Inside The NBA- Thursday 1/19/12
Sprung Jinx Dooms Thunder
After ranking Oklahoma City number one in Wednesday’s Dirty Dozen Power Poll, the Thunder fell at Washington, the undisputed worst team in the league to date. How does something like that happen? Simple. Give the worse team extra possessions, that usually does the trick.
Washington improved to 2-12 on the season by forcing 21 OKC turnovers and grabbing 19 offensive rebounds to just six on the glass for the Thunders. JaVale McGee had 11 rebounds, six of them offensive, and Washington defeated Oklahoma City 105-102 despite shooting just over 38 percent from the field. Give a bad team a chance and once in a while they may actually convert on it.
“It’s tough, especially when we weren’t mentally focused to start the game,” said Thunder PG Russell Westbrook, who scored a game high 36 points. “They stuck around and stuck around and they kind of got a win.”
When you look past a team and give them at least several more chances to hit shots with extra possessions, sometimes even the worst teams could snap a seven-game losing streak. That’s exactly what happened in DC on Wednesday night.
The West’s Improving Second Tier
In the Western Conference right now, despite the OKC loss, there’s the Thunder as the top team and then there’s this layer of five or six teams bunched up in a way. A pair of those second tier teams, San Antonio and Denver, got huge road OT wins over Eastern Conference contenders on Wednesday.
In Orlando, Tony Parker had 25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as the Spurs got its first road win, they’re 9-0 at home, 85-83 in overtime. Dwight Howard had 24 points and 25 rebounds, but his usually sharp teammates had a rough shooting night against the stingy San Antonio defense. Ryan Anderson was 3-13, Jameer Nelson was 2-16 and J.J. Redick was 4-11. Based on advanced scientific calculations, that adds up to a 9-40 (.225) shooting night for a usually reliable trio.
“It took every minute of that game and we couldn’t make shots at the right time, but we continued to make stops, continued to push,” said Tim Duncan, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a win that snapped Orlando’s five game winning streak.
Another team continuing to push out West is Denver, who got 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from Andre Miller off the bench in a 108-104 OT win over Philadelphia, cooling off the hot Sixers. Both these teams are deep and played at a high level, but Miller, the Nuggets’ better defense and three more three-pointers made was the difference.
“Andre was spectacular tonight,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He was our best guy down the stretch.”
“He was fabulous,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said of Miller. “I don’t know if I ever saw him play a better game.”
Bench players like Miller step up for Denver in every game and provide an unlikely spark that helps the Nuggets defeat teams that may have a more talented starting five or may be bigger up front. However, the depth of this team and their ability to play a fast paced style is going to win them games throughout the season and make them a tough team to beat in the postseason.
Minnesota Is Vastly Improved, No Joke
The Timberwolves have the same record as the Knicks and a better record than the Celtics for a pair of reasons. One is their improvement on the defensive end and their second is a guy named Ricky Rubio.
Minnesota has emphasized stronger effort on the defensive end under new head coach Rick Adelman and the one season turnaround has been incredible. After allowing a league worst 107.7 points per game last season, a full two points worse than the next worse team in Golden State (along with New York), the Wolves have cut that down to 92.5 points allowed per game, which is 11th in the league. When you’re talking about allowing 15 fewer points per game, that’s a really big deal.
“It feels good. It’s something that’s been lacking the last few years,” Kevin Love said after scoring 20 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in a win over Detroit on Wednesday. “In games like this where it’s ugly on the offensive end, we were still able to get the job done.”
“We’re just a lot tougher than definitely we were last year,” said bench player Anthony Tolliver, ”we just get tougher by the game.”
The rookie Spanish point guard Rubio had what we call a countdown game, thanks to the folks at MSNBC and Current TV who were not contacted for this piece, with nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals. Rubio never seems to have an empty game where he only does well in one aspect of the game; he’s always doing a few positive things for his team in every game, and that’s what makes him such a valuable asset.
With their newest player acclimating well to the NBA and Adelman’s defensive mindset catching on with his players, the Timberwolves are a greatly improved basketball team.
Knicks Left Their Depth In Los Angeles
On the same night the Knicks managed a total of seven bench points and Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony shot a combined 12-44 in a loss to Phoenix, Clippers guard Chauncey Billups scored 21 points including the game-winning buzzer beater in a victory over Dallas. Coincidence? Probably, but New York has no third scoring option unless you count Iman Shumpert and the Knicks are somehow struggling for offense after scoring triple-digits at will last season.
“I know we’re 6-8, I know we’re in a little bit of a crisis here,” Knicks Head Coach (for the time being) Mike D’Antoni said. ”But we’re playing hard, playing good defense. There’s some good things we’re doing. We’ve just got to figure out the one part and that’s the part that should be easiest. It’s become a problem, and if we solve it, we’ll be pretty good. We just have to do it sooner rather than later.”
That quote doesn’t really inspire confidence. While the Clippers have the depth and scoring ability to possibly win a round in the Western Conference playoffs, the Knicks are lacking in both departments and are struggling to stay afloat. One player like Billups wouldn’t make up the entire difference, but D’Antoni could lose his job without a viable third option behind Anthony and Stoudemire.