1. Actual Basketball Is The Best Story In L.A.
LOS ANGELES -- We interrupt this episode of Real HouseLakers of L.A. for this breaking story: there's honest-to-goodness basketball (emphasis on the goodness) going on in this city, as long as you pick the right night to watch.
Wednesday was a good one. Most games involving the Los Angeles Clippers are, but this one in particular, a showcase of athleticism and skill that just happened to include the NBA champions.
Yes, somehow the Miami Heat slipped into town practically unnoticed, while the local populace was consumed with the Lakers' coaching drama. It overshadowed the buildup to this game, even in the NBA Countdown show on ESPN, where Magic Johnson said he didn't believe in Jim Buss, the Lakers' head honcho.
To be fair, it's not just Los Angeles where the noise surrounding the Heat has subsided. With a string of clutch playoff performances culminating in a championship ring, there's not much criticism directed at LeBron James and the Heat to be heard anywhere days. At a shootaround that was sparsely attended by the media Wednesday morning, LeBron called the season "quiet."
Then the game happened, providing so many talking points. LeBron started it with a rim-rocking dunk to initiate a 30-point night, Eric Bledsoe drew oohs and ahhs for elevating to cleanly swat away a Dwyane Wade slam attempt and Chris Paul drained a couple of long three-pointers that had the sellout crowd at Staples Center chanting "C-P-3."
It was a game that gave you a little bit of everything, particularly the first half that featured 106 points and 14 lead changes. (Enough action to make you forget the 24 turnovers). The Heat demonstrated the type of ball movement and offensive pace that represented a dream scenario for the Lakers under new coach Mike D'Antoni. When it was over and the Clippers prevailed, 107-100, there the talk was just beginning.
How good are the Clippers? When will the Heat assert themselves? How badly have Wade's assortment of injuries thrown him off his game?
We'll tackle the first question right away, just because the Clippers have earned the right to lead the discussion for a while. In fact, they should be atop some people's power rankings. They just beat the Heat, and those solitary 1's you see in the loss column for the Spurs and Grizzlies? Yeah, those both came courtesy of the Clippers.
Now, beating Miami's Big 3 in L.A. isn't necessarily a sign of progress for the Clippers; they've done it on all three visits since LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh formed their triumvirate in Miami. It's the way the Clippers did it that should serve notice around the league. The method wasn't new to those who have been watching them, but a nationwide TV audience got to see how devastating the Clippers' bench can be.
A flurry of 13 consecutive points by Paul -- including a 3-pointer he hit from the "s" on the "Clippers" scrawled across half court -- had the Clippers ahead by 11 points after three quarters. Then Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro sent in five reserves to start the fourth. Miami had LeBron and Wade on the court, and Bosh checked in after two minutes. It didn't matter. The Clippers' backups stretched the lead to 20 points with the starters only getting out of their seats to celebrate baskets by their teammates.
"I just have a lot of confidence in our guys," Del Negro said. "They've been consistent for us pretty much all year. Then we made a little bit of a run there. That was a big key to the game."
Their consistency has been a key to the season. This game played out similarly to the Clippers' win over the Hawks on Sunday, when the backups turned a close game into an easy Clippers victory. How typical was this game for the Clippers? The bench players averaged 40.9 points per game in their first seven games; they scored 41 Wednesday night.
"Our bench is not really a bench," Paul said. "Just about every night we go into a game, we're going to have an advantage with our bench."
It's remarkable because these guys are just learning to play together. Bledsoe is the only backup who was with the Clippers last season.
"Every game is a lot easier," Crawford said the other day. "I know my role. My role is to score and make plays. Bled's going to run the show and make exciting plays. Ryan [Hollins] and Ronny [Turiaf are] going to set picks and do the dirty work. Matt's guarding everybody from 1 to 4. So we all understand that and feel comfortable with each other."
Crawford's 22 points Wednesday night made him the Clippers' leading scorer for the fifth time in eight games. It also gave him 16 more points than Wade, who was a late addition to the starting lineup after getting the results from a pregame X-ray on his bruised left foot. He has been dealing with an assortment of injuries that have minimized his contributions (only one double-digit scoring game in his past three) and curtailed the Heat's resemblance to their championship selves.
They're fine at home, where they are 4-0 and averaging 116.5 points per game. But they're 2-3 and scoring 94.5 points on the road. Erik Spoelstra fretted over his team's lack of "the mental resolve that we're known so well for." They're not recovering from their opponents' best shots.
