6 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's NBA Action
The evening of Tuesday, December 17, was short on games (five total) but long on quality point guard play.
In Cleveland, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard did battle for the title of "Best Point Guard Under 25." In Oakland, Stephen Curry showed 2013 Eastern Conference All-Star Jrue Holliday that he needs to raise his game now that he's playing in the West.
And Kobe Bryant is playing point guard! He's great, and he's playing point guard...but does that make him a great point guard?
Let's get to it!
Damian Lillard Showed He's Better Than Kyrie Irving (This Year)
Coming into Tuesday's game, Bleacher Reports' own Josh Martin broke down the respective seasons of point guards Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, determining that Lillard was the better point guard at the moment.
Lillard backed up that praise on Tuesday night in Portland's 119-116 win over Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers. He was clearly better than Irving, even after Irving exploded for nine points in 61 seconds down the stretch. Liilard was able to trump that effort by knocking down the game-winning three as the clock wound down.
The numbers tell the tale: 36 points on 11-of-23 shooting, 10 assists, eight rebounds, and eight threes for Lillard. Irving finished with 25 points on 9-of-22 shooting and 10 assists, but he was no match for the Blazers star, who backed up Martin's assessment with his huge showing in Cleveland.
The Charlotte Bobcats Defense Is Legit
The Charlotte Bobcats haven't done much of anything at an elite level in their brief history. While they are still far from an elite team in 2013-14, they are very good in one crucial area: defense.
Charlotte came into Tuesday ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, and they probably improved those numbers in shutting down the Sacramento Kings, 95-87. They held the Kings to 37.5 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers.
Credit should go to first-year head coach Steve Clifford, who has turned around the culture in Charlotte by stressing the defensive side of the ball with his young team.
And his players are saying the right things. After the win, guard Kemba Walker spoke on how the team ended its three-game losing streak, per NBA.com's Derek Smith, "We buckled down when it was time late in the game. We focused our defense and got stops and then worried about the offense."
The Omer Asik Saga Can't Get Anymore Dramatic
The Houston Rockets are a fine team. Rockets center Omer Asik is a fine player. But it has been clear for a while that the two needed to part ways.
A trade of Asik, which looks to be imminent, is important from a basketball standpoint. The Rockets have holes, and they need to make the right moves if they want to contend for a title.
But beyond the on-court impact, this has been a soap opera-esque ordeal, filled with twists and turns and Asik pouting on the bench. He has no shortage of suitors, with Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Boston reportedly interested, per Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski. And what's this...a wild card!
The trade deadline usually has it's share of drama, but this season the drama has started before the deadline.
Back-to-Backs Aren't Bothering Kobe Bryant
Few players in the NBA have as many miles on them as Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. Heck, few players in NBA history have played as many minutes as the Black Mamba.
For a player coming back from a difficult injury at an advanced age, a four-games-in-five-nights stretch must be particularly brutal. But Kobe is no mere mortal. He matched his season-high of 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting in the Lakers' 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Naturally, Kobe sounded unconcerned after the game with the amount of minutes he played, per ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne:
"It just kind of happened. It felt good though. You’ve got to crank it up at some point."
Kobe and the Lakers have earned the next two days off before hosting the Timberwolves. Every game is critical for L.A. as they struggle to get back into the playoff hunt, so it's crucial that Kobe recovers from these back-to-backs.
When Serge Ibaka Scores, the Thunder Are Really Tough to Beat
Serge Ibaka scored 17 points in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 105-93 win over the Denver Nuggets. Naturally, that 17 points only landed Ibaka third in his own starting lineup, behind Kevin Durant (30 points) and Russell Westbrook (21 points).
Ibaka is not paid to score; he's paid to defend. His star teammates usually score more than enough to power Oklahoma City to victory.
But when Ibaka scores like he did on Tuesday, the Thunder's offense adds an extra dimension that makes it virtually unstoppable.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Thunder are now 12-1 when Ibaka scores at least 15 points. Ironically, that one loss came in his highest-scoring game of the season. He scored 27 points when the Thunder lost to the Golden State Warriors on an Andre Iguodala buzzer-beater in Oakland, a game the Thunder thought they had.
Get them points, big man!
Andre Iguodala Is Back...and Feeling Fine
Golden State Warriors wing Andre Iguodala played his first game since injuring his hamstring in a Nov. 22 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. A hamstring injury can certainly limit one's athleticism, so how did Iguodala look?
Judging from the video above, he's feeling pretty good.
Iguodala didn't have to play much in the Warriors' blowout of the New Orleans Pelicans, which is always nice for a player coming off injury.
The Warriors have been treading water at 13-12 coming into Tuesday. They obviously need Iguodala to return to form if they want to compete with the Clippers for the Pacific title.