HoopsHabit – Why The Chicago Bulls Should Sign Al Harrington

Free agency isn’t over just yet. Here’s my HoopsHabit article on why the Chicago Bulls, who are reportedly interested in Antawn Jamison, should be looking at acquiring Al Harrington.

What’s Up With The Los Angeles Lakers?

It’s been a very up-and-down NBA season so far, with only a few teams rising to the top and looking like real contenders for when May rolls around. The rest of the pack either looks like bottomfeeders or are too inconsistent to really gauge how their season will turn out. But in looking deeper into that inconsistency, we might be able to make some sense out of the league’s most disappointing teams so far this season. In this series of posts, we’re going to take a look at why certain teams that should be contending are currently struggling. First, we have to start with the most underwhelming team in the NBA that constantly begs the question:

What’s up with the Los Angeles Lakers?

Kobe Bryant. Dwight Howard. Steve Nash. Pau Gasol. Ron Artest. Antawn Jamison. Those are the Lakers six best players. HOW THE HELL IS THIS TEAM NOT INSTILLING FEAR IN EVERYONE BY NOW? We gave the Lakers the benefit of the doubt when the incompetent Mike Brown was running his silly little Princeton offense, but there’s no excuse for the Lakers’ current 9-13 record. Granted, that’s not a terrible record, but it’s certainly not acceptable when you’ve got multiple Hall-of-Famers in your starting lineup. Whether or not you believe Mike D’Antoni is the solution and whether or not you think Phil Jackson would have been a better fit, the Lakers should not be struggling this much still, especially considering that they’ve fared worse under D’Antoni than Brown.

In the Lakers’ defense, injuries have prevented them from reaching their full potential or even develop chemistry yet. But with Kobe and Dwight on the floor at the same time, it’s hard to make too many excuses. Everyone keeps saying, “Once Steve Nash comes back, you’ll see!” or “They still have plenty of time to work things out!” But unfortunately for LA, Nash’s return isn’t going to fix the Lakers’ extensive problems on the defensive end. If anything, it’ll make those problems worse. Gasol’s injury would be another way to deflect how poorly the Lakers have played so far this year, but he really hasn’t done much when he’s been on the court. Gasol prefers playing closer to the basket but D’Antoni’s system has him shooting elbow and baseline jumpers. His complaints about adjusting to the system and the tendinitis that’s been ailing him all season spurred Kobe’s now infamous “put your big boy pants on” quote, one that speaks volumes about the team’s lack of unity, chemistry and yes, leadership.

How much longer before Kobe completely goes ballistic on his teammates?

How much longer before Kobe completely goes ballistic on his teammates?

You can disagree all you want, but Kobe is not the leader the Lakers need right now. And before you write me off as another Kobe hater, let me say that I’m entirely aware of how much more efficient he’s been this season, how he’s leading the league in scoring and how he’s the youngest (that’s YOUNGEST, not FASTEST) player to reach 30,000 points. Without Kobe, this team would have an even worse record. Then again, is Kobe’s leadership what this new, struggling team needs? Watch five minutes of a Lakers game and you can see the pure disdain on Kobe’s face every time Dwight Howard misses a free throw or every time someone misses a defensive assignment. For years, Kobe’s used the same kind of unrelenting, competitive, yelling-at-your-teammates leadership we saw out of Michael Jordan for the first half of his career, and so far, that’s gotten him five championships. But they were all with the best coach in basketball history. What happens now that Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson aren’t around to console teammates not strong enough or not accustomed to Kobe’s verbal beatings and melting staredowns?

Kobe may be leading the charge on the offensive end with more efficient scoring, but the Lakers are 1-10 this season in games in which Kobe scores more than 30 points. ONE. AND. TEN. I don’t care what anyone says, that kind of scoring is not effficient from a team perspective. I still believe the Lakers have time to figure things out, I think that Nash’s return will brighten the gloomy mood in LA right now and I know this team has too much talent to continue struggling like this. But the clock is ticking and saying, “We still have time to work things out,” isn’t as true when a quarter of the season’s already gone by. Gasol and Nash need to get healthy and a solution for Hack-A-Howard needs to be found soon, but the bigger problems are Kobe’s “Eff You I’m Just Gonna Do It Myself And Shoot My Way Into 30+ points” mode and an embarrassing defense. One of those things is fixable, but with D’Antoni and Nash at the helm, that defense might be a lingering problem. D’Antoni’s irritable answer and overreaction to the question of defense certainly helps illustrate how lost this team is on that end of the floor.