The Clippers are about to get a tougher test than they faced in their first eight games, when they only had to leave Staples Center once. Next week brings games at San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Atlanta. Real championship contenders win big games on the road.
But aspirants start by beating top competition at home. This was a high-level game and the Lakers were nowhere near it.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Blake Griffin. You know that jump shot everyone keeps telling Blake Griffin he should get? Ask poor Shane Battier about that. All it took was a few to fall, and Battier was stuck in no-man's land all night long.
X factor: Miami's disappearing defense. The Heat allowed penetration, got lit up in isolations, let Griffin control the game from the block, and gave up wide-open 3-pointers. At least they shut down Willie Green?
Least valuable player: Dwyane Wade. Maybe he should have sat this one out after all. Eric Bledsoe outscored, outplayed and embarrassed Wade with a huge denial at the rim -- all in about half as many minutes.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Harrison Barnes. After averaging just eight points and two boards through his first seven games, Barnes broke out, putting up 19 and 13, on only 11 shots. The rookie harassed the Hawks on the boards, leading the Dubs in a 44-29 advantage on the glass.
Defining moment: Hawks coach Larry Drew left Jeff Teague on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. Teague, who has arguably been Atlanta's best player this year, surely would have helped a Hawks offense that was stagnant until Lou Williams hit three consecutive threes. Of course, by then, it was too late.
That was ugly? The Warriors turned the ball over 23 times. Both teams combined for only 31 points in the third quarter. And, of course, there were several Josh Smith jumpers that are still clanking around the arena. Compared to the Heat/Clippers game that was running at the same time, this game was just painful to watch.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Joakim Noah did it all for the Bulls with 21 points, 12 boards and 5 assists on top of superb defense, and he sealed the win with consecutive buckets late in overtime.
X factor: P.J. Tucker and Sebastian Telfair led a furious fourth-quarter rally with their hustle to send a game the Suns once trailed by 18 into overtime.
LVP: Michael Beasley never found his rhythm Wednesday night, bricking 11 of 15 shots. When he entered in overtime after Luis Scola fouled out, the game turned in Chicago's favor.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kemba Walker. Yes, Walker's line was impressive: 22 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 1 block. But none of that can add up to the devastating stepback jumper he dropped all over Alexey Shved with 0.7 seconds remaining to put the Bobcats up for good.
X factor: The free throw line. You might look at Charlotte's 9-for-14 night and think it pretty bad, but it's nothing compared to Minnesota's 20-for-37 debacle from the stripe. In a game decided by two points where no one's offense was clicking, it's rough to leave 17 points on the line.
That was a watched pot: Through 3½ quarters, neither team looked crisp and the Bobcats pushed the lead out through sheer athleticism, mostly in transition. It would have been easy to write this game off with 4:22 left and Charlotte up 14, but then it exploded in a flurry of barely coherent action: missed free throws, phantom timeouts, the works.
Recap | Box score
MVP: O.J. Mayo got where he wanted, did what he wanted, and finished the night with 25 points on 15 shots. When the Wizards fought back within reach midway through the fourth, Mayo found Chris Kaman on the baseline for an assist, then hit a pull-up jumper; he later hit a 3-pointer when Washington again got within a possession.
X factor: Kaman looked like the ole Kamanator with 23 points and 8 rebounds in his second start of the season, the first alongside Elton Brand. Dallas' big front line punished Washington in the paint, outscoring them 46 to 28.
That was the 0-7 Wizards: Maybe the Wizards were encouraged by coming back from being down 22 points in the third, 18 in the fourth -- probably not when they watch the game tape. Nonetheless, Washington probably can't count on the duo of Kevin Seraphin and Cartier Martin combining to score the last 26 points on too many nights.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Marc Gasol. The Thunder had trouble scoring at the rim until the fourth quarter as Gasol anchored an excellent team defense in 44 minutes. Decent work with Mike Conley on the pick-and-roll and excellent passing.
Defining moment: With 3:18 remaining, the Thunder were within 10 when the Grizz unleashed a vicious sequence of passes. Conley to Rudy Gay to Gasol to Zach Randolph for the layup in about three seconds.
X factor: OKC was up 30-20 after one quarter, but Memphis tightened up defensively and went on mini-runs every few minutes. The Grizz quietly dominated the second quarter 36-15 and never looked back.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Who but James Harden? With 30 points on an efficient 10-for-20 shooting (and 9-for-11 from the free throw line), Harden was an unstoppable steamroller, incessantly attacking the basket for most of the night. When the Hornets tried doubling on pick-and-rolls, Harden turned into a masterful conductor, delivering several slick bounce passes to the likes of Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Marcus Morris for open finishes.
