Hands down, the best game of the night was the overtime thriller in Washington, where the Wizards led by Nene and the Thunder led by Kevin Durant went down to the final second to decide a winner. The Thunder were able to score in the final second of overtime, downing the Wizards, 105-103. The Thunder, now 22-20 and sitting in 9th place in the West, let the reigning NBA MVP do what he does best, leading his team past the tough Wizards for their fourth win in a row. Durant scored 34 points on 10-23 shooting, while Russell Westbrook continued to dominate, adding 32 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Westbrook was able to put the game out of reach scoring the basket that would prove to be the winning margin.
The Wizards, although they were unable to walk away with a W, showed tonight why they would be a scary team to meet in the playoffs. Nene and Marcin Gortat battled down low giving Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka all they could handle. Nene finished the game with 24 points on 9-14 shooting and Gortat added 10 points on 5-9 shooting. But I think the most pleasant surprise for the Wizards and the scariest surprise for the rest of the Eastern Conference is the role Paul Pierce is playing on this team. Pierce has emerged as the NBA veteran leader the Wizards hoped he would be when they signed him this offseason. Pierce scored some big time baskets finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds. Pierce was there when the Wizards needed a big shot yet did not need the ball in his hands to be an effective player. If Pierce continues this level of production, John Wall and Bradley Beal can have the team around them they need to make a postseason run.
As for the Thunder, they look much better with stars Durant and Westbrook back in the lineup. I expect them to continue to ascend up the Western Conference ladder and back into playoff contention.
Worst Game of the Night
The Worst Game of the Night goes to the Miami Heat in Charlotte taking on the Hornets. You could build a beautiful mansion with the amount of bricks being thrown up in that game. I honestly believed the Heat and the Hornets would be competitive in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets finally made a splash in free agency, signing Lance Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million contract. This added extra guard talent to what was already a playoff team the year before. And although the Heat lost LeBron James, they were able to sign Loul Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts in his stead. But the Hornets and the Heat both sit with 18 wins, while the Heat have one less loss than the Hornets at 24 and 25 respectively. But lets get into the numbers and see what went wrong.
Both teams were abysmal from the field. Of the total 20 players that saw playing time, only four players shot over 50% from the field; Al Jefferson(6-11) and Bismack Byombo(5-10) of the Hornets and Norris Cole(1-2) and Udonis Haslem(1-2). Key players Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh had terrible nights, shooting 8-21 and 7-20 respectively. In total the Hornets shot 33.8% from the field and the Heat didn’t shoot much better, making 34.5% of their total shots.
I’ve been so caught up with the terrible shooting performance, I haven’t even mentioned that the Heat fell to the Hornets 78-76. The Heat had two chances to win the game, but both Bosh and Mario Chalmers missed game winning threes in the final seconds. The Heat and the Hornets need to figure out what is going wrong if they want any chance of success this season. Amazingly, both teams still have a chance to make the playoffs in the horrible Eastern Conference, sitting in 7th and 8th place right now. But their playoff berths will be short lived if the ball doesn’t start finding the basket and if no one can play with any consistency on either roster.
This award has to go to Brandon Jennings of the Detroit Pistons. Jennings tallied 24 points and an incredible 21 assists in the Pistons 10 point win over the Orland Magic. The Pistons never once trailed in this game, and Jennings’s play was a major catalyst in Detroit’s performance. This game featured a few MVP candidates, as Andre Drummond had 26 points and 17 rebounds and Nikola Vucevic finished the game with 26 points and 15 rebounds. But it was Jennings that came out firing on all cylinders for the Pistons who continue to win after Josh Smith’s departure.
Jennings surpassed his career high in assists, setting up teammates all over the court. And when his team needed a lift, Jennings had no problem finding the bottom of the bucket on his own. His impressive play along with the Pistons win is enough for him to be named the MVP of the night.
The Rockets did get production out of the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden, but he seemed to be the only one willing to play like this was a potential playoff matchup. Josh Smith got ejected for cussing out a ref in the 3rd quarter and Dwight Howard was in foul trouble for most of the game. The Rocket’s big men must play stronger if they have any hope to compete against the playoff bound teams in the West.
Incredible stat line of the night
What is in the water in Atlanta? The Atlanta Hawks are currently on a 14 game win streak. But that is not your incredible stat line of the night. The Hawks have amazingly won 28 out of their last 30 games. Are you impressed yet? The Hawks are employing the Greg Popovich method of playing basketball under second year head coach Mike Budenholzer, a former assistant under Popovich. The Hawks play team basketball, utilizing every starter equally instead of relying on one “star”. And this method has been good enough for a surprising 35-8 record and a 6-game lead for 1st place in the Eastern Conference. Tonight, the Hawks delivered the Indiana Pacers their sixth loss in a row, beating them 110-91. Each starter scored double digits.
No one saw this coming from the Hawks, who have a roster that could be characterized as just a group of role and bench players. But if the Hawks record or win streak is not testament to the fact that they are the real deal, the fact that they won 28 of their last 30 should be. I expect the Hawks to continue to excel expectations in the Budenholzer system.
The Game that Means the Most
The Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to have found their footing and are beginning to gain traction. And if tonight’s win over the Utah Jazz becomes the norm, watch out. No, I am not over reacting to the Cavs 106-92 win over the Jazz. Yes, I understand the Jazz currently sit in third-to-last place in the West with a 14-28 record. I am not reacting to the win as much as I am reacting to the stats coming from Cleveland’s big three. LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving seemed to have found a groove during this rout in Salt Lake City. James scored 26 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals, stuffing the stat sheet. Love recorded a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, including 5 offensive rebounds. And finally Kyrie Irving finished the game with 18 points, 4 assists, and 5 steals.
This is the best this big three has looked since its conception this offseason. LeBron looks healthy and ready to deliver some wins to his hometown team. Love is grabbing rebounds and beginning to shoot more consistently. He also contributed on defense for once, recording two blocks and a steal in his 33 minutes. Irving dropped his 18 points on an efficient 8-13 shooting. If this is the big three that made Andrew Wiggins expendable in the eyes of the Cavaliers front office, I now understand why. If James, Love and Irving all continue to play at this level together, they could take the underachieving 23-20 Cavs right into the NBA finals and possibly deliver the city of Cleveland an NBA championship. But that right now is a BIG “if’.
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