I’ve given the Lakers the benefit of the doubt so far. When every journalist in the country was ready to freak out that LA wasn’t winning games so early in the season, I held off. But after tonight’s embarrassing loss to Cleveland, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is not a good basketball team. Kobe went for 42 points and Dwight Howard had 19 points and 20 rebounds, but NOBODY ELSE contributed. Having Steve Blake out has forced Chris Duhon to play the point, but there’s no excuse for Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison to be so overwhelmingly average. The Lakers are facing problems with injuries, their bench and their defense, three areas that are hard to overcome, even with Ron Artest playing some pretty solid minutes. It’s still not impossible for this team to be a contender come April and May, but if this type of play continues, they’ll be lucky to make the playoffs.

They still have time and injuries have been a problem, but this team should be so much better.

They still have time and injuries have been a problem, but this team should be so much better.

2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

NBA Free Agency Update – July 20

Here’s an update on the latest NBA free agency news via Reup Sports, including analysis on Jeremy Lin becoming a Rocket, updated Dwight Howard trade rumors and recent signings in Los Angeles. Check out the article here.

NBA Sunday Recap – 3/25/12

Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Miami Heat 87 – Kevin Durant made his case for the MVP award known loud and clear Sunday night, outplaying fellow MVP-frontrunner LeBron James in the Thunder’s dominant victory over the visiting Heat. Durant finished with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in a matchup many predict to have been a preview of this year’s NBA Finals. James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins had key contributions as well, especially during the Thunder’s second quarter run that established a lead OKC never relinquished. Despite 7 turnovers, Harden finished with 6 assists, and 19 points, 14 of which came in Oklahom City’s second quarter spurt. Perkins had a season-high 16 points while Ibaka had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 22 points and LeBron James pitched in 17, but the Heat never came close in the second half in a thorough win for the Thunder.

Durant's near triple double sent a message to the Miami Heat and the rest of the league

Atlanta Hawks 139, Utah Jazz 133 (4OT) – Utah’s impressive six-game win streak came to an end in a hard fought quadruple overtime game in Atlanta, the first quadruple overtime in the NBA since 1997. The Jazz fell short and were outlasted in the fourth overtime, wasting opportunities to close out the Hawks after having possession on the last play of regulation and each of the first three overtimes. Paul Millsap missed a floater in the lane in regulation. Devin Harris missed a fall-away 3-pointer in overtime. Then Harris’s shot barely rimmed out in double overtime. Finally, Millsap missed a tough 18-footer to close triple overtime. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 37 points and 8 rebounds and hit a big three to tie the game at 113 with 7 seconds left in double overtime. Josh Smith fouled out with 22 points and 10 rebounds while Zaza Pachulia had 15 points and 20 rebounds. Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 28 points and 17 rebounds while Millsap finished with 25 points and 13 boards. Both fouled out in the final overtime. Utah still holds on to the seventh spot in the West thanks to their prior win streak, holding a tiebreaker over Houston and Denver, who also have a 26-23 record. The Hawks moved ahead of the Pacers into the fifth spot in the East and have won four straight.

Joe Johnson hit big time shots in the clutch for the Hawks

Minnesota Timberwolves 117, Denver Nuggets 100 – Kevin Love followed up his 51-point game against the Thunder with a 30-point, 21-rebound effort in the Timberwolves’ blowout victory of the visiting Denver Nuggets. Minnesota, despite losing Ricky Rubio for the season and playing once again without Nikola Pekovic, is only 2 and a half games out of the eight spot in the West thanks to the recent colossal play from Love. Luke Ridnour added 25 points in the rout of a Nuggets team that is currently in the 9th spot 10 and a half games back and has lost two straight. The Nuggets played without Danilo Gallinari once again, as well as Arron Afflalo who was suspended by the league for one game for throwing an elbow at Gordon Hayward in Friday’s blowout loss to the Jazz. Denver needs to regroup if it wants to make the postseason and doesn’t look anything like the impressive squad we saw at the beginning of the year.

