8 Takeaways for Friday's Night's NBA Action
Friday night was brimming with big performances in the NBA.
Carmelo Anthony led the New York Knicks over the Charlotte Bobcats, eliminating any chance of Patrick Ewing getting a victory during his debut as a temporary head coach. Kevin Love and Anthony Davis also carried their teams to victory, but they weren't alone.
With 12 games going on, points, rebounds and assists were flying around in non-stop fashion. They almost resulted in triple-doubles for Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard and Luol Deng, who deserve big shoutouts even if they don't receive featured spots in this set of takeaways.
While players were putting up gaudy individual numbers, the Indiana Pacers prevented anyone on the Toronto Raptors (other than first-half Rudy Gay) from doing so. They remain the lone undefeated team in the Association, getting off to their first 6-0 start since their ABA days.
Eat your hearts out, Mel Daniels and Roger Brown.
Andrew Bynum returned to the Wells Fargo Center and was booed relentlessly by Philadelphia 76ers supporters, much to the surprise of absolutely no one. Ty Lawson exploded in the third quarter but couldn't help carry the struggling Denver Nuggets to back-to-back victories, much to the surprise of many.
Oh, and Andrew Wiggins and the other top college prospects kicked off their season in style.
Friday night had it all. Whether or not you had a chance to tune in, we've got you covered with the eight biggest takeaways from the Nov. 8 action.
New York Knicks out of the Frying Pan, Still Have to Escape the Fire
If the New York Knicks had lost to the Charlotte Bobcats for the second time in less than half a week, the world would have ended.
You thought whatever caused the dinosaur extinction (minus Chris Bosh) was bad?
After the game, Carmelo Anthony told the Associated Press via ESPN, "We played like our backs were against the wall. It was a must-win for us. This early in the season when you talk about must-wins, something obviously is going wrong. But we corrected that."
Fortunately for the human race, the Knicks emerged with a 101-91 victory that should quiet some of the critics. For now.
'Melo was absolutely sensational, dropping 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting to go along with his eight rebounds and six assists. Andrea Bargnani also enjoyed his best game as a member of the Knicks, recording 25 points, eight rebounds (which doubled his season total), three assists and five blocks.
Believe it or not, it was the first time since Patrick Ewing—ironically enough, since he was coaching the Bobcats—that a Knick put up 25 points and five blocks (h/t Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn).
The offense, for the first time in a while, was clicking. And even more importantly, the same can be said about the team's defensive efforts, as Tyson Chandler's absence wasn't a factor in the outcome. With a win while holding an opponent below 100 points, the Knicks escape harsh criticism.
But they aren't out of the fire yet, even if they've escaped the frying pan.
It's important to remember who the Knicks were facing on Friday night. While Charlotte is a much-improved team, Al Jefferson wasn't in the lineup, sitting out to nurse a bum right ankle. Without Big Al, the frontcourt rotation was comprised of Bismack Biyombo, Josh McRoberts, Cody Zeller, Jeff Adrien and Anthony Tolliver.
I have to apologize here, because I should have told you to keep a trash can handy before listing out those names.
The Knicks would have had to press the panic button with a loss to the Bobcats, but a victory doesn't allow them to throw it aside. They need to beat a team that can actually capitalize on the depleted set of big men before that happens.
Before moving on to the next takeaway, it's also worth noting that our best thoughts are with Steve Clifford as he recovers from a successful surgery that placed two stents in his heart.
The Indiana Pacers' Defense Should Be Illegal
The Indiana Pacers aren't going to make it easy if you want to score buckets. A "no easy buckets" chant might as well start from Pacers fans whenever a team steps into Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Or whenever the Pacers visit a different arena, for that matter.
Going into the game against the Toronto Raptors, Indiana was 5-0—the lone undefeated team in the NBA—and had allowed 87, 90, 74, 91 and 80 points in their handful of outings. You know, the kind of numbers that the Los Angeles Clippers have become used to allowing in three quarters.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Pacers boasted a defensive rating of 89.7, a mark more than five points clear of the rest of the league. And scarily enough, it's going to be even better after holding Toronto to just 84.
Indiana gave up 46 points in the first half, as Rudy Gay was just en fuego.
The small forward couldn't miss. Not literally, because he scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but pretty darn close.
As Paul George told the Associated Press via ESPN after the game, "Thank God he just stopped making those contested shots. It was frustrating because he was hitting some tough ones, but in this league, jump shots don't always last. So I was just trying to pressure up and contest all his shots.
In the second half, the Pacers put the clamps down. They held Toronto to just 38 points on a 14-of-41 performance from the field. Gay was the leading scorer once more, but this time he only recorded an eight in the scoring column.
What was really impressive, though, was how well Indiana deterred the Raptors from attacking the rim. Of the 81 attempts throughout the game, only 30 came at the rim. Instead, the team had to settle for contested mid-range looks and ill-advised three-pointers.
