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MVP: Antawn Jamison had a huge game off the bench for the Lakers, pouring in 27 points with eight rebounds, shooting 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Jamison was just one of three Lakers who could have earned MVP tonight.
That was interesting: Without Kobe Bryant on the floor, seven Lakers recorded at least 20 minutes and six of them finished in double figures, and all seven guys had at least six shots. The balanced attack kept everyone in rhythm.
Turning point: The Sacramento Kings came out like gangbusters to start the fourth quarter, but a 11-0 Lakers run that saw three consecutive 3-pointers essentially put the game on ice. We saw great resolve for Los Angeles down the stretch.
MVP: Al Horford had 22 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists. He was all over the court and at times dominated the game.
X factor: The Hawks' bench was a major factor in the win. Dahntay Jones showed he's more than a guy who fouled Kobe with 13 points. Ivan Johnson had seven and rookie John Jenkins also scored seven.
That was surprising: The Hawks haven't exactly been known as a team that puts its foot on a team's throat. But Sunday night they were dominant in the fourth quarter lead by Jeff Teague with 15 assists. If the Hawks can play this more often they can really make some noise.
MVP: Russell Westbrook. In a tightly contested game for all 48 minutes, Westbrook was OKC's steadiest and most persistent force. He pushed the tempo on offense to keep Dallas off-kilter and his final tally of 35 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists accurately portrays his impact on the game.
That was stunning: Westbrook finished with three exhilarating fast break dunks, but none was more spectacular than his thunderous dunk in the first quarter. The lightning-quick fury of the slam was a marvel to behold in real time.
X factor: Kevin Durant's fourth quarter. After a sloppy and sluggish start, KD ignited for 19 points in the final period, including seven straight made field goals. His late-game hot streak was just enough to fend off a pesky Dallas squad.
MVP: Derrick Williams attacked the basket, got to the free throw line and was ferocious on the glass. Maybe most importantly for his team, he had his first hot outside shooting game in weeks. He finished with a career-high 28 points on 16 shots, went 3-of-5 on 3-pointers and grabbed seven boards.
Defining moment: With 48 seconds remaining and his team trailing by four, Ricky Rubio used a gorgeous crossover to split a Robin Lopez/Greivis Vasquez trap, laid in a wrong-footed lefty finger roll and got the foul. The Wolves didn't get the lead on that possession but it was the play that put them over the top.
X factor: The return of Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic didn't prevent the Hornets from crushing the Wolves on the glass, but their interior defense was a big reason the Hornets hit only 40 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter. Thanks to that tight D, the Hornets made just one field goal and scored only four points in the game's final 3:24.
MVP: Stephen Curry. After a rough start, he went 11-for-16 in the final three quarters of the game. His 29 points and 11 assists led the game while setting the tempo for the Warriors.
X factor: The Rockets' slow start. Houston has been outscored by 8.3 points per game in the first quarter this month. The Warriors' eight-point cushion after the first quarter set the tone for the rest of the game.
That was anti-climatic: The past three Rockets-Warriors matchups have featured a plethora of long bombs and high-scoring runs, totaling in 654 combined points. This one was over by the end of the third quarter.
Most valuable player: The matinee game was marred with sluggish play, but Blake Griffin's huge dunks were a cup of coffee. All he did was dunk in this game, but that was enough against a short-handed Knicks team.
Least valuable player: J.R. Smith. Could it be worse? Just 4-for-20 shooting from the field. Three turnovers. Absurd shots. Clueless defense. The Knicks needed a great performance from Smith, and they got the exact opposite.
Well that was unrevealing: New York's roster makes no sense without Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, and we know the Clippers can beat up on bad teams. What did this blowout teach us? Not much.
Defining moment: Rudy Gay tied the game at 77-77 early in the fourth quarter, but the Heat went on a 12-0 run early so seal their 22nd straight win.
MVP: LeBron James controlled the pace for Miami, scoring 22 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and coming just two assists shy of a triple-double.
X factor: Ray Allen was unstoppable in the fourth quarter. After scoring just four points in the first three quarters, Allen knocked down four 3-pointers and scored 16 points in the final frame.
MVP: Monta Ellis single-handily won this game. He scored 25 of his game-high 39 points in the fourth quarter, and his backbreaking 3-pointer with 13 seconds left served as the dagger.
Defining moment: Trailing 83-70 entering the fourth quarter, Milwaukee scored 45 points to steal a victory from the Magic.
That was amazing: Ellis gets a lot of grief, and rightfully so, for being an inefficient volume scorer. But when he gets it going offensively, like he did in the fourth quarter against Orlando, he can be spectacular.
Clips Look For More Than Dashing Peformance
The Los Angeles Clippers still seek the elite status that is devoid of hypens.
The better the team, the fewer the hyphens. People think of the Clippers as "high-flying," "fun-loving," "front-runners." The elite teams, meanwhile, can get away with a solitary adjective of one syllable. "Tough," perhaps. Or "great."
The quandary for the Clippers is that they're at their best when they're having their most fun. Lob City isn't just a nickname, it's a formula. The highlight dunks are a byproduct of Chris Paul toying with defenses, drawing defenders and then utilizing the athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It's worth noting that they often come in the halfcourt set. This isn't how the Clippers beat teams with numbers advantages, it's how the Clippers beat teams straight up.
