7 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action
A blown generator and a smoke-filled arena prevented the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs from bringing the NBA to Mexico City, per The Associated Press (via the New York Daily News). But the other seven games that made up Wednesday's stateside slate of hoops provided some explosive action of their own.
The Eastern Conference, lately maligned as home to an inferior collection of talent, lashed out at the West for the first time all year. The balance of power won't be shifting anytime soon, but we saw enough to know that the East has at least a little fight in it.
Plus, a superstar spurred his team to yet another signature win in Portland, a young stud continued his incredible run in Milwaukee and an MVP candidate made things personal in Salt Lake City.
Elsewhere, we saw a brilliant coaching clinic and an NBA record inching closer.
The smoke may not have cleared in Mexico City just yet, but now that the dust has settled on Wednesday's results, why don't we seek some clarity in the form of takeaways?
The Eastern Conference Is Fed Up
You couldn't spend two minutes on Twitter or any NBA-related website over the past few days without running into someone bringing up the putrid awfulness of the Eastern Conference.
"Abolish divisions! Eliminate conferences! Force the East to compete only against D-League teams!" they all cried.
Judging by a couple of surprising results on Wednesday, it appears that the East is finally going to stand up and fight for a little respect.
The Cleveland Cavaliers ended the Denver Nuggets' seven-game winning streak by notching a 98-88 win to start off the evening's games. Tristan Thompson hauled in 21 boards, and the Cavs held the potent Nuggets offense to just 39 percent shooting.
Denver's 88 points were the fewest it had scored since opening night, and Anderson Varejao's dogged work in the paint went a long way toward slowing down a Nuggets interior attack that had been feasting on opponents all season long.
Shortly thereafter, the Atlanta Hawks took care of the Los Angeles Clippers by a final score of 107-97.
It was a remarkably thorough win for the Hawks, who shot 52 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Clippers by a margin of 40-36.
Let's not all rush out and celebrate the East's resurrection. There's still a massive talent disparity between the two conferences that will surely continue to be the subject of much discussion. But on this night, the East struck back.
Kyle Korver Is Almost There
After sitting out four games with a rib injury, Kyle Korver picked up right where he left off. With six made three-pointers against the Clips, the veteran sniper extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one triple to 89.
He's now deadlocked with Dana Barros for the NBA record.
Korver's 23 points was a season high, and he removed any suspense about extending his run by drilling a three just 30 seconds into the game.
He'll get a shot to take sole possession of the record on Friday when the Hawks take on the Cavaliers. Chances are, Dion Waiters will fall asleep at some point in the first quarter, allowing Korver to spring free for an uncontested triple.
Just for fun, the Cavs should keep two defenders attached to Korver's hip for every second he spends on the floor. I mean, Cleveland isn't playing for anything this year, so it might as well just embrace spiteful defensive tactics.
Ideas like that are probably why I'm not a coach.
Relatively Speaking, Houston Does Not Have a Problem
It'd be easy to start ringing alarm bells after the Houston Rockets dropped their second game in a row to an opponent they absolutely should have beaten. The Phoenix Suns took care of Houston in its own building, leaving Texas with a 97-88 win.
James Harden played one of the worst games of his career, hitting just three of his 17 attempts from the field and going 0-of-10 from beyond the arc. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic got whatever they wanted against the Rockets guards, and Phoenix racked up 42 points in the paint en route to its 10th win of the year.
For the Suns, it was yet another impressive victory.
But let's not panic about the Rockets.
They're still outscoring opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, which is the fourth-best mark in the league, per NBA.com. In addition, they've been doing battle lately with a banged-up version of Harden. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin were both out with injuries, and Omer Asik didn't play either.
It'd be nice if Houston could take care of teams like the Suns and Utah Jazz (to whom it lost on Dec. 2), but in the grand scheme of things, the Rockets still profile as one of the league's elite.
So take your finger off the panic button, Houston fans. Everything's fine.
Andre Drummond Is No Longer in Middle School
Don't let the slide title confuse you; I'll explain.
