6 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action
Sunday's NBA action was marked by unexpected comebacks, odd celebrity interactions and the emergence of a surprising playoff threat.
So, you know, the usual.
The biggest story was Russell Westbrook's return, an event that sent shockwaves through the rest of the Western Conference. But there was more: Spike Lee and Kevin Love became friends (sort of), and the Orlando Magic notched a major upset victory over an Eastern Conference contender.
Teams are still trying to figure out their identities, and some are already facing the prospect of major disappointment. The Washington Wizards, for example, are going to need a little more from their superstar point guard in order to take a step forward this season.
Before you kick off your week, take some time to catch up on the takeaways from a light, but still filling Sunday of NBA hoops.
The Orlando Magic Are Closer Than We Thought
Closer to being a legitimate playoff threat, that is.
In handily beating the Brooklyn Nets 107-86, the Orlando Magic improved their record to 2-2, but there's something more important to note than the team's surprising .500 mark at this early juncture.
The real takeaway here is that Orlando looks like a team that is developing ahead of schedule. Solid veterans like Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo provide just the right amount of guidance to the club's reservoir of young talent, while still performing at a top level themselves.
Against Brooklyn, Nelson and Afflalo combined for 27 points and 13 assists, while center Nikola Vucevic played veteran star Brook Lopez to a draw.
And rookie Victor Oladipo turned in the best game of his young career. He finished with 19 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals on 8-of-13 shooting. But he also had the highlight of the night.
Early in the fourth quarter, Victor Oladipo tapped the ball away from Deron Williams and collected it as it bounced toward the midcourt line. Oladipo dribbled down the court and, all alone, jumped, spun 360 degrees and dunked.
But for Orlando Magic executives and coaches, there might be a more defining memory: how their team stood up to a more seasoned opponent from start to finish.
Many suspected that the Magic would be among the teams gunning for a high lottery pick this year. From a long-term perspective, that strategy still makes a lot of sense. But with the way this roster seems to be developing, tanking might not be possible.
The Boston Celtics Need a Point Guard
It would be easy to point to the Detroit Pistons dominance in the lane as the main reason behind the Boston Celtics' 87-77 loss. After all, the frontcourt trio of Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe collectively feasted on Boston's interior D, racking up 22 of the team's 24 first-quarter points in the paint, per RedsArmy.com.
But the more concerning issue with the Celtics—and probably the one that had a bigger impact on the outcome—was their ongoing problem with turnovers.
Avery Bradley coughed the ball up six times, making him the biggest contributor to Boston's overall total of 23 giveaways. Brad Stevens' club leads the league with 21 turnovers per game, per NBA.com.
That's not altogether surprising, given the absence of Rajon Rondo and the fact that Bradley, who now is the primary ball-handler, is playing out of position. But the Celtics are going to come up on the short end of the talent comparison almost every night this year, so they can't compound the problem by giving up the ball as well.
Answers are hard to peg, though, as the Celtics can't really do more than try out Phil Pressey (who didn't get off the bench against the Pistons) or Jordan Crawford, who has some experience directing an offense.
Neither of those options are particularly appealing, but what the Celtics are doing right now isn't working either. So a little creative thinking might be in order.
Of course, if the Celtics (0-3) are looking to get serious about tanking, they'll probably maintain the status quo for as long as possible.
John Wall Still Can't Shoot
The Miami Heat managed to avoid losing three games in a row for the first time since the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, beating the Washington Wizards by a final score of 103-93.
And John Wall's busted jumper had plenty to do with it.
Wall made just 2-of-10 shots outside the restricted area against Miami, a shooting performance that was pretty much in line with his overall accuracy rate on the year. In total, Wall has now made 12-of-17 shots at point-blank range, but has managed to hit only 10-of-35 from outside the charge circle, per NBA.com.
Summation: Wall can make layups, but he can't really score from anyplace else.
This isn't a new problem for Wall, who has never shot better than 45 percent from the field or 30 percent from three in his career. The Wizards maxed him out this past summer, so they've clearly got some faith that he'll iron out the kinks in his shot.
If the Wizards are serious about this whole "playoffs" thing, Wall had better fix his stroke in a hurry. But so far, there hasn't been much evidence that improvement is on the way.
