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Recap | Box score
MVP: Damian Lillard. The rookie put up a career high 29 points, 7 boards and 6 assists; given the competition, this was almost certainly his best game as a pro. The past few games have been doldrums in Portland, but on this night, fans can be forgiven for thinking ahead.
X factor: Luke Babbitt. Babbitt was aggressive and confident throughout, ultimately providing the Blazers with 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting. The numbers won't dazzle, but his willingness to provide some scoring from the bench goes a long way for a Portland team that sorely needed it.
That was ... invigorating. Though the Blazers gutted out a win against the Raptors Monday, the past few games have been the sort of grind that can unsettle a young team. The Blazers didn't take the Spurs' best shot, but I'll bet they won't mind picking up their best win of the season.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Carmelo Anthony. For once, the chants of "M-V-P!" that inevitably rain down in a home team's arena don't seem wholly premature. Carmelo's been Bernard King reincarnate, down to the absolute panic all of Knick Knation feels holding its collective breath waiting to see how badly he sprained his ankle in the third quarter via a hard foul from Dwight Howard.
LVP: The Lakers' defense. They can't defend the pick-and-roll, get back in transition, close out on 3-point shooters or stop dribble penetration. For all the anecdotal (and mainly false) historical narratives about Mike D'Antoni's teams' lack of resistance, the absence of speed, size and overall effort would make it hard for Tom Thibodeau to cobble together an effective defense. They're a mess.
Defining moment: Los Angeles had managed to whittle a 26-point Knick lead down to a mere 6 with 1:27 remaining, but after Raymond Felton missed two straight off-balance jumpers, Tyson Chandler dominated the offensive glass with two consecutive trademark backtaps to allow New York to control the ball for a game-sealing 1:09 of play.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Devin Harris. In what was his best game of the season thus far, he scored 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting, dished out 4 assists, and drilled 3-pointer after 3-pointer to bury a helpless Charlotte defense. After a rough start to the season, Harris has steadily improved his production and finally broke out for a big game tonight.
X factor: It was a combination of atrocious defense from Charlotte and excellent marksmanship from Atlanta. The Hawks shot 14-for-29 from beyond the arc and saw contributions from a number of different players including Harris, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson, and even Josh Smith. The Hawks produced open looks for their shooters all night, and the shooters did just what they were supposed to do.
That was... pitiful: At least for Charlotte. They've now lost 10 in a row and their defense couldn't stop a squirrel from eating an acorn. Ivan Johnson beasted all over them. Al Horford swatted everything in the paint. Josh Smith did what he always does. The Bobcats just can't produce in the interior and they can't defend anything inside or out.
As Lakers Spiral, Bright Lights Await
If you look closely at Kobe Bryant these days, really close, there are two long, raw scratches across his forehead. In person you can't miss them. But even on television, if you watched his lengthy, soul-baring interview with Stephen A. Smith on Wednesday, it's hard to miss the pink flesh atop his forehead that's just now starting to scab over.
It's hard to know whose fingernails cut into him, or even when. The first time I noticed was at his locker Sunday night after Bryant scored another magnificent 34 points in an otherwise lifeless 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz that feels like a million years ago after the Lakers dropped another one in Cleveland on Tuesday, then boarded a plane for New York City for a game Thursday against the Knicks.
When I gestured to the scratches and asked how he got them, Bryant shrugged his shoulders and exhaled but did not answer. Who cares? This season has already left him with more scratches and gashes than are worth counting. The ones that expose a little flesh are the least of his worries.
Is Dwight Temporary In L.A.?
ESPN The Magazine
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of issues to worry about right now, their lack of offensive execution and their lack of transition defense foremost among them. But there's another pressing issue the Lakers might soon have to consider if their season continues along this negative path -- their lack of Dwight Howard's signature on a contract.
Since Howard was traded to the Lakers in the offseason, it has been virtually a foregone conclusion that he would re-sign with the club after this season. The Lakers seemed to have everything Howard wanted -- a great pass-first point guard, a legitimate chance to win championships, a bustling metropolis with tons of endorsement opportunities and, of course, Hollywood.
Mike D'Antoni's Challenge
NBA on ESPN Radio Audio Mike D'Antoni
Lakers HC Mike D'Antoni discusses the Lakers issues turning the ball over, defending the pick and roll, and getting back in transition.
NBA Video Channel
Knicks Legit Threat In East
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And by "it" I don't mean Paris and London in the late 18th century; I'm talking about tonight's Knicks-Lakers game.
We've already spilled lots of digital ink on the Lakers, whose injuries and poor depth have them 9-13 entering tonight and in danger of missing the playoffs entirely. But what of the Knickerbockers? They're perhaps the most positive story in the league, with a 1½-game lead in the Eastern Conference, two routs of Miami and an attractive flowing style that has produced an avalanche of open 3-pointers.
What's so amazing is how unlikely all this was. The idea of such a joyous brand of basketball emanating from MSG's poisoned tower seemed almost laughable until, well, the season began and it started happening. As recently as last season, the Knicks had basically driven a truck over the Linsanity era, then backed over it a few times for good measure -- all so we could go back to watching more Carmelo Anthony isolations and try to justify owner James Dolan's insane, meddling decisions on big-picture moves.
Future Hall Of Famers
In the Dec. 24 Hall of Fame issue of ESPN The Magazine, we tore down the Basketball Hall of Fame, erecting in its place a brand-new, analytically driven Hall designed just for the NBA. And after the dust cleared, 80 players claimed their place in the ranks of the immortal, including 17 active players.
The youngest of those names to have already made the leap are Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, both of whom are only 27 this season, so you know it's not too early to look for future enshrinees. But who among the under-25 set has the best probability of joining Paul and Howard in The Mag's NBA Hall?