San Antonio Spurs 93, Philadelphia 76ers 76- Philadelphia’s lead in the Atlantic division seems to be slipping away after being routed in San Antonio. Because of Boston’s big win over the Wizards, the Sixers are only a half game ahead of the Celtics and 3 games ahead of the Knicks. The Spurs played without Tim Duncan (rest) and Gary Neal (foot sprain), while the Sixers went without Andre Iguodala (left patella tendinitis). Tony Parker led the Spurs with 21 points and 7 assists. No one from the Sixers had more than 14 points and Philadelphia only scored 27 points in the second half. The Sixers have only hit triple digits 14 times in 49 games this season.

Los Angeles Lakers 96, Memphis Grizzlies 102 – The Grizzlies got a much-needed road win in LA against the newly revamped Lakers thanks to Rudy Gay’s 18 and OJ Mayo’s 16, including a one-man 7-0 run in the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 13. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 30 points and Ramon Sessions added 18, but Kobe Bryant’s slow start prevented LA from building momentum or shortening Memphis’ lead. In fact, Lakers coach Mike Brown benched Kobe for four minutes while being down 10 in the fourth quarter, drawing boos and  “Ko-be!” chants from the crowd. Brown finally obliged, but not before the game was out of reach.

Kobe struggled to find a rhythm and was benched in the fourth quarter for a stretch of time by Mike Brown

Cleveland Cavaliers 83, Phoenix Suns 108 – The Suns are only one game out of the eight spot in the West after throttling the Cavs on the road. Marcin Gortat finished with 22 points and 8 rebounds while Markieff Morris had 22 points of his own off the bench. Phoenix jumped out to a 59-38 lead at the half and never looked back. Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison was injured with a bruised left leg and ankle in the first quarter and left the game. He returned later in the game but was completely ineffective and finished with only 2 points. The Suns have now won six of their last eight.

Boston Celtics 88, Washington Wizards 76 – Avery Bradley’s offensive outburst of 23 points led the Celtics to a needed win over the Wizards, bringing them within a half game of the Sixers in the Atlantic division. Boston played without Michael Pietrus, who sustained a head injury against the Sixers. Ray Allen also sat out with a sore right ankle, while the Wizards went without Nene (back spasms).

Portland Trail Blazers 90, Golden State Warriors 87 – A close contest with the lowly Warriors proved to be a challenge for the Blazers until LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up in the game’s final minute. Raymond Felton lead Portland with 24 points and Aldridge finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds, including a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and a pair of free throws to get his team a 3-point victory. Golden State rookie Charles Jenkins led the warriors with 27 points and David Lee added 16 points and 16 rebounds.

Way of the Warriors

If you follow the NBA at all, you’ve probably read about how Chris Mullin’s special night of retiring his jersey was ruined by Golden State fans booing Warriors owner Joe Lacob. Even though you feel bad for Mullin, you’ve probably seen the YouTube video a few times and laughed your ass off while watching a flustered Lacob look for support and an irate Rick Barry scold the audience. At first, I was disgusted with these Warriors fans, booing and ruining what should have been a memorable and happy night not just for Chris Mullin but for the franchise and its ever-supportive fans. But then I realized that Golden State fans have every reason to be upset.

I felt bad for both these guys at first, and then I realized Mullin was the only one who deserved better.

Bill Simmons, my favorite basketball writer, lays out the history of the Warriors franchise in a lengthy article detailing how management has brought some of the best fans in the NBA to their knees. A few awful facts stuck out in reading his article about the Warriors over the past 35 years: 1) They’ve missed the playoffs 29 times in 35 years 2) They haven’t had an NBA All-Star since 1997 3) Despite the Warriors’ awful losing records, they’ve had 22 top-14 picks since 1985 and 4) They’ve given away Chris Webber, Jason Richardson, Baron Davis, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas as well as coaches Rick Adelman, George Karl and Gregg Popovich.

