The night of Saturday, Jan. 4, was a wild one in the NBA.
In Minnesota, stars Kevin Durant and Kevin Love put on a show. Ultimately, Durant walked away with a season high in points and the win, while Love added some more ammo to his detractors by missing three game-ending free throws.
In San Antonio, the Spurs made a statement in blowing up a Los Angeles Clippers team desperately trying to show it should still be taken seriously, even without the injured Chris Paul.
Two Atlantic Division teams, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, continued their winning ways. We might just see a second (or third) team make the Eastern Conference playoffs after all.
Let's get to it.
Kudos to the Brooklyn Nets for following up their amazing Thursday night comeback in Oklahoma City with another victory, their second in a row. Of course, beating a Cleveland Cavaliers team without Kyrie Irving, 89-82, at home isn't the greatest accomplishment. But New York basketball fans will take what they can get.
Believe it or not, the Nets are now just two games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. That might come as small consolation to a fanbase that came into the season with championship expectations, but hey, it's much better than the Knicks!
The win was especially crucial for Brooklyn, who will face a difficult slate over the next two weeks.
- Golden State
- at Toronto
- at Atlanta
Brooklyn probably won't be favored in any of those games (except perhaps the home game against Atlanta). But who cares? This is the Eastern Conference, where nobody is out of contention!
Oftentimes a player will claim he doesn't care about scoring, doesn't care about his point totals. With LeBron James, you know those claims are true.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month was outscored by three teammates in the Miami Heat's comfortable 110-94 win over the Orlando Magic. Those player were Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and...Rashard Lewis?
Lewis, who started in place of the injured Shane Battier, scored 18 points to only 15 from LeBron. Of course, LeBron supplemented those 15 meager points with eight rebounds and eight assists. He probably could have easily scored a triple-double...if such things interested him.
This is the ongoing saga of the greatest player in the world, playing for the two-time defending champs. LeBron doesn't care about getting 20 points anymore. He's all about winning down the road in the playoffs.
The Philadelphia 76ers were the darlings of the first week of the NBA season after three straight wins against the Miami Heat, the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams even won 2013-14's first Player of the Week award.
Between Nov. 4 and Dec. 28, the Sixers regressed into the team most expected them to be before the season started, going 5-21.
Well, guess what: The Sixers are back! Saturday's win 101-99 win in Portland was not only shocking, but also their fourth win in a row on their six-game road trip. Not bad for a team that started the trip by losing to the hapless Milwaukee Bucks!
The Sixers are now tied with Brooklyn at 12-21, just two games behind Detroit for the eighth seed. Unlike Brooklyn, however, Philadelphia still has its first-round pick, so it actually wouldn't mind losing.
The Chicago Bulls' championship hopes were dashed when star point guard Derrick Rose was lost for the season with a knee injury. The Bulls may have struggled since then, but they are still in the playoffs at the moment, and for that, they can thank their frontcourt.
It's not often you see three players on the same team record double-doubles for points and rebounds in the same game, but that is exactly what happened Saturday in Chicago's 91-84 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Luol Deng (17 points, 11 rebounds), Joakim Noah (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Taj Gibson (10 points, 12 rebounds) battered the Hawks into submission. After the game, coach Tom Thibodeau seemed especially impressed with Gibson.
Per NBA.com's Kent McDill:
You can't say enough about Taj. He is tough as nails. Whatever you ask him to do he does. You can start him, bring him off the bench, he guards everybody. He is pure heart.
As long as Chicago's frontcourt holds up, the Bulls should have no trouble making the playoffs.
For a guy who's putting up MVP-type numbers, Kevin Love sure is a polarizing figure among basketball fans. Some defend him as perhaps the best power forward in the league, while others deride him as an empty stat-stuffer for an underachieving Minnesota Timberwolves team.
One thing's for sure, Love didn't help his case Saturday night when he missed all three free throws with two seconds left in a heartbreaking 115-11 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With the loss, Minnesota dropped to three games back of the Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot in the West.
Kevin Durant's 48-point masterpiece should be the takeaway here. Per ESPN Stats & Info:
Kevin Durant had 48 points tonight, including 23 in 4th quarter (both are most by any NBA player this season)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2014
But the basketball world can't seem to stop talking about Love's missed free throws. The allure of the "Is Love a winner?" narrative is far too strong. It would be a tragedy to see such a transcendent season tarnished by all this debate.
Whenever a team outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture casts a glance upward in the standings, the name "Charlotte" must stick out like a sore thumb. Surely, we'll climb ahead of Charlotte eventually.
Well, the long-derided Bobcats are not ready to go gentle into that good night. They snapped a five-game losing streak and climbed back into the seventh seed on the strength of their 113-103 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Kemba Walker (30 points) and Al Jefferson (27 points) led the scoring barrage for Charlotte.
Despite the offensive outburst, the Bobcats still hang their hat on defense. Their defensive efficiency is sixth in the league, according to Basketball-Reference. Any team that can play elite defense has a real shot at making the playoffs.
Did the Los Angeles Clippers miss star point guard Chris Paul on Saturday? Of course. Would he have meant the difference between defeat and victory? Absolutely not.
The Clippers were crushed by the San Antonio Spurs, 116-92, in their first game without their undisputed captain, who injured his shoulder on Friday. But take heart, Clippers fans: That was not the reason your team lost.
Would Paul have helped the Clippers on the boards? L.A. was out-rebounded 16-1 in the first quarter. Could he have turned a 24-point loss around single-handedly?
This was a textbook case of a Clippers team coming out flat on the second night of a back-to-back, facing a very good, very motivated Spurs team out to avenge Thursday's loss to the Knicks.
Per ESPN Stats & Info:
Spurs: improve to 8-0 following a loss this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2014
There will be other nights to gauge the impact of Paul's loss on the Clippers, but Saturday was not one of them.
The New Orleans Pelicans stunned the powerhouse Indiana Pacers on Saturday, jumping out to a 49-44 lead at halftime. They would score just 33 points for the rest of the game, as the Pacers' league-leading defense shut them down en route to a 99-82 victory.
Indiana really turned up the heat in the third quarter, holding New Orleans to just 12 points.
Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon felt the brunt of Indiana's defensive pressure in the second half. He had 17 points at halftime, but finished the game with only four more.
This is what the Pacers do to teams, especially mediocre teams like New Orleans. Their defense has another gear, and once they reach it, the opponent has virtually no chance to score.
The Phoenix Suns beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 116-100, without the services of guard Eric Bledsoe, who missed his second straight game with a strained knee. Gerald Green scored a season-high 24 points in Bledsoe's absence.
That's all fine and dandy, but everyone beats the Bucks.
The Suns still need their best player back as soon as possible.
According to NBA.com's Mike Tulumello, Phoenix is hoping to get Bledsoe back before the end of its upcoming five-game road trip.
Here's the schedule:
- Jan. 7: at Chicago
- Jan. 8: at Minnesota
- Jan. 10: at Memphis
- Jan. 11: at Detroit
- Jan. 13: at New York
That's not exactly a killer lineup, but any Western Conference playoff contender needs to clean up on those cheap wins against weaker opponents. That will be much more difficult for Phoenix to accomplish without Bledsoe.