7 Takeaways from Saturday's NBA Action
The evening of Saturday, Dec. 14, wasn't exactly chock-full of marquee matchups in the NBA. That said, several stars put in fine work in leading their teams to victory.
Kobe Bryant registered his second 20-point game and first win of the season. Carmelo Anthony scored 15 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Knicks to a much-needed win. Chris Paul showed John Wall how to play the point guard position with 38 points and 12 assists.
In Philadelphia, the Trail Blazers continued their assault on scoreboards around the league, putting up 139 points.
Let's get to it!
Kobe Bryant Can Still Score, Win
You didn't think Kobe would go winless for the season, did you?
Bryant got his first win of the season in Saturday's 88-85 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. The Los Angeles Lakers had been 0-3 with Bryant in the lineup.
The 20-point plateau might not seem like much to Bryant, who averaged 27.3 points per game last season, but it is an important step on the road back to offensive dominance.
After the game, Bryant was understandably chipper, according to NBA.com's Derek S. Smith: "You always miss those moments, particularly on the road. It's always fun to close a team out down the stretch."
That's classic Kobe. With 20 or more points in two out of his last three games, he will only get better moving forward.
Pablo Prigioni Is the Knicks' Best Point Guard
Starting point guard Raymond Felton is out with an injury, and the Knicks are playing better. That is not a coincidence.
With Felton on the shelf, Mike Woodson has been forced to give more minutes to backup Pablo Prigioni, and it has paid off, particularly in Saturday's 111-106 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Not only is Prigioni a better defender, but he also has an invigorating effect on star forward Carmelo Anthony.
Per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring: "In Dec., Melo's shooting 54.9% overall & 53.3% from three w/ Prigioni on the court. Shooting just 43.8% & 35.7% from three w/o Prigioni."
If only the 36-year-old Prigioni were a bit younger, the Knicks might be in business.
The Blazers Don't Want to Stop Scoring, and You Can't Make Them
The Trail Blazers came into Saturday averaging the most points per possession, and the 76ers came into the game averaging the most possessions per game, per Basketball-Reference.
Add those two up, and you would expect a whole bunch of points.
The Blazers did not disappoint, torching the Sixers for 139 points in an easy 139-105 win. The Sixers are lucky Portland pulled its starters, because 150 points was certainly in reach after three quarters.
For the Blazers, these kinds of blowouts have become par for the course.
Despite primarily being a jump-shooting team, their offense is shockingly efficient. When the opposing defenses don't come to play, the Blazers put up 100 points in three quarters with ease.
In fact, 13 players registered points for Portland Saturday night, and no starter played 30 minutes.
The Toronto Raptors Don't Miss Rudy Gay
Don't look now, but the Toronto Raptors are thriving without the services of Rudy Gay, who was traded earlier in the week. Since the trade, Toronto has gone 3-1, culminating in Saturday's 99-77 win in Chicago.
Three of the players traded for Gay—Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson—contributed 26 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and only one turnover in the winning effort.
There was reason to suspect Toronto might be better without the tremendously inefficient Gay, but this is ridiculous.
Miami's Big Three Can Still Score
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh no longer put up the points the way they used to in the regular season—now grizzled veterans, they focus more on staying fresh for the long grind of the playoffs.
But in LeBron's return to Cleveland, a 114-107 win, all three players scored 20 points for only the second time this season. Nights like these have become increasingly rare for these three players, especially as Wade misses games from time to time with nagging injuries.
Of course, any and all of the Big Three are still capable of putting up 20 points on any given night. However, none of the Miami players are concerned with regular-season stats.
Like other great teams before them, they play for a higher goal.
John Wall Is Not the Best Point Guard in the League
Sorry, Mr. Wall.
The Washington Wizards point guard caused a bit of a stir in November when he declared himself the best point guard in the NBA. While he's been having a fine season, he's not the best point guard in the NBA, and everyone knows that.
Wall did get a chance to meet the best guard in the NBA on Saturday night, when Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers came to town. Paul played like a man out to prove a point, with 38 points on 11-of-14 shooting and 12 assists. Those are some video game numbers.
Wall had a wonderful game himself, with 24 points and 12 assists, but when you call yourself the best, you've got to beat the best.
Hopefully Wall takes this game as a learning experience.
The Chicago Bulls Have Some Difficult Choices to Make
Yes, Joakim Noah is playing hurt. Yes, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng just came back from injuries. But the Chicago Bulls do not look like a playoff team right now, even in the pathetic Eastern Conference.
Following Saturday's 99-77 beating at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, the Bulls might have to start thinking about what to do with this roster. Deng will be a free agent at the end of the season. Are they buyers or sellers?
Injured or not, this is still the same core that led the Bulls to the second round last year, even without the services of Derrick Rose.
They're missing some key contributors from last year's team (Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson), but Chicago might want to hold off until Butler, Deng and Noah are healthy before making any rash decisions.