7 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action
Sunday's NBA action featured an overtime thriller that should have raised questions about the Golden State Warriors' rotation, a total team effort from the Orlando Magic and an eye-opening effort from Kevin Durant.
Plus, the Los Angeles Lakers saw yet another healthy body succumb to whatever voodoo curse has been afflicting their health all season. With the injury already out of the way, Evan Turner added insult by cramming home a showboating dunk as time expired.
Ironically, Nick Young was displeased.
There may have been just five games on the schedule, but Sunday's contests offered equal helpings of highlights and heartbreak. Oh, and in an effort to level out those competing highs and lows, the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs reminded us all that some things in life are eminently predictable.
Start your work week off with some takeaways.
Many Hands Make Light Work
The Orlando Magic tallied 30 assists on 41 made field goals in their 109-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks, showing the kind of unselfishness that will only help as they try to build a winner over the next couple of years.
Orlando's ball-sharing led to six players scoring in double figures, led by Arron Afflalo's 21 points. Nikola Vucevic notched yet another double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds against a beleaguered Hawks front line that started Elton Brand in place of the injured Al Horford.
With a stable of promising young players and as many as two lottery picks in the 2014 draft, Orlando is going to have plenty of talent on the roster in the near future. The fact that the Magic are showing such a willingness to make one another better at this early developmental stage bodes very well.
At present, Orlando's goals are modest. With just 10 wins in their first 30 games, the Magic have a long way to go. But two straight victories and an entertaining brand of unselfish basketball indicate things are moving in the right direction.
It's Time for the Warriors to Have a Serious Conversation
Maybe the timing of this Draymond Green endorsement is a little odd. After all, he shot just 2-of-10 from the field in the Golden State Warriors' 108-104 overtime win against the host Cleveland Cavaliers.
But it's time for the Dubs to seriously consider increasing Green's role on the team.
Rumblings to that effect have been swirling around the Bay Area for a while now, and they got especially loud a few weeks ago when David Lee's defense deservedly became the subject of numerous YouTube gag reels.
For what it's worth, Lee has played much better since Andre Iguodala returned from a sore hamstring (as have the rest of the Warriors), but there's just no getting around the fact that Green gives Golden State more of what it needs on both ends.
Green was integral to the Warriors' win in Cleveland, turning away two Kyrie Irving drives down the stretch with remarkable help defense. In addition, he actually matched up on Irving individually late in overtime, a decision head coach Mark Jackson could make confidently because of Green's incredible versatility.
If that weren't enough, he drilled a go-ahead three at the 1:05 mark in the fourth quarter that put the Dubs up by three. Only an Irving triple with nine ticks remaining kept that bucket from being the game's final one.
Per Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News, Jackson said: "The energy and effort was contagious. Draymond was spectacular."
On the night, Green grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked four shots and posted a team-high plus/minus of plus-11. Lee, who scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting before fouling out, logged a much less impressive minus-four.
Single-game differentials like those can be misleading, as can lineup data from small samples this early in the season. But the fact is that Green provides the defensive versatility and gritty hustle the first unit needs. He has improved his shooting (37 percent from long range) to the point where he can function as a stretch 4, but Jackson seems unwilling to pry minutes away from Lee at the power forward position.
And as a matter of fact, Lee's ability to get his own shot in the post would be a boon to a second unit that absolutely can't score in the half court.
Because of Lee's stature in the locker room—and his bloated contract—he'll never wind up on the bench. All things being equal, though, the Warriors could benefit from finding a way to give Green more minutes.
I mean, the guy dominated the stretch run of a hotly contested game despite hitting just two shots. There aren't many players who can do that.
Maybe the Thunder Didn't Botch the James Harden Trade After All
It's really hard to make the case that the Oklahoma City Thunder got anything close to fair value for James Harden when they traded him to the Houston Rockets before last season began. The shooting guard has gone on to become one of the league's best players, and all OKC has to show for the exchange are a few young pieces and one remaining top-17 protected pick.
But those young pieces are looking more and more promising lately. And with Jeremy Lamb going for a career-high 22 points in OKC's 117-86 dismantling of the Rockets, now seems like a good time to point that out.
Stepping into a larger role with Russell Westbrook missing his second game since undergoing knee surgery, Lamb hit eight of 10 shots from the field and carried himself like a flat-out star. He was confident, aggressive and seemed comfortable in his position.
In other words, he looked like the guy Oklahoma City hoped it was getting in the Harden deal.
One of the picks the Thunder got in the exchange turned into Steven Adams, one of the NBA's most promising young projects. Between him and a suddenly surging Lamb, it now appears that OKC did about as well as it could in dealing Harden from such a position of weakness in 2011.
