If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while being concerned about the amount of crap (literally) left on Mount Everest…
1) Russell Westbrook is a destroyer of worlds. Anytime you do something that can only be compared to Michael Jordan you are killing it. After Wednesday night’s 49-16-10 line, Russell Westbrook now has put up four straight games with a triple-double — the last guy to do that was MJ. Westbrook has been superhuman and has to be right in the middle of any MVP discussion — especially putting up these numbers days after surgery to his face that forced him to wear a mask. Westbrook’s 49 points against a better-than-you-think Sixers defense moved him past James Harden as the leading scorer in the NBA this season. Westbrook now averages 27 points a game, Harden 26.9. OKC needed this game (the Pelicans remain one back for the final playoff spot in the West), and Westbrook got it for them. Maybe what has impressed me most about Westbrook is we have seen numerous other athletes in other sports come back from injuries and it takes a while to get over the mental hurdle, to play fearlessly again. Not Westbrook. Mask or no mask he only knows how to attack.
2) Get that man some coffee: Marc Gasol is a closer. You’ll hear this heading into the playoffs: “But who are the Grizzlies going to give to ball to when they need to close out games? They don’t have that star.” Show them video of this game — Marc Gasol knows how to close. Alec Baldwin would get him coffee. Houston was rightfully frustrated after not getting a foul call on Harden at the other end, but the final play shows why the Rockets need Dwight Howard back for the postseason. Terrence Jones had another strong game for the Rockets, but for much of the key parts of the game Kevin McHale had him matched up on Gasol. Jones tried but he is not going to win that matchup, and he didn’t with the game on the line.
3) Anthony Davis returned and reminded us he’s as good as anyone. Here’s a name nobody is mentioning anymore in the MVP race but should be in your five-man ballot: Anthony Davis. He missed five games with his shoulder injury but was back Wednesday and had 39 points and 13 rebounds. The Pistons defended him, but Davis hit 13-of-17 contested shots. That’s insane. In the final minute, he knocked down two midrange jumpers, pulled down a rebound, and altered the potential game-tying three. Oklahoma City likely gets the eight seed but the Davis and his Pelicans are not going away.
4) Portland in the NBA Finals? It could happen. The Trail Blazers have become my dark horse team to come out of the West and this game shows why. Portland was down 10 inside three minutes to go but they close games well, they have a defense with size in the paint (hello Robin Lopez) that can get stops, they have a good defender on the perimeter in Wes Mattews, and they have guys who can knock down threes. Damian Lillard missed his first 12 shots yet Portland was able to grind out a good win against the Clippers. With the addition of Arron Afflalo, there’s just a lot to like in Portland.
5) Charlotte looked like a playoff team knocking-off Brooklyn. If you watched this game you would have had no idea these two teams came into Wednesday tied for the eighth seed in the East — Charlotte was clearly the better squad. The Hornets went on a 27-4 first quarter run, and that was about it for the game — Charlotte moved the ball better on offense and defended better on defense. Mo Williams was brilliant again for them, helping save their season. There are six teams battling for two playoff spots in the East, I like Charlotte’s chances. And remember, the Hornets get Kemba Walker back soon from injury — they are only getting better.