This season, Golden State Warriors games have resembled snowflakes in that no two have been the same. Or at least that's what it's felt like as the Western Conference commanders have run roughshod over the competition.
In a league where repetition and consistency are key indicators of success, the Warriors (38-8) have found stability in unpredictability during a record-setting start, according to GSW Stats on Twitter:
One night, Stephen Curry saves the day with an explosive showing. The next features Klay Thompson's wicked and well-rounded arsenal in a starring role. And on the off chance one of Golden State's All-Star snipers isn't in a knockdown rhythm, Draymond Green or Andrew Bogut will assuredly come to the rescue.
Tuesday night's 121-96 drubbing of the Sacramento Kings was no different. Curry led the charge with 23 points and nine assists, but Golden State's bench fueled the blowout by contributing to a 23-0 run that spanned portions of the late-first and early-second quarters.
Ultimately, the Warriors' second unit compiled 61 points, with Andre Iguodala (17 points) and Marreese Speights (17 points, eight rebounds) doing yeoman's work as reserve kick-starters.
Iguodala's second-quarter outlet pass that traveled roughly 80 feet before landing flush in Speights' hands for a picturesque bucket represented the height of aesthetic pleasure:
Leandro Barbosa added 12 points, while David Lee embraced a jack-of-all-trades approach that produced eight points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Then there was Shaun Livingston, who notched five points and five dimes in 19 minutes. In the end, every member of the Warriors bench who saw at least 15 minutes totaled a plus/minus rating of at least plus-15.
Balance like that is a luxury most teams salivate over.
And here's why it's important: Warriors starters are playing an average of 29.9 minutes per game, which ranks 18th overall, according to NBA.com. Among current Western Conference playoff qualifiers, only the Phoenix Suns (29.6) and San Antonio Spurs (28.6) dole out fewer minutes to starters. Last season, the Spurs' starting five averaged a league-low 26.9 minutes, and we know how that turned out.
By constantly keeping legs fresh, Golden State isn't just producing optimal results in the short-term. It's also prepping for what figures to be a rewarding postseason run.
"It absolutely has a cumulative effective," assistant coach Alvin Gentry said of the distribution, according to The New York Times' Scott Cacciola. "Over 82 games, you’re talking about an additional 400 minutes on your body. If you can eliminate those, it gives you a huge chance of succeeding in the playoffs."
In other words, there's a major incentive for the Warriors to continue ripping off wins at a torrid pace. Not only will it provide a more comfortable cushion atop the Western Conference standings, but the team's top-ranked 11.5-point margin of victory provides Curry, Thompson and Co. with extended breathers.
And if the harmonious attack keeps humming along, Golden State's balanced ways will yield its most significant dividends once the playoffs get underway.
Around the Association
Denver's in a State of Peril
As if losing nine of their last 10 games wasn't bad enough, the Denver Nuggets added to that tally with a 105-98 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. According to NBA.com's John Schuhmann, Denver has now lost to the two worst teams in each conference:
While Denver acquitted itself nicely in the final frame, the Sixers thoroughly outplayed the Nuggets over the first 36 minutes to the tune of an 85-68 advantage. Michael Carter-Williams finished with 15 points and 12 assists but shot a raggedy 4-of-12 from the field as he attempted to carry Philadelphia toward the finish line single-handedly.
Denver's troubles stretch well beyond Tuesday's loss, too.
According to The Denver Post's Nick Groke, head coach Brian Shaw spoke openly regarding his team's failure to give 100 percent on a night-to-night basis:
I think it's hard to try to lose, try to tank, try to go out there with guys who are competing with you and not compete back. It's harder to do that than to just put forth the effort in the first place.
It just looks like you almost have to try to lose as bad, and in the way we've been losing. At that point, something gives. The decision-makers at some point are going to make a decision. And everybody is going to have to live with it. Then it's out of our control.
In other words, Denver's about to morph into one of the NBA's most interesting reality shows.
Bosh Blows Up, to No Avail
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Bosh joined some elite company, thanks to his insanely efficient third frame:
Detroit's Andre Drummond wasn't too shabby himself, throwing down a pair of transition slams en route to tallying 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Since the team waived Josh Smith Dec. 22, Drummond is averaging 12.4 points and 13.3 rebounds, while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. Additionally, the Pistons rank 11th in defensive rating during that span, allowing just 100.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.
D.J. Augustin continued producing at a blistering pace as well. After accumulating 25 points and 13 assists against the Heat, Augustin is averaging 21.8 points and 9.2 assists, while shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from three in five games as a starter in place of Brandon Jennings.
With the win, Detroit now sits just 2.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Heat.
Portland Survives a Scare
It was hardly pretty, considering Portland shot just 30.4 percent from three, but Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews helped push Terry Stotts' club over the top during the final 24 minutes, according to Trail Blazers PR:
In a strange turn, Lillard shot 10-of-11 inside the arc and 0-of-6 from beyond it. He did, however, unleash some anger with a vicious slam over Jazz center Rudy Gobert:
Lopez's 11 points and six rebounds don't point to a significant impact, but he tied a team high by posting a plus/minus rating of plus-12 in just 25 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge capped things off by going for 22 points and 11 rebounds, the 20th time he's posted a 20-point, 10-rebound line this season. Only Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have recorded more, according to Trail Blazers PR.
Hey, DeMarcus, You Might Want to Pay Attention
The Sacramento Kings rank 27th in defensive efficiency since the start of the New Year, according to NBA.com. And since things are heading south—fast—DeMarcus Cousins seemed to embrace the team's matador tendencies by letting Speights run free on an out-of-bounds play before the Warrior flushed home an uncontested dunk:
Stevens Successfully Tweaks His Starting Lineup
Following three straight losses, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens decided it was time to make a change. Not only did Jared Sullinger return to his usual frontcourt gig following a one-game disciplinary stint on the bench, but Marcus Smart played a career-high 37 minutes in just his fourth start as a rookie.
Rolling out a three-guard lineup consisting of Smart, Avery Bradley and Evan Turner, Boston saw all five starters finish with positive plus/minus ratings as the Celtics squashed the New York Knicks, 108-97.
Bradley was piping hot and led all players with 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting (3-of-5 from three), while Sullinger added 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Carmelo Anthony dropped 21 points and has now surpassed 20 points in six of his last eight appearances. However, it was Lance Thomas who stole the show for all the wrong reasons with a heinous fourth-quarter flop:
Quote of the Night
Hassan Whiteside collected his fourth double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) in five games but was limited to 24 minutes after head coach Erik Spoelstra sat him with three fouls for large chunks of the second half.
According to The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser, Whiteside wasn't thrilled with Spoelstra's time-management skills: