6 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action
The six games on Monday night's NBA schedule were decided by an average of 22 points, which means fans in search of tense, competitive basketball were out of luck.
Aficionados of drubbings, trouncings and figurative demolition got all they could handle, though.
To be totally fair, there were a pair of single-digit ballgames, one of which might have marked the beginning of a new era for the Detroit Pistons. Armed with a new coach and featuring a fighting spirit not seen for months, Brandon Jennings and Co. notched an eye-opening upset.
Elsewhere, the Milwaukee Bucks cemented a season of failure, the Indiana Pacers devoured a wounded opponent and the Philadelphia 76ers (God bless them) spent another night in the meat grinder. Theirs was a stomping of historical proportions.
Here's what you need to know about one of the most lopsided evenings of the 2013-14 NBA season.
Sometimes, There's No Point
Facing the Indiana Pacers is no picnic under any circumstances, but the Denver Nuggets had to do battle against the NBA's most ferocious defense at less than full strength on Monday.
Lacking a healthy point guard because Ty Lawson (cracked ribs), Nate Robinson (torn ACL) and Andre Miller (punitive exile) were all unavailable, the Nuggets were at a massive disadvantage from the outset. So Randy Foye started at the 1, Jordan Hamilton handled the ball a bit and Evan Fournier did his best to initiate the offense.
As you might have suspected, there was no point in even playing this game.
Indy registered season highs in margin of victory, total points and field-goal percentage in a 119-80 laugher that was over before it started. The Nuggets managed to hit just 31.5 percent of their attempts from the field as their guards struggled mightily to create quality shots without Lawson running the show.
It probably didn't help that the Pacers were still stinging from their upset loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday, either. As head coach Frank Vogel said in his postgame press conference, via @Pacers, the team was motivated by its recent defeat: "Last night we learned a lesson that you gotta play 48 minutes."
The Pacers' intensity never wavered, and it helped them limit the Nuggets to just three players in double figures, led by Wilson Chandler's 17 points.
But guess how many Pacers contributed buckets. Give up?
Yep, all 13 players on the roster saw at least seven minutes in the contest, and every single one of them notched a field goal. David West led all scorers with 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting, including 17 in the first quarter alone.
Denver didn't have a floor general, the Pacers were out for blood after a loss and nobody could stop West. Before the game even tipped off, you could see this blowout coming.
In other words, there was never any point in actually playing this one.
We Need Answers
I don't care if Kyle Lowry has a reputation for being "difficult." That's not enough to explain how he lost out on an All-Star berth, especially when his vastly inferior teammate, DeMar DeRozan, is going to New Orleans in his place.
You can pull up the season-long numbers from Basketball-Reference.com if you like; they'll show you how Lowry outpaces DeRozan in player efficiency rating, true-shooting percentage, offensive win shares, defensive win shares, points, assists, steals—you get the idea.
No help there.
And if you watched Toronto's 108-101 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, you'd be even more confused about which Raps guard was the All-Star.
Lowry put up better numbers than DeRozan (shocker!), notching 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting to his teammate's 22 points, four assists and two rebounds on 7-of-21 shooting. More than that, Toronto's point guard imposed his will on the game in a way that revealed him to be the clear on-court leader.
Per Eric Koreen of the National Post, Lowry was the guy who assured Toronto wouldn't allow the feisty Pelicans to come back: "Chaz Hayes blows a tap-in at the buzzer. Raps up 82-70. Not over, although Lowry seems disinclined to let Raps lose."
In contrast, Koreen also noted the way DeRozan fired up ill-advised shots off the dribble and bumbled possessions down the stretch: "DeRozan is making some real interesting decisions in the fourth quarter. Real interesting."
So, we've got 50 games of data saying Lowry's the better player this year, Monday night's glaring example of DeRozan's shortcomings and some old-fashioned common sense telling us Lowry is the man on his team.
Yet DeRozan is the All-Star.
Somebody needs to explain what's going on here.
Finality Set In
Well, it's now official: The Milwaukee Bucks will finish the 2013-14 season below .500.
You probably could have made that claim confidently at some point in November, but Milwaukee's 102-86 loss to the Boston Celtics was its 42nd of the season. So even if the Bucks reel off 31 straight victories to close out the year (which, you know, seems kind of unlikely), they'll still wind up below the break-even mark.
Boston used a 32-18 run in the fourth quarter to close out the contest, though many of the Bucks' prominent shortcomings were on display throughout. Milwaukee scored just 86 points, thanks to 43 percent shooting and 19 turnovers—a typical effort from the league's lowest-rated offense.
