12 Takeaways from Friday Night's NBA Action
The world will continue revolving after a 13-game slate of shocking NBA action turned into one heck of an intense Friday night.
But only barely.
Following a furious fourth-quarter rally that came up just one point short, the Miami Heat are now below .500 for the first time since LeBron James' first game in a Miami uniform, and their resume now features losses to both the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers. And speaking of the Sixers, how surprising is their unblemished 2-0 record now that they've also taken down the Washington Wizards?
Plus, is tanking already a thing of the past?
The teams that were supposed to be bad keep winning games and, perhaps even more shockingly, look like they want to be winning games. How else do you explain the outbursts from Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner? What about the game-winning shot from Eric Bledsoe? And the 30-point showing from Arron Afflalo?
Somehow, someway, the NBA world is being turned on its head. But not every part is going to hell in a handbasket.
The Houston Rockets did what they were supposed to do, taking care of the Dallas Mavericks, and Blake Griffin finally looked like a superduperstar again. Oh, and the Los Angeles Lakers tested the Tim Duncan-less San Antonio Spurs but ultimately came up short.
Twenty-six teams took to the hardwood on Friday night, and we're emerging with the dozen biggest takeaways. You won't want to miss these.
What's Up with the Miami Heat?
If you expected the Miami Heat to emerge from the first three games of their three-peat campaign licking their wounds and sporting a 1-2 record, raise your hand.
For everyone extending an arm into the air, I'm going to assume that you're either a Cleveland Cavaliers fan still sporting unabashed vitriol for LeBron James or you're an irrational Philadelphia 76ers fan.
But you're also correct.
Following a shocking loss to the Sixers, the Heat failed to show up again. But this time, the opponent was significantly stronger and featured two players—Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce—who would probably sell their souls if it cost Miami a championship.
And that's not a recipe for success.
While Miami almost came back thanks to a ridiculous rally in the final minutes of the last period, this game really wasn't too close in the second half after the Nets opened things up in the third quarter. A lot of the blame should fall on the shoulders of King James, who failed to assert himself and seemed awfully passive during the first half.
Although the reigning MVP finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 11-of-19 shooting, a lot of that was thanks to the furious finish. James entered the fourth quarter with only 13 points, after all.
"It’s a little bit of unmotivated basketball," he told the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman after the game. "We just need to have a little bit more sense of urgency."
This isn't a good sign for the defending champions. They certainly can't afford to act entitled, as they'll be getting the best shot of every team in the NBA. That includes the Sixers and the Nets, apparently.
While there's no reason to pull the fire alarm here, LeBron is right. More urgency is needed.
Los Angeles Lakers' Point Guard Woes
Even Kobe Bryant won't be able to save the Los Angeles Lakers if they can't figure out what to do at point guard. Although the Lake Show only lost by six points to the Western Conference powerhouse known as the San Antonio Spurs, the primary takeaway is still decidedly negative.
Los Angeles' point guards can't produce much offense right now, and they're even worse at stopping the floor generals of the other team.
I'm looking at you, Steve Nash.
It's sad to watch a washed-up legend, but that may be what's happening right now with this 39-year-old. He clearly isn't playing at a high level anymore, and yet, he has to keep stepping out onto the court. Nash's performance against the Spurs was a train wreck, as he put up just five points and five assists while shooting 1-of-8 from the field.
Steve Blake was almost as bad, going 2-of-12 with his broken shooting stroke and negating much of the good that his nine dimes did. At least Jordan Farmar could put the ball in the hole, as he was one of the few Lakers who actually recorded a positive plus/minus.
And as for stopping Tony Parker?
The French floor general dominated the L.A. backcourt to the tune of 24 points, four rebounds and six assists. He also turned the ball over just once and made 12 of his 18 attempts from the field. Basically, he was unstoppable.
Mike D'Antoni's focus must rest on the backcourt for the foreseeable future. Until there's a consistent presence at the 1 on either side of the ball, the losses are going to pile up for the Purple and Gold.
Kevin Durant IS the Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant can't carry the Oklahoma City Thunder each and every night.
A 42-point outing allowed the team to survive the Utah Jazz in the Thunder's season opener, but that performance also seemed to drain Durant of all his energy. He just never got things rolling against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and no one else on the OKC roster could help the squad keep pace.
