10 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action
Wednesday's 10-game slate of NBA action featured marquee matchups in both conferences.
Paul George and Indiana Pacers squared off against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls in the East, while the Golden State Warriors got a new weapon back as they faced the dangerous Minnesota Timberwolves.
Plus, Anthony Bennett did something he'd never done before, Nikola Vucevic stood tall, and Tony Parker slammed the door on the Phoenix Suns.
There was also a goofy coaching decision in Charlotte and an eye-opening performance from one of the game's brightest young stars in Memphis.
Let's get up to speed on the 10 key takeaways from Wednesday's busy night of hoops.
This Is Not the Same Clippers Bench
Last year, the Los Angeles Clippers bench scored 40.1 points per game, good enough to rank third in the NBA.
The electric group that featured Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf was a joy to watch. And although the nickname was weak ("A Tribe Called Bench"? Really?), the cast was a major strength for the Clips.
Through the first four games this season, L.A.'s bench was averaging just 34.1 points per game (12th in the league). And the backups' ugly performance in the surprising 98-90 loss to the feisty Orlando Magic won't help matters.
As a unit, L.A.'s reserves shot just 5-of-23 in 59 combined minutes. Byron Mullens, Darren Collison and Willie Green all failed to make a single shot from the field.
The Clippers are entertaining some very serious thoughts about a championship this year, and their offensive production as a team has been remarkable. But they're not stopping anybody on defense, and now it seems clear that the bench isn't capable of providing the support that it did last season.
If Doc Rivers' reserves can't get themselves together, it might be time to pump the brakes on all that title talk.
Randy Wittman Should Still Have His Bags Packed
Pop the champagne, everybody, the Washington Wizards finally put a mark in the win column. After starting 0-3, Randy Wittman's club finally broke the seal on the year by hanging a 116-102 beating on the rapidly regressing Philadelphia 76ers.
But Wittman, who inexplicably emerged from a 0-12 start with his job intact in 2012-13, probably shouldn't be feeling secure in his job just yet.
The Sixers outrebounded the Wizards 50-40 on the night, and Washington really only won the game on the strength of some uncharacteristic perimeter shooting. John Wall, he of the busted jumper, somehow managed to hit five of his eight attempts from long distance. Just for reference, he made a grand total of 12 triples in 49 games last year.
So the Wizards can't rely on Wall's perimeter mastery to bail them out on a nightly basis.
The bigger issue, though, is that Washington has a tough schedule ahead. Its next four games come against the Brooklyn Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.
Because it's easy to see the Wizards dropping all four of those contests, and because the Wizards seem to think they have the talent to challenge for a playoff spot this year, it's entirely too early to remove Wittman from the warm/hot seat.
The Warriors Just Got Scarier
Before the Golden State Warriors notched a 106-93 road victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, it would have been easy to discount their hot statistical start. After all, the Dubs had fattened up on easy contests against the hapless Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers.
And in their lone difficult matchup against the Clippers, the Warriors took a pretty severe beating. But now that Golden State has a quality road win under its belt, it's time to acknowledge that this is actually a scary team.
Know what makes the Warriors even scarier? They got Harrison Barnes back.
The second-year stud who blew up in last year's playoffs logged his first minutes of the 2013-14 campaign against the Wolves, and he wasted no time in showing how much more dangerous he makes the Warriors. Barnes drilled a pair of jumpers almost as soon as he stepped onto the floor, and from there, he showed the bounce and polish that allowed him to start 81 games for the Dubs last season.
In just 14 minutes, Barnes (who is still recovering from foot inflammation) went 6-of-8 from the field and scored 14 efficient points. On a night that saw Stephen Curry limited to just 24 minutes because of a bum ankle (originally diagnosed as a left bone bruise) and Andrew Bogut disqualified with fouls after just 16 minutes, Barnes' contribution was critical.
