2. Around the Association
MVP: Al Jefferson started slow but finished with a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double without turning the ball over once. It was a quintessentially Jeffersonian showcase for the man who might be on the trade block.
X factor: Enes Kanter collected 17 points, 9 rebounds and a career-high 5 blocks in just 17 minutes. For the second season in a row, the Jazz appear to make their best lineup decisions through player attrition.
That was ... clearly the second night of a back-to-back for Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings and Ersan Illyasova put up 17 points apiece and Sam Dalembert notched a double-double (10 pts, 11 rebs), but the Bucks were running in mud all night.
MVP: Danny Green hit a career-high eight 3-pointers on 12 attempts to finish with 28 points. After a grumpy Gregg Popovich yanked Green early in the third quarter for a good four seconds, Green returned to score 21 second-half points and hit four triples in the fourth quarter, pushing the Spurs past the Timberwolves.
X factor: With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili nursing injuries, Minnesota knew that San Antonio point guard Tony Parker would take more than his average of 15 shots a game. He did, using 23 shots to score 27 points to go along with eight dimes.
That was ... promising. In the loss, Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio recorded 11 assists, hitting double-digits for the second game in a row and only the second time this season in his 21st appearance since returning from an ACL injury.
MVP: O.J. Mayo. Shooting 11-of-14 for 28 points, Mayo owned the right side of the floor, hitting all six shots from the right wing and 3 of 4 from deep. Mayo's red-hot shooting opened up the Mavs' offense throughout the game.
X factor: Vince Carter. Mayo was superb, but Carter stole the show, getting multiple throwback dunks that evoked Vinsanity, including a vintage reverse slam. Carter also contributed cold-blooded 3s and a dagger pull-up on the wing that sealed the game.
Defining moment: Carter's 3-pointer at the end of the third keyed a steady 18-4 Mavericks run lasting more than eight minutes. The Blazers went 1-9 from 3 and their only make came late in Portland's desperate comeback attempt.
MVP: Greivis Vasquez. The Hornets' point guard scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and handed out 12 assists. He kept New Orleans in this game early when the rest of the team was struggling.
X factor: Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu posted a double-double with 11 rebounds and 16 points on nine shots. The Suns had no answer defensively for his athleticism and poise. Al-Farouq is averaging nearly nine rebounds per game in 2013.
That was ... anticlimactic: After an entertaining and high-scoring first half, the Suns and Hornets went ice cold down the stretch. The teams combined for fewer than 30 points in the final frame while shooting worse than 40 percent from the field.
MVP: Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket delivered his best game of the season for Boston, putting the C's offense on his back with a season-high 27 points and 10 rebounds as the Celtics escaped Toronto with their fifth straight win, all coming without an injured Rajon Rondo.
LVP: Rudy Gay. Toronto's offense stalled out in the fourth quarter as the Raptors' newest addition could not find the bottom of the net, going just 1-for-9 from the field over the final 12 minutes. Gay managed to score just two points against Boston's stifling defense in the frame.
X factor: Leandro Barbosa. The speedy guard has seen his playing time increase with Rondo out of the lineup and he made the most of his minutes against Toronto. Barbosa sparked Boston's fourth-quarter comeback, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the frame.
MVP: Kevin Durant. That the MVP candidate can seem so average -- by his standards, mind you -- while casually going for 25 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 31 minutes is a true testament to just how dominant he's been this season.
X factor: The final numbers don't show it, but Serge Ibaka was just as influential to this OKC win as Durant or Russell Westbrook. He had 11 points and 4 blocks in the game's opening quarter, spurring the Thunder to an early lead that proved insurmountable.
That was ... predictable. Facing a team like OKC on the second leg of a road back-to-back without Andrew Bogut and Jarrett Jack, a Warriors win always seemed unlikely. A late arrival due to travel complications only made things even more difficult.