Corey Brewer was all over him throughout the night, constantly pestering Durant when the superstar had the ball in his hands and doing everything in his power to deny him possession in the first place. No one stepped up to draw defensive attention, and the combination was just too much for the three-time scoring champion.
Durant took only 11 shots from the field, making four of them en route to 13 points. According to the 'Wolves PR Twitter feed, this was the lowest output he's produced since the last day of 2011. After the game, the preseason MVP candidate had this to say to the Associated Press via ESPN:
If they play one-on-one, I felt like I had the better matchup. But every time I caught it there was two guys guarding me, so I've got to kick to my teammates. I've got to make better decisions in that area.
It would be foolish to bet on Durant being held to this type of performance each and every night, but it's just as nonsensical to expect him to average 40 points per game and keep the Thunder in contention for the Western Conference's No. 1 seed while Russell Westbrook is out of action.
He needs help.
This Kevin Love Guy Is Pretty Good
It wasn't all bad news in Minnesota on Friday night.
While Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder struggled, the Timberwolves looked fantastic. Not only was their supposedly porous defense on point, particularly the combined efforts of Corey Brewer and Derrick Williams, but Kevin Love was on fire.
Love debuted in style against the Orlando Magic, knocking down a crunch-time three-pointer to send the game to overtime and help his team get the eventual win. While he didn't have any late-game heroics against OKC, it wasn't because he failed to come up big. It was because he was so good early on that it wasn't necessary.
The league's best power forward played only 29 minutes, and he didn't even step onto the court during the fourth quarter because his team entered the final period with a 28-point lead. And that was due in large part to Love's third quarter, as he reeled off 10 points in a row at one point.
In just those three quarters, the big man racked up 24 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and two steals while shooting 7-of-12 from the field and drilling three triples. Another double-double, which is just par for the course when talking about a healthy Love.
After the game, he told the Associated Press, as reported by ESPN, that the 'Wolves "can be very good." Simple, succinct and 100 percent true.
Last year's injury-plagued campaign may have given Love a bad name, but he's been so hot to start this season that you may as well start calling him a hunk, a hunk of burning Love.
Dwight Howard and James Harden Make Mark Cuban Eat His Words
There's no word on whether or not the Houston Rockets had taped up Mark Cuban's latest words on their locker room walls as bulletin-board material, but they were surely motivated by being tacitly called an inferior organization.
When the Dallas Mavericks owner spoke to ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, he had the following to say about Dwight Howard: "Obviously, he made a mistake in judgment. Do I blame him? No, that's what young kids do. They make mistakes in judgment."
Maybe after an eight-point defeat that wasn't as close as the score might indicate, Cuban will learn to think before he speaks and stop acting like one of sport's biggest homers. You can read my full thoughts on his ill-advised quotes here, but let's focus instead on what happened on the court.
Namely, D12 and James Harden teaming up to prove that there was no "mistake in judgment."
According to Dallas beat writer Dwain Price, Howard and Cuban met up before the game and cleared the air, but the Rockets kept winning the battle after tipoff.
While Howard disappeared on offense throughout the game, he still finished with a double-double, recording 13 points and 16 rebounds and helping hold the Mavs to 38 percent shooting from the field. The big man made a significant impact on the proceedings, but the game ball definitely goes to a certain bearded shooting guard.
Harden shot 11-of-17 from the field en route to putting up 34 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals. Whether he was driving to the hole and proving just how porous Monta Ellis' defense could be or firing away from the outside, he was undeniably effective.
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers taught us to take things slow when evaluating a team that featured a new superstar, but the Rockets are looking good. Granted, their 2-0 start came against the Charlotte Bobcats and Mavericks.
As long as Howard and Harden are providing Houston with that two-way dominance, though, it's hard not to start viewing this squad as one capable of winning more than 55 games.
A Motivated Blake Griffin Is a Dangerous Beast
So this is what happens when Blake Griffin decides that he wants to dominate a basketball game.
Not only did he complete another monstrous alley-oop and reject John Salmons at the rim in rather definitive fashion, but he was a force to be reckoned with from the opening tipoff until the final buzzer.
Griffin finished the game with a humongous line: 20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. Hell, he even made all eight of his free-throw attempts. Yes, the extra emphasis is needed because this is Blake Griffin that we're talking about. In another life, he was known as "The Man Who Punishes Rims From the Charity Stripe."
However, it's not even the stats that matter here. Instead, it's the simple fact that Doc Rivers is already looking like a positive influence on the athletic big man, as he asserted himself from start to finish.