YIKES. If you’re a diehard Warriors fans (and there really is no other kind of Warriors fan), those last four sentences should break your heart. And after all that the franchise has been through, Warrior fans are still some of the best in the NBA. Everyone saw how riled up Golden State’s fanbase can get when they actually have something to cheer about, evidenced by the Warriors’ improbable playoff run as the eight seed in 2007, knocking off the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes almost led them past the Utah Jazz in the second round, and even if they were eliminated, the Warriors had reason to stand behind their slogan of “We Believe!” (while also giving us Davis’ wicked dunk over Andrei Kirilenko). But then poor management kicked in, players were shipped off and the Warriors have been reeling ever since (again). Until recently, it was starting to become the era of Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee.

The '07 playoffs are the best memories Warriors fans have over the last 10 years.

Even if the team wasn’t going to contend, Ellis gave fans something to cheer about. The Warriors had a young and talented core to build around for the future, even if the present could have been better. Mark Jackson was brought on as head coach and it looked like the franchise might return to its 2007-playoff-run glory. But Jackson hasn’t shaped up to be the coach fans prayed for, Curry has been plagued with ankle injuries and the last straw came in the form of the Monta Ellis trade.

I initially defended this trade for Golden State, noting that the Warriors weren’t going to contend anyway, so there really wasn’t much of a problem gearing up for next year by getting rid of a guard (who isn’t as efficient as he should be) for an injured Andrew Bogut and a declining but still decent Richard Jefferson. But I didn’t stop and think about what Ellis meant to Warriors fans. I didn’t recall Golden State’s terrible history over the past 35 years. I failed to take into account the fact that Warriors fans are some of the most passionate in the NBA, and therefore have no reason to be satisfied with tanking this year in order to improve next season. So for Warriors fans, this trade sent their one glimmer of hope and excitement away for an big man with a history of injuries in addition to an old guy with a cap-space-killing contract.

So unfortunately for Joe Lacob, Chris Mullin, and anyone who’s uncomfortable with awkward situations, I have to applaud the Golden State fanbase for booing their owner during that halftime ceremony. It was high time fans made their discontent be known. I can understand his intentions to look at the big picture and improve for next year, but for an impatient fan, a move like trading Ellis is enraging. Fans should try and have hope for the future and feel some shame in blemishing Mullin’s ceremony. But even though Chris Mullin deserved better on his special night, it’s only fair to equally understand that Golden State Warriors fans have deserved better for 35 years.

This image has got to absolutely KILL Warriors fans.

Trade Impact: Ramon Sessions to the Lakers

The Lakers reached a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers that will send point guard Ramon Sessions to LA, as well as the young wing player Christian Eyenga. The Lakers agreed to give their 2012 first-round pick to the Cavs along with Luke Walton and Jason Kapono. LA will also have the right to swap picks next year with the Miami Heat’s first-rounder (which the Cavs own the rights to).

This is a great move for LA, who have finally filled the need for a true point guard who can score. In his backup role in Cleveland, Sessions has averaged 10.5 ppg and 5.2 apg coming off the bench. Laker fans should be hoping Derek Fisher finally gets moved to a backup role, but that remains to be seen. There are talks that the Lakers are looking to acquire Michael Beasley, but these reports have yet to be confirmed. The Lakers have been on a hot streak lately, so this acquisition could make them deadly in the playoffs.

For the Cavs, this gives them the power to add more pieces around Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison in 2012’s loaded draft next year. Cleveland will miss Sessions’ solid contributions off the bench this year, but can look forward to a solid acquisition with the draft.

Sessions was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, filling their need for a better point guard

Contender or Pretender?

We’re a little bit past the midway point of the regular season already, so now is a good time to take a look at which teams are contenders and which are just pretenders. We already know that Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami are all definite contenders, but the rest of the league is a little more difficult to make out so far. It’s still early, but here are the picks.

The East

Indiana Pacers – Contender. The Pacers were my sleeper pick at the beginning of the season and they haven’t disappointed so far. They’re currently 3rd in the East and have won their last four games, rebounding from a disappointing five-game losing streak. Indiana has a young core, gained valuable playoff experience last year against the Bulls (in a series that was much closer than its quick 5 game span), and are being led by All-Star seasons from Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert. Nobody really pays much attention to them, but they could surprise a few people if they continue to play at a high level.

