The games comprising Wednesday's slate of NBA action offered up lessons on the value of team play, redemption and optimism.
Pretty deep, huh?
Before you wander off to wrestle with the concept of basketball games being so morally instructive, take a gander at the following takeaways. Doing so will provide a primer on the core concepts, as the Portland Trail Blazers pulled together, Jan Vesely reminded everyone he was still an NBA player and the Los Angeles Clippers gave their fans hope that life without Chris Paul might not be so bad.
See that? Team play, redemption and optimism. They're all right there in order.
Of course, these takeaways will also offer examples of what happens when team play is absent, redemption gives way to disappointment and optimism disappears.
Deep thinkers, read on thoughtfully. Everyone else, there's a sweet link to Victor Oladipo swatting Damian Lillard on the ninth slide.
These takeaways have something for everybody.
On the one hand, the Golden State Warriors' ongoing turnover issues allowed the Brooklyn Nets to go on a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter that ultimately cost the Dubs the game. On the other, the Warriors' 102-98 loss at the Barclays Center was their first defeat since Dec. 19.
So, to the extent it's possible for a loss to be acceptable—even to a lottery team in the comically bad East—this is probably it.
Stephen Curry scored a game-high 34, but was just 2-of-10 from long distance and turned the ball over seven times. Some late-game fatigue was understandable, though; he logged 45 minutes on the back end of a back-to-back set.
Ultimately, head coach Mark Jackson won't be able to get too worked up about his team's effort. The Warriors just ended a 10-game winning streak that included six consecutive road victories. During the past few weeks, they've established themselves as a legitimate contender.
I'm guessing Jackson will be ticked about letting this one slip away, but only for a second. After that, he'll get to enjoy the long flight back to the Bay Area knowing he's leading one of the league's best teams.
Following a rough home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 3, ESPN's Tim McMahon quoted Dirk Nowitzki as saying: "It’s a game we can’t lose. Can’t afford to lose that one. ...The way we let those games slip away, I don’t think we’re a playoff team."
Well, after dropping a 112-90 laugher to Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks have lost three of their past four contests and have seen their grip on the No. 8 seed loosening day by day.
Dirk managed just eight points on the night, while only Monta Ellis and Vince Carter cracked double figures. With Dallas unable to score, the Spurs blew the game open in the third quarter, using a 15-5 run to make the game's final period a 12-minute exhibition of garbage time.
With the Denver Nuggets on a three-game winning streak and the Minnesota Timberwolves getting Chase Budinger back, the Mavs don't have much room for error.
Losing on the road to the Spurs is nothing to be ashamed of, but if Dallas doesn't get its act together soon, Nowitzki's concerns about his team's playoff fate will become increasingly justified.
I've never been to Canada—though I admire the nation's reputation for politeness and laissez-faire approach to mayoral choices—so I can't speak to whether the population puts actual benches to use.
But the Toronto Raptors sure don't need theirs.
That fact was evident on Wednesday when the Raps' starters combined for a whopping 83 points in a 112-91 drubbing of the Detroit Pistons.
DeMar DeRozan attacked the basket, Kyle Lowry hit four threes and Jonas Valanciunas tossed up an easy 16 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes. Put simply, Toronto's starters were awesome.
It shouldn't be surprising to note that the five-man group that started the game—Lowry, DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas—played so well. After all, they've been utterly dominant all year.
In 240 combined minutes coming into their Jan. 8 matchup with the Pistons, the Raps' starting quintet posted a net rating of plus-9.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.
There are only five other five-man units that have played as many minutes as Toronto's current starters while posting a higher net rating.
It's nice that the Raptors have guys like Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons coming off the pine. But based on the way their starters are playing this year, bench production is really just a luxury.
Lance Stephenson didn't dress, Roy Hibbert didn't show up and the Atlanta Hawks didn't let the Indiana Pacers breathe in a 97-87 Hawks win that extended a remarkable streak.
The Pacers haven't beaten the Hawks in Philips Arena since 2006, and a 12-0 run by Atlanta made it clear in the early going that Indiana would have to wait at least another month to notch that elusive win in Georgia.
Per the Associated Press (via ESPN) Paul George had this to say of the Hawks' decisive early blitz:
Down 12 points to start the game off, you give a team like this all the confidence in the world, them playing at home. They just played with confidence at that point. I felt like that's where we lost the game.
When Indy and the Hawks meet in Atlanta again on Feb. 4, George will have to hope he has a little help. He got none on Wednesday.
Hibbert managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes, and David West scored just eight points in support of George's game-high 28. Indy's do-it-all wing also led the team in rebounds (12), assists (three) and steals (two).
Atlanta used a balanced offensive attack and stifling defense to increase its home record to 13-5 on the year. At just 19-17, the Hawks are far from being a contender in the East. But they sure seem to have Indiana's number.
As if the Pacers needed another reason to chase home-court advantage for this year's playoffs, they've got another one now.
I know. I'm as shocked as you are.
European prospect gurus and Washington Wizards diehards will be happy to tell you that Jan Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, has actually existed for quite a while. But for the rest of us, his recent emergence is pretty surprising news.
Vesely scored a season-high 12 points and snatched seven rebounds in Washington's 102-96 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans. The 7-foot forward ran the floor well (which isn't that new; athleticism has always been his best attribute), scored efficiently and was a key in the Wizards' big 33-16 second-quarter burst.
