7 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's NBA Action
And DeMarcus Cousins (predictably) detonated in the evening's final contest.
In between, Evan Turner and Kent Bazemore proved to be excellent new recruits, DeMar DeRozan won over a former enemy and Jeff Teague engaged in what looked an awful lot like sabotage. Don't worry, nobody's accusing Teague of screwing up on purpose; his tough finish was just another example of the Atlanta Hawks' seemingly irreversible downward momentum.
Plus, Rick Adelman revealed a secret weapon, and the Denver Nuggets managed to suffer a wholly illogical defeat against a team missing its biggest gun.
Here's what you need to know about Tuesday's hardwood battles.
The Magic Can't Catch a Break
Heading into a road contest against a banged-up Washington Wizards squad, you would have thought the reeling Orlando Magic might take advantage of their opponent's bad injury luck.
After all, with Nene nursing a sprained MCL and Trevor Booker replacing the big Brazilian's presence in the starting lineup with just three points and seven boards, the Wizards were a whole lot more vulnerable than usual.
But as luck would have it, John Wall's jumper showed up to squash any hopes the Magic had of pulling off an upset.
The Wizards point guard hit six of his 11 shots from outside 17 feet, an extremely rare occurrence—even in a season where Wall's jumper has shown significant improvement. On the year, he's shooting just 37 percent from 16-24 feet, per NBA.com.
When Wall has his perimeter game going, he's essentially impossible to stop.
Marcin Gortat chipped in with 21 points and 10 rebounds on a highly efficient 9-of-13 shooting night, and the Wizards' wing duo of Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza both topped the 20-point mark with very economical efforts of their own.
It was Wall, though, who ensured the Wizards wouldn't suffer a slip-up against the struggling Magic. He led all scorers with 27 points while tossing in seven assists and five rebounds for good measure.
If the Wizards continue to get such a balanced scoring effort form their starting lineup—and a few more hot shooting nights from Wall—they'll hold up nicely until Nene's return. From there, they'll look to notch the franchise's first playoff series win since 2005.
That's looking far into the future, but as his performance against Orlando showed, Wall is getting more and more comfortable with long distances.
Everybody Likes New Toys
We could spend time talking about how the Indiana Pacers' third-quarter burst crushed the Los Angeles Lakers' hopes in a 118-98 win for Paul George and Co.
But who'd want to hear that when there are new toys to discuss?
Evan Turner debuted for the Pacers on Tuesday, and he made a stellar first impression. In 26 minutes off the pine, Danny Granger's replacement scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds. That might not sound like much, but keep in mind that Granger only topped Turner's point total twice in his 29 games with Indiana this year.
Unlike the hell he suffered through with the tanking Philadelphia 76ers, Turner is in a perfect situation now. He doesn't have to carry the load, and head coach Frank Vogel won't ask him to do more than he's capable of.
Per Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, the Pacers head coach "told (Turner) to go out there and be himself."
The Lakers have a new toy of their own in Kent Bazemore. And although the wrapping has been off for three games now, L.A. has to be excited about the second-year guard it got in return for veteran Steve Blake.
Bazemore was as active and aggressive as ever against Indy, piling up 23 points and taking some punishment as he attacked the basket. It was his third straight career high in the scoring department.
Turner and Bazemore are in very different situations, both in terms of their environments and what they're being asked to do. But they share in common a desire to impress their new teams because they're both essentially auditioning for a chance to stick around beyond this year.
Bazemore may have found a home in Los Angeles, and Turner will be looking to convince his new employers that it's worth matching the offer sheet he'll inevitably sign with another team this summer.
So far, so good.
I'm Changing My Mind
I know these takeaways are supposed to be a little broader, and maybe it's not important to put my own feelings out there. But I have to say it: DeMar DeRozan is really starting to win me over.
Don't be mistaken; the Toronto Raptors shooting guard is still a deeply flawed player. He's not nearly efficient enough as a shooter to justify the high volume of his attempts. On the year, he's converting shots at an accuracy rate of just over 43 percent. And he's hitting a simply awful 30 percent of his shots from long range.
But the 24-year-old wing plays extremely hard and isn't remotely afraid of the moment. Those things count.
In the Raps' 99-93 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, DeRozan scored 14 of his 33 points in the final period. And it was his key steal (if we ignore the foul he committed on Tyler Zeller) and ensuing free throws that put the contest away for good with less than 30 seconds remaining.
I'll go to my grave claiming Kyle Lowry should have gone to the All-Star Game over DeRozan, but it's getting harder to discount Toronto's shooting guard as just another low-efficiency scorer. He's turning into something much more than that.
Things Are Snowballing in Atlanta
It was a comfortable 65 degrees in Atlanta on Tuesday. Despite the pleasant temperatures outside, things have really started to snowball inside Philips Arena.
The Atlanta Hawks fell to the Chicago Bulls by a final score of 107-103 on Tuesday. It was the Hawks' ninth loss in their last 10 games, and this one stung a little extra.
B/R's resident Hawks supporter Adam Fromal tweeted what every Atlanta fan was thinking down the stretch: "Teague...you have got to be kidding me."
