7 Takeaways from Friday Night's Dramatic NBA Action
Don't let all the blowouts fool you; the final Friday of November was, indeed, a thrilling one in the NBA.
Of the 13 games on the schedule, six came down to the wire, with two requiring overtime to sort out winners and losers.
To be sure, there's no ignoring the seven double-digit margins that resulted from Friday's slate. But I'd be lying if I said any of those finishes were at all surprising. Three featured Western Conference squads bullying their Eastern Conference counterparts, thereby adding to the already well-established trend. Two others saw The Association's two worst teams (the Utah Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks) on the losing end.
As for the seventh? That one involved the Indiana Pacers, who've lost just one game this season while foiling their foes by an average of 11.4 points per game.
Didn't catch all the action? That's okay—we've got you (just about) covered, with these seven takeaways serving as your late-night sampler plate.
Russell Westbrook Is Pretty...Pretty...Pretty Good
So much for concern about Russell Westbrook's return from a knee injury.
The superstar guard scored a game-high 34 points, including a clutch three with 0.1 seconds remaining, to deliver the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 113-112 win over the visiting Golden State Warriors. That shot read like revenge for the last time Westbrook knocked down a late three against the Warriors—November 14th, when Andre Iguodala hit a baseline fadeaway to give fans at Oracle Arena reason to cheer.
But as exciting as this bit of turnabout must've been for folks in OKC in and of itself, what's more important is the message the sequence itself sent about Westbrook's health, physically and mentally. That shot wouldn't have been possible if Russ hadn't flown in to knock the rebound away from not one, not two but THREE Warriors bigs or if he hadn't leapt out of his shoes (figuratively speaking) to field a desperate save from Jeremy Lamb.
All of which is to say, Russell Westbrook is back.
As if he ever really left.
That result dropped the Warriors to 9-8, in a dead heat with the Los Angeles Lakers for 10th place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Yes, those same Lakers who are waiting on Kobe Bryant's comeback from a torn Achilles. Those same Lakers who've been without Steve Nash since November 10th, who've relied on a ragtag crew of scrapheap acquisitions to fill out their roster.
Those same ones who have a winning record—after outlasting the defense Detroit Pistons on the road, 106-102—despite playing the seventh-toughest schedule in the league to date.
More remarkable still, Wesley Johnson's 27-point explosion made him the ninth different Laker (in 17 games) to lead the team in scoring so far this season.
All of which, strange as it may seem, should put Mike D'Antoni in the early running for Coach of the Year honors...shouldn't it?
Clippers Come Together
Speaking of team efforts from LA-based clubs, the Los Angeles Clippers made the best of a bad situation during their 104-98 overtime win against the Sacramento Kings.
With Chris Paul out on account of a hamstring injury and JJ Redick leaving in the second quarter with a sprained wrist, the Clips had to put their depth to the test.
And boy, did that depth come through.
Darren Collison, starting in CP3's place, finished with a solid 15 points, two assists and a steal. Blake Griffin tallied 21 points and 11 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan fell one block shy of a triple-double.
But the performance of the night came from Jamal Crawford, who exploded for 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to deliver LA to a tough win against a Kings team that was clearly energized by the arrival of Derrick Williams.
That explosive depth in the backcourt was always going to be a strength for LA, which doesn't have much help in the front court of which to speak behind Blake and DeAndre. But for however long Paul and Redick have to sit, head coach Doc Rivers can be confident in the contributions he'll garner from his team's fleet of guards and wings.
The Atlantic Divide
Meanwhile, on the other coast, the Atlantic Division continued its run of futility on Friday night.
The Toronto Raptors put up a fight against the Miami Heat, but ultimately fell to the two-time defending champs, 90-83. The same could be said for the New York Knicks, whose 97-95 loss to the Denver Nuggets, amidst a downpour of boos for former Nuggets Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith, extended the team's skid to eight games. The Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers were both blown out by Western Conference opponents.
The only winner of the night from the Atlantic: the Boston Celtics, who were fortunate enough to face the calamitous Cleveland Cavaliers.
And come away with a 103-86 win.
As such, the Atlantic Division isn't just without a winning team; it's five constituents have combined for a record of 26-55 (.320 winning percentage).
Though, with the Eastern Conference in shambles, the Raptors and C's would still be "good" enough to crack the playoff picture, even if division champs weren't guaranteed top-four seeds.
Is It Too Early to Hand the Central to the Indiana Pacers?
The Indiana Pacers won't likely need any help snagging their slice of home-court advantage in the East, though they're getting plenty anyway.
The Chicago Bulls would be hard-pressed to mount a challenge without Derrick Rose. The Cavs are already a mess, though their 17-point loss to the Celtics might not yet represent rock-bottom. Likewise, the Milwaukee Bucks are searching for answers without Larry Sanders, though it's tough to envision him making up the 16-point deficit by which they fell to the Charlotte Bobcats.
At least the Detroit Pistons put up a fight...before falling to the still-Kobe-less Lakers in their own building.
I know it's still November, but this seems as good a time as any to crown the Pacers back-to-back Central Division champs.
Eric Bledsoe's Back!
That's enough kvetching about the Eastern Conference for one night. Let's turn back to the West, where the Phoenix Suns spent the evening padding their record at the expense of the now 2-15 Utah Jazz, 112-101.
Adding interest to a game that would've otherwise lacked it was the return of Eric Bledsoe. The do-it-all guard had missed the Suns' previous six games on account of a shin injury.
With Utah's abysmal defense in his sights, Bledsoe came off the bench to contribute 19 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals in 28 minutes.
It remains to be seen whether Phoenix can keep up this winning pace, even though Jeff Hornacek's squad is 9-7 against the fifth-toughest schedule in basketball. But if the Suns are going to stave off tanking, they could use Bledsoe's frenetic energy, awe-inspiring athleticism and free-wheeling physicality to keep their operation afloat.
Spurs Gonna Spur
An 18-point road win for the San Antonio Spurs against the Orlando Magic may not seem like anything remarkable...and really, it wasn't.
Which is what makes it so remarkable anyway.
Cory Joseph, starting in place of the injured Tony Parker, scored 13 points and dished out four dimes. The rest of the bench contributed a whopping 52 points to the proceedings, in large part because so much of the game was played in "garbage time."
But that might not have been the case without Tim Duncan, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, at the end of which the Spurs held a stifling 63-45 lead.
Then again, with the way San Antonio has played this season, they might've just as easily won with Duncan sitting on the sideline with another "DNP-Old" to his credit. As it stands, Duncan played just 23 minutes, with Marco Belinelli playing a team-high 27 minutes on the evening.
And thus did the Spurs move to 14-2 with yet another double-digit victory—their eighth already this season.
Ho-hum, I s'pose.
Did you notice anything on Friday that we missed? Let me know on Twitter!