Of course, Golden State still got 30 points from a red-hot Klay Thompson, and 22 points and 15 boards from David Lee. So it's not like the Dubs were hurting for weapons. But now—with a brutal road trip in front of them—they've got one more in Barnes.
Indy Has Ascended
The 5-0 record speaks for itself, but there's a lot more to say about the Indiana Pacers.
Though they stared down the Miami Heat in last year's playoffs (and didn't blink, by the way), the Pacers were still viewed as being a notch below the defending champs and the Chicago Bulls in the East.
But after watching Indy grind it out with the Bulls for three quarters before ripping off a 34-18 fourth period to turn the affair into a blowout, one thing became crystal clear: The Pacers look better than anyone right now.
Paul George didn't play all that well, and George Hill didn't play, but Indiana got sufficient contributions from its supporting cast in a decisive 97-80 win.
Roy Hibbert blocked five shots, Lance Stephenson created chaos on defense, and Luis Scola pumped in eight fourth-quarter points. Hell, even Donald Sloan balled out, going for nine points, six rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes.
The Pacers are a team that excels when the going gets ugly; they're built to slug it out on defense until the opponent simply gives up. But they're not supposed to be able to do that against the Tom Thibodeau Bulls, who have all but trademarked the gut-it-out win in recent years.
It's official: There's a new top dog in the East.
Nik Vucevic Is a Beast
I know we already covered the game between the Magic and Clippers, but there's a little-known rule in these takeaways that reads as follows:
"Bleacher Report Takeaways Code, Sec. 2(a)(3): Any time a player logs a 30-20 game, he gets his own slide. This rule shall be known as the Nikola Vucevic Directive."
That rule came into effect April 10, 2013 when Vucevic scored 30 points and hauled in 20 boards against the Milwaukee Bucks. And the big man's 30-point, 21-rebound performance against the Clips Wednesday night meant it had to be invoked a second time.
The repercussions of Vucevic's fantastic night are far-reaching.
First, it solidifies once and for all that the Magic completely owned the four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard out of town. Second, it calls the Clippers' frontcourt toughness into serious question. Third, and most importantly, it confirms the theory that the Magic are no joke.
I'm guessing that this won't be the last time we have to observe the "Nikola Vucevic Directive" this season.
Steven Adams Is Unaffected by Pain
I'll just get this out of the way off the bat: I have a disproportionate amount of love for Steven Adams.
Don't get me wrong—the Oklahoma City Thunder rookie's game should appeal to just about everyone. He's ridiculously active, works hard, sets screens, plays with a ton of physicality, and could eventually turn into a bulkier version of Joakim Noah.
And now that I know he's also invulnerable to elbows, I like the guy even more.
Trailing by double digits and clearly frustrated, Dallas Mavericks veteran Vince Carter got tangled up with Adams in a rough third-quarter exchange underneath the basket. Adams might have caught Vinsanity with an elbow of his own, but the Mavs swingman retaliated with a solid shot to the rookie's face.
Adams was unperturbed. And it was awesome.
I imagine that's how Ivan Drago or Robocop reacts to being elbowed, which is to say there was no reaction at all.
With Kendrick Perkins losing value by the second, it's going to be important for Adams to develop quickly. Before it's all said and done this year, the seven-foot Kiwi is going to be a significant part of OKC's big-man rotation. There's no questioning his future potential, but perhaps Adams' present toughness will earn him an increased role sooner than later.
Meanwhile, Carter will surely be icing his elbow for the next six weeks. Adams feels no pain.
The Basketball Gods Are Merciful
Yes, we should probably talk about how Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving scored 10 points in just over a minute to nearly steal an improbable victory from the Milwaukee Bucks in the fourth quarter. And yes, it's also worth mentioning that Zaza Pachulia finished just three assists and a single rebound shy of a triple double for the Bucks.
But the real story from this one was Anthony Bennett's first NBA basket.
After starting out his career with 15 consecutive misses over his first four games, the No. 1 overall pick finally found the bottom of the net.