The trouble is, it's been more than three months since the Clippers beat a team in the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Since defeating the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 14 the Clippers have fallen to the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder again, the Denver Nuggets and the Grizzlies.
The Clippers can't pinpoint the issue. They don't even have a consensus on the terminology.
"No question it's a concern," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, whose team faces the New York Knicks on Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
"Concern?" Griffin said, repeating a question thrown his way. "I don't know if that's the right word. Frustration? Yeah."
The worst part is the way they've allowed good teams to do what makes them good. The Warriors drained 3-pointers, hitting 53 percent from behind the arc. The Nuggets scored in transition, with more than twice the fast-break points of the Clippers. The Grizzlies forced turnovers, causing the Clippers to give up the ball four times in 2½ minutes in a pivotal stretch of the Clippers' last game.
"I think [the change] starts with our aggressive way on defense," Griffin said. "Not to play anybody else's style but to make them adjust to us. Playing aggressive defensively and getting stops, getting out in transition. Playing a faster-paced game than we did [against Memphis]."
In their undefeated December the Clippers allowed opponents to score 100 points three times in 16 games. That benchmark has been surpassed three times in the past five games, in addition to allowing the low-scoring Detroit Pistons to score 97 points and the even lower-scoring Grizzlies to get to 96.
Paul tends to quote previous coaches he's had, which is interesting since he's been with Del Negro for two seasons now. But there is one thing he's taken from a previous edition of the Clippers, the one that had an edge provided by Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin.
"Last year's team at times when we needed to get stops, that's what we did," Paul said. "We didn't always play perfect, but we got stops when we needed to. We've got to find that with our team right now."
Paul is getting steals at the same rate, but Jordan hasn't done as good a job of protecting the rim. Jordan averaged 2.0 blocks per last year, but is at 1.3 this year. (Even taking his decreased playing time this season, the dropoff per 36 minutes is the same: 0.7).
This team's strength is supposed to be its depth. The Clippers missed backup point guard Eric Bledsoe with a calf injury against Memphis and Matt Barnes started at small forward in place of the injured Caron Butler. Butler might play against the Knicks Sunday.
Another asset of this close-knit team is it wins games collectively. The players wearing warm-ups urge on the guys in the game. The players on the court look over to the bench for approval. That was never more evident than in the aftermath of Jordan's devastating throwdown over Brandon Knight a week ago. The reactions ranged from Barnes' running to the other end of the court (after a midair warmup, like the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" ) to Griffin circling in front of the bench like a dog who wants to be let out of the yard. Even Paul let out an uncharacteristic yell.
"I usually never react to 'em, just because I try to stay locked into the moment and what's going on," Paul said. "But that one was that one was unreal."
All of the jumpin' and hollerin' was authentic Clippers. They like to be loose, enjoying the show as much as the fans do. The enthusiasm builds on itself. The Spurs conduct business meetings; the Clippers host parties.
"We've got to be able to do that when we're down 15, or when it's a tough game when we're on the road somewhere," Jordan said. "We've got to be able to have that same energy [as] at home when we're beating somebody by 20, 30 points. Also when we're in a dogfight."
With 16 games remaining and everything from the third to the fifth seed in play for the Clippers, everything's a dogfight from here out. They've arrived at the 4/5th mark of the season less certain about themselves than ever. They have a notion of what they want to be; they just can't tell you how they can achieve it.
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Better Lucky Than Good?
It's become an article of faith that the Los Angeles Lakers have gotten better, that they've "figured it out." They're 20-11 over their past 31 games and they clawed their way to three games above the .500 threshold with a close win at Indiana on Friday night. The Lakers, once looking likely to sit out the postseason, are now very likely to make it. They are on the verge of becoming the proverbial team you don't want to meet in the playoffs.
This is still largely the same team that began the year disastrously, though. These Lakers aren't much different from the Lakers who dropped six in a row to wind up with a 15-21 record. Though L.A. fans are right to bemoan their bad luck with injuries, the latest being the twisted ankle of Kobe Bryant, good fortune has been their biggest benefactor in turning around the season.
Fans do not like to hear that their team won due to "luck" or "chance," but randomness haunts all sports. Luck is a lurking spirit, constantly moving outcomes around to make us see things that don't exist.
As John Hollinger and others have shown, close games are, by and large, decided by chance. Close games are often defined as those decided by six points or fewer, and the Lakers are 8-1 in such games lately. Before that, they lost a lot of those coin flip games, even with Bryant, renowned as a great "closer," on the floor. That's pretty much what's "turned it around" for the Lakers.
Margin of victory tells a more accurate story of a team's quality than the win-loss record. Yes, great teams tend to play better in these high-leverage situations, but it's difficult to argue that the 35-32 Lakers are one of those.
When the Lakers were 15-21, their scoring margin was plus-1.0 points per game. Since January 12, a span in which L.A. has won 20 of 31, the Laker scoring margin has been a "whopping" plus-1.5.
Knicks Still Hurting
The New York Knicks are planning to take the floor without Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler on Sunday, according to multiple reports.
Both Anthony and Chandler are officially listed as questionable due to knee injuries.
However, Knicks coach Mike Woodson told reporters after Saturday's practice in Los Angeles that he's planning as if neither player will be available for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"Yes, we went through shootaround thinking that (Chandler and Anthony will not play),'' Woodson said. "We got these (other players) in uniform ready to play."