Would it be more prudent to discuss Trevor Ariza's 21 points and 10 rebounds? Yes. Does Anthony Davis' 8-of-13 shooting in a losing effort warrant a mention? Sure.
But isn't it more fun to celebrate the fact that, for one night, Vesely was kind of a big deal? Absolutely.
Kyle Weidie of TrueHoop saw the game the same way. He summed up the contest in a tweet: "Here's your #Wizards game recap tonight: Jan Vesely got double-teamed by the Pelicans."
Vesely still doesn't really have much in the way of actual NBA skill. He's really just a guy who runs and jumps for short spurts, rarely executing an actual basketball move. But maybe we're seeing the start of something here.
And even if we're not, it was nice to see a forgotten man have a nice night.
After falling to the Houston Rockets by a final score of 113-99, the Los Angeles Lakers have now dropped nine of their last 10 games. That's reality for the Purple and Gold these days, and it bites.
Kendall Marshall is probably feeling the same way about reality, seeing as he crashed right into it during his 2-of-13, six-turnover effort on Wednesday. After bursting onto the scene as the Lakers' point guard savior du jour just a few days ago, Marshall reminded everyone why he washed out of the league mere months after going to the Phoenix Suns with the No. 13 pick in the 2012 draft.
Overmatched, unable to hit a shot and looking much more like the guy who couldn't get off the bench in Phoenix last year, Marshall still logged 38 ugly minutes. With no other point guard options available, the Lakers had no choice.
Credit Houston—and especially James Harden, who had 38 points on just 23 shots—for taking care of business against a weak opponent, but also pity the Lakers, who are in for many more games like this in the future.
Reality in Los Angeles isn't any fun at all.
For me, nothing will ever top the criminally, indefensibly underrated "Birthday Cake" dunk, but Gerald Green's game-winning fallaway jumper with 3.9 seconds left against the Minnesota Timberwolves was pretty cool, too.
Highlights aside, Green is proving this year that he's much more than a high-flying pastry connoisseur.
The tough shot he drilled to give the Phoenix Suns their 21st win of the year might get a few people talking about the 27-year-old guard, but the conversation should have started a long time ago. Green is shooting nearly 39 percent from long distance this year, and he's taking a lot of shots from that range.
His 6.8 three-point attempts per game ranks fifth in the league, per NBA.com.
On the year, he's averaging career-highs in minutes (27.2) and points (13.4) per game while playing surprisingly solid defense on the wing. Basically, Green has gone from being a sideshow without much of an actual game to a major contributor on one of the league's most surprising teams.
For anyone wondering how to show appreciation for his growth, Green's birthday is Jan. 26. Just don't get him any cupcakes.
He's moved on.
For three quarters, it looked like the Orlando Magic were going to pull off the rare East-over-West road upset against the Portland Trail Blazers.
But Thomas Robinson cranked up the intensity and the rest of the Blazers played practically perfect basketball in a 39-point fourth quarter that turned a close game into a blowout. Clearly, Portland has that proverbial "extra gear" that championship hopefuls need.
It's much too early (and the Blazers' defense is much too porous) to start talking seriously about title pursuits, but the way Portland blitzed the Magic in that final 12 minutes was pretty eye-opening. The Blazers hit 17-of-28 shots from the field and didn't turn the ball over once in that decisive period, all the while holding Orlando to just 19 points.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the team with 36 points on 16-of-25 shooting, while Nicolas Batum posted a triple-double (14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds) in 34 minutes.
But it was Robinson, who had all but slipped out of the rotation in recent weeks, who gave the team a real spark in the fourth. His hustle and effort was the catalyst for Portland's late burst.
It's not always ideal to rely on coasting for most of the game before shifting into overdrive, but most good teams have a habit of doing just that. Now we know the Trail Blazers can do it, too.
Oh! And for what it's worth, Victor Oladipo doesn't have an extra gear. But the Orlando Magic rookie proved he could rise a few extra floors on his insane block of Damian Lillard's dunk attempt. Here's the clip.
No, I'm not talking about the bizarre band of attention-hungry weirdos who flock to Hollywood. And I'm certainly not referring to the delusional collection of Lakers fans who ever believed they were rooting for a playoff team.
Neither of those groups could ever be described as "well-adjusted."
The Los Angeles Clippers, though, are adjusting surprisingly well to life without Chris Paul.
Man, I went a long way to bring that back around. Might not have been worth it...
Anyway, the Clips took care of the visiting Boston Celtics by a final of 111-105, thanks largely to Blake Griffin's remarkably well-rounded effort. The high-flying forward led all scorers with 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting, tossing in eight assists and six rebounds for good measure.
Naturally, he also posterized Kris Humphries.
The Clippers have now won two out of three games since Paul went down with a shoulder injury and while it helps that a pair of those contests came against visiting lottery teams from the East, it's still a good sign that L.A. is finding ways to tread water without its star.
The rest of the Clips' January schedule features a heavy dose of Eastern Conference slop with a Jan. 18 tilt against the Pacers and a month-ending trip to Golden State representing the only real challenges. If L.A. can continue to get by in Paul's absence, it's possible that a relatively easy slate will allow it to avoid slipping too far down the standings.
That's a good thing, as the Clippers probably want to avoid adjusting to life outside the playoff picture.