Each night, Eye on Basketball brings you what you need to know about the games of the NBA. From great performances to terrible clock management the report card evaluates and eviscerates the good, the bad, and the ugly from the night that was.
There wasn't anything particularly pretty about what the Miami Heat did at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. With LeBron James apparently struggling with back spasms, they needed Dwyane Wade and the bench to step up and carry the load. Wade had no problem showing us a vintage performance with 29 points and seven assists while making 12-of-22 from the field. His seven turnovers were plenty sloppy but he carried the team while LeBron had a quiet 18 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
The bench was fantastic though. They helped execute a game plan against Chris Paul to pressure the ball and get it out of his hands before he could do any damage. Ray Allen basically had a layup drill for an extended period of time and Chris Andersen was great around the basket. Shane Battier did typical Shane things by taking multiple charges as the Heat improved to 4-2 with the 102-97 win.
They don't have to be pretty wins in order to count in the standings. After starting the season 0-3, including two losses at home, the Nuggets finally found their way into the win column by holding on late against the Atlanta Hawks. Ty Lawson was the player of the game for Denver by setting the tone with 23 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds, but it was the bench that contributed in major ways to help the Nuggets secure the victory.
The Nuggets' bench was huge with 49 points. Denver almost blew the game with multiple missed free throws when they could have pushed it to a multiple possession game. They survived a missed free throw from Paul Millsap and a missed turnaround putback jumper at the buzzer from Al Horford that would have sent it to overtime. However, a win is a win and Denver is finally on the board.
Mike D'Antoni does it again. Last year, he lamented the Smite-a-Dwight strategy but said he'd take Dwight going 1-of-2 from the line during those situations because that means you're scoring at least a point every possession. After the Lakers blew a 19-point lead, the Rockets' momentum was destroyed by sending Howard to the free throw line.
Outside of that, the Lakers relied on D'Antoni's system and made 16 3-pointers throughout the game, none bigger than Steve Blake's game-winner with 1.6 seconds left. Whether they care about Dwight Howard or not, that's a good win for the Lakers.
The Hawks were at the tail end of a six-day, three-game road trip that ended in Denver. They responded to the altitude and a hungry Nuggets team pretty well considering the circumstances. You got plenty of ball movement by the Hawks with them registering 31 assists on 43 made shots. But the shooting just wasn't good enough to overcome the Nuggets' attack. They were under 70 percent from the free throw line and made just 30.8 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Al Horford and Paul Millsap carried this team by combining for 50 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, and five blocked shots. They controlled the points in the paint but failed to protect the perimeter where the Nuggets shot 56.0 percent from 3-point range. Atlanta has to get more from their bench on the road. 17 points when the Nuggets' bench is going off for nearly 50 is just not going to cut it.
At team with title aspirations that wants to get on the right foot defensively can't give up layup after layup to Ray Allen in 2013. It's just not a feasible strategy and it shows incredible weakness. For whatever reason, they couldn't take advantage of the ball pressure being thrown Chris Paul's way. The Clippers' perimeter needed to accept the pass from CP3 quickly and attack the Heat's defense before they could recover. Instead, we saw a lot of slow decisions that led to an offense that wasn't quite deadly enough.
Blake Griffin was happy, despite constant harping on the fact that he should be Karl Malone in the post. He had 27 points on 11-of-15 from the field and 14 rebounds. The majority of the team couldn't knock down enough shots from downtown to put the pressure on Miami. The Clippers could have possibly extended the game at the end as well but waited far too long to foul that ran precious time off the clock. They're now 3-3, which isn't terrible but it also doesn't scream, "title contender."
You have Dwight Howard and Omer Asik on the team. In theory, that means the interior should be well defended at all times, allowing you to concentrate on defending the perimeter. For some reason, the Rockets never seemed to figure that out. You can't lose to this Lakers team at home. Not if you want to consider yourself a title contender.