The Pacers are my sleeper team. Keep them on your radar

Orlando Magic – Pretender. The Magic are having a lot of problems right now, even with Dwight Howard putting up superhuman numbers. Considering that the Magic will try and get all they can for the unhappy Superman as the trade deadline approaches (draft picks might be key here), the Magic aren’t going to be making very much noise this year if he leaves. And what may be even worse for Orlando is if Howard doesn’t leave, as the Magic’s chemistry will continue to suffer with the awkward position that Howard, the team and the entire city of Orlando is in right now.

Superman might be saying goodbye soon

New York Knicks – Contender. The Knicks showed they’re not contenders just yet in a disappointing loss to the Heat, but it’s hard to believe this team won’t develop into a highly competitive playoff team. While I don’t think they have the chemistry to reach the Finals this year, I do believe they can make a decent playoff run and give more competitive teams a run for their money. If Jeremy Lin can keep his turnovers down while making sure Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and JR Smith all get more involved on offense, the Knicks could become a big contender for the next few years.

The revamped Knicks only lack chemistry right now

Boston Celtics – Pretender. I’ve already written about what’s happened to the Celtics, so there are no surprises labeling them as pretenders here. With the Heat, Bulls, Pacers and Hawks in the East, I think Boston’s window of opportunity for winning championships is over. The Boston Threeparty is getting too old and Rajon Rondo can’t pick up the scoring load for them. Defense is their best weapon, but it won’t be enough for a substantial playoff run.

Philadelphia 76ers – Pretender. This pick is definitely the riskiest of the bunch, but I don’t think the 76ers have what it takes this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were wrong about this one, but there’s just something about this 76ers team I don’t like. Maybe it’s their current five-game skid. Maybe it’s how different this Philly team is with big man Spencer Hawes sidelined. Or maybe it’s unnecessary and idiotic trick shots like this that suggest the team’s lack of focus. But whatever it is, I don’t believe in the Philadelphia 76ers just yet.

The 76ers are solid. But I'm not a believer yet.

Atlanta Hawks – Contender. I honestly don’t think the Hawks have great chances in the East, but I believe in them more than the Magic, 76ers or Celtics, so I’ve got to put them down as contenders. The absence of Al Horford has really hurt them, but they still have a good record and Josh Smith is putting up great numbers in multiple categories. The Hawks have disappointed fans in the playoffs in the last few years, but I think they have the edge over some of the other teams in the East who are in the playoff running right now.

The Hawks have youth and playoff experience

Cleveland Cavaliers – Pretender. The fact that the Cavs are a part of this discussion at 13-18 shows how set-in-stone the East is already shaping up to be. The Cavs are only 1.5 games behind the Celtics for the 8th spot in the East right now, but even though Boston is not shaping up to be a contender, the Cavs are unlikely candidates to oust them for that final spot this season. Next year looks more promising for the impressive rookie Kyrie Irving, Antawn Jamison and the currently injured Anderson Varejao.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers – Contender. As the season started, the Lakers looked terrible, old and defunct. But then Kobe completely took over the Lakers’ offensive game plan, put the team on his back, and set the wheels in motion for Los Angeles to be tough to beat every time they take the floor. Mike Brown’s defensive coaching fits perfectly with the Lakers because their bench leaves so much to be desired. And now that the Lakers are feeding the ball to their talented big men, they look like a much more complete team. Pau Gasol is having an All-Star season and Andrew Bynum has been putting up fantastic numbers while staying healthy. Derek Fisher needs to contribute more consistently on offense and the Lakers bench is a huge weakness, but Kobe Bryant alone makes the Lakers competitive. Especially in the playoffs.

Kobe still has that will to win that makes the Lakers dangerous

Denver Nuggets – Contender. The Nugets wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if the season ended today, but don’t forget that Denver is a completely different team with Danilo Gallinari and Nene on the floor. Despite the apparent Nuggets’ nosedive recently, they are only a half game back in the standings and will be getting Gallinari back soon. If all goes according to plan, the Nuggets will be peaking when it matters.