Jeff Teague committed a pair of killer turnovers late, losing the ball to Kirk Hinrich with 23 seconds remaining and then stepping out of bounds on the Hawks' ensuing possession. Those crunch-time blunders sank the Hawks in this contest, but the issues driving Atlanta downward in the standings are bigger than a couple of key giveaways.
Al Horford's season-ending injury was a huge blow, and the bad knee that kept Paul Millsap out of action for the second straight game made a win pretty unlikely from the outset. From that perspective, the Hawks put forth an admirable effort.
They hung in against the gritty Bulls for virtually the entire game.
In fact, Atlanta did such a good job of holding Tom Thibodeau's interest that the Bulls head coach played Mike Dunleavy for all but nine seconds of the contest.
OK, you got me. Thibs doesn't need an excuse to run his players ragged. He probably would have left Dunleavy in there if Chicago had been up by 30 for the entire second half.
At any rate, Atlanta has now fallen all the way to No. 8 in the East, and there's little reason for optimism at present. Maybe Hawks fans should just keep focusing on Kyle Korver, who hit triples on Atlanta's first two possessions to extend his record streak to 125 consecutive games with a made three.
That sounds better, right?
Rick Adelman Is a Magician
Ricky Rubio's passing wizardry isn't the only arcane art the Minnesota Timberwolves have at their disposal. As proof of that fact, consider the way head coach Rick Adelman pulled little-used and mostly disappointing Shabazz Muhammad out of thin air to play a key role in one of the Wolves' biggest wins of the season.
The rookie notched a career-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting in 24 minutes. More importantly, 10 of his points came in the fourth quarter as Minnesota blitzed the host Phoenix Suns with a 35-20 surge in the decisive period.
Sure, Kevin Love amassed an absurd 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. But he does that all the time. In its own way, Muhammad's out-of-nowhere contribution was much more meaningful.
Nobody's saying the Wolves suddenly have the wing scorer they need to replace the injured Kevin Martin, but it's a hugely positive sign that Muhammad was able to make an impact. He's had a rough rookie year, marked by unmet expectations and a little too much time in the D-League for a first-round pick.
The Wolves don't have much time to make up the 5.5-game deficit separating them from the No. 8 seed in the West, but getting a big night from an unlikely source sure helps.
The only question is: What on Earth possessed Adelman to give Muhammad such a significant role?
Don't expect an answer to that one. A good magician never reveals his secrets.
The Denver Nuggets Are Trailblazers
That headline's not a typo, although I'll concede it's confusing.
Allow me to explain: The Denver Nuggets fell 100-95 to the Portland Trail Blazers in one of the most utterly bizarre fashions you'll ever see.
Denver absolutely crushed the Blazers on the boards, posting a rebound advantage of plus-24. It also attempted a whopping 27 more field-goal attempts than Portland did. Plus, the Nuggets amassed 27 offensive rebounds.
If that weren't enough, LaMarcus Aldridge was also out with injury. And yet the Nuggets still managed to lose.
Yes, the Blazers blocked 12 shots on the night (seven by Robin Lopez). And yes, Portland had a distinct advantage in three-point shooting percentage and free-throw attempts.
But it's really hard to lose a game in which the rebounding totals are so thoroughly lopsided. J.J. Hickson had 25 boards on his own, for crying out loud!
So, for dropping a contest in a manner that basically defies any logical analysis, the Nuggets are actually trailblazers.
Well, either that, or we now have indisputable proof that rebounding is completely meaningless.
You Are Responsible for Your Own Reputation
It's tired and annoyingly self-righteous to pile on DeMarcus Cousins whenever he snaps into one of the explosive episodes that result, inevitably, in an ejection.
With that disclaimer out of the way, what follows is a tired and annoyingly self-righteous criticism of Cousins' behavior (and ejection) against the Houston Rockets.
Cousins got his league-leading 15th technical foul and an early shower in a 129-103 loss to the Rockets on Tuesday. Upset with a few early calls, Cousins started to spiral out of control in a hurry. He had to be restrained by teammates on more than one occasion as he howled at officials. He was out of control.
Sadly, that's nothing new.
Pointing out Cousins' immaturity and volatile temper is pointless. We all know he's got a short fuse.
The problem, though, is that Cousins has always played the victim. And that stance doesn't inspire confidence in any future personal growth.
Whenever he's asked about the way referees and opponents treat him, the supremely talented big man passes the buck. He claims his poor reputation leads to unfair treatment without ever acknowledging that he's the one responsible for creating that reputation in the first place.
It's a remarkable feat of denial and self-delusion if you really think about it.
Reputations don't appear out of thin air. They're earned through actions.
Cousins has a long history of losing his cool, showing up officials and displaying a generally childish demeanor. Whatever referees and players on opposing teams think about him, he's the guy whose actions have created those perceptions.
In other words, he's doing this to himself.
Whenever Cousins acts up, we remind ourselves that he's just 23 years old. We agree he's probably not a bad person. Those are both valid points.
But the Sacramento Kings probably shouldn't take comfort in those platitudes. In Cousins, they have a franchise cornerstone with immense talent. They also have a guy whose victim's mentality could prevent him from ever growing out of his current behavior pattern.
After all, if it's always somebody else's fault, why would Cousins ever conclude that he's the one who has to change?
Have fun, Kings!