1. Welcome Home, Blake Griffin! Now Go Away
But everyone knew that No. 32 in red wasn't your normal visitor. Because, really, he wasn't a visitor at all. He was home.
Blake Griffin made his first appearance in his hometown of Oklahoma City as a professional. Griffin was born in the city, went to high school at Oklahoma Christian School and then to college for two seasons at the University of Oklahoma.
There's always a certain level of anticipation before a home Thunder game, but this one certainly had a different level of energy. The Oklahoma City Thunder were playing the Los Angeles Clippers -- not exactly a premier Western foe -- but the atmosphere felt like the game was important.
And that was for one reason -- or, more specifically, for one player.
The Blake Griffin Experience has been touring NBA arenas all season, bringing buzz everywhere. But the buzz in Oklahoma City Arena was different. And by different, I mean that it wasn't even what everyone really expected.
The expectation was for light cheers to follow every basket, applause every time his name was called and potentially a few chants to salute the former Sooner.
Except there was none of that.
When Griffin was introduced, the arena gave him a loud ovation, but Griffin didn't even acknowledge the crowd even with a small wave. "To be honest, I didn't think about it too long," Griffin said after the game of his introduction.
Thunder fans evidently didn't think about it too long either.
Almost like a display of solidarity behind the hometown team, as the Thunder's final starter was called -- Kevin Durant -- the arena exploded. I've been to every home game this season and I haven't heard an ovation for Durant like that yet. Like Thunder fans were saying, We love you and all, Blake, and it's good to see you again, but you're not our guy anymore.
When Griffin scored the game's first basket, there was no reaction. When Jeff Green was whistled for his second foul on Griffin a minute into the game, the crowd booed wildly. Every time Griffin picked up a foul, every free throw he missed -- cheering. At one point, fans were begging for a technical to be called on Griffin as he complained about a call.
A far cry from a Blake Griffin day.
Durant -- who led the Thunder to an easy 111-88 win over the Clippers -- wasn't buying OKC's reaction, though.
"He's the man here," Durant said. "He's still the man in Oklahoma City. We knew there was going to be a lot of Clipper fans and a lot of cheers for him. But we just tried to go out there and play our game and not worry about it, and I think we did a great job of that."
A reporter said to Durant, "Some people would say you're the man here."
Durant disagreed. "Nah, I doubt it. Whenever he comes back, he's that guy."
That may have been Durant's perception, but that definitely wasn't reality. There were some scattered signs throughout the arena welcoming Blake and a smattering of number of No. 32 Clippers jerseys, but the arena was definitively pro-Thunder.
However, that may have had more to do with the fact that Griffin was an obvious matchup nightmare for the Thunder than anything, and the more fouls he picked up, the better OKC's chances got. Griffin scored the Clippers' first eight points, which kind of woke everyone up. He's the enemy and he's really, really good.
Griffin showcased the talents that thrilled OU fans and won him national player of the year honors in his sophomore season, piling up 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He had two "wow" moments, both high-flying alley-oops. But when he tried to dazzle again with a 360 layup, Thunder forward Nick Collison slid in and took one of his patented charges. You would've thought Durant just hit a game winner.
At the shootaround earlier Tuesday, Griffin didn't appear excited to be back in his hometown. "Maybe a little wave or something," he said, when asked how he'd acknowledge the crowd. "If I don't get booed, that'll be cool. Like I've said before, this isn't about just me. This is about my entire team, coming in here and trying to get a win."
Exactly. After that little salute, allegiance shifted immediately to the hometown team, not player. One of those "If you're not with us, you're against us" things, I guess.
The biggest moment for an Oklahoman actually came in the third quarter, when former Sooner and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was put on the big screen. The arena roared and even busted out a "Boomer Sooner" chant. Griffin got none of that. Why? Because he was wearing the other team's uniform.
But on a night when an all-time Sooners great returned, the hearts of Oklahoma City fans still belonged to a former Longhorn. And yes, I realize how messed up that sounds.
2. Return Of Noah At Hand
"Very excited, very excited," Noah said. "It's been a while. I'm just excited to play basketball again."
Noah said his thumb feels "a lot better," and although there wasn't much contact in practice, he's not concerned how it will hold up.
"It's good to have him back with the team," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's another quality big up front. But we can't lose sight of how we got here. I think the important thing for us is to play really hard, play defense. Because he's back doesn't mean it's easier. It's still -- it's hard. And we have to make sure we maintain our edge."
The Bulls have gone 22-8 since Noah's most recent game Dec. 15. At 38-16, they have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and are within striking distance of Boston and Miami.
"I think it's more than just making the playoffs now," Noah said. "There's definitely a bigger picture, and we're excited to see where we stand."
That picture certainly includes a spot for Noah. The Bulls will have to make some adjustments, though.
"It's always hard working somebody into the lineup, especially when they've been out for a long time," Derrick Rose said. "You get used to not playing with them. So we'll have to see tomorrow."
The Bulls won 15 of 19 before the All-Star break, beating the Celtics to start the run and taking out San Antonio last week, and they'll get a big test when they host the Heat on Thursday.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Tuesday's slate of NBA roundball action in Daily Dime Live.
4. Nothing Free For LeBron
5. Extreme Behavior
The left-behind Nuggets: With the ex-Knicks not yet arrived, the Nuggets played eight and beat their nearest West playoff competitor with relative ease. Ty Lawson staked a claim on the PG job with 21 points, seven assists, six steals and five boards in the 120-107 win over Memphis.
Tayshaun Prince, Pistons: The man who set the standard for the chase-down block doesn't look as attractive to those chasing him down the trade block now. Going 0-for-9 from the floor in a 108-100 loss to Houston doesn't exactly boost his value.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
-- Caron Butler, responding to rumors. One deal would send the Mountain Dew aficionado known as "Tuff Juice" from Dallas to New Jersey for Devin Harris.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"Who needs Melo?"
-- Nuggets crowd, during team's win over Memphis.
6. NBA Video Channel
7. No Car, Same Result
8. Miller On Market?
MIAMI -- The Miami Heat clearly made their major moves last summer, but that hasn't stopped them from being active on the trade market.
According to multiple league executives, the Heat have floated Mike Miller in several trade scenarios as they look to upgrade at the center or point guard positions. Miller missed his second straight game Tuesday -- when the Heat knocked off the Sacramento Kings 117-87 -- out of precaution as he recovers from a head injury and an ear infection.
Miller is the Heat's most tradable asset, even though he's in the first season of a five-year, $29 million contract he signed last summer and is averaging just 5.9 points on 41 percent shooting as he recovers from a hand injury that cost him the first two months of the season.
One executive said the Heat have been calling around but just "don't have much they can trade." This is literally true, as several of Miami's players who signed minimum contracts this summer -- such as Jamaal Magloire and Carlos Arroyo -- can't be traded without their permission because they'd lose their Bird rights. Two other players, Udonis Haslem and rookie Dexter Pittman, are both out recovering from surgeries.
The only other significant asset the Heat have that would merit any interest is the Timberwolves' 2011 second-round pick, which would be a sweetener at best.
The Heat have been unsettled at center and point guard for much of the season as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has regularly changed his rotations -- as evidenced by Tuesday's decision to move Erick Dampier into the starter's role at center for the first time.
If the Heat are able to add a player, it will most likely come after a veteran has been bought out some time in the next week. With 15 players on the roster, such a move would require the team to cut a player.