Dallas Mavericks – Contender. I was a little torn on this one, but the Mavs should still be seen as contenders for now. Last year, nobody picked Dallas to be a contender at the start of the playoffs, but elevated play from Dirk, Jason Terry and the entire bench showed the world how tough they are to beat when they hit their stride. Even with Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea gone this year, Dirk is starting to pick up his game again and the Mavs are competitive almost every night. If they get hot in the playoffs and get favorable matchups, it’s possible for them to at least reach the Western Conference Finals.

Dirk is starting to play like he wants another championship

Houston Rockets – Pretender. The Rockets have been surprisingly good this season and are currently in the 6th spot in the West. However, I don’t think the Rockets stack up against any of the other contenders with only Luis Scola in the paint. They have fantastic guard play from Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, but other than that, the Rockets lack the necessary depth to make a real playoff run.

Los Angeles Clippers – Contender. The loss of Chauncey Billups is a definite blow and will most likely prevent them from going as far as they might have, but the Clippers are still a force to be reckoned with in the West. Chris Paul has shown the ability to take over late in the game and Blake Griffin’s electrifying play not only produces good numbers, but it also has the ability to ignite the crowd, which could be a definite advantage in the playoffs if they can secure a good seed. The Clippers will need consistent offensive production from Caron Butler and Mo Williams, but they will also need increased production from DeAndre Jordan and Randy Foye in the playoffs to be a truly tough team to beat.

Griffin and CP3 are still a formidable force in the West without Billups

Portland Trail Blazers – Pretender. The Blazers are deadly at home, but I don’t think they’ll get enough wins by the end of the season to secure enough home-court advantage for the playoffs when it would matter the most. Portland has an awful road record (5-11), and they’re even starting to drop games at home too (they’ve lost four of their last six at the Rose Garden). And given the age of Portland’s big men behind Aldridge (Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas), if the Trail Blazers have the same unfortunate injury luck they’ve had in the past few years, the bench’s lack of depth may hurt them.

Minnesota Timberwolves – Pretender. It’s hard to call a team a pretender when they are only in playoff contention right now, but since I don’t think the T-Wolves will be contenders this year, I have to label them as pretenders. Rubio and Love are the promising future of Minnesota basketball, but it’s a little too much for fans to ask that their team makes a deep playoff run in their first year together. The future looks promising, but I think the T-Wolves will come up a little short this season, even though I do believe they’ll make the playoffs.

The T-Wolves will make the playoffs. But they might not go very far

San Antonio Spurs – Contender. The Spurs have racked up a big number of wins in the past two regular seasons, and although they were a huge disappointment in the playoffs last year, I think they learned their lesson. Don’t forget this team was the number one seed in the West a year ago, and this year they’ve been streaking without Manu Ginobili on the floor. The Spurs aren’t the most entertaining team in the league, but they know how to win and will start grabbing people’s attention soon.

Memphis Grizzlies – Pretender. Without Zach Randolph on the court, the Grizzlies have to remain pretenders for now. They should be getting Z-Bo back soon and Rudy Gay should have been an All-Star this year, but the Grizzlies should be so much better than they are right now. This is not the same team that stunned the number one-seed San Antonio Spurs and gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a run for their money last year. Part of that can be attributed to Randolph’s absence, but the rest lies in the fact that the Grizzlies don’t always beat the teams they should (Phoenix and Utah twice).

So there you have it. Do you agree with my picks? Or have I unfairly ruled someone out? Sound off in the comments section.

NBA Sunday Recap

Here are the major highlights of Sunday’s NBA action:

Thunder vs. Nuggets – The Thunder got a quality win in overtime in the best game of the day, outlasting the Nuggets 124-118 thanks to a monster game from Kevin Durant, who finished with a career-high 51 points and 8 rebounds. Russell Westbrook would have been the story with 40 points and 9 assists if not for Durant’s big night. The Thunder closed the first half on an 8-0 run as Denver came into Oklahoma City determined despite not having Danilo Gallinari or Nene. But the run carried over into the second half as OKC opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run. Although the resilient Nuggets surged to tie the game at 83 heading into the 4th, the Thunder would not be denied as Kevin Durant scored 5 points in the final 35 seconds to send it to overtime. Serge Ibaka finished with a triple double of 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks, while Arron Afflalo led the Nuggets with 27 points. The Thunder got a great overtime win here, but look for the Nuggets to go back to their winning ways once Gallinari and Nene return.

