derail the Heat.
Nuggets Strike Gold Versus Houston
The Denver Nuggets lost Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL Thursday night, but they looked just fine without him hanging 132 points on the Houston Rockets Saturday night.
Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer are the top fantasy adds in Gallo's absence, and they had their big-boy pants on for the Rockets. Chandler scored 21 points on 9-of-15 from the field, while Brewer led the team with 22 off the bench.
Andre Iguodala put up video-game numbers with 18 points, 14 assists and seven boards. Oh, and Denver's D limited James Harden to 14 points on 2-of-10 shooting.
While the loss of Gallinari is significant, it's possible that Denver could become even more efficient without the Italian's pedestrian shooting percentage (41.9 percent career).
The key cog in the machinery is leading scorer Ty Lawson.
Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post reported Wednesday that Lawson would miss at least two weeks with a tear in his right heel, making his earliest possible comeback the last game of the regular season on April 17.
Without Gallinari, Lawson must return at 100 percent and bring his 16.7 points per game to the postseason.
And if Lawson's heel does hamper him, at least the Nuggets know they're capable of shooting the lights out against a porous defense like Houston's (their possible first-round opponent).
Bumbling in Brooklyn?
The Brooklyn Nets let the worst team in the league, the now 18-59 Charlotte Bobcats, hang around until the final minute. Brooklyn led by just one point with under 90 ticks left when Deron Williams' jumper touched every part of the rim before somehow managing to fall through the net.
Brooklyn held on with a deluge of late free throws for the 105-96 victory. Williams had a game-high 32 points, while Brook Lopez had 19 of his own and swatted four shots.
The game also produced good news and bad news about Joe Johnson, who is recovering from a heel injury. The good: He played 32 minutes and scored 15 points. The bad: He shot 5-of-16 from the field. It averted potential disaster for the Nets, who came in just one game ahead of the Chicago Bulls and two games in front of the Atlanta Hawks in fourth place.
Instead of worrying about a plummet toward sixth against the dregs of the NBA, the Nets can celebrate gaining ground on the Indiana Pacers, who now lead them by 3.5 games.
Meanwhile, Reggie Evans lost a tooth in the third quarter, and he's precisely the type of player who should wear a mouth guard. To his credit, he didn't leave the game.
He also turned in another night of at least 20 rebounds—a league-leading eighth this season. That's twice as many as Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard, who are tied for second most.
It may have been the first time a New York crowd had a "Reg-gie" not intended for MLB Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
Congratulations to Rick Adelman
With the Minnesota Timberwolves' 107-101 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons, coach Rick Adelman entered some very elite company.
He became just the eighth head coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games, joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, George Karl and Larry Brown.
Yes, I'm watching Final Four. But congrats as well to Wolves Coach Rick Adelman on his 1,000th career victory tonight.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) April 7, 2013
It's easy to forget that Adelman has been a head coach for 21 years. In that time he's racked up more wins than either Bill Fitch and Dick Motta, who coached for 50 seasons between them. He's even ahead of luminaries like Dr. Jack Ramsay and nine-time champion Red Auerbach.
But the achievement is likely bittersweet for Adelman, who has seen his promising Wolves squad beset by injuries, much like last season. Kevin Love has suffered two broken-hand injuries, Andrei Kirilenko continues to prove that he's injury-prone, Nikola Pekovic has repeatedly dinged himself with his ferocious play.
Even the team's young, floor-stretching forward Chase Budinger has been limited to 16 games this season, so perhaps their frontcourt is cursed. At least Ricky Rubio has remained upright since returning from his knee injury.
It will be the same-old mantra for Minnesota this offseason: Next year is our year. But, in a loaded Western Conference, Adelman doesn't figure to add a championship to his resume any time soon.
East Playoff Picture Meets West
In a matchup that is very unlikely to be replicated in the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs held off the Atlanta Hawks 99-97.
It should be noted that the Hawks sat Josh Smith, Al Horford and Kyle Korver in the hallowed early-April tradition of resting "injured" starters before the playoffs. Gregg Popovich, of course, incurred a $250,000 fine for the team when he rested his starters for a marquee matchup with Miami in November.
Tim Duncan tallied 31 points and 14 rebounds Saturday night, who were minus Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Dahntay Jones did his best Reggie Miller impression in the final 10 seconds with Atlanta trailing by six. He made a basket, grabbed a steal and then drew a shooting foul behind the arc.
Forced to miss the third free throw intentionally, the final second harmlessly ticked away without another scoring opportunity for the Hawks.
Atlanta dropped to three games behind the Brooklyn Nets for fourth place in the East and 1.5 games in back of the fifth-place Chicago Bulls. Now the Hawks find themselves only two games above No. 7 as the season's final week approaches.
The Spurs pulled a half-game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best mark in the West, even though they've been short-handed lately.
Parker had experienced pain in his left shin during Thursday's loss to OKC, but he sat out Saturday due to a neck issue according to the team. Ginobili missed his fifth straight game with a strained hamstring, a pesky injury for anyone, but especially for a 35-year-old shooting guard.
Even Boris Diaw was driven to the bench in the second quarter with back spasms. Coach Pop better rest up his team ASAP.