10 Takeaways for Friday Night's NBA Action
It was a night of reunions in the NBA.
LeBron James met up with the Dallas Mavericks, rekindling memories of that ill-fated 2011 NBA Finals. Lou Williams made his season debut for the Atlanta Hawks against his old team. Corey Brewer suited up against the Denver Nuggets in a losing effort for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Plus, brothers got to play against each other with a surprising amount of frequency.
Markieff and Marcus Morris always get to play with each other, but Friday night featured Pau and Marc Gasol, Cody and Tyler Zeller and Miles and Mason Plumlee all squaring off. It was the first time in NBA history we've had that many sibling rivalries surface during the same day.
The reunions are notable, but there were also quite a few interesting developments during the 11-game slate.
Starting with the undefeated Indiana Pacers, let's run through the 10 biggest takeaways from a night full of close games and plenty of entertaining action. Apologies go out to the Portland Trail Blazers, who don't earn a featured spot but deserve a shout-out for continuing to look like a playoff team while beating down the Boston Celtics.
2 Things the Indiana Pacers Aren't All About: Paul George and Mojitos
Don't make the mistake of assuming that the Indiana Pacers are all about Paul George.
Yes, the superstar swingman continued doing his thing, racking up 22 points, two rebounds, one assist and two steals while playing his trademark suffocating defense. And yes, it was enough to spark the Pacers to their ninth win without a single loss, which means that PG still has to be considered the leading MVP candidate in 2013-14.
But that doesn't mean he's the only player we should focus on.
Roy Hibbert in particular is feeling a little bit neglected.
The big man made driving into the paint a terrible idea for the Milwaukee Bucks, recording eight blocks to go along with his 24 points and 10 rebounds. He was a dominant force on both ends of the court, which is status quo on defense and a nice development on the more glamorous end.
After the game, Hibbert told the Associated Press via ESPN:
We have expectations and we want to win. We want to play deep, deep into the playoffs. You gain confidence with your teammates when we're all on the same page and we all have one goal. Some guys on this team before were just trying to get a paycheck and go home and then chilling on the beach and sip mojitos or something like that. That's not us.
Hibbert is exactly right. I've always thought of him as a strawberry daiquiri or pina colada kind of guy.
Lance Stephenson also excelled early on, scoring nine quick points before his shot stopped falling. David West was good during the initial proceedings as well before he stopped getting involved in the offense.
This is an elite team, not a collection of mediocre players surrounding George. It's time we started treating it as such.
One player alone can't hold the Bucks—injury-riddled team that they are—to 77 points. That's the work of a unit that's clicking in every way possible as it keeps the undefeated streak alive.
Hard to Beat the Miami Heat When LeBron and Wade Are...LeBron and Wade
You have to imagine this was the vision Pat Riley had when he first dreamed up pairing LeBron James with Dwyane Wade. When both superstars are playing well, the Miami Heat are absolutely unbeatable.
Led by a hot start from Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks tested that theory. And the theory prevailed 110-104 once Miami started playing better defense in the second quarter.
LeBron was the clear standout from Friday night's action, recording a season-high 39 points to go along with his six rebounds and four assists. He did cough the ball up half a dozen times, but he made up for those inefficient plays by shooting a scorching 14-of-18 from the field and 10-of-11 at the charity stripe.
Scoring 39 points (or more) on 18 shots (or fewer) is something that's only been done 81 times in NBA history now, and this was the first time LeBron joined the club. Only he, Dwight Howard, Paul Pierce and James Harden have done so in either of the past two seasons.
After the game, he even took a subtle shot at Rudy Gay, who shot 37 times earlier this week. LeBron told the Associated Press via ESPN, "You give me 37 shots in a game, I'll have 60, 70. I had 40 tonight on 18 shots. If I get 37 shots in a game, I'm going to put up 60. Easy."
ESPN's Tom Haberstroh confirms this in an entertaining breakdown of the claim.
But LeBron wasn't the only Heat star racking up big numbers.
Wade scored only 17 points, but he made up for that by putting together five rebounds, eight assists and eight(!) steals. He was "in a zone defensively."