Griffin wasn't content to stand passively on the weak side and wait for Chris Paul to do his thing. That's true even though CP3, well, did his thing with 26 points and 10 assists. Griffin also actually tried on defense, rotating with a fury and doing everything he could to keep Patrick Patterson contained while holding back DeMarcus Cousins.
This is exactly the type of performance that the Los Angeles Clippers need from Griffin if they hope to compete for A) the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and B) the right to advance out of the pack and play for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
There was reason to question the power forward after his lackluster season debut, but the past two outings—and this one in particular—have laid those concerns to rest.
Tanking? We Talking About Tanking?
Remember how teams were supposed to be all in for Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker? There was supposed to be as fierce a competition for the No. 1 spot in the lottery as there was for the No. 1 seed in either conference.
However, the supposed bottom feeders in the NBA care not for this whole tanking thing.
The Philadelphia 76ers shocked the world behind Michael Carter-Williams' historic debut when they took down the Miami Heat in their season opener, but it was widely viewed as a fluke. Surely, Brett Brown and the rest of the Sixers wanted to come out strong and prove that they weren't going to be the worst team ever.
Well, so much for that fluke.
Philadelphia played hard on Friday night against the Washington Wizards, using a 30-20 third quarter and 35-28 fourth quarter to earn a seven-point win. Thaddeus Young was sensational, Spencer Hawes dominated, Evan Turner looked better than ever and MCW—though nowhere near the version that showed up in his professional debut—settled in against John Wall in the second half.
As Brown told the Associated Press via ESPN, "It's only two, but we sure are happy."
But the Sixers weren't the only team widely assumed to be tanking that showed up on Friday night.
Behind 30 points from Arron Afflalo and a stat-stuffing outburst from Victor Oladipo, the Orlando Magic blew out the New Orleans Pelicans. The Charlotte Bobcats, paced by 23 points from Kemba Walker, held off a furious late rally from the Cleveland Cavaliers to eke out a single-digit win.
Additionally, the Phoenix Suns squeezed out a three-point victory against the Utah Jazz (more on that later), but does that really count as anti-tanking? After all, the Jazz are right in the Wiggins sweepstakes as well.
Concerns in the Bayou
An 0-2 start was not what the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for at the start of the 2013-14 campaign. A name change was supposed to be the start of something special, and that hasn't happened thus far.
The season-opening loss to the Indiana Pacers was understandable, but falling to the bottom-feeding Orlando Magic by 20 points—and that's including a garbage-time comeback—isn't going to cut it for this trendy preseason pick to emerge with a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
Anthony Davis still looks unbelievable.
After recording 26 points, 17 rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks, it's abundantly clear that we're watching a breakout star, but it won't matter if the Pelicans don't solve the two primary concerns that have already emerged.
First, this team can't space the court without Ryan Anderson.
While the stretch 4 could return to the lineup rather quickly following that chip fracture to his toe, there's no certainty that he'll be able to stay healthy throughout the season. NOLA shot 50 percent from downtown on Friday night, but that was boosted by a 4-of-4 outing from Anthony Morrow and came on only 12 attempts from the entire team.
Secondly, Tyreke Evans just isn't working yet. Let's just assume he's one of the players who Monty Williams was talking about when he told the AP that "we've got some players who aren't playing that well."
After putting up only four points and three dimes in his Pelicans debut, Evans was held scoreless in 17 minutes. He just isn't playing to his strengths.
Rather than waiting on the perimeter for three-point and mid-range attempts off offensive rebounds, Evans needs to be using his physicality and slashing to the basket at all times. Until that happens and he starts thriving as an off-ball player, New Orleans is going to struggle with the lofty expectations.
Say Hello to DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is ready to break out in a big way.
Over the past few seasons, the dynamic shooting guard has been a controversial player, namely because he underscores the difference between offense in volume and efficient offense in volume. He's one of those rare players who gets to shoot often enough that he can average 17 points per game while "earning" minimal offensive win shares.
But now that DeRozan's jumper is working, everything is clicking.
Although the Toronto Raptors ultimately lost to the Atlanta Hawks, they'll look back at this as the breakthrough performance for the 2-guard. He dropped 31 points on 14-of-23 shooting from the field and added four rebounds and two assists.
However, it wasn't just the total that was so impressive, but rather how DeRozan arrived there.