MVP: Brook Lopez. Although this game was marred by sluggish offense, someone has to be MVP, and Lopez gets the honor. Active with 9 boards on the night and quick with a number of post moves, Lopez was the lone consistent offensive weapon for Brooklyn. His slithering bank shot on the low block with 18 seconds left sealed the victory for the Nets.
Defining moment: Andre Drummond's back. The sensational rookie only played five minutes in this game before being pulled due to back pain in the first quarter. His absence triggered a disastrous domino effect. Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe subsequently were plagued with foul trouble, allowing Brooklyn to dominate the interior for large stretches of the game.
That was ... atmospheric. Brooklyn reserve Mirza Teletovic took just three shots all night. He also happened to air-ball every single one. Even more embarrassing is that all three air balls came on back-to-back-to-back possessions in the third quarter.
MVP: LeBron James might have started slow, but he took over in the second half, racking up a monster line of 32 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 game taken over. That makes for a superstar line.
X factor: James Harden flirted with a triple-double, notching 36 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. He scored 11 of the last 13 points for Houston but couldn't put them over the top.
Defining moment: Four Miami 3s (two from LeBron) in the span of two minutes pushed the Heat lead to 16 in the third quarter from which the Rockets never quite recovered. It was close, but Miami executed better.
Daily Dime Live
The NBA's Underpaid Superstars
NBA executives, analytics and the man himself agree: LeBron James is underpaid, as our Tom Haberstroh explored in Tuesday's Per Diem.
He's not alone. The NBA's restrictions on individual contracts mean some players are prohibited from securing their full value on the open market.
Advanced metrics can help us determine just how large this pool is. My wins above replacement metric is ideal for this task because it focuses on how much value a player provides his team on the court, which is a result of productivity and playing time.
Say you're the GM of a team with cap space this summer. How much will you have to pay to add a win to next season's total? Well, some players are better values than others, but on average teams paid about $1.5 million above the minimum salary for each WARP the previous season during free agency last summer. In 2011 after the lockout, that figure was slightly higher -- nearly $1.8 million. Combining the two markets gives a value of $1.6 million for each additional win.
Is Brook Lopez A Top-10 Player?
We don't always need advanced metrics to tell us certain things.
If asked to list the top players in the NBA today, it's likely any NBA fan or media member would rattle off LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony without even thinking. You could probably add Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Tony Parker, and sure enough, you'd have 10 of the top 11 players ranked by PER.
Except you'd be missing one name, with which advanced metrics do help. Sitting comfortably at No. 4 on that list is Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez, who boasts a PER north of 25. Just four players have PERs above 25, and the other three are bona fide MVP candidates this season -- James, Durant and Paul. Lopez even made the All-Star team this year, replacing injured guard Rajon Rondo.
NBA Video Channel
NBA's Top 10 Interior Defenders
Last season, the Miami Heat did something that pretty much never happens: They won the NBA title without the benefit of a top defensive big man. You can quibble with that statement, but it's true.
Miami's top interior defenders, Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, combined to average 29.5 minutes per game during the playoffs. But both missed at least six games during Miami's run, including 11 by Turiaf. Both players were almost entirely absent in the Finals against Oklahoma City.
Prior to the Heat, there simply hasn't been any question whether a champion had an easily identifiable defensive anchor. Just look at the names: Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bynum, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Ben Wallace, Luc Longley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Cartwright, Rick Mahorn, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish and Moses Malone.
The Book On Rick Adelman
Is he intense or a go-along, get-along type?
He has the unique ability to manage diverse personalities with his even temperament. Clyde Drexler clashed with an intense Mike Schuler during his early years in Portland, but when Adelman took over, Drexler was on the same page as his new coach from the outset. Adelman errs on the side of less practice and is constantly mindful of whether his players are in a good place and ensuring that basketball isn't becoming a chore to them. He isn't inclined to develop deep relationships with players, but they're confident he won't play favorites and won't call them out in a group setting. Adelman is a quiet teacher, stoic and somewhat of an introvert, which is a rarity in this profession. On the road, he's more likely to spend a night in than go out to a dinner where basketball might be the leading topic of conversation. He requires time to recharge.