Knicks vs. Mavs – The Mavs came into Madison Square Garden on a six-game winning streak and Dirk played at his best, scoring 34 points. But the Knicks would not be denied and proved themselves as legitimate contenders in the East with a 104-97 win. Despite having 9 turnovers, Jeremy Lin led the Knicks with 28 points and 14 assists, while JR Smith had 15 points in his debut in New York. Steve Novak and Lin led the late charge as they Knicks erased a third quarter deficit capped off by Lin’s steal and dunk, while Novak then knocked down four 3’s in the 4th quarter. Six players scored in double digits for New York. With an impressive win like this over a quality defensive Dallas squad, one has to wonder how good the Knicks can be when Melo returns. Just think about this starting lineup: Lin, JR, Melo, Amare and Chandler.

Heat vs. Magic – Although the Knicks/Mavs contest was an exciting game to watch, the Heat showed they are still the beast of the East from the get-go, winning 90-78. Wade had 12 points in the first quarter, including an impossible fadeaway in the corner and two alley-oop dunks from James (one from half court). LeBron James almost ended up with a triple double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists and Wade pitched in 27 points. The Magic looked underwhelming once again and it seems they may not be a very functional unit until Dwight Howard is either traded or commits to staying. JJ Reddick started for Jason Richardson (who sat out with chest pain) and led the team with 17 points. Howard had 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Timberwolves vs. 76ers – The Timberwolves were able to edge the 76ers 92-91 with .01 seconds left on a pair of Kevin Love free throws in a close game that came down to the wire in Minnesota. Jrue Holiday led the 76ers with 20 points and 5 rebounds, while Ricky Rubio led the T-Wolves with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Love finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Look for the Timberwolves to be in the hunt for the playoffs this year, even if the 76ers may be slightly overrated right now.

Suns vs. Lakers – The Suns exacted a little revenge on Kobe and the Lakers at home in a dominant 102-90 win after surging to a 63-40 halftime lead. Jared Dudley had a season-high 25 points to lead Phoenix. Marcin Gortat ended up with 21 points and 15 rebounds while Grant Hill added 15 points. Kobe Bryant continued his personal dominance against the Suns, finishing with 36 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

Cavs vs. Kings – Kyrie Irving hit two free throws with .04 seconds to go to give the Cavs a close 93-92 win over the Kings. Irving’s free throws came just seconds after Demarcus Cousins hit a bucket to give Sacramento the lead. Irving finished with 23 points and Antawn Jamison had 21. Isaiah Thomas had a career-high 23 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds in his second start.

Pistons vs. Celtics – Boston continued to struggle and show signs of frustration with a 96-81 loss to the streaking Detroit Pistons, who have won seven of their last nine games. Greg Monroe had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists while Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 18. Boston was missing Kevin Garnett due to personal reasons, as well as Brandon Bass who is still out with a knee injury. Doc Rivers and Chris Wilcox received technicals for arguing calls with the referees. Rajon Rondo received two technicals in less than ten seconds after throwing the ball at the referee and was ejected.

Pacers vs. Bobcats – The Pacers looked to keep the momentum going with a 108-73 blow out of the Bobcats after their last win, which followed a five-game losing streak. Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Indiana, while Danny Granger and David West each chipped in 14 points. Derrick Brown led the Bobcats with 16 points and Kemba Walker added 15. The Bobcats have lost 17 of their last 18 games. Keep an eye on the Pacers going forward; they may not have flash, but good teams beat teams they’re supposed to.

Nets vs. Bucks – The Bucks beat the Nets 92-85 thanks to career highs from Ersan Ilyasova, who had 29 points and 25 rebounds. Brandon Jennings had 17 points while Deron Williams led New Jersey with 26 points. Brook Lopez, who has missed the entire season with a broken foot, played 22 minutes and had 9 points and 2 rebounds. Be sure that Brook Lopez is no longer on your IR in fantasy leagues.

Rockets vs. Jazz – The Rockets held off a late rally by the Jazz in a 101-85 win thanks to Kyle Lowry’s 32 points and 9 assists. Luis Scola had 26 points, while Al Jefferson led Utah with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The win has the Rockets as the seven spot in the West.