Hell, the entire Indiana roster does at this point.
Two New MVP Candidates
Don't make the mistake of thinking that LeBron James has already won MVP in 2014.
While the primary challengers like Kevin Durant and Chris Paul haven't dropped out of the race—how could they after just five games?—it's pretty clear that we need to add two power forwards into the mix.
The first of the two would be Kevin Love.
After recording nine points, six rebounds and six assists in the first quarter (including some ridiculous outlet pasts that left Rick Carlisle in awe), Love finished the game with a sensational 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight dimes. He shot 12-of-21 from the field, added a block and only turned the ball over twice. Plus, he held off the Dallas Mavericks with big shot after big shot down the stretch.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are now 4-2, and they're legit. Most thought they would be if they could avoid injury, and we're seeing exactly why now that a healthy version of Love is just absolutely dominating.
Love, the best power forward in basketball, entered the game averaging 26.2 points, 14.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest. Those numbers are only going up after Friday night's victory, as is his MVP stock.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Love now joins Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson as one of only four players in the last 20 years to record at least 160 points and 80 rebounds in the first six outings of a season.
But the UCLA product isn't the only power forward who is on the rise. A certain young man who played college ball at Kentucky is as well.
That's right. We're talking about Anthony Davis.
The 20-year-old big man sparked the New Orleans Pelicans over the Los Angeles Lakers with a career-high 32 points to go along with his 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal and six blocks.
As The Times Picayune's Jimmy Smith wrote, "At one point in the third quarter, after Davis hit a 20-footer over the outstretched arm of Lakers forward Pau Gasol, Gasol ran up the court with his hand still in the air and looked back at the Lakers' bench slack-jawed."
Get the point? This dude is a highlight machine who stuffs stat sheets like Santa does stockings on Christmas morning.
His breakout campaign continued against Pau Gasol and the Lakers, who presumably hope that he doesn't show up again on the schedule for quite some time. For that matter, so does everyone else in the league.
Evan Turner Really Wants to Be Traded
Evan Turner just doesn't get it. Tony Wroten apparently doesn't either after an 18-point night, but he's still trying to carve out a role for himself in the NBA, so we'll give him a pass.
The Philadelphia 76ers aren't supposed to be winning games, yet they improved (is that the right word?) to 4-2 after a dominant 94-79 showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers. What happened to tanking? Is Andrew Wiggins not good enough for the Sixers?
Philly's first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft is it's most valuable asset. Yes, more valuable than either Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, simply because it offers the possibility of landing a franchise-altering talent like Wiggins, Julius Randle or Jabari Parker, among others.
Each win devalues that pick because it lowers the chances that Philadelphia will emerge with the top lottery odds.
That doesn't matter to Brett Brown, nor does it matter to the players on the Sixers. All of them will still give 100 percent each and every night, scrapping and clawing to prove that they aren't as bad as everyone thought.
And here's the thing: They aren't.
Before the game, B/R's Zachary Arthur wrote the following:
So what does Philadelphia get out of trading Turner?
The Sixers get two things. The first is that losing the 6'7" small forward will definitely contribute to Sam Hinkie's plan of losing as many games as they can in order to get a great draft pick. That plan hasn't exactly been executed too smoothly, but getting rid of Turner would easily put the team back on track.
Turner has been a big sparkplug lately, and he put up quite the impressive line against Dion Waiters and the rest of the overmatched Cavaliers. The former No. 2 pick finished with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting, adding 10 rebounds and five assists to his line as well.
Although he's breaking out this year, Turner isn't a part of the long-term plans. There's little to no chance that the Sixers re-sign him when he becomes a free agent this offseason, and for that reason, it's likely that they trade him before losing him for nothing.
If he's going to play like this, he'll force the front office's hand. Philadelphia can't afford to remain above .500, and Turner is getting in the way of that backward-sounding goal.
He won't come out and say it, but his play proves how desperately he wants to raise his trade value.
Changing of the (Point) Guard
D-Will, while he still has plenty of quality basketball left in the tank, represents the old guard, while John Wall is one of those new challengers ready to ascend up into the elite class. And they went head to head on Friday night.
It was a hard-fought game from start to finish, one that needed an extra period before a winner could emerge. But just like the Wizards ultimately reigned supreme with a 112-108 victory, so too did Wall find himself on top.
The Kentucky product struggled with his jumper, but he still finished the game with 17 points, six rebounds, 14 assists and four steals. On the flip side, Williams was more of a non-factor, recording 14 points, three rebounds and three assists. He was also inefficient with his shot, and his six cough-ups topped Wall's number by two.
Down the stretch (the fourth quarter and overtime), Williams scored more, but he also couldn't keep Wall from getting to the line and setting up things for his teammates. Even on the game-tying attempt that the former Wildcat took as time wound down, he was able to spin around his opponent and get to the basket.
And while he ultimately missed, he still set up a put-back opportunity for Nene. Even when he isn't trying to do so, Wall is making his teammates better.