With 9:46 left in the second quarter, the UNLV product tossed in a three-pointer, ending the drought and (hopefully) inspiring a little bit of confidence for the youngster. It was downright painful to watch Bennett struggle through his first few games, so you can bet he's feeling a little bit better than you'd otherwise expect after a 1-of-5 shooting night.
He's still not showing anything close the game of a legitimate No. 1 pick, but at least his career shot chart has something besides misses on it now.
Baby steps, Anthony. Baby steps.
Dwane Casey Has Some Explaining to Do
With 26 seconds left and trailing by two points, the Toronto Raptors opted not to foul anyone on the Charlotte Bobcats. With only a two-second differential between the shot and game clocks, Toronto apparently believed that it would be able to get the ball back with enough time to fire off a legitimate last-second heave.
Instead, Gerald Henderson tossed up a missed three-pointer with a couple of seconds left and time expired before the Raptors could get the ball. Toronto never had a chance and lost, 92-90.
It was a curious decision to say the least, and there are actually a couple of explanations.
Perhaps head coach Dwane Casey had a dynamite 1.9-second play drawn up that he was dying to use. Maybe that play was so good that he was willing to risk a loss just to get a chance to use it.
Or maybe the Raptors, who had already logged two wins on the year, wanted to try to preserve their chances of drafting Canadian Andrew Wiggins. Those pesky victories were hurting their chances to win the lottery, so Casey might have gotten a mandate from the front office to blow the game.
It's hard to say which is more plausible.
For what it's worth, Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford didn't have an issue with Casey's decision. Per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
Clifford said he would have done the same thing Toronto coach Dwane Casey did art the end of the game, choosing not to foul late to get back the ball. Clifford said there was nearly a two-second differential between the shot clock and the game clock, with the Raptors having the option to advance the ball to midcourt after a timeout.
Nice try, Clifford—we all know you're just trying to convince opponents to try the same flawed strategy in the future.
Tony Parker Can Close
Up by just a point and in possession with 15 seconds left, the San Antonio Spurs assumed the Phoenix Suns would use a foul to get the ball back. (I know, it seems like we're talking about late-game fouls way too often here. This is the last time, I promise).
But somehow, Tony Parker darted away from the defense and managed to lay the ball in, giving the Spurs a 99-96 advantage that wound up being the final score.
Parker scored 15 of San Antonio's last 16 points, and even though things were a little dicey for the Spurs, they managed to ride their point guard to a narrow victory over the better-than-expected Suns.
If Parker doesn't blow up down the stretch, San Antonio loses this game. That's how things have gone for the Spurs for the past half-decade or so, and as the team's core continues to age, that's how it'll continue to be.
Parker is Coach Popovich's best player, and he should always be in the conversation about the league's top point guards. Hopefully, we can keep that in mind when we're all arguing over Rose, Westbrook and Chris Paul later this year.
The Pelicans Are in Great Shape
It probably helped that Zach Randolph skipped out of the New Orleans Pelicans' 99-84 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies after just eight minutes because his fiance had gone into labor. But with the way Anthony Davis played, New Orleans might have knocked off the Grizzlies anyway.
Just a few days after flirting with the exceptionally rare "5x5" game, Davis was everywhere against Memphis.
He finished the game with 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks in 37 minutes. And as impressive as those numbers are, they don't really capture the second-year stud's impact and value.
See, Davis is the rare player who piles up statistics but is actually worth more because of his intangibles. He forces opponents to change their shots, he uses his length to close off passing lanes before they open, and his constant activity forces the other team to devote a ton of resources just to keep a body on him.
Wednesday night, Davis was a monster against the pick-and-roll, jumping out to harass guards as easily as he mixed it up with big men. It's ridiculously early to start talking about things like this, but Davis' ability to be a disruptive force on both ends is going to get him some legitimate Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
The Pelicans officially have their cornerstone.