For about three and a half quarters, this felt like the kind of road game the Clippers would be able to steal. Their tired starters kept it close in a really tough atmosphere, and normally, the Clippers' bench makes up the deficit.
On this night, though, it was JaVale McGee that enabled the Nuggets to extend their lead during the stint where the Clippers usually dominate. McGee came in with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Nuggets clinging to a four-point lead. Denver outscored Los Angeles by 12 points the rest of the way. McGee was a factor in the post, in pick and roll and even from the perimeter. It was the kind of performance George Karl has to love and now expect from his reserve center going forward.
McGee also pokes a theory in the "more minutes = better production" truism. Sometimes, a player really is best when he is allowed to go all out for fewer minutes instead of having to conserve energy for more minutes. McGee might be able to produce decent numbers if he played 36 minutes, but he wouldn't be as sharp in his defensive rotations or as energetic running the floor. By containing him to small samples where he can dominate, Karl has enhanced McGee's best features while minimizing his worst. It's smart coaching that is possible because of Denver's deep roster.
As for the Clippers, they shouldn't worry too much. That streak had to end somewhere.
Blazers 105, Knicks 100
Amar'e Stoudemire looked about as rusty as you could expect in his return. His defensive rotations were terrible, his rebounding was suspect and his offense looked out of rhythm. He experienced some success as a pick-and-roll finisher in the third quarter, but looked especially terrible in post isolation situations. It's his first game, so the Knicks can live with it.
What the Knicks can't live with anymore is this leaky defense. New York has now slipped to 20th in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions after starting the season near the top. Here, I think Mike Woodson's decision to practice infrequently to save his team's legs has cost him. The Knicks' instincts are a beat slow on nearly every cut or screen, and after a while, you can't rely on Tyson Chandler to always save the day. More practice time devoted to defense will go a long way with this unit.
Carmelo Anthony was spectacular with 45 points, of course, but the Knicks would ideally want to get to the point where he isn't needed to save the day as much. Nicolas Batum, meanwhile, continued his excellent season with 26 points on 13 shots. Many people who sign huge contracts like him don't live up to them. He has, and deserves credit for doing so.
Same story, different game for Los Angeles. Their defense isn't consistently good enough to win games, their prized new acquisition is not close to his athletically superior self and their holdover former all-star big man is still trying to figure out where he fits in. We're now in January and these problems have shown no signs of going away.
The Hawks didn't play all that well, but they found a way to win like good teams do. They also benefited from some questionable decision-making by Eric Gordon in pick-and-roll situations late in the game. He needs to stop trying to go away from ball screens until he is completely back in rhythm from his latest knee injury.
It looked bad for Dallas after the first half, but they pushed the pace nicely in the third quarter and ran right past the woeful Wizards. This was some terrible transition defense.