If you can only call one of the two elite, it's time for Williams to cede the title. Especially because he lost the battle to a young point guard playing through back spasms, as reported by CSN Washington's Chris Miller.
Steven Adams Makes the Thunder More Deadly
Kendrick Perkins, you've officially been put on notice. Your job is no longer safe.
After Steven Adams' breakout performance against the Detroit Pistons, the long-time starter for the Oklahoma City Thunder has been completely devalued. His defensive impact doesn't stand out against Adams', and the Pittsburgh product can actually catch a basketball when it's thrown in his general direction.
Adams tallied 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steals and three blocks in 31 minutes, finishing with a plus-20 plus/minus.
Perkins' plus/minus? A putrid minus-15.
His worst moment came when he threw an outlet pass to Brandon Jennings (whoops) and then created an and-one situation with a stupid and soft foul. But throughout the game, it was quite clear that he wasn't able to make the same impact Adams could.
Perhaps the most impressive part was how thoroughly the New Zealand native destroyed Andre Drummond, a center who is widely regarded as one of the premier up-and-coming players in the league. Drummond just looked uncomfortable, shooting 2-of-3 from the field and only recording three boards.
It's a sentiment that The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry agreed with on Twitter, saying, "Folks, Steven Adams has thoroughly outplayed Andre Drummond, a player many think can be one of the best centers in the league."
Mayberry went on to declare that Adams outshone even Kevin Durant, who dropped 37 points on only 15 shots.
We discussed a changing of the guard earlier in these takeaways.
Well, this isn't a one-game flash in the pan. Perhaps it will lead to a "changing of the center" in Oklahoma City as well.
The Inside Is a Problem for Denver
The Denver Nuggets have some serious issues, and it all starts with the lackluster play of the frontcourt. You know it's problematic when the team has to rely on Anthony Randolph for offense down the stretch.
While Ty Lawson was fantastic, exploding for 21 points during the third quarter, he couldn't make up for the efforts of Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. The two starting big men combined to record just five points and eight rebounds, and neither of them were able to play major minutes.
Not because of foul trouble. Just because Brian Shaw can't trust either of them to provide quality offensive contributions or hold the other team's frontcourt in check.
Miles Plumlee ended up having another big game for the Phoenix Suns, posting a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. And yet, he was still overshadowed by Markieff Morris, who pounded and stretched the Denver "defense" into submission.
I have to use quotation marks because I'm still not sure if that "defense" is a mythical entity.
Morris ended up with a team-high 28 points, and he did so on only 13 shots. Just for good measure, he also recorded 10 rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Phoenix ended up recording 48 of its 114 points in the paint, and that's emblematic of the Nuggets' problems throughout the year. Until Shaw figures out how to maximize the immense talent he has in the frontcourt, the Nuggets are going to continue underachieving.
And make no mistake about it. Even though McGee and Faried have failed to stand out in 2013-14, they're both still full of upside.
Earlier in November, the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman wrote a scathing take on the Nuggets' low-post defense. I'd recommend reading it in it's entirety, but the most potent line is as follows: "It's Halloween night 41 times at Pepsi Center, a haunted house of horrific low-post D."
Friday night may have been Nov. 8, but it was yet another Halloween-worthy performance on the interior.
Top College Prospects Living Up to the Hype in Their Debuts
College basketball kicked off its season on Friday night, and that means that the 2014 NBA draft class was finally in action. All of those tanking teams got their first looks at how their top targets would perform throughout the 2013-14 season.
There weren't many letdowns.
Andrew Wiggins helped lead the Kansas Jayhawks to a lackluster 80-63 win, and he managed to post 16 points, three rebounds and two assists during his first collegiate game. The much-hyped prospect took a while to get involved, but he made his mark felt by hitting five of his nine shots from the field.
Expected by many to be the No. 1 pick next summer, Wiggins showed nice shot-creating abilities, but he also proved that it's important to manage the expectations. With as much hype as he received, this solid outing almost feels disappointing.
But Wiggins wasn't the only top prospect in action on Friday night.
Jabari Parker debuted for Duke, recording 22 points, six rebounds and two assists. "First game in college—are you kidding me? That was a terrific performance!" Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN after the game, talking about his star prospect's 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 performance from downtown.
And how about the Kentucky guys?
While James Young struggled with his shot and Andrew Harrison was decent, Julius Randle dominated. If anyone will take over Wiggins' No. 1 spot, it's the UK forward who began his collegiate career with 23 points and 15 rebounds while getting to the charity stripe almost at will.
On the other side of the country, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon debuted with 13 points and 10 rebounds, cooling down after a hot start in the first half. He'll do wonderful Blake Griffin impressions throughout the year, so keep your eye on the Wildcats.
It's safe to say that the 2014 draft class—at least the guys projected to be right at the top—lived up to the hype on the opening day of their respective seasons.
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