Now, let's play the "how many players in NBA history?" game once more.
Those numbers have been matched or exceeded only 25 times, and Wade is the second person to join that particular club since Russell Westbrook did back in 2010. The other? That would be Michael Carter-Williams, who did so against the Heat during the first game of his career.
When Wade and LeBron are putting up historic numbers and playing well enough that Bleacher Report's Christopher Walder gives them both "A+" grades for their performances, ain't nobody getting in the way.
Combo of Chicago Defense and Poor Toronto Shooting Has Ugly Results
Although the Toronto Raptors did manage to score 80 points against the suffocating Derrick Rose-less defense of the Chicago Bulls, that's a misleading number, one that gives far too much credit to an impotent offense.
Toronto scored only 31 points in the first half, shooting a puke-worthy 25.6 percent from the field. The first two quarters were lowlighted by a wide-open three-pointer by Kyle Lowry that somehow managed to miss everything by roughly 18 feet.
That's an exaggeration. It only missed by one.
The Raptors rebounded a little bit in the second half, scoring 49 points and finishing the contest shooting 35.4 percent from the field. But the Bulls eased up during the end of a not-so-close game, so that's a rather empty percentage.
Plus, take a look at what happened without DeMar DeRozan, who finished the game with 37 points on 13-of-22 shooting. The rest of the team scored only 43 points on 16-of-60 shooting. For those of you without a calculator, that's the equivalent of 26.7 percent.
The Bulls defense, now holding opponents to only 89.4 points per game—the second-lowest mark in the NBA, trailing just the Pacers—is good enough as is. When a team compounds it by failing to hit open shots, as the Raptors did on countless occasions, it's just about hopeless.
Doug Smith of The Toronto Star wrote, "It will be a gruesome video session, ugly and full of errors and mistakes and gaffes beyond comprehension, and it will not in any way be fun for the Raptors to sit through it."
But on the flip side, the Bulls will love watching that tape.
Chicago was looking for a spark during a mediocre start to the season. It's rather interesting that it might have come while Rose was wearing street clothes.
Brooklyn Nets Still Need to Be Concerned
I hate to put a damper on the Brooklyn Nets' third victory of the season, but there were far more negatives than positives in the overtime victory.
Even though Joe Johnson hit the game-winning floater after Kevin Garnett tapped the ball out to him during a last-second scramble, the Nets can't view this as a win for the purposes of anything other than their record. Had Johnson not been in the right spot at the right time, a worn-out team would have been forced into double-OT against a much fresher squad.
Plus, the offense seriously started to devolve once Deron Williams injured his ankle and the fourth quarter rolled around.
With D-Will nursing his latest malady, everything had to run through Brook Lopez. To the big man's credit, he was fantastic, appearing absolutely automatic when he caught the ball close to the basket. But no one else looked good.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still looked slow. Johnson struggled until he hit that floater.
And this was with a great performance from Shaun Livingston, who shot 7-of-12 from the field en route to 18 points, three rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. Anyone think that's sustainable?
The Nets are still in trouble. They'll play tougher opponents, and the season rides on the health of D-Will's ankle.
How's that for a scary thought?
Brooklyn fans are welcome to go out and celebrate this win, but let's keep things in perspective. Friday night still wasn't much of a positive, even if the victory is a nice change of pace.
The Nuggets Are Deep and Dangerous
It didn't matter that Kevin Love continued his season-long trend of putting up big numbers by recording yet another double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Ricky Rubio couldn't push the Minnesota Timberwolves over the top either, even with a dozen dimes.
A 27-spot from Kevin Martin, 21 big ones from J.J. Barea and 14 points from Nikola Pekovic couldn't do the trick.
The Denver Nuggets are too tough at home, especially now that they're an incredibly deep team. And yes, that's true even though JaVale McGee is out of the lineup and Danilo Gallinari is still trying to recover from his torn ACL.
Denver went 11 deep against the 'Wolves, and it's not like some of the guys were just getting in during garbage time. Each of the six bench players who got into the game—Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson and Evan Fournier—played at least 13 minutes, and they were all effective.
