NBA scores 2014: The Wizards want to conquer the West and 3 other things we learned
Bradley Beal goes toe-to-toe with James Harden, the Bulls barely edge past the Pacers and the rest from the action from Monday on the NBA.
Don’t tell the Wizards the West is much better than the East. With their win over the Rockets in Houston, Washington has a 7-2 record against Western teams, including victories over the Clippers and the Pelicans. With John Wall not playing at his usual superlative level, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce picked up the slack by scoring 33 and 21 points, respectively. James Harden scored 33 for the Rockets, who lost only their second game of the season to an Eastern Conference opponent.
The Rockets’ rim was crooked at the start of the game, which meant a half-hour delay and foreshadowed a night in which Houston would shoot enough bricks (9-for-29 from beyond the arc, 14-for-23 from the line) to bend even the sturdiest of hoops. Everyone was expecting a gritty match up between two top five defensive teams and that’s exactly how the game started. The Wizards jumped on to a quick lead but the Rockets, fueled by a combined 24 first half points by Harden and Dwight Howard, were leading at the break. Houston was doing a good job of limiting Wall and pushing the pace off Wizards turnovers.
Then the third quarter happened. The ball stopped moving for the Rockets. Harden went cold from the field and no one stepped up to shoulder the scoring load. The Wizards were now the ones looking to run and easily containing Houston’s offense. When the lead reached 18 it looked like Washington was going to blow the game wide open until the bench unit led by Jason Terry, Corey Brewer and Joey Dorsey came in and reduced the deficit to a manageable 11 points going into the final period.
The bench proved to be the only thing working for the Rockets in the second half. Houston’s second unit played with energy to bring the team within two in the fourth quarter before the starters checked back in. The game was tied with five minutes to go before Washington finally woke up and went on a quick 9-0 run against a once again predictable offense and lethargic defense. Houston would make one more push, getting within a bucket, but once again the Wizards responded to get a valuable win on the first of a five-game road trip against Western teams.
If there was one positive takeaway for the Rockets, who dropped their second straight after losing to the Spurs on Sunday, is the continued great play of Corey Brewer. Unlike Josh Smith, who hasn’t find his comfort zone yet, Brewer seems to be thriving in the Rockets’ frantic schemes. After hitting only eight three-pointers in 26 games playing for the Wolves, he has 13 already on just four games since being traded. The Rockets are a deeper team thanks to some moves they made; now they only need to be more consistent.
As for the Wizards, they are fortunate enough to already know who they are: a team that defends with just the right mix of raw energy and smarts and has scoring from every position in the starting lineup. As they are showing everyone, that combination gets you wins, no matter which conference the team you are playing against belongs to.
3 other things we learned
The Bulls and Bucks were lucky to win. Chicago jumped ahead early against the Pacers and got a 21-point lead at one point. Indiana came back and had the last ball to win it. The Bucks were also up by 21. They had to win it in overtime and could have lost it in regulation had Kemba Walker not turned the ball over in what would have been the last shot of the game. Every team is allowed a couple of games where their focus is off in random nights in the regular season, especially against inferior opponents, and the two squads pulled off the win in the end. It’s still always disconcerting to see good teams squander big leads.
Nikola Vucevic is an All-Star. Vucevic scored 26 points in 17 shots, pulled down nine rebounds and dished out three assists on the Magic’s close win over the Miami Heat. He’s averaging 18.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the season. The Magic are bad and Vucevic is not an elite defender but there are few big men out there that can match his production. The fact that he toils in anonymity explains why he ranked 12th among frontcourt players in the All-Star game’s fan voting early returns. Hopefully the coaches don’t get blinded by bigger names and at least give the 24-year-old center some serious consideration.
The Clippers are still not looking right but are getting things done. The Clippers got the win against the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles, even if it was probably closer than it should have been. That has been the story all season long: Even with their obvious flaws, the Clippers get wins. Opposing small forward regularly go off against the Clippers and this game was no exception, as Gordon Hayward finished the game with 22 points and seven assists. Their bench continues to be such a non-entity that Blake Griffin had to play 22 of a total 24 second half minutes. Yet their margin of victory for the season is elite and they have played a relatively tough schedule. The Clippers are talented enough to finish the regular season with a good record despite not playing well. Their flaws might come back to haunt them in the playoffs but there is time to fix them.
Play of the night
The Kings lost against the Nets in Brooklyn and are seeing their playoff chances dwindle. The defeat wasn’t DeMarcus Cousins‘ fault, though. Cousins scored 24 points on 9-12 shooting to go with 13 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a huge dunk over Mason Plumlee.
Plumlee finished the game with 22 points. These guys were teammates in Team USA’s FIBA World Cup roster. Recently, the Kings reportedly tried to trade for Deron Williams but only if they were also getting Plumlee as a sweetener to be Cousins’ frontcourt partner. They would make a great team but I’d prefer for them to keep going against each other if their match ups are going to be this fun.
4 fun things
Wizards 104, Rockets 103 (Bullets Forever recap | The Dream Shake recap)
Clippers 101, Jazz 97 (Clips Nation recap | SLC Dunk recap)