Wednesday night's pivotal NBA action nearly shook the league off of its axis.
Sure, a handful of games lacked any meaning at all, as plenty of lottery teams are just counting down the minutes until they hit summer vacation 24 seconds at a time. But even those contests featured hope for the future and fear in the present.
For example, the Detroit Pistons enjoyed an encouraging gaze into the future of their frontcourt as Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe mopped up the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And the New Orleans Hornets saw their lives flash before their eyes as Anthony Davis went down in a heap.
Admittedly, those games required a search for meaning. But you didn't have to look very hard to see the league-shifting significance of Kobe Bryant's historic performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Nor was it difficult to divine the disappointment associated with the Dallas Mavericks assuring themselves of their first non-playoff season in a dozen years.
The 2012-13 season may only have a few more games left, but even at this late stage, the NBA landscape is still changing. Wednesday's 10-game slate proved that.
It'd be easy to write off anything that happened in the Detroit Pistons' 111-104 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. After all, the two teams have been lottery locks for weeks now.
But even though both clubs are essentially just playing out the string until summer vacation, there was one meaningful thing worth taking away from an otherwise meaningless contest: The Pistons have one hell of a pair of young bigs.
Rookie Andre Drummond scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Greg Monroe chipped in with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The frontcourt duo shot a combined 20-of-29 from the field and neither player committed a turnover.
Yes, they put together a dominant night against the Cavs, whose defensive effort could loosely be described as "generous."
Not sure what you call the defense that allows an opponent to score at the rim on nearly every possession, but Cavs have it mastered.— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) April 11, 2013
Regardless of the opponent, Detroit's young tandem looked suspiciously like cornerstones around which the team could begin to build for the future. The Pistons have almost nothing else, but a pair of capable big men is a good start.
The contest between the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks and the disintegrating Philadelphia 76ers wasn't quite as depressing as the one between the Pistons and Cavs—but it was close.
The Hawks won the game by a final score of 124-101, and they looked pretty good doing it. But if you consider the context, Atlanta's terrific offensive performance really wasn't as impressive as it might seem on the surface:
I was about to tweet how the Hawks looked good... then I took a closer look at the Sixers defense and thought better of it.
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 11, 2013
If you're noticing a theme developing in Wednesday night's takeaways, congratulations. You're very perceptive.
But it's impossible to ignore the fact that half of the teams in the league have almost nothing to play for at this point. That has a huge bearing on how much meaning we can derive from the final scores and individual performances.
Keeping that in mind, it's only fair to point out that the Sixers have all but abandoned their defensive effort down the final stretch of a terrible season. They've lost their last three games by a combined 63 points and have given up at least 104 points in every one of them.
Atlanta shot nearly 54 percent and registered assists on 34 of its 49 baskets, but remember: Everything's relative.
With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh riding the pine with the sorts of phantom injuries and illnesses that seem to plague teams who've already clinched nearly everything possible, the Miami Heat still managed to beat a relatively healthy Washington Wizards club, 103-98.
But even with the Big 3 sitting, the Miami Heat still managed to clinch home court throughout the playoffs.
Clinching aside, in some ways, the fact that Miami emerged victorious on Wednesday is sort of impressive on its own.
But nobody could have predicted that the Heat would win by dominating on the glass.
You see, the Heat have been in the bottom third of the NBA in rebound rate all season long. In fact, most of the early concerns around Miami focused on its frightening inability to control the boards. Even after their big rebounding performance, the Heat still rank just 21st in the league in overall rebounding.
But the Heat—sans stars—won the rebound battle by a margin of plus-13 against Washington, a stat that helped offset an otherwise even statistical game.
Mike Miller led the team with eight pulls, as Miami put together a total team effort against a much bigger Wizards front line. It figures that the Heat's role players would gut out a win by collectively outworking the competition; they've been doing it all year.
If only the Heat could find a handful of stars to complement their gritty supporting cast...
Any analysis of the game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic has to start with Marquis Daniels' epic blunder.
The Bucks held a three-point lead with just seconds remaining in the fourth quarter as Tobias Harris took the inbound pass for the Magic. Milwaukee had a foul to give and Daniels knew it, but he waited far too long to wrap Harris up.
The result was that Harris drilled a three with 1.9 seconds left and drew a foul on Daniels. Thanks to Harris' brick at the line, the game went into overtime. Unfortunately for Daniels, Orlando pulled away in the extra period, winning the game by a final score of 113-103.
With that stuff out of the way, it's time to talk about how productive Harris and Nikola Vucevic were for Orlando. And we're talking historically productive:
Tobias Harris (30pts/19reb) & Nikola Vucevic (30pts/20reb) are the first teammates since 1967 w/ 30 pts & 19 rebs in a game.— Beyond The Buzzer(@BeyondTheBuzzer) April 11, 2013
The present isn't so sunny for Orlando, losers of eight out of 10. But with Vucevic stuffing the stat sheet down low and Harris averaging 18.1 points and 9.6 rebounds over his last 10 games, the future is bright.
Well, actually, Brandon Bass is a jump shooter 99 percent of the time. The other one percent is apparently comprised of shockingly unexpected posterizations.
Brook Lopez, welcome to that one percent.
Among power forwards, Bass ranks in sixth in the league in field-goal percentage from 16 to 23 feet. He knocks down 45 percent of his looks from that range. But maybe his thunderous dunk in the Boston Celtics' 101-93 loss to the Brooklyn Nets will make him reconsider his offensive strategy.
At the very least, the play made viewers reconsider what they'd seen:
I rewound that Brandon Bass dunk and rewatched it after I put my eyeballs back in my head.— SBNation NBA (@SBNationNBA) April 11, 2013
Realistically, we won't see another play like this from Bass for a long, long time. So maybe it's best to just enjoy it.
