8 Takeaways from Friday Night's NBA Action
You never know what you're going to get in the NBA.
Friday, Dec. 20, featured a marquee game that turned into a blowout (Houston vs. Indiana) and three small-time matchups that ended as overtime thrillers (Toronto vs. Dallas, Milwaukee vs. Cleveland, Brooklyn vs. Philadelphia).
A trio of unlikely teams (Phoenix, Charlotte, Toronto) continue to climb the playoff ladder, while the highly touted—and highly paid—Brooklyn Nets just can't seem to get their act together.
Let's get to it.
Nets Can't Quite Get over the Hump
On Dec. 12, everything was going the Brooklyn Nets' way.
They had just posted a solid win over the Los Angeles Clippers, their third in a row. Deron Williams was back and looking feisty; he outplayed Chris Paul. The Nets looked poised to claim first place in the Atlantic Division, a feat that seemed inevitable this summer.
Instead, the Nets have regressed. They've lost three of their last four games after Friday's overtime 121-120 loss to the last-place Philadelphia 76ers. Those threes losses haven't exactly come against powerhouses (Philly, Detroit, Washington).
Yes, the Nets were missing Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, but the Sixers are pretty much trying to lose this season.
If the New York Knicks win Saturday afternoon, they will once again pull even with Brooklyn in the battle for "least embarrassing team in the five boroughs." The Nets are in better shape than the Knicks, but they still can't quite seem to make that move up in the standings.
Lakers Aren't Dead Yet
Anybody who skipped the Wolves vs. Lakers game because Kobe Bryant was out missed a heck of a show.
Led by Nick Young's 25 points off the bench, L.A. handled Minnesota 104-91 in its first game since Bryant went down with a knee injury.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the Lakers won without their star. According to ESPN Stats & Info, "Lakers improve to 11-9 without Kobe Bryant this season (2-4 with him)."
In the long term, the Lakers will be better when they fully integrate a healthy Kobe into the lineup. Until then, though, it's Nick Young's world, and we're all just living in it.
Heat Aren't Taking December Lightly
The Sacramento Kings stayed with the Miami Heat on Friday...for one quarter.
The champions got an unexpected workout from one of the worst teams in the West, and Chris Bosh explained how that happened.
Per NBA.com's Zachary Paul:
They were running a little bit more than usual. They kind of caught us off guard but we had to really just get used to the pace of the game and basically kind of slow it down and get what we want.
The Heat were up to the challenge, crushing the Kings 122-103. LeBron James had his way with rookie Ben McLemore, throwing down a vicious dunk right on him.
The Heat have often gotten off to slow starts in the Big Three era, but they seem to be playing their best ball early in the season.
Rockets Are Tailor-Made for Pacers
On the surface, Friday's nationally televised matchup between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers should have been a close game. It wasn't, as the Pacers annihilated Houston 114-81.
But if you look at the statistics, the Pacers were ideally suited to shut down the Rockets' third-ranked offense. According to Basketball Reference, the Rockets get most of their offense from three-pointers and free throws (both first in the league).
Those tendencies play right into Indiana's strengths. The Pacers allow the fewest three-point attempts and the sixth-lowest three-point percentage, while ranking sixth in fewest free throws per field-goal attempts.
True to form, Houston shot only 4-of-22 from beyond the arc in the loss.
Friday also marked Danny Granger's first game of the season. He finished with five points, two rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 22 minutes of action. He was just 1-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-4 from three, and he turned the ball over five times. But after missing so much time, just playing is a positive.
If defense wins championships, then only one championship contender took the court in Indy on Friday.
Kyrie Irving Got His Revenge Against Bucks
On Nov. 6, the Cavaliers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the final minutes when star Cavs guard Kyrie Irving dribbled the ball off his foot and bricked a three-pointer in the final seconds. Considering his reputation for late-game heroics, that loss must have really stuck in his craw.
Well, the real Kyrie Irving showed up late in the Bucks vs. Cavs rematch on Friday. He racked up 10 points and three assists in overtime as Cleveland held off Milwaukee 114-111.
The Cavaliers, losers of two straight, needed Irving to save this game, and he did. But they're still just 10-15, so Irving will have to summon up even more heroics going forward.
Still, 39 points, three rebounds, six assists and four blocks on 13-of-25 shooting from the floor, 2-of-7 from three and 11-of-12 from the line makes for quite the memorable game.
Suns Are Looking Legitimate
The Phoenix Suns joined the Philadelphia 76ers as the NBA's biggest surprise teams in November. But while the Sixers have crashed back to Earth in December, the Suns have continued to soar.
Phoenix notched another big win over a playoff contender, beating the Denver Nuggets on the road 103-99. The Morris twins combined for 39 points off the bench (25 for Markieff, 14 for Marcus).
While starters P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye and Eric Bledsoe struggled (15 points combined on 6-of-23 shooting), Gerald Green knocked down six threes. The aforementioned Morris' finished with eight threes as well.
The Suns are only two games behind the division-leading L.A. Clippers. With the Warriors struggling, the Suns' hold of second place in the Pacific looks secure for the moment.
Bobcats Keep Climbing the Ladder
The Charlotte Bobcats beat the Detroit Pistons 116-106 in Detroit.
Think about that for a minute. That would have shocked the basketball world for most of the Bobcats' depressing history.
But not this year. In 2013-14, Charlotte has been equal to the task of facing midtier Eastern Conference teams. Kemba Walker torched the Pistons for 34 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block as the league's 29th-ranked offense run roughshod over Detroit.
The Bobcats now have the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Are you ready to host a first-round series, Charlotte?
Raptors Are Suddenly Dangerous
Look who has taken the eighth seed in the East.
If the season ended Friday, the Toronto Raptors would make the playoffs on the strength of their 109-108 overtime win in Dallas. All five Toronto starters scored at least 15 points in an incredibly balanced effort.
Toronto is now 4-2 since trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings, but this was the Raptors' most impressive win yet. Beating an above-.500 Western Conference team on the road is no small feat.
The Raptors seem to be playing better team basketball with Gay gone. Can they keep it up?