X-factor: Toney Douglas entered Wednesday night's game with one 3-pointer to his name the season. In 17 minutes of action against the Hornets, he went 4-for-5 from behind the arc to finish with 12 important points.
That was abrupt: The Rockets held a 21-point lead at halftime and proceeded to watch it evaporate throughout the final two quarters. With Greivis Vasquez (24 points, nine assists) out extended minutes with an ankle injury, backup point guard Brian Roberts scored nine points to go with Ryan Anderson's quiet 20. The Rockets were in the driver's seat until New Orleans' bench nearly pulled them from the car.
3. Wednesday's Best
Kemba Walker, Bobcats: Who can stop the Cats now? Three straight wins for last season's Team Total Cat-astrophe. His jumper with 0.7 seconds delivered a 89-87 win over the Wolves. He finished with 22 points and five dimes.
4. Wednesday's Worst
The winless Wizards: And then there was one. After the Pistons thrashed the Sixers, the Wizards stood alone as the only winless team. Washington (0-7) had trailed by as many as 22 points before falling to Dallas 107-101. The Wiz go for win No. 1 at home Saturday against the Jazz.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
8. This Is My Jam
9. Stat Check
The Detroit Pistons beat the Philadelphia 76ers by 18 points improving their record to 1-8. Detroit is only the third team in NBA history to start a season 0-8 or worse whose first victory was by at least 18 points. The 1985-86 Suns beat the Sonics 117-99 to end their nine-game losing streak to start the season. The 1996-97 Suns lost their first 13 games of the season before a 99-77 victory over the Nets.
Greg Monroe scored 19 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and handed out six assists in the Pistons' win over the 76ers. The last Pistons player with that many points, rebounds and assists in a game was Grant Hill at Dallas on April 1, 1997. Hill scored 35 points, hauled in 18 rebounds and dished six assists in a Pistons' victory over the Mavericks.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Barbosa Sparks Celtics
Most valuable player: Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa was thrust into the spotlight after Rajon Rondo went down and kept the ship afloat with timely offense. He had 16 points in a season-high 22 minutes.
Least valuable player: Jamaal Tinsley. Tinsley was an overall minus-10 in his 10 minutes of play. His lack of energy and effectiveness forced Tyrone Corbin to play Mo Williams 38 minutes.
Defining moment: With just over seven minutes to play in the game, Jeff Green sent the TDGarden into a frenzy with a drive and dunk from the left-side corner. Trading card companies will have a ton proofs to go through to pick Green's 2014 edition.
Monroe Presides Over Win
MVP: Greg Monroe, who entered Wednesday shooting a touch less than 45 percent from the floor, probably deserves more flak than he has gotten for the Pistons' dreadful start. He deserves just as much credit for their initial W. Monroe posted a 19/18/6 line and powered Detroit to a 57-38 rebounding advantage over the hapless Sixers.
Defining moment: Kyle Singler's first run in an NBA starting lineup got off to a rocky start when he ran smack into the 290 pounds of human people call "Kwame Brown" early in the first quarter, then lay dazed on the floor while Jason Richardson hit a power-play 3-pointer to give Philly an early lead. It got better from there. The rookie scored 16 points on 50 percent shooting and made a compelling argument for an expanded role.
LVP: Everyone who attempted a field goal for the 76ers. Against a Pistons' defense that entered the evening 27th in the Association in ppg allowed and 26th in opponents field goal percentage, Philadelphia shot 29.8 percent from the floor, 31 percent from 3-points, and missed 11 free throws.
Dalembert Drops Pacers
MVP: Sam Dalembert. Sammy was hitting fadeaways early and that more than anything else explains the type of night it was. He stuck both his shots from outside of the paint (5-for-7 overall) and added three blocks in just 18 minutes, which in turn made him look like the closest thing there was on the court to a center who deserves $58 million.
LVP: Paul George. He has been over-asserting himself all season while trying to fill the scoring void left by the Danny Granger injury. And Wednesday night, his attempts to play in a style he isn't comfortable with hit a new low. He missed as many shots (12) as he scored points.
That Was lopsided: Don't let the "close" final margin fool you, this was a 30-plus point lead at one point. The Bucks were up huge in the opening minutes and had this game on lock wire-to-wire. They just slowed up, Usain Bolt-style, toward the end to admire their own handiwork.