As Royce Young of DailyThunder.com tweeted: "James Harden tonight: 8 points on 2-9 shooting, 1 assist, 3 rebounds. The players OKC got for James Harden: 28 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists."
With Westbrook likely out until the All-Star break, it's going to be even more important for Lamb to provide consistent production. Based on what we saw against the Rockets, he looks ready to do that and more.
Kevin Durant: Ready to Roll
Creating takeaways that focus on Kevin Durant is becoming very similar to the process of creating them for LeBron James. At some point, you run out of ways to say "this guy is really, really good."
But in this instance, there's a new wrinkle to KD's excellence. His 33 points and remarkable leadership in OKC's win were worthy of attention on their own, but the fact that they came in the Thunder's second game without Westbrook makes them all the more impressive.
This is a different version of Durant, one that seems completely comfortable flying solo. That wasn't the case in last year's playoffs when the Memphis Grizzlies forced him into uncomfortable shots all series long.
KD has more help now, but he's also taken a key evolutionary step. He's ready to lead on his own.
The Spurs and Kings Don't Really Change
Stop me if you've heard this one before: After a slow start, the San Antonio Spurs pulled themselves together, executed and surged past a Sacramento Kings team that simply couldn't muster the desire to defend for four quarters.
Pretty familiar, huh?
Sacramento blitzed the Spurs in the third quarter, amassing 38 points, all but three of which came from the Kings' high-scoring trio of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas. Heading into the final period, the confident Kings had a six-point lead and all of the momentum.
But in a 12-minute stretch that wasn't surprising to anyone who follows either team, the Spurs calmly diced up a suddenly nonexistent Kings defense to the tune of 31 points. For its part, Sacramento could muster only 17 in the final period.
To their credit, the Kings kept things close until the final three minutes, when San Antonio expanded the lead on a series of paint buckets and made threes.
Head coach Mike Malone ripped his team apart after a lackluster effort against the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 23, questioning everything from the Kings' defense to their overall commitment. Fortunately, they didn't lose this game for lack of effort.
But there were numerous instances in which Cousins spent as much time berating officials as he did paying attention to his defensive assignment. And Thomas' high-stepping celebrations in the third quarter belied the lack of experience and professionalism Malone lamented.
These Kings seem to be improving incrementally, growing marginally more mature and capable by small degrees.
But against the time-tested Spurs, they fell right back into the doormat role they've occupied for years.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Gary Vitti Needs to Explain Himself
Preface: I am not a doctor.
Chalk up the Lakers' incredible string of injuries to whatever you want: bad luck, age, the toll of a brutal late-season push a year ago. There are any number of viable explanations, all of which are more realistic than blaming Gary Vitti, the Lakers' longtime trainer.
Join the club, Xavier Henry!
Per B/R's Kevin Ding, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti broke some bad news to Mike D'Antoni during L.A.'s loss to the Sixers: "Lakers trainer Gary Vitti breaking the news of Xavier Henry's knee strain to D'Antoni on sideline. D'Antoni shakes his head."
Henry was diagnosed with a strained right knee and will undergo an MRI to further assess the damage on Monday, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
Vitti has been the Lakers' trainer for the past 28 seasons, which means he's seen all manner of maladies in his day. But with the rash of injuries befalling Lakers left and right, it might be time to wonder what he's doing in that training room.
Is he replacing ankle tape with barbed wire? Is the cold tub actually full of battery acid? These are questions we need answered.
If I'm in L.A.'s front office, I'm on the phone right now offering five times fair market value for the Phoenix Suns' training staff. If nothing else, we know they can keep Nash upright. Maybe they'd have better luck than Vitti with the rest of the roster, too.
Again: not a doctor.
Nick Young Has a Complicated Belief System
If anybody could handle a little showmanship, you'd think it would be Nick Young.
But the Los Angeles Lakers' swaggiest gunner wasn't particularly enthused when Evan Turner threw down a wicked reverse jam to cap off an already decided 111-104 Philadelphia 76ers win at the Staples Center.
Turner sheepishly realized the error of his ways as soon as he landed. When the buzzer sounded seconds later, he made his way to the Lakers bench to apologize for what he realized was a somewhat unsportsmanlike gesture.
The Lakers were largely receptive to the gesture, but Young wasn't nearly so understanding. And really, that's a little ironic, don't you think?
Young spends entire games basking in self-satisfaction. The guy loves his game, and he's never shy about showing it.
Nobody's defending the way Young showboats and preens when his shot is falling, but it only seems fair to argue that he should be able to take it if he's going to dish it out.