He's a dynamite attacker, a solid passer and an expert when it comes to pushing the pace. But if Wall can't prove that he's a threat from anyplace other than right underneath the rim, defenses are never going to have to extend themselves in a way that opens up consistent scoring chances for other Wizards.
Wall now has a max deal. It's time for him to start maximizing his range.
The Buddy System: Alive and Well in OKC
The Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to roll.
Maybe that sounds premature after a closer-than-expected 103-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns, but anyone who watched that game would have to concede that OKC is primed to reassume its position as the top team in the West.
The reason? Russell Westbrook is back.
OKC's second star was a surprising starter against Phoenix, returning to the lineup weeks sooner than originally expected after his Oct. 1 surgery to remove a stitch from his knee. And although there was obvious rust, we saw glimpses of the two-pronged attack that has made the Thunder so dangerous over the past few seasons.
Kevin Durant suddenly had a little space to operate—space he used to pour in 33 points on 10-of-19 shooting. When offensive possessions got a little stagnant, Westbrook barreled into the lane, creating contact and scoring opportunities in ways none of his replacements ever could.
Ultimately, KD didn't have to do everything himself, and defenses couldn't devote all of their attention to him. And it was all thanks to the comeback of the NBA's No. 1 sidekick.
Westbrook finished with 21 points, seven assists and a whopping 14 free-throw attempts in just 33 minutes. His jumper was a little shaky, but that was to be expected.
According to Royce Young of DailyThunder.com, Westbrook also wasn't quite prepared for the cardiovascular challenge of a regular-season NBA game. Westbrook said of his conditioning: "It could be better. It was alright. But that's expected. I didn't expect to come back and be bionic."
The Thunder need both of their stars at full strength to be more than a fringe contender. Based on Westbrook's first game back, it appears OKC's two-man constellation is as bright as ever.
Kevin Love Has Arrived
Maybe you thought it was the All-Star nods in 2011 and 2012 that solidified Kevin Love's presence as a legitimate NBA superstar. Perhaps his gaudy stats had you thinking he was a member of the league's upper echelon as far back as 2010.
Love officially earned his stripes in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 109-100 win over the New York Knicks. And we can isolate the moment more specifically than that, too.
With about three minutes remaining in the game and the Knicks threatening to make a run, Love flung in an absolute prayer of a bank shot that put Minnesota up by eight. As he ran back down the floor, he forced a high-five on a somewhat unwilling Spike Lee.
Some outlets have termed the exchange a mutual "dap," but I'm not so sure. It certainly appears as though Lee is just reacting to Love's extended hand as he notices it at the last second.
At any rate, only superstars (and John Starks) get to share special moments with Lee. And the list of opponents who get one-on-one time with the world's most visible Knicks fan is very short. Reggie Miller offered up his famous choke sign years ago, and now Love has joined the exclusive club of Spike Lee Agitators.
Oh, and Love also had 34 points and 15 rebounds in Minnesota's third consecutive victory. But really, we've already covered the important angle here.
Let's move on.
Jordan Hill Is Timely
Jordan Hill played 14 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers' 105-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, tallying six points and five rebounds in a solid but unspectacular performance.
But his offensive rebound with 18 seconds remaining in the contest made all the difference in the world for L.A.
Thanks to the extra possession, the Lakers got another shot to break the late-game tie. Pau Gasol took advantage, drawing a foul on Paul Millsap and burying a pair of free throws to take the lead with six ticks remaining.
Maybe a single offensive rebound from a bench player seems insignificant, but if the Lakers are to have any hope of playing respectable basketball this year, they're going to need guys like Hill to make an impact when it counts.
Realistically, the Lakers' motley crew of rejects and washouts aren't going to produce on a consistent basis. Beyond Gasol, there's really not a quality, reliable player on the roster. But if Hill grabs an extra board here, or Xavier Henry finishes at the rim there, maybe L.A. can hang around long enough for Kobe Bryant to rescue them.
Don't misconstrue the preceding hypothetical as my prediction for how the Lakers season will go. For what it's worth, they still don't profile as a playoff team with Bryant. But if—and this is a Chris Kaman-sized "if"—they're going to avoid the cellar out West, it's going to take a team effort and timely contributions from everyone in the rotation.
The Lakers got what they needed against the Hawks.