The Detroit Pistons beat the Milwaukee Bucks by a final of 105-98 on Wednesday, giving the boys from the Motor City three consecutive victories away from the Palace at Auburn Hills. As Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News tweeted, it had been a very long time since the Pistons accomplished that feat.
Per Goodwill: "First 3-game road winning streak since Nov. 2008...when Andre Drummond was in 8th grade."
As has been the case in recent games, Andre Drummond played very much like an adult against the Bucks.
His 24 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks continued an incredible stretch of play since the beginning of December. In his three games this month, the 20-year-old stud has averaged 21.7 points, 18.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.0 steals, per NBA.com.
It's no coincidence that Detroit has played much better of late.
When the Pistons roster came together over the summer, it was supposed to be one that sacrificed spacing for interior dominance. That didn't work out so well in the season's first month, but now it looks as though Josh Smith and Greg Monroe are starting to figure out how to play alongside their youngest teammate.
If Drummond continues to completely control the paint on both ends, the Pistons have a chance to make some serious noise in the East.
Rick Carlisle Plays Chess, Not Checkers
The Dallas Mavericks can attribute much of the credit for their 100-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans to Dirk Nowitzki's five straight points to close out the game. But Rick Carlisle and his brilliant play-designing skills were also largely responsible.
The following snippet from ESPN is almost too incredible to believe: "Coming out of dead-ball situations where the Mavs had possession (start of the fourth quarter and timeouts) Rick Carlisle drew up plays resulting in scores on 9 of 10 possessions for 20 points."
It's a shame that stats like that aren't widely kept, but I'm willing to bet that there aren't many coaches who could top Carlisle's success rate in drawing up dead-ball plays.
One thing Carlisle didn't quite figure out: Al-Farouq Aminu. The small forward athletically dominated the Mavs to the tune of 16 points and 21 rebounds. Anthony Davis will be out for a while with a fractured hand, but Aminu appears ready to do a passable impression in the meantime.
You Don't Want to Be on Paul George's List
The Indiana Pacers beat the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City for the first time since 2005 on Wednesday, riding a balanced attack to a 95-86 victory. For those scoring at home, that win made it a clean 3-0 sweep for the East in matchups against the West.
Paul George went off for nine of his 19 points in the decisive fourth quarter, but also held Gordon Hayward to just 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting.
If it seemed like George had a little extra motivation against a woeful Jazz team, there's a good reason for that.
According to Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, George said:
This is another opportunity. This is another team that took another player ahead of me. Not so much (going against) Gordon but just another team that passed and looked over me. So it's just another statement game, just to prove my worth in this league.
Gordon Hayward is a good friend of mine. Someone I'm always pulling for—I pull for all the guys in my draft, except for when I'm going against him.
You'd think that George's remarkable success and unquestioned superstar status would have satisfied him by now. But it seems as though he won't rest until he settles every last score on his ledger. The rest of the NBA is on notice: Cross Paul George, and you're in for a world of hurt.
LaMarcus Aldridge Is the Answer
I figured it out, you guys!
All season long, I (and plenty of other NBA types) have been puzzling over the source of the Portland Trail Blazers' remarkable early run. The schedule seemed soft, the shooting felt unsustainable and the defense looked porous.
But after watching LaMarcus Aldridge explode for 38 points and 13 rebounds in the Blazers' second consecutive statement win, I think the real source for Portland's excellence is clear.
The Oklahoma City Thunder became the Blazers' latest top-tier victim, joining the Pacers (whom Portland beat Dec. 2) on a hit list that is becoming increasingly populated with marquee opponents.
Put simply, Aldridge was the best player on the floor.
He nailed 17-of-28 shots, handed out five assists, made all four of his free throws and didn't commit a turnover. The numbers were impressive, but the Blazers power forward did the little things as well. The two defensive boards he secured in the final 1:12 iced the victory.
So, whenever you're curious about how a Blazers team with a decidedly substandard defense and dubious center play has somehow managed to solidify its spot as an elite contender in the Western Conference, just remember that Aldridge is a complete beast.
The Blazers will go as far as he takes them. Right now, he's got them all alone atop the West.