9 Takeaways from Friday Night's NBA Action
Horford is out indefinitely with a torn right pectoral muscle, while Westbrook underwent right knee surgery and will be out until after the All-Star break.
Another up-and-coming young stud, Washington's Bradley Beal, suffered a frightening knee injury in his team's 120-98 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even King James is dealing with a groin strain and is questionable Saturday versus the Trail Blazers.
But when the NBA action headed to the West Coast, the good vibes picked up. Warriors star Stephen Curry amazed home fans with his second triple-double of the season. In Sacramento, Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings to an upset of the defending-champion Miami Heat.
Let's get to it!
The Knicks Will Struggle to Win a Game Until Carmelo Anthony Returns
Oftentimes a star player on a bad team is criticized for not raising his team to another level. "If this guy is really so good," the logic goes, "then his team would win more games."
Carmelo Anthony has been the poster child for this line of thinking in 2013-14. The Knicks are 9-18 in games he has played.
But make no mistake: The Knicks are much worse without Anthony. They were blown out on Christmas by the Thunder without Anthony. And after catching the Toronto Raptors napping on Friday night en route to a 12-point lead, the Knicks showed just how much they missed Melo's offensive presence.
New York scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter of a 95-83 loss. The Knicks are a bad team, and they don't have a chance with Anthony on the shelf.
And the news doesn't get better, Knicks fans.
Thunder Point Guard Reggie Jackson Will Need to Play Better
Kevin Durant did his thing in Westbrook's absence, leading the Thunder with 34 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
But the win concealed the poor play of Westbrook's replacement, Reggie Jackson. Thrust into a starting role, Jackson struggled mightily with his shot, hitting just 4-of-19 from the field.
Jackson is no stranger to starting—he started for the Thunder after Westbrook went down in last season's playoffs, and he started three games this season before Westbrook's latest surgery.
He is a very capable replacement. But he'll need to play better than he did on Friday if the Thunder want to keep up in the race for home-court advantage.
The Wizards Can't Afford to Lose Bradley Beal
The Washington Wizards were blown out by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, 120-98. And that was hardly the worst loss the Wizards suffered on the night.
On a day in which Al Horford and Russell Westbrook were diagnosed with serious injuries, Beal took a nasty spill himself when he knocked knees with Minnesota forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
The fall looked ugly, but the postgame news was positive, via the Wizards' Twitter account: "Injury Update: X-rays on Bradley Beal's left leg were negative. He's scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow."
Washington mortgaged its future by trading its 2014 first-round pick for center Marcin Gortat during the preseason. The Wizards' front office has clearly gone all-in on making the playoffs this season. If they lose Beal, who was averaging 19.2 points per game, that gamble could turn into a disaster.
Isaiah Thomas Is the League's Most Exciting Spoiler
On a night in which Miami Heat star LeBron James passed Larry Bird and Gary Payton on the all-time scoring list, it seems almost fitting that he was defeated by a player named after Bird's old nemesis, Isiah Thomas.
The Isaiah Thomas who plays for the Sacramento Kings may spell his name with an extra "a," but he was every bit as electric as the old Pistons legend down the stretch on Friday, scoring seven of his 22 points in overtime as the Kings shocked the Heat.
Sacramento even managed to spoil Miami's chance at history, according to ESPN Stats & Info: "The Heat loss to the Kings snaps a 19-game win streak vs Western Conf teams, 2nd-longest streak in NBA history by an Eastern Conf team."
Both Thomas and the Kings have been exciting to watch this season, despite their 9-19 record. It's nice to see them get a big win against the defending champs.
The Lakers Must Learn to Rebound
The Los Angeles Lakers could have used the win. They had lost their last three games in a row, but they had a chance to pick up a crucial road win against a weak Utah Jazz team.
Lakers forward Jordan Hill made two free throws to tie the game at 103 with a few seconds left. L.A. then forced Jazz forward Gordon Hayward to miss a layup. The Lakers were headed to overtime.
... And suddenly, they weren't. To the horror of Lakers fans everywhere, the L.A. bigs failed to box out Utah's Derrick Favors, who slammed home a rebound to seal a 105-103 win for the Jazz.
Such sights have become a common occurrence for the Lakers, who have struggled on the glass all season. They rank 19th in the league in rebounds per game, and that's exacerbated when Pau Gasol is out of the lineup, as he was Friday night.
The Lakers are still waiting for the return of star guard Kobe Bryant, but even the Black Mamba can't do much to that kind of rebounding problem.
Stephen Curry Doesn't Waste Any Time in Getting His Triple-Doubles
Oftentimes an NBA triple-double is an exciting, game-ending event, with a player grabbing that last rebound or dishing that final assist with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter.
Not for the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry.
He finished off his second triple-double of the season with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. He ended the game with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 16 assists. He did have seven turnovers, but that tends to happen when one is so involved in the game.
The Warriors went on to pound the Phoenix Suns 115-86. Golden State is now only a half-game behind Phoenix for second place in the Pacific. The Suns have been one of the league's most pleasant surprises, but they must be wary of the Warriors' firepower.
The Denver Nuggets Are in Free Fall
Times are getting tough in the Mile High City.
The Nuggets lost their fifth game in a row Friday, 105-89, to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans had given up more than 100 points in nine of their previous 10 games coming into Friday, and they had yet to beat a team with a winning record.
Of course, the Nuggets no longer have a winning record. They have dropped back down to .500, at 14-14. They are now a game-and-a-half back of Dallas for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and a mere half-game ahead of 11th-place New Orleans.
The season has been a roller coaster for Denver. It started off 1-4 and then won 10 of its next 12 games. But since that time, the Nuggets plummeted back to Earth, with a record of 3-8 since Dec. 4.
They could use another hot streak, and soon.
The Nets Finally Won, but the Worst May Be Yet to Come
The reeling Brooklyn Nets halted their four-game losing streak with a 104-93 win over the last-place Milwaukee Bucks.
The 6-23 Bucks proved a much-needed salve for the Nets, who required a pick-me-up after losing center Brook Lopez for the season and getting booed off their home court in a Christmas day loss to the Bulls.
But the Nets can't afford to rest on their laurels. Check out their next three games.
- Dec. 28: at Indiana
- Dec. 31: at San Antonio
- Jan. 2: at Oklahoma City
What a way to ring in the new year! The Nets were smart to break their losing streak on Friday, because they could be staring down a new one very soon.
Magic Guard Arron Afflalo Is Awesome, Underrated and Killing His Own Team
The Orlando Magic's tanking campaign hit a slight speed bump on Friday when they beat the Detroit Pistons 109-92 behind a game-high 23 points from Magic guard Arron Afflalo.
The rebuilding Magic have steadily descended the depths of the league with their 9-20 record, with visions of lottery balls dancing in their heads. But they would have even more losses if not for Afflalo, who is quietly having a breakout year.
The shooting guard is putting up elite offensive numbers (22.0 PPG, 48.1 FG%, 44.4 3P%) despite playing for a terrible team.
The 28-year-old is set to make $15 million combined in the next two seasons, well below his market value. Should the Magic keep him for the duration, or should they sell while his value is at its peak?