And in the continuation of another troubling trend, the Bucks suffered yet another key injury. Larry Sanders was already out with a fractured orbital, his second significant injury of the year. So when John Henson rolled his right ankle (it was an ugly one, too) in the fourth quarter, you could practically hear Milwaukee's collective "what's next?" plea.
Loss No. 42 wasn't necessary to prove this season would go down as a failure for the Bucks, but it added a sense of finality nonetheless.
Mo Cheeks Was the Problem...Maybe
All it took to coax offensive flow, markedly improved effort and one of the best wins of the year from the Detroit Pistons was firing the head coach.
With Maurice Cheeks canned, John Loyer took the interim reins on Monday. And through his inspiring leadership and singular brilliance as a motivator, he immediately fixed everything that was wrong with the Pistons.
OK, it wasn't quite that dramatic. But notching a 109-100 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs was a pretty significant milestone in an otherwise disappointing season for Detroit. Loyer gets some of the credit for that, as he was visibly demonstrative on the sidelines and clearly had the Pistons pushing the ball with much more urgency than Cheeks ever mustered.
The rock moved well, players appeared loose and Brandon Jennings captained an impressive second-quarter surge that shifted the game's momentum in Detroit's favor.
And Loyer was screaming the entire time, shouting instructions and even stepping a few feet onto the court to distract Marco Belinelli on a three-point attempt.
Maybe Cheeks really was the problem in Detroit.
Then again, what we saw from the Pistons probably wasn't solely attributable to Loyer. Remember, Detroit had won four of its previous six games coming into its tilt against the Spurs; the team had been playing better during the last days of Cheeks.
Perhaps this was just a continuation of that run.
Plus, teams that see their head coach get the ax tend to summon a little extra effort in the subsequent game. It's hard to know whether that happens because they're glad he's gone, or if it's some kind of too-little, too-late tribute.
Either way, Detroit had an extra edge against the Spurs.
With less than 30 games to go, the Pistons are in a virtual tie with the Charlotte Bobcats for the No. 8 seed in the East. If they can maintain the energy they showed on Monday—and maybe even play a little defense for the first time all year—they'll be a good bet to crash the postseason party.
The Rockets Rubbed It In
Omer Asik saw the court alongside Dwight Howard for the first time since early December in the Houston Rockets' 107-89 road victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. It was the Turkish big man's second game back since missing over two months with some combination of a thigh injury and a case of the cranky pants.
And even though Asik logged just 11 minutes, seeing Houston dig deep into its bench for luxuries like Asik, Jeremy Lin and Donatas Motiejunas had to bother a ridiculously banged-up Wolves squad.
Minnesota took the floor without starters Kevin Martin (thumb) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle bursitis), both of whom are sidelined indefinitely. Kevin Love and Corey Brewer both suited up, but each did so while nursing injuries of their own.
Taking advantage of the Timberwolves' depleted depth, all five Rockets starters scored at least 14 points. Chandler Parsons dropped a team-high 20, while Howard offered up 18 points and 15 boards.
Love led all scorers with 31 points but shot just 9-of-23 from the field and 1-of-6 from long distance as he struggled to keep his team afloat without much help.
All season long, we've been waiting for the Timberwolves' record to catch up to their impressive per-game differential. But if injuries like the ones they're suffering now persist, that surge we've all been waiting for may never happen.
Houston, meanwhile, continues to roll along at 35-17—thanks largely to healthier stars and a serviceable bench.
We all knew the Rockets were in better shape than the Wolves; they didn't have to rub it in.
It Happened Again
Twenty-four hours removed from a 123-78 beatdown at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, the reeling Philadelphia 76ers came up on the wrong end of a second straight blowout.
The Golden State Warriors crushed them by a final score of 123-80.
In some ways, this was a surprising result. Philadelphia should have been motivated after its huge loss in L.A., and the Warriors have a well-known tendency to take weaker opponents too lightly. A "trap game" was very much a possibility.
But Golden State removed any doubt about the outcome of this contest at an early juncture, riding red-hot shooting to a 66-33 halftime advantage. From there, it didn't get any better for the 76ers.
Stephen Curry totaled 23 points in 27 minutes and, like the rest of the starters, took an early seat on the bench.
Marreese Speights posted a career-high 32 points and even heard a smattering of MVP chants during the second half. MVP chants! For Marreese Speights!
When the hurting finally stopped, the Sixers had absorbed their second obliteration in as many nights. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time a team had lost consecutive games by at least 40 points since the 1993-94 Sixers earned that unpleasant distinction.
The defeat was Philly's 10th loss in its last 11 games. The Utah Jazz host Philadelphia next, and it doesn't look like these Sixers are ready to put up a fight any time soon. Adjust your fantasy lineups accordingly.