9 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's NBA Action
Welcome back, real basketball!
The night of Tuesday, Feb. 18, marked the return of the NBA following last weekend's All-Star break. Now the games get serious, as teams jockey for playoff position in the last few months of the regular season.
The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats battled to see which team would, for the time being anyway, be the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons franchise may have had history on its side, but the scrappy Bobcats went home with the victory.
In Los Angeles, the Clippers hosted the undermanned San Antonio Spurs. Even with star point guard Tony Parker on the shelf, the Spurs were able to attack Chris Paul with their impressive backcourt depth.
The Cleveland Cavaliers Are Enjoying the Month of February
Oh, what a difference a month makes. The Cleveland Cavaliers were perhaps the most depressing team in the league in January with a 6-9 record, but are really showing some gumption in February. Tuesday night's 114-85 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers was the team's fifth win in a row.
The Cavs won with a balanced attack: Seven players scored at least 10 points. Center Tyler Zeller led the way with 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Not only did Cleveland keep the momentum established before the All-Star break, but it also had a fine weekend in between. Point guard Kyrie Irving was named MVP of the All-Star Game, and shooting guard Dion Waiters put on quite a show in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Waiters did hurt his knee during the exhibition, but tweeted out some encouraging words later in the evening: "Thanks for the prayers & concerns nothing is torn thank the man above for that. Just sore as hell but I'll be fine."
With the win, the Cavs climbed to within 1.5 games of the Detroit Pistons for the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference. Everything is coming up Cleveland!
Kyle Lowry Is the Only Point Guard the Toronto Raptors Need
On a night when ESPN's Chris Broussard reported the Toronto Raptors were interested in trading for Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, their present point guard put on a show in a 103-93 win over the Washington Wizards.
Kyle Lowry led the Raptors to victory, much as he has done all season, with his shooting and his passing. He scored 24 points and dished 10 assists, both tops on the team.
Toronto shot 57 percent from the field (42-of-74) for the game. That kind of efficiency often reflects the quality of the point guard play.
Any interest in other point guards on the part of the Raptors is solely due to the uncertainty surrounding Lowry's future. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. If he keeps playing this way, the Raptors might have to pull out all the stops to keep him in Toronto.
The Indiana Pacers Are Looking for a Fresh Start
It might sound strange that the Indiana Pacers, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, would be taking about a fresh start coming out of the All-Star break. But Indiana was in a bit of a funk, losing two of its last three games, and coach Frank Vogel stressed coming out of the break with some season-opening intensity, per NBA.com's Conrad Brunner:
We started the season 9-0 and 16-1 and we haven't reached that level of winning since then. Now that the dog days of the season are behind us, we want to start the second half of the season as well as we started the first half.
For one night, that mission was accomplished. The Pacers jumped out to a 31-9 lead to start the game before settling in for a 108-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Paul George led all scorers with 26 points.
The Pacers kept their lead over the second-place Miami Heat at 2.5 games. Considering the Pacers lost Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals in Miami, Vogel isn't likely to let his Pacers surrender that No. 1 seed anytime soon.
The Miami Heat Haven't Forgotten the 2011 NBA Finals
The good fans of the Dallas Mavericks—and most other sports fans—enjoyed the heck out of Dallas' humiliation of the Miami Heat and their "Big Three" during the 2011 NBA Finals. It was by far the greatest moment in the history of the franchise.
It would appear, however, that LeBron James and the Heat are still holding a grudge.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Miami's 117-106 win on Wednesday was its sixth straight over the Mavericks, since that fateful Game 6 of the 2011 Finals.
James scored 42 points against Dallas—his highest single-game total since 2011—to go with nine rebounds and six assists. It was a magnificent performance from a great player with a chip on his shoulder.
The Mavericks are a good, but not great, team. That might be good enough to beat the Heat on some nights, particularly when they are not motivated. But Miami will always get up to play Dallas, at least as long as James is still on the team.
The Milwaukee Bucks Have a Rare Reason to Smile
The Milwaukee Bucks notched their 10th win of the season with Wednesday's 104-100 triumph over the Orlando Magic. Double digits, baby!
Sure, the Magic are the second-worst team in the NBA. And Milwaukee has lost 19 of its last 22 games, with the only other win coming against the pathetic New York Knicks. But who cares? For one night, the Bucks aren't losers.
Veteran guard Caron Butler led Milwaukee with 21 points. Perhaps he is looking to boost his trade stock. The Bucks certainly wouldn't mind shedding some salary and/or getting some draft picks in return.
The New York Knicks Are the Most Depressing Team in the East
Congratulations to the New York Knicks—with Tuesday's 98-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, you did the impossible. You found a new way to lose.
New York fell down big to Memphis early, stormed all the way back to take a multiple-possession lead in the fourth and still lost.
The defeat dropped the Knicks below the Cleveland Cavaliers and into 11th place in the Eastern Conference. There are still four teams below them—the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks—but each of those teams still has its first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
The Knicks do not.
For a while, New York competed with the likes of Cleveland and the Brooklyn Nets for the title of "most depressing." But the Nets have long since turned their season around, and the Cavs are riding a five-game winning streak.
The Knicks have no hope at the present, and they have no hope for the immediate future. Oh, and their best player might walk away for nothing this summer.
That's just sad.
The Charlotte Bobcats Shouldn't Be Taken Lightly
The Detroit Pistons had a chance to claim the all-important eighth seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, when they played the team a half-game above them in the standings, the Charlotte Bobcats, at the Palace.
But the Bobcats are hungry, and they are not going to be intimidated by playing on the road. They jumped on Detroit from the opening tip and remained in control throughout in a crucial 108-96 victory.
My teammate over here [guard Jannero Pargo], I told him I was just going to ride the bike for the All-Star break. He said, 'No, you need to get in the gym because that could be the difference between you having 20 and 30 points.' So, I got in the gym Saturday and Sunday and finished with 32.
The Bobcats are in a dogfight for that last playoff berth, but they have come prepared.
Gerald Green Embodies the Phoenix Suns Way
The Phoenix Suns kicked off the home stretch of the season much the same way they have all year.
Guard Gerald Green scored a career-high 36 points—including eight in overtime—as the visiting Suns held off the Denver Nuggets, 112-107.
Nobody embodies the scrappy, unheralded Suns better than Green. He had played for seven NBA teams in a career that was interrupted by a two-year stint in Russia. But this season he is averaging 14.2 points per game for Phoenix.
Green might not be the best player on the club—that honor goes to point guard Goran Dragic—but he is the quintessential Sun.
Patty Mills Helped the Spurs Forget Tony Parker (for One Night)
On a day when fans of the San Antonio Spurs learned that star point guard Tony Parker would be out "for the foreseeable future," (via ESPN's J.A. Adande) they got a serious boost from reserve point guard Patty Mills.
Though he didn't start Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Mills outplayed perhaps the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul, down the stretch as the Spurs claimed the 113-103 victory.
Mills led San Antonio with 25 points. He may not have started the game—that honor went to Cory Joseph—but, man, did he ever finish. Sixteen of those 25 points came in the fourth quarter, as the Spurs put the game on ice.
Once again, the Spurs have proven themselves to be a player-development machine. They'll need Parker healthy for the playoff run, of course, but they can get along just fine with players like Patty Mills for the time being.