The evening of Tuesday, Feb. 11, features a pair of marquee matchups out west, and neither one disappointed.
In Phoenix, the surprising Suns played up to their "Cinderella" reputation, taking the world champion Miami Heat down to the wire. But the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Chris Bosh proved too much to overcome.
The Charlotte Bobcats came into Tuesday night with an all-time record of 1-17 against the Dallas Mavericks.
Make that 2-17.
The Bobcats crushed their longtime tormentors, 114-89. Center Al Jefferson led Charlotte with 30 points, and Anthony Tolliver chipped in a season-high 22 points.
The Detroit Pistons recently tied Charlotte with a three-game winning streak, but the Bobcats jumped 0.5 games ahead with the win. Barring some major injury, the other seven playoff spots in the Eastern Conference seem set. But that eighth seed will likely come down to the wire. If the Pistons want it, they'll have to play some good basketball, because the Bobcats aren't going away anytime soon.
The Oklahoma City Thunder rode yet another 30-point performance from Durant to victory Tuesday night in Portland. Durant scored 36 points on 15-of-28 shooting in the 98-95 victory.
Compare that with Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 12 points on 5-of-22 shooting in the loss.
Earlier in the season, Aldridge was considered a dark-horse candidate for MVP. But he has a clear flaw in his game: his shooting percentage. Aldridge is now shooting 46.5 percent for the season, which is right in the middle of the pack for qualified NBA bigs, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Aldridge is a great player, but he doesn't shoot a high enough percentage to be considered a true MVP candidate, especially given his lack of three-point range.
It's not his fault, really. The MVP is a two-man race this season. He's a worthy All-Star, but he's not on the level of Durant and James.
It's Anthony Bennett's world, and we're all just living in it!
Bennett, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward and most maligned No. 1 overall draft pick in league history through his first few months, finally broke out of his shell in a 109-99 win over the Sacramento Kings, with a career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Per ESPN, this was the fourth time in eight games that Bennett has scored in double figures. He had zero such instances in his first 32 games.
Bennett reveled in his performance, according to NBA.com's Brian Dulik:
This feels great. All the hard work I've put in with the coaching staff and the players is paying off. I was just being anxious before, but now, I've calmed down a little. I just try to have fun, and that's it.
Bennett has been historically bad so far in his rookie season, but he still has months left in this season (and years left in his contract) to show the world he isn't a bust.
The Atlanta Hawks fell to .500 on the season with Tuesday's 100-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Chicago dominated the Hawks up front, grabbing 57 rebounds to Atlanta's 28. Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 15 points, but he needed an inefficient 15 shots to get there.
Atlanta has done well to keep a winning record in the absence of All-Star center Al Horford, but the Hawks might soon be in danger of dropping below .500. Their next two games are both tough road dates: at the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors. Then they return home to face the Washington Wizards.
Atlanta is still 0.5 games ahead of Washington, but the Wizards are exerting pressure. The Hawks need to rack up some wins...and soon.
The Washington Wizards should have been able to capitalize on shooting guard Bradley Beal's career-high 37-point performance on Tuesday night in Memphis, especially with Grizzlies guard Mike Conley still on the shelf with an injury.
Instead, the Grizzlies walked away with the 92-89 victory, and they have Wizards point guard John Wall to thank. Wall scored a season-low five points on 2-of-10 shooting, missing what would have been a game-tying three-pointer to hand Memphis the win.
Wall took responsibility for the loss, per NBA.com's Marlon W. Morgan:
I just didn't make shots and I wasn't aggressive like I usually am on the defensive end. You could say fatigue or tired, but it wasn't (any) of that. It was just coming out and putting forth the effort like we did in the third quarter and it starts with me. I didn't do a great job of that tonight.
The Wizards dropped back under .500 with the loss. If they want to keep a winning record, they need to be more consistent. And that goes double for their talented young backcourt.
The Phoenix Suns are a deep, balanced team, and on most nights they can wear down opponents with wave after wave of scorers.
But most teams don't have LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Two-thirds of Miami's Big Three powered the Heat to victory with Dwyane Wade sidelined with a migraine. James (37 points) and Bosh (21) scored 58 of the Heat's 103 points in the 103-97 win. They combined to shoot 20-of-31. The other Heat players combined to go 16-of-43 for 45 points.
Phoenix had five players score at least 12 points, but star point guard Goran Dragic was held to 15 points after scoring at least 20 in seven straight games.
The Heat have some valuable role players, but on some nights they just have to let the stars shine if they want to walk away with the win.
The Los Angeles Lakers made a bit of history in Tuesday's 96-79 loss to the Utah Jazz, according to ESPN Stats:
- The 17-point loss was their largest ever home defeat to Utah.
- They lost their sixth straight home game, tying the 1992-93 club for the longest home losing skid in Lakers history.
Will the 2013-14 club take the home-losing-streak record outright? It's very likely; their next home game is Thursday night...against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Uh oh.
That's the problem with being a bad squad playing for a franchise with a nearly unsullied history of greatness. The 2013-14 Lakers are bound to set a few more negative records before this season is over.