He was constantly on the attack, and his deep stroke was clicking from start to finish. DeRozan made two of his five attempts from beyond the arc, but he also fired away quite often from mid-range zones. In fact, he shot 8-of-12 on two-point attempts that didn't come from the paint.
DeRozan looked terrific throughout the preseason, and that level of play has carried over into the games that actually count. If he continues to perform like this, we'll be talking about him as a top-tier shooting guard while he helps carry Toronto into the playoffs.
Vitor Faverani, Not Kelly Olynyk, Is the Best ROY Candidate in Boston
Kelly Olynyk was supposed to be one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year. You know, the NBA's version of the award, not just the Boston Celtics' version.
But Olynyk isn't even the top contender on his own team now, as Vitor Faverani has taken over the starting job and excelled in it. The long-haired Gonzaga product has struggled in back-to-back four-point outings and ultimately failed to leave a lasting impression.
The same can't be said about Faverani.
Boston's new starting center is no stranger to professional basketball. While he's only 25 years old and debuting in the NBA, he's an experienced big man who has been paid to play the sport since 2005. He knows what he's doing, even if he's transitioning to the highest level.
After a solid debut, one that saw him record 13 points, three rebounds and three blocks against the Toronto Raptors, Faverani made Friday night's contest with the Milwaukee Bucks his own personal playground. He shot 4-of-6 from the field and finished with 12 points, 18 (!) rebounds and six (!) blocks—including this stuff of Gary Neal—in addition to his lone assist and single steal.
How's that for a Rookie of the Year-worthy performance?
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Faverani is the first member of the C's since Robert Parish to put up those numbers in a single game, and he became one of three players in the past 25 years to record at least 15 rebounds and five blocks in one of his first two career games.
Meanwhile, it's safe to say that quite a few rookies have put up a combined eight points in their first two outings, as Olynyk has done.
Eric Bledsoe Has Ice Water in His Veins
Through three quarters, Eric Bledsoe hadn't made a single shot from the field. He was 0-of-6, and the only time he had seen the ball go through the basket came from the lone free throw that he dropped through the net.
Did that faze him during the fourth quarter of a tight game against the Utah Jazz?
Not at all.
In the final period, Bledsoe was the sole ball-handler, as Goran Dragic left the game with a facial contusion. And he exploded for 17 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from downtown and a cool 7-of-8 at the charity stripe.
Down the stretch, the Suns morphed into the Bledsoe show. He simply did it all, and even scored the last 14 points of the game for his team. But no shot was bigger than the three-pointer he drilled from the top of the key as the clock ticked off its final seconds, one that you can see up above. He calmly lofted up the attempt and watched as it touched nothing but net on its way down.
As Bledsoe said after the game, via the Suns' official Twitter feed, "My team and coach just kept telling me my shot was gonna fall." And fall it did.
Was this the first sign of superstardom?
It's one thing to have an explosive fourth quarter, but another thing to carry a team almost single-handedly. And it's still another thing entirely to do so after struggling mightily for the first 36 minutes of the game.
Bledsoe proved not only that he's a dynamic two-way player, but also that he's a calm, cool and collected customer.
Gordon Hayward May Be Bitter
Gordon Hayward was by no means perfect in the Utah Jazz's 87-84 loss to the Phoenix Suns, but he was still good enough that the organization might be having some second thoughts. The deadline has now come and gone, and Hayward hasn't been extended, which means that he'll become a restricted free agent at the end of the year.
Look past the fact that the baby-faced swingman stepped out of bounds before lofting up an attempt to tie the game. Don't worry about his ill-advised foul as the clock was running down. Fear not that he disappeared on offense at times.
Despite those struggles, Hayward still kept Utah in the game with his 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. That's right. He was only two dimes shy of a dollar a triple-double.
Plus, he got those points in a variety of ways.
Sometimes he attacked the basket, other times he created for himself with some mid-range opportunities. And at other times still, he spotted up from beyond the three-point arc and drilled the attempts.
On top of that, he channeled his inner LeBron James and produced one of the plays of the game. After a chasedown rejection of Goran Dragic, he started the fast break and ended up dishing the ball out to Enes Kanter for an easy mid-range jumper in transition.
Second-half mistakes aside, Hayward still looked like a future stud as he and Eric Bledsoe battled it out to see who was the better contract snub. This whole season could be one of those you-missed-out contract campaigns as Hayward continues trying to prove that he was worth a big deal.