This one'll be brief, since the Orlando-Milwaukee game has already gotten far too much ink. But holy cow, did John Henson have himself a night.
Filling in for Larry Sanders, the rookie center from North Carolina didn't just replicate the interior dominance the Bucks normally get from their starting center—he took it to the next level.
And in doing so, he joined some elite company:
#Bucks John Henson becomes just 4th player over the last 28 seasons to record 17 pts, 25 rebs & 7 blocks: joining Shaq, Hakeem, and Mutombo— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) April 11, 2013
It seems like a long shot that the Bucks will have both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings back next year, so maybe it's a good time to start shifting the team's focus to the interior.
Henson's performance was something of an anomaly—he had been averaging 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game until Wednesday's outburst—but the flashes he showed have to be encouraging for the Bucks and their future.
As has been the case all season long, the Los Angeles Lakers looked like a completely disorganized mess on defense against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard diced them up from all angles, tallying 38 points. And persistent defensive breakdowns by LA yielded an endless string of open three-point looks for the Blazers.
But thanks to an absolutely phenomenal night by Kobe Bryant (who played defense on at least one sequence), and a vintage performance by Pau Gasol, the Lakers overcame the defensive shortcomings that have plagued them all season long.
Bryant played all 48 minutes, posted 47 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 14-of-27 shooting. He made all 18 of his foul shots and even did something he'd never done in his entire career:
First time in Kobe's 17-year career he's had 4 blocks and 3 steals in a game.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) April 11, 2013
Gasol turned back the clock, putting up an unselfish, spirited effort that looked very much like the ones he consistently registered a couple of years ago. His final line of 23 points, nine assists and seven rebounds on 11-of-15 shooting just reeked of his brilliant 2010 form.
Oh, and that other guy was pretty good, too:
Btw, Dwight Howard with 20 points, making 9 of his 11 shots while grabbing 10 rebounds with 3 blocks of his own.— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) April 11, 2013
Thanks to the overwhelming offensive prowess of its stars, LA snuck out of Portland with a game that they appeared destined to lose. More importantly, the Lakers now have a full one-game advantage on the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 spot in the West.
With three games to go, the Lakers are inching closer to securing a playoff berth. And they're doing it on the strength of pure star power.
The Dallas Mavericks dropped a 102-91 contest to the visiting Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, and after the final buzzer sounded, the ongoing wooly appearance of the Mavs became a near certainty.
Dallas players have been sporting .500 beards for months now, vowing to go unshaven until the team had more wins than losses.
At 38-40 with two more games against playoff teams (the Denver Nuggets on April 12 and the Memphis Grizzlies on April 15), the three wins Dallas will need to finish above .500 seem like a Herculean task.
Even worse, the Lakers' win in Portland eliminated the Mavs from playoff contention. So it's possible that Dallas may not even be interested in trying to win any of its remaining contests.
It's been a woefully disappointing season in Dallas, and now it'll end with the team missing the postseason for the first time in 12 years.
No postseason, a sub-.500 year and some serious beard-related itchiness is a rough combination. The Mavs will start with a clean slate next year. Let's hope they're also clean-shaven.
The Sacramento Kings hosted the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday, and after the dust settled on a 121-110 Kings win, only one thing mattered.
Anthony Davis went down in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury. The worst thing that can happen in a meaningless game like the one between the Kings and Hornets is for a promising young star to get hurt. For a moment, it appeared that that was exactly what had happened:
Anthony Davis down holding his knee. Doesn't look good.— Aaron Bruski (@aaronbruski) April 11, 2013
Anthony Davis is down and it looks BAD— Sactown Royalty (@sactownroyalty) April 11, 2013
According to John Reid of NOLA.com, Davis only suffered a sprain. But you can bet the former No. 1 overall pick won't play another second this season. He's too valuable to the future of the franchise to risk further injury, especially since the Hornets aren't playing for anything but ping pong balls these days.
A lot of teams are going to be sitting their stars over the season's final few days. Davis showed us precisely why that's a wise move.
Blake Griffin and the LA Clippers weren't quite generous enough to give the game away to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
But a 20-turnover night—even in a 111-95 win—isn't exactly a good sign with the playoffs just a couple of weeks away.
Griffin gave the ball away five times, while 10 of the other 11 Clippers who saw any playing time committed at least one turnover. Thanks to the Wolves' general ineptitude, the Clips won easily.
Of course, it certainly helped that on the possessions LA didn't give away, they shot the ball extremely well, hitting 57 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Things will tighten up in the postseason as possessions become more valuable and the Clippers will have to improve their ball security. The Clips have committed turnovers on 15.6 percent of their possessions this season, a figure that ranks them in the bottom third of the league.
LA is a good team, but they will also have to be more careful if it wants to make any noise in a playoff series.
In their second game since losing Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL, Wilson Chandler and Andre Iguodala continued to prove they were more than capable of picking up for their fallen teammate.
Iguodala registered a triple-double in Denver's 96-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs, scoring 12 points, dishing out 10 assists and grabbing a team-high 13 rebounds. His contributions shouldn't be a surprise; Iguodala is a bona fide star and a proven commodity.
But Chandler, who followed up a 21-point, six-rebound effort against the Houston Rockets on Saturday with 29 and eight on Wednesday, is a different case. Viewed as a valuable role player who brought good energy and an aggressive style in limited minutes, the inked-up forward has been a revelation of late.
In fact, he's making it seem like he might even be an improvement over Gallinari.
If Denver gets Ty Lawson back in good health before the postseason kicks off, the Nuggets will be a truly dangerous team. That's a pretty big development for a club that many wrote off after Gallinari's injury.