Between Arthur's offense finally emerging, Mozgov—fresh off a career-high 23 points—looking like a competent offensive player when he posts up and Fournier playing with confidence, this is a dangerous second unit. Brian Shaw, the new head coach for Denver, has always been known as a great developer of talent, and it appears as though he's already doing a nice job in the Mile High City.
Denver got off to a ridiculously poor start to the season, but taking down Minnesota pushes them back to .500, and it doesn't appear as though the Nuggets will spend too much more time on the wrong end of that mark in 2013-14.
With Kenneth Faried playing like the trade rumors upset him, Ty Lawson balling out and the newfound depth, this is a dangerous team. Tough enough to beat when it's on the road, it could be nearly impossible to overcome the altitude and the crowd at the Pepsi Center from this point forward.
Time to Start Talking About Jeff Teague as an Elite Point Guard
Let's do a little bit of math.
Don't worry, you don't need to worry about calculus, trigonometry or linear algebra. Just simple addition so that you can analyze the merits of this formula.
Mike Budenholzer + Jeff Teague = Tony Parker 2.0
See anything wrong with that? I certainly don't, and that's why it's time to start talking about Teague as one of the truly elite point guards in the NBA.
Following his 33 points and 10 assists against the Philadelphia 76ers—a team that was missing both defense and Michael Carter-Williams—Teague is averaging 19.8 points and 9.9 dimes per contest, leaving him just shy of the elusive 20/10 club.
He's come a long way from the game-managing floor general he was earlier in his career, a player who took a backseat to the Atlanta Hawks' frontcourt players while saving his energy for pesky defensive play. Teague is on the verge of being a star player now, and he certainly belongs in any discussion about the league's five best current point guards.
Yes, he looks that good.
Budenholzer, the new head coach of the Hawks, is a Gregg Popovich protege, and he's apparently utilizing whatever tips and tricks helped make Parker into the superstar he is today. Teague looks confident and aggressive running the Atlanta offense, using multiple screens and learning how to mix his intelligence with his athleticism.
After the game, Coach Bud told the Associated Press via ESPN the basic strategy behind Teague's dominance:
I think the message throughout preseason and training was that when he's aggressive, something good is going to happen. We just keep hammering that to him. We want him to be more aggressive. Sometimes that's going to mean a lot of assists, sometimes it will mean a lot of points. When he's putting pressure on the defense, good things happen for us.
Brett Brown, the head coach on the other side, speculated that MCW may have been able to slow down the dynamic Wake Forest product. Something tells me he was just looking for something positive to say.
With Teague and Al Horford in the mix, teams better not sleep on the Hawks any longer.
Respect the Charlotte Bobcats Defense
By dropping 86 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Charlotte Bobcats didn't do much to dispel the notion that they're an offensively inept team. But they also held Kyrie Irving (the masked man) and Co. to only 80 points, which helps cement their defense as a stellar unit.
Going into the game, the Bobcats were allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions, a mark that squeezed them into the top 10, according to Basketball-Reference.
Well, that number is going down after this performance. Charlotte is giving up only 93.2 points per game now, the No. 4 mark in the league. And if the season ended today, the Bobcats would be in the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10.
It's not hard to stop the 'Cats from scoring, but teams are quickly realizing that it's tough to put up points on them.
Irving was the high-scorer for Cleveland, producing 18 points on an inefficient 5-of-16 shooting from the field. As a whole, the Cavs shot just 40.5 percent, and they struggled to hit the contested looks they earned on the perimeter.
Once Al Jefferson is back in the lineup, it'll be tougher to maintain these defensive levels, but the Bobcats will also gain an elite scoring option. Right now, there's a lot of pressure on Kemba Walker to produce points.
The 'Cats may not be able to hang around in the playoff picture throughout the entire season, but this is starting to look like a squad capable of beating any team on any given night and finishing with around 35 to 40 wins. And it all starts with that defense.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's energy and effort levels have been contagious for this team.
Frontcourt Standouts in Salt Lake City
It was an ugly night in Salt Lake City, as the San Antonio Spurs clawed back in the fourth quarter to extend their record to 9-1, the best mark in the Western Conference. But that doesn't mean there weren't standouts.
