6 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action
On a day when most eyes were trained on something called the Academy Awards, the NBA did its best to offer up its share of basketball buzz.
Joakim Noah showed why he’s become Bill Walton 2.0 for the Chicago Bulls, who used a historic performance from their firebrand big to send the New York Knicks spiraling even faster down the drain.
A few hours later, the San Antonio Spurs welcomed back one of their own stars just in time to best in-state rivals the Dallas Mavericks.
Elsewhere, the Indiana Pacers got a big boost from a resident bruiser, the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks decided to take the night off on defense, and the Orlando Magic got a career performance from a guy with plenty more ahead of him.
Hollywood can have its starlet celebrities. I’ll take Jimmy Butler running through the crowd.
Welcome Back, Parker
Remember when Gregg Popovich told everyone, per the San Antonio Express-News, Tony Parker would be out “for the foreseeable future”?
I think he's going to be just fine, you guys.
Parker returned to action Sunday night, registering 22 points and seven assists in the Spurs’ 112-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Those who expected the Spurs’ flashy floor general to be peeling off rust with every step were treated instead to play after play of vintage Parker: probing the lane and setting up his teammates en route to authoring a beautifully efficient overall performance.
The win keeps San Antonio just 1.5 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
With Parker back in the fold, the Spurs took a big step toward accomplishing what has become something of a springtime ritual: getting healthy just in time for the playoffs.
Sharing Is Caring
Love him or hate him, Joakim Noah is putting in work for the Bulls.
Noah tallied 14 assists in Chicago’s 109-90 dismembering of the Knicks Sunday afternoon, the most by any NBA center since 1979, per ESPN Stats & Information.
It’s the fourth time Noah has crested the 10-assist mark since February 6—this after doing it only twice over his previous six NBA seasons.
Even more impressive than the number itself was how Noah got there: threading beautiful pinpoint passes from the high post and completely eviscerating New York’s halfhearted attempt at a hybrid-zone defense.
Noah did have a little bit of help from Tyson Chandler, who—for reasons that remain mysterious—insisted on following Noah out into no man’s land.
The juxtaposition of the two fiery pivots was hard to ignore: Chandler looking at times like he’d rather be somewhere else—anywhere else, really—and Noah spurring his troops, now winners of nine of their last 10, with his usual aplomb.
Through 57 games, Noah’s average of 4.7 assists per game tops that of D.J. Augustin (4.4), Derrick Rose (4.3) and Kirk Hinrich (4.2), i.e. Chicago’s three point guards.
Whether the Bulls have enough offensive firepower to maintain their hold on the Eastern Conference’s third seed, it’s difficult to say. But if and when Derrick Rose returns, Tom Thibodeau’s offense will look a lot prettier with Noah's deft dishing in the mix.
After the game, Noah said he felt as if the Bulls were "the hungriest team in the league," per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
Watch out, league.
How West Won
Speaking of big, imposing dudes who epitomize their team’s bruising bona fides, David West is playing like a man on a mission of late.
After his 25-point, six-rebound outing in the Indiana Pacers’ narrow 94-91 win over the hapless Utah Jazz, West is averaging 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds on 55 percent shooting over his last five games.
And not a moment too soon, either: Prior to D-West’s mini hot streak, the Pacers had dropped three of their last five games—two of them to teams below .500.
Owing to the rise of Paul George, the Pacers haven’t had to rely as much on West—who averaged 17.1 points a year ago—to shoulder the scoring burden. But once playoff time rolls around and teams start keying on PG, having a focused, confident West will be of the utmost importance for Frank Vogel and his guys.
Oh, and large and strong and big—that, too.
The Orlando Magic might be a few years away from being a certifiably good basketball team, but Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic aren’t interested in waiting.
Buoyed by Harris’ career-high 31 points (to go along with eight rebounds and three steals) and Vucevic’s 18 points and 17 rebounds, the Magic dispatched fellow bottom-dwellers the Philadelphia 76ers 92-81, improving their home record to a respectable 15-15 in the process.
Now nearly three years into this NBA career, Harris has been on exactly the kind of trajectory teams pray they see, with steady statistical leaps across almost every category, base and advanced alike.
After being traded five times (twice before his 2011 drafting and thrice after) Harris looks to be carving out a nice little niche in the Sunshine State.
And as SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell wrote last October, Orlando's management finally seems like it has a plan in place. Needless to say, Harris is very much a part of that equation.
The Magic still aren't expected to compete for a playoff spot this season, but the emergence of Harris is another boon for a foundation that suddenly looks very encouraging. The Magic were thought to be left in ruins after Dwight Howard forced his way out of town, but GM Rob Hennigan has done a stellar job to replenish the talent supply.
Who Needs Defense?
Someone must’ve told the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks the Academy Awards were giving out an Oscar for Best Combined Performance by Two Teams in a Quarter.
After the first 12 minutes of their Sunday-night showdown, the Suns were leading 40-37.
That’s 77 points, for the mathematically disinclined among you—the most by any two teams in a single quarter thus far this season.
The Suns eventually prevailed, 129-120, behind Gerald Green's 33 points. All told, 13 players finished the night in double digits.
Sadly, the two teams couldn't maintain the helter-skelter fun, as the total points scored went down with each subsequent quarter.
After that first frame, we'll forgive them.
The Adventures of Jimmy Butler
Count Jimmy Butler among those who would like to see the NBA court widened by a few feet.
Early in Chicago’s blowout of the Knicks, Jimmy Butler decided to put on a more intimate show for fans—by literally running through them.
If you haven’t noticed a trend with what kind of guys Chicago goes out and drafts, here’s a bit of a primer: They all work hard, they all play defense and they all apparently will go to quite amusing lengths to endear themselves to the fans.
The only pitfall: That kid at the end in the red Bulls jersey is probably going to try to pull off that stunt in his next parks and recreations game.