9 Takeaways from Saturday Night's NBA Action
The evening of Saturday, March 1, was a chance to honor one of the greatest players of his generation, as the Philadelphia 76ers retired the jersey of iconic guard Allen Iverson.
Unfortunately, the current on-court product in Philly wasn't even remotely up to the standards Iverson set during his playing career.
Out West, a few key players returned from injury to lead their teams to victory. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge returned after missing five games to lead his Portland Trail Blazers to a win over a surprisingly frisky Denver Nuggets squad.
In Sacramento, a pair of Minnesota Timberwolves starters in Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic returned to lead the Wolves over the Kings.
LeBron James Is Getting More Trouble from His Mask Than Opponents
Before Saturday's game against the Orlando Magic, Miami Heat forward LeBron James sounded off on the league's request that he ditch the black mask he'd been using to protect his broken nose in favor of a clear one, per ESPN's Michael Wallace:
It's not a league rule, but it's the league's request that you don't wear the black one. For the reasons that they told me, it didn't make sense to me. But hey, I'm just a player in this league and I will abide by this request -- I'm not even going to say rule, but request -- by the NBA.
He did indeed wear the clear mask, and B/R's Ethan J. Skolnick observed that he was "much more irritated than other night, for whatever reason."
Unfortunately for Orlando, the Magic players couldn't give him as much trouble. James scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and dished seven assists in an easy 112-98 win for the Heat.
The win was Miami's seventh in a row. That piece of plastic on his face seems to be the only thing that can bother James these days.
The Philadelphia 76ers Could Still Use Allen Iverson
On the night they retired the jersey of franchise legend Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers showed their fans a glimpse of the bad old days, before A.I. pulled the franchise out of the gutter.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Saturday's 122-103 loss to the Washington Wizards was the team's 13th in a row, the longest streak since Iverson's first season in 1996-97.
How bad are things in Philly right now? The Sixers gave up 24 points to Wizards guard Trevor Ariza...in the first quarter! He would finish with a career-high 40 points.
Iverson is still only 38 years old. Given the sorry state of the Sixers roster, he might be the best player on the team if he felt like coming back.
The Cleveland Cavaliers Wasted a Golden Opportunity
The red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers had an opportunity to gain more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race by jumping out to an impressive 65-54 lead against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.
But the Grizzlies put the screws to Cleveland in the second half, and the Cavs could only manage 31 points for the rest of the game as Memphis cruised to a 110-96 win.
Cavs were really pushing the tempo in the first half. Then just...stopped in the 2nd half. Probably a result of 4 games in 5 nights.
And the Grizzlies' defense is completely different when it has a chance to get set.
The loss dropped the Cavs four full games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff seed. They are playing better, but they've lost all margin for error.
The Indiana Pacers Remain in the Doldrums
The Indiana Pacers needed a late-game burst from forward Paul George, not to mention a made three-pointer waved off upon review, to dispatch the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 102-97.
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo banked in a three at the end of the shot clock to give the Celtics a 93-90 lead with 4 minutes and 37 seconds left, but the points were taken off the board when the referees judged the shot as coming after the buzzer.
The Pacers struggled with the 20-40 Celtics just two days after barely beating the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks, 101-96, on Thursday night.
Yes, the Pacers were missing point guard George Hill, but these are the types of teams Indiana was crushing earlier in the season.
This team appears to be treading water at the moment. It'll need to pick up the pace if it wants to hold off Miami for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 2013-14 Houston Rockets Are in Elite Company
The Houston Rockets have been one of the league's better franchises over the last few decades, and the 2013-14 version has won at a pace that would make past teams proud.
According to NBA.com's Matt Miller, the 40-19 Rockets have reached 40 wins faster than any team in franchise history except the 1993-94 Rockets on the strength of Saturday's 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons. The '93-94 squad, which began the season 40-15, went on to win the NBA championship over the New York Knicks in seven games.
Six Rockets scored in double figures, with Terrence Jones leading the way with 22 points.
The red-hot Rockets will be put to the test on Tuesday when they take on the equally scorching Miami Heat.
Kevin Martin Knows How to Make a Comeback
Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Kevin Martin played on Saturday for the first time since suffering a broken thumb on Feb. 7.
And, boy, what a comeback it was. Martin led all scorers with 26 points (on 9-of-16 shooting) in Minnesota's 108-97 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Center Nikola Pekovic scored 20 of his own in his first game back from injury.
The Wolves didn't play terribly in Martin's absence, winning four of seven games. But they are five games behind the Phoenix Suns for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and they need to make a run immediately.
To do that, the Wolves will need all hands on deck.
The Denver Nuggets Finally Look Like a Basketball Team
The Denver Nuggets had an absolutely abysmal month of February. Not only did they lose a lot (3-9 record for the month), but they were also being outscored by an average of 13.6 points per game.
Coach Brian Shaw ripped into his players following a Feb. 21 loss to the Chicago Bulls, saying, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, "I felt like tonight we had some guys that just decided they weren't going to play tonight, they weren't going to put forth any effort to try to get the job done."
While the Nuggets didn't exactly set the world on fire in Saturday's 102-96 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, they at least competed hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Despite the fact that the Blazers were playing at home, they could never quite put the game away. Every time they threatened, the Nuggets would answer to keep the game in reach.
It wasn't a win...or even close to a win, but it was a far better brand of basketball than Denver had been playing in February.
The Brooklyn Nets Are About to Climb Above .500
The Brooklyn Nets finished their seven-game road trip 4-3 after a 107-98 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Guard Marcus Thornton led the Nets with 25 points off the bench. Andray Blatche notched a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Brooklyn is now 28-29 on the season, with a golden opportunity to climb over .500 in the next few weeks. Four of its next five games will be at home, with the lone road test coming against the 20-40 Boston Celtics.
Considering how bad Brooklyn played during the first two month of the season, a winning record should be considered a minor miracle.
The Two-PG Look Suits the Los Angeles Clippers
With starting shooting guard Jamal Crawford out with a quad strain, the Los Angeles Clippers started backup point guard Darren Collison at shooting guard alongside Chris Paul.
The move worked like a charm, as the duo combined for 36 points and 11 assists in a 108-76 rout of the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.
With Crawford sidelined for a few more days and opening-night starter J.J. Redick sidelined definitely with back troubles, the Clippers have been forced to get creative in the backcourt.
But Collison is likely heading back to the bench, as Los Angeles have signed former Pacer Danny Granger.
Still, it's always good to be versatile, and the Clippers have shown they can work with a two-point guard lineup.