The usual standouts were up to their typical tricks, but there was a surprise performance from the frontcourt for each team. That's right, we're going with a two-for-one special in the takeaways!
On the San Antonio side of things, Boris Diaw stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. With a plus-12 plus/minus, the French forward was one of only five players in the positives on Friday night (Diaw, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Danny Green and Tim Duncan).
The extra ball movement that he enables thanks to his uniquely versatile set of skills helped out the Spurs immensely on a night where they were struggling to generate offense.
That's two impressive outings in a row for Diaw, and he should continue functioning as an X-factor for the defending conference champions. Yet he still wasn't the biggest standout from this Friday night game.
That would be Derrick Favors.
The Georgia Tech product paced the Jazz with 20 points, a career-high 18 rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks. For the latest time this season, he looked like a total package. Doing that against a Duncan-led frontcourt is something special, and this could be the impetus Favors needs for a breakout campaign.
Favors has now recorded three double-doubles in a row, and this was by far his best performance. Not only was he putting up big numbers, but he was heavily involved in the Utah offense.
This season is all about evaluating talent, and Favors just earned a few stickers in the management's book.
Zach Randolph Finally Gets It Going
This has been a season to forget for Zach Randolph.
Going into Friday night's action, Z-Bo was averaging only 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while posting a 14.81 PER that left him just shy of the league average. Since when has this power forward been a league-average player?
The heart of the problem is Randolph's inherent struggle adapting to Dave Joerger's system. The new head coach wants an offense full of fast-paced movement, and No. 50 has always been a rather slow and plodding type of player.
Well, Z-Bo got to do his thing against the Los Angeles Lakers on a night that involved the Memphis Grizzlies slowing down the action to counter Mike D'Antoni's breakneck tempo. He finished with 28 points and 11 boards, outshining a stat-stuffing Marc Gasol and explosions from Jodie Meeks and Nick "Swaggy P" Young.
Down the stretch, it was Randolph who held off the charge from the Lakers. Let's take a look at all of Memphis' points in the fourth quarter from the moment that Z-Bo started taking over:
- 8:11—Randolph makes a seven-foot jumper
- 6:46—Quincy Pondexter knocks home a bucket
- 6:13—Randolph makes a 19-footer
- 5:07—Randolph makes a layup
- 3:47—Randolph makes a long two-point jumper
- 3:06—Randolph scores again
- 2:05—Randolph records the assist on a Marc Gasol mid-range attempt
- 0:16—Randolph makes a tough lefty scoop after driving at the end of the shot clock
- 0:08—Randolph goes 2-of-2 at the line
Not too shabby, huh?
He scored 14 of the team's last 18 points, and he was the clear central figure of a slowed-down offense.
Hint, hint, Dave.
Sacramento Kings Cheer, but No One Is Really Sure Why
Which number is more important?
The world-record decibel level that the Sacramento Kings produced in the first quarter (119.5 dB) before breaking their own record in the second half (126 dB), or the ugly 2-6 record that might be too kind to this struggling team?
Let's focus on the positive first.
Sleep Train Arena went into Friday night determined to break the Guinness World Record for loudest sound produced at an indoor arena, and that goal was met. You can see a video of the successful attempt here, although it got even louder later.
Now, let's talk basketball.
I have to wonder why the Kings are drawing up plays that create corner three-pointers for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute down the stretch. That's not a good look, especially when down nine points with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
It was only one play, but it was awfully representative of the overall efforts. The Kings just aren't playing smart basketball on either end of the court, and the Utah Jazz are now the only team in the NBA with a worse record.
The combined passing efforts of Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey got things going, but it was a pair of frontcourt players who the Kings really allowed to stand out.
Josh Smith finished just shy of the elusive five-by-five, listening to the final buzzer sound with 21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocks. Andre Drummond didn't stuff the sheet quite as full, but he still recorded 15 points and 18 boards in a stellar outing.
It was a dominating effort by a team that has struggled to look good on either end leading up to this contest. I guess a game against the Kings is enough to get anyone on track at this point.
But hey, at least Sacramento got a record!