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Anthony Davis' 1-Man Show Now Must-See TV and Sunday NBA Takeaways

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 16, 2015

USA Today

Whatever MVP camp you're in, wherever your NBA allegiances lie, no matter what your stance on personal grooming, you've got to accept something: Anthony Davis is now mandatory viewing.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Anthony Davis comes 3 assists and a block short of a quadruple-double, Pelicans lose to Nuggets 118-111 in 2OT http://t.co/LUs1vkbP8h

He erupted for 36 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and nine blocks in a 118-111 double-overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. Those numbers, which you'd suspect and Basketball-Reference confirms, aren't exactly commonplace:

Basketball Reference @bball_ref

Anthony Davis finished with 36 Pts, 14 Reb, 9 Blk & 7 Ast. No other player in the last 30 seasons has posted a line meeting those minimums

The assists and blocks were career highs for Davis—for now—and neither those achievements nor any of his other numerical contributions were empty. The contest was tight down the stretch, and AD spent his 50 minutes on the court producing when his team desperately needed him to.

He was integral in keeping the game close, scoring the go-ahead bucket with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter and then opening the first overtime with six straight points. He was so dominant offensively that it became easy to determine whether New Orleans had run a good play or not by simply asking whether Davis got a touch.

He simplifies things that way.

The weirdest thing about Davis' late-game brilliance (he just turned 22, which isn't typically an age you'd expect poise and maturity to reach these levels), was that it wasn't weird at all. He's shooting 59.9 percent from the field in fourth quarters this year, according to NBA.com. Combined with 82.4 percent shooting from the foul line in the final frame and a turnover rate so small you can hardly see it, AD is quietly among the game's very best closers.

Actually, he's among basketball's very best anythings.

Looking at his NBA.com shot chart, you can see he attacked the Nuggets with perimeter accuracy that conjured images of LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki:

NBA.com

He flashed a terrifying one-dribble face-up game that neither of those jump-shooting bigs could dream of, and he rose high for some of his patented "nobody else could have reached that" alley-oop finishes.

It was the kind of performance that makes you question whether Davis has any limits at all. Fortunately for the rest of the league, ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton noted one:

Kevin Pelton @kpelton

Anthony Davis missed that corner 3 so there's still some hope for the rest of the NBA.

That's good news for Davis' peers.

But this is very, very bad news: "I've done quite a few things, but I think I'm nowhere near where I want to be," Davis said before Sunday's game, per The Associated Press (h/t NBA.com). "I have a lot to learn about the game, about myself."

Scary as it sounds, he's actually right. Davis isn't finished learning how to play. Upward trajectories like his don't just stop abruptly, especially when every passing week brings new highs.

That's the main thing that makes AD appointment television. Anticipating the arrival of something great is almost always better than the fully realized thing itself. Think about it: LeBron James is indisputably awesome now, but wasn't it somehow more enthralling to watch him a decade ago, back when we couldn't be sure he'd put it all together?

We're still in the anticipation phase with Davis, transfixed by the mystery of what he is now and wondering what he might someday become. And even if you think, for whatever implausible reason, that Davis can't get any better, watching him in his current state is remarkable enough.

It's two questions with the same right answer: Is Davis phenomenal viewing because of what he is today, or because of what he might be tomorrow?

Yes. How about just yes?

This is the best part. Don't miss it.

Around the Association

Russell Westbrook Is Becoming Self-Aware 

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

So there's this idea called the technological singularity, which hypothesizes a theoretical point where artificial intelligence realizes its potential and makes human intelligence obsolete. As you can imagine, that's bad news for us people.

I mention that because Russell Westbrook said this after handing out a crucial late-game assist in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 109-100 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, via Royce Young of ESPN.com

We did a good job learning from our mistakes, because the first time we played them, I had a chance to hit Serge [Ibaka] on a kickback, two guys were on me. Tonight, same situation, two guys on me, I kicked to [Anthony Morrow], trusted my teammate and he knocked it down.

Westbrook, seemingly engineered to be a single-minded destroyer in closing situations, learned from his past errors.

You realize what this means, right? Russ figured out how to alter his programming, improving himself in the process. He had 36 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and one world-altering late-game revelation: Sometimes you need to trust your teammates.

We've reached the Westbrook Singularity. It's all over, folks. Nice knowing you.

Kyrie Irving Disappoints, Is Awesome

There's really no good follow-up to a 57-point effort, which makes Kyrie Irving's 33 points in the Cleveland Cavaliers' comfortable 123-108 win over the Orlando Magic an inherent letdown.

