Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: JJ Hickson's 18 and 18 didn't come pretty, but on a night when neither team could hit anything, the dirty work was much needed. Many have been waiting for the other shoe to drop and Hickson's production to tail off this season, but at some point fans will have to admit that he's been playing like a maniac.
X factor: Just games after the Blazers set an all-time league mark for 3-point futility by shooting 0-for-20 from behind the arc in the Rose Garden, the Nuggets came in and bested it by going 0-for-22. Depending on your perspective, the Rose Garden is either cursed or blessed, since the Blazers have somehow won both games involving the record.
That was ... wearying: The Blazers played without LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Nuggets did not hit a jump shot outside the paint until less than a minute was left in the game. The Blazers are proving themselves tough, lucky, or some combination of both, as they've won a few of these slugfests in a four-game home winning streak.
Recap | Box score
MVP: LeBron James finished with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, doing such a thoroughly dominating job n the first three quarters that he was able to watch the entire fourth from the bench.
LVP: Chris Kaman had no purpose on the court tonight. He knocked down a few jumpers but his cement feet pulled the Mavs defense apart from the inside-out. He played 19 minutes during which the Mavs were -27.
X factor: The Heat's perimeter defense was stifling, swarming ball-handlers and choking off penetration. When Dominique Jones or Darren Collison did make it past the first line of defenders they were met at the rim by additional barriers, just as stout.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Andrei Kirilenko. Is it weird to pick the guy who scored nine points on 3-for-10 shooting and fouled out in the fourth for MVP? Especially when his mark, Kevin Durant, went for 33? Perhaps, but this win wouldn't have been possible without AK47 harassing and frustrating KD down the floor.
That was ... gritty. After a flashy first with 30 points, the Wolves were actually outscored in every quarter for the rest of the game, yet did enough defensively to hang in there and snap the Thunder's 12-game winning streak.
X factor: When JJ Barea came off the bench in the fourth, it was at a moment when the Wolves were struggling to generate offense. With the Thunder switching on everything, Barea feasted on his matchups against bigger men on the perimeter, going 3-for-4 from downtown and putting the team on his diminutive shoulders.
Can Damian Lillard Be A Star?
Go back through the past five drafts and count the number of impact-level point guards the league has absorbed. The list includes a league MVP, Olympians, guys who played in the NBA Finals, rookies of the year, one of the league's best shooters, a few of its top pure athletes and one undrafted sensation who took over the league for a spell:
Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, Kemba Walker, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio, Jeff Teague, Ty Lawson, Brandon Knight, Jeremy Lin and, yes, James Harden (listed as a shooting guard but really plays like a point guard).
This list doesn't even include Tyreke Evans, who won the ROY award as a point guard before being moved off the ball later on. It's quite a list, representing the present and the future of the point guard position.
This season, just one rookie has looked like a long-term starter at point guard: Damian Lillard. The only question is: Can he be a star? Let's take a look at how he measures up to what some of the current point guard stars did as rookies.
What Happened To The Heat's Title D?
Maybe the Miami Heat's defense thinks the season begins on Christmas Day again.
After two seasons ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Heat find themselves 14th on that end of the floor. The defending champs have the league's fifth-best record at 16-6 and the sixth-best point differential (5.3 points).
The defensive lapse doesn't make sense on paper. The Heat's star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are back in the fold. The rotation members from last season -- Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Mike Miller and Norris Cole -- are still with the Heat. Everybody from the front office and the coaching staff and even Burnie the team mascot returned for the quest to repeat as champions.
Actually, the roster continuity is almost unprecedented. Dig into the numbers and you'll see that the Heat have a staggering 96.7 percent retention rate of the total minutes played by last season's roster. It's the highest percentage for any championship team in 15 years. (The 1997-98 Bulls reeled in 97.2 percent of their roster from the previous season's title-winning team for their last hurrah and another crown.) It's also a stark contrast to the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks, which brought back only 66.2 percent of their roster minutes after letting Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson head elsewhere.
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Breaking Down Ricky Rubio
ESPN The Magazine
Ricky Rubio is a tantalizing talent brimming with potential and verve. It's just been hard to get a good look at him, as his young NBA career consists of only 43 games.
First, there was the two-year obligation to FC Barcelona after being drafted with the fifth pick in 2009. Then the lockout took a significant chunk of time out of his rookie season and, with it, his on-court development. To make matters worse, he blew out his knee in March, ending an already shortened rookie season.
His second campaign has been equally confounding. After finally being cleared to play this month, he has appeared in just two games and is averaging 4.0 points and 6.5 assists on 14 percent shooting in 17.5 minutes per game. He has already been held out of a game due to knee soreness and will be a game-time decision for the foreseeable future.
With so much potential, mountains of expectation and precious little game time, there are a lot of questions as to what kind of player Rubio will become and how he'll get there. I've enlisted the help of Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter to help me break down Rubio's game, looking at what possible impact he could have on Minnesota this season and in the long term.
"When you talk about the growth of a point guard, he's got a long way to go," said Porter, a two-time All-Star point guard and former NBA head coach. "But I think he'll be right up there. He's got all the skills that you want. He'll be right up there with the best of them."
Versatile Bigs Dominate Barometer
Joakim Noah put up an impressive stat line Tuesday, notching his second career triple-double in the Chicago Bulls' win over the slumping Boston Celtics.
Often triple-doubles by natural centers include a double-digit performance in blocked shots, which was the case for Roy Hibbert earlier this season. Greg Monroe had the only points-rebounds-assists triple-double among pivots this season before Noah. Noah now has two of the past five triple-doubles recorded by centers.
Noah has long been regarded as a skilled passing big man, but the Bulls' need for his playmaking has been minimal in seasons past because of the considerable presence of Derrick Rose. With Rose still rehabbing his injured knee, Noah's passing has become an increasingly crucial aspect of Chicago's offense.