1. Lin Wins Point Guard Matchup In Houston
HOUSTON -- Most everyone was expecting a strong performance Tuesday night from Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry in his first return to Houston after a trade sent him north to Canada.
After all, many of Lowry's best games have come in familiar spots. He reached his career high of 18 assists against the Memphis Grizzlies -- the club that drafted him -- and he set his career high of 36 points against his hometown 76ers.
Earlier in the day, Rockets acting head coach Kelvin Sampson quipped, "I know he'd like to stick it to us."
It didn't quite play out that way.
Lowry finished the night with just 7 points, going 3-for-10 from the floor in his 27 minutes, and getting outdueled by his replacement counterpart, Jeremy Lin. While Lowry did grab 8 boards and dish out 5 assists, he often looked lethargic, not aggressively attacking in the manner observers have become accustomed to seeing.
Lowry rarely got to the paint, seeming content to feature his teammates. At halftime, he had just 2 points to Lin's 9.
"It wasn't a pleasant one for me," Lowry said after the game. "They kicked our ass tonight and we didn't play well and just got outplayed tonight."
Added Raptors coach Dwane Casey of Lowry's return, "It did not go the way he wanted. He struggled. Those type of games usually go one way or the other.
"You either play great or you get caught up in the situation."
Lowry's counterpart, Lin, the man who was fourth on the Houston point guard depth chart last year at camp, finished the night with 16 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals, having what Sampson called his best game of the season.
"I thought he got his swagger back against New York," Sampson said, adding that Lin had been working hard on his shooting.
That extra practice paid off as Lin missed only two shots from the floor and set the tone for his teammates, looking much more comfortable initiating the offense than he had on previous nights. On many occasions, he darted to the rim with ease, finishing or creating for others. The performance was no doubt a welcome sight for the Rockets as Lin had entered the night shooting just 35 percent from the floor.
The Rockets shot 53 percent overall from the floor and 50 percent from deep, breaking the game open with a 38-point third quarter, their highest scoring output in a quarter this season. At one point, the Houston lead got to as big as 27, but the Raptors whittled things down to get to within 15 in the fourth.
In the end, it wasn't enough and Houston held on. The win was Houston's third in a row, moving them back to .500 at 7-7.
Houston was led Tuesday night by its other backcourt star, James Harden, who finished with 24 points, a career-high-tying 12 assists, and 6 rebounds. Wednesday night, Harden returns to Oklahoma City in another homecoming matchup, maybe the most anticipated one of the year.
The Thunder will get an up-close look at the passing-and-slashing dynamic they traded away. Harden, on the other hand, will no doubt be out to prove his worth against his old mates in his current role as the Rockets' leader. For Houston as a team, it will be a test of their mettle against one of the league's top teams.
Yes, all eyes will be squared toward Oklahoma City tomorrow night. Harden can only hope that his return goes better than Lowry's did in Houston tonight.
Rahat Huq is a contributor to the TrueHoop Network.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: It wasn't a pretty game, but George Hill was able to end our collective misery by hitting a buzzer-beating floater over the outstretched arm of Dwight Howard for his 18th and 19th points.
LVP: The Lakers' collective free-throw shooting. Dwight Howard shot 3-for-12, but the rest of the team shooting 20-for-43 from the charity stripe is absolutely unacceptable.
That was ... ugly: Both teams struggled to shoot from the field. The Pacers' 37 percent shooting wasn't much better than the Lakers' 32 percent, with both teams shooting about 21 percent from deep.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Love scored 23 points, pulled in 24 boards and played with real ferocity all over the floor. This, finally, this was the All-NBA K-Love we remember.
Defining moment: This was a frantic, unhinged game so it's only fitting that Love's flailing, one-handed 15-footer in the final minute would seal the deal.
X factor: The Kings went to a disruptive zone defense throughout the fourth quarter that nearly carried them to a win. Only when the Wolves' bigs got their interior passing going in the final minutes did they put the game away.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Despite four first-half turnovers, Goran Dragic settled in as the game wore on, finishing with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with seven assists.
LVP: Jeremy Pargo. Kyrie Irving's replacement struggled with Dragic and shot 3-of-12 from the floor with five turnovers and five fouls.
X factor: The bench numbers. The tired Cavaliers, who played Monday night against the Grizzlies, got only 17 points off the bench. Meanwhile, Phoenix's second unit had 38 points, led by Luis Scola's 14.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Evan Turner is the sort of player who will draw contact from Shawn Marion, score the bucket for his 18th point and the foul, then right when you're about to get started on an "Evan Turner is really developing" spiel, miss the free throw. Having said that, Evan Turner is really developing. He dropped 22 points on 12 shots and is averaging just shy of 18 in his last six games.
X factor:In the middle part of the fourth, the Mavericks -- theretofore cautious stewards of the rock -- got careless. They turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions and a two-point lead became a 90-81 deficit.
Defining moment: O.J. Mayo is a career 82 percent free throw shooter, so when he went to the line with 2.7 seconds left and the Mavs trailing, 100-98, overtime looked like a safe bet. It wasn't. Juice missed his first attempt, then deliberately whiffed on the second, but despite getting the subsequent board, Jae Crowder missed a 3-pointer as time expired to send the Mavs home with the L.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Patrick Patterson finished with 22 points on the night, 15 in a third quarter that saw the Rockets put the game out of reach. He added in two 3-pointers on the night.
LVP: Kyle Lowry did have 8 rebounds and 5 assists, but his 3-of-10 shooting (7 points) left much to be desired in his return to Houston.
That was ... telling: On one play, Jonas Valanciunas squared up Omer Asik and hit a beautiful turnaround. At the other end, Asik backed down Jonas with ease, laying it in. The two plays told the story of Valanciunas.
3. Tuesday's Best
Kevin Love, Timberwolves: So, you think that broken hand is fully healed yet? Love was a force in Sacramento, pulling down an NBA-season high 24 rebounds to go along with 23 points. He's averaging 16.5 boards per game since returning to the lineup on Nov. 21.
4. Tuesday's Worst
O.J. Mayo, Mavericks: With a chance to tie the Sixers with 2.7 seconds remaining, Mayo went to the line for two shots. He proceeded to miss them both -- the second on purpose -- and Dallas couldn't recover. Mayo's 11 points in a team-high 35 minutes were nothing to write home about, either.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I'll make just a real quick statement -- Andy Varejao was fantastic. Everybody else stunk tonight. Anything else you need to know?"
-- Cavaliers coach Byron Scott, on his team's 91-78 loss to the Suns despite 20 points and 18 rebounds from Anderson Varejao.
8. Familiar Face
9. Stat Check
Kobe Bryant scored 40 points as the Lakers fell to the Pacers, 79-77. It was the eighth regular-season game of Bryant's NBA career in which he scored at least half of his team's points. No other active player has had more than two such games. (Vince Carter, LeBron James, Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse have each done it twice.)
10. Dunk Of The Night