Of course, Irving looked very much capable of hanging another huge number on the Magic, hitting a ridiculous 12-of-15 from the field and generally scoring at will. It's just that the game wasn't competitive enough to necessitate the kind of onslaught Irving provided in the much tighter contest against the San Antonio Spurs last Thursday.

Cleveland rolled Orlando, despite the absence of Kevin Love, and Irving has now totaled 90 points in his last two contests on 32-of-47 shooting.

The Cavs head to South Beach on Monday to visit LeBron James' old sidekicks. His new ones, led by an absolutely unconscious Irving, have never looked better.

Clippers Get Get One Resource Back, Misallocate the Rest of Them

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Blake Griffin's return and near-triple-double (he had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists) weren't enough to keep the Los Angeles Clippers from dropping a 100-98 decision to the Houston Rockets.

In a contest that was painfully close down the stretch, L.A. probably wishes it did a better job of focusing its energy on things under its control. Instead, as has become the Clips' habit, they burned a lot of calories complaining, per J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:

J.A. Adande @jadande

Timeout Clips. Blake argues with 1 ref, CP3 with another, Barnes slams scorer's table. JJ Redick complains to Doc, who's looking elsewhere

To be fair to the Clippers, Houston shot a dozen more foul shots than they did, and there were some tough calls. Grantland's Zach Lowe noted as much:

Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA

Did not enjoy the officiating in that game -- and not in any particular direction. Just thought they lost control of it a bit late.

All the same, Los Angeles isn't doing itself any favors by losing its cool. Houston's James Harden is tough enough to stop when a defense is fully engaged (he scored 34 points and shot 17-of-18 from the foul line Sunday), but getting rattled by calls only makes it tougher.

Coming off a 30-point loss to the shaky Dallas Mavericks on Friday, the Clippers needed to focus up. They didn't.

There's more than enough talent on the roster to win a bunch of games going forward, but it's hard to get past the feeling that the Clippers are getting in their own way a little too often. That may be an issue come playoff time.

Next Man Up in Portland

Mar 15, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is guarded closely by Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) at Air Canada Canada Centre. The Trail Blazers beat the Raptors 113-97. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szcze
USA TODAY Sports

Wesley Matthews is a fantastic two-way player and one of the Portland Trail Blazers' emotional leaders, which is why losing him to a torn Achilles was supposed to tear Rip City up.

Three consecutive wins later, it's clear the Blazers have no plans to come apart.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out five assists as Portland's offense got whatever it wanted against a reeling Toronto Raptors squad that has now lost eight of its last 10 games. Thanks to 52.3 percent shooting from the field and a 44.8 percent accuracy rate from long range, the Blazers notched the easy 113-97 road win.

Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum handed out 12 assists and earned some high praise from Aldridge afterward, via Mike Richman of The Oregonian:

Mike Richman @mikegrich

"He makes us elite. He's our X factor" - LaMarcus Aldridge on Nicolas Batum

It's great that Batum has shaken off the bum wrist that torpedoed his early season, but Aldridge is overstating things a bit. The Blazers probably aren't elite in the broader "they're certain to compete for a title" sense, no matter how well Batum plays.

They are, however, very good. And they're holding strong after losing one of their most important players. Which, I guess means their resiliency is elite.

Maybe that's what Aldridge meant.

Kawhi Leonard Is a Grizzly Bear

Just ask Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders, who watched Kawhi Leonard completely dominate the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs' 123-97 ursine mangling of the Wolves, per Paul Garcia of ProjectSpurs.com:

Paul Garcia @PaulGarciaNBA

Saunders: “I just thought that third quarter, Kawhi Leonard just took the game totally over. Just mauled.”

Leonard had 15 points, six rebounds and five steals before taking an early rest after just 25 minutes. He may have to up his mauling rate in the future, as Manu Ginobili rolled his right ankle and may miss "a good week to 10 days," according to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, via Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News.

Good thing he got this sweet rejection in beforehand:

Keeping It Positive for the Big Markets

The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have a lot in common: They've got more fans than just about anybody else, they're in huge markets, and they're both really, really hard to watch this season.

So in an effort to turn the focus away from the depressing bicoastal realities of New York's 102-89 defeat at the hands of the Phoenix Suns and L.A.'s 91-86 failure against the Atlanta Hawks, we'll just watch a killer highlight from each contest.

Better to do that than dwell on Atlanta winning despite sitting Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap and losing Kyle Korver to a broken nose 10 minutes in. Or focusing on how the Knicks got buried on the boards (51-35) by the small-ball Suns.

First, the Knicks' Alexey Shved just making stuff up:

Followed by Los Angeles guard Jordan Clarkson swooping in against the Hawks:

There. Now you can start your week on a positive note. Everybody likes highlights.

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