Chicago Bulls backcourt. When Derrick Rose and Jimmy are both attacking, getting into the paint off the dribble, scoring and setting guys up — plus drawing fouls — you are in trouble. Monday night the Toronto Raptors were in trouble. Rose had 29 points on 19 shots, he was getting into the lane (he shot 5-of-8 at the rim) but what was real trouble was his jumper was falling and he was 6-of-7 from the midrange. It was a great show down the stretch as Rose would make a play then Kyle Lowry would make a play — Rose had 15 points in the fourth quarter, Lowry had 18 — but in that time the Bulls kept playing enough defense to pull away. Butler was a rock all game, scoring 11 in the first quarter and playing good defense all game. He helped lead the charge from 12 down and getting the Bulls a quality win.
James Harden, Houston Rockets. The Rockets went on a 20-5 run in the second quarter and from there pretty much ran away and hid from the Portland Trail Blazers, who had been red hot the last couple weeks. It’s a quality win and it was a James Harden showcase — he had 31 first half points and finished with 44 points on 26 shots, and he did it knocking down threes (4-of-9) and midrange jumpers. Plus of course getting to the line. It’s this game that cements Harden in the MVP race as one of the guys toward the front.
Atlanta Hawks. They have won 12 of their last 13, but it’s the quality of wins the past week that should get your attention — they beat the Bulls, Cavaliers, Rockets, now on Monday night you can add the Mavericks to that list, 105-102. The Hawks did it without Jeff Teague — Dennis Schroder got the start at the point and had a team-high 22 points, hitting 5-of-8 three pointers. Dominique Wilkins told PBT last week he thought Paul Millsap was again playing at an All-Star level and he had 13 points and 12 boards, and he was rock solid. Coach Mike Budenholzer has them sharing the ball and playing great team basketball. This team is for real — they are ranked 7th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and teams in the top 10 in both can be considred title contenders. If they can sustain this, watch out.
Tony Parker. After missing eight of the Spurs last nine he returned and was expected to play limited minutes, instead he dropped 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, plus had four assists and two steals to lead the Spurs past the Clippers. San Antonio had struggled in recent games, not looking themselves with Parker and Kawhi Leonard out (and he will be out a while longer). With Parker back the Spurs offense clicked again. You just know this is going to be a dangerous team when it matters.
David Lee. He was back for Golden State, playing in his first game of the season, and the former All-Star gave them six points and seven boards in a little over 16 minutes. He looked rusty, as one would expect. But what is really key is he came off the bench and said he was willing to accept that role. With Draymond Green in the starting lineup the Warriors have been a force and coach Steve Kerr was not going to mess with that has outscored opponents by 27 points per 100 possessions. Now the Warriors will bring Andre Iguodala and Lee off their bench — this team is going to be a real playoff threat (if Andrew Bogut is healthy, that’s the caveat).