Breakfast Special: Harden Your Heart Kuzma Mind Is Blown

We begin this most blessed Solstice with tribute to the gods…the Basketball Gods, who saw fit to bless mortalkind with the ultimate setup for a terrible pun in the headline.

James Harden scored 51 points, but the Houston Rockets fell in defeat for only the fifth time this season. Chris Paul left the game with an apparent injury, Clint Capela missed the game with a left heel bruise, and a hotshot highly-touted Lakers rookie scored 38 points and powered his team to a 122-116 win.

Seriously, how about Kyle Kuzma inserting himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation over that G-League reject he shared the starting spotlight with? Kuzma got his 38 on 12-of-17 shooting and 7-of-10 both beyond the arc and from the line, a staggering display of efficiency that managed to overshadow James Freaking Harden notching the half century in front of his home fans.

Lonzo Ball was 5-of-14 from the field, 2-of-8 from Baytown, and 4-of-7 from the line, a .357/.250/.571 slash line that somehow managed to be better than his season average.

A recent dig into the Google search analytics for Pace and Space reveals that “Lonzo Ball sucks” is the most popular term that brings people here. So, in the interest of traffic: Lonzo Ball sucks.

But seriously, Rockets not named Harden were hot garbage in this one, shooting a combined 22-of-63 (34.9 percent) from the field, and Lakers not named Lonzo had as many turnovers (5) as the deserves-the-G-League “star” did; that’s still just ten for the game.

Put it all together with the Lakers nearly out-Rocketing the Rockets beyond the arc (15-of-35 vs. 17-of-42, an actual better percentage) and there’s your win summarized.

Highlights of a monster duel:

Kelly Olynyk Goes Bonkers

Man, there’s something nostalgic about a former Celtic ripping his old team’s heart out while wearing a Miami Heat jersey, isn’t there? Well, maybe not so much for Celtics fans.

Kelly Olynyk had 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting, the Celtics wasted a 33-point night from Kyrie Irving by otherwise playing like trash, and Miami snuck out of the Garden with a 90-89 win that they were able to seal up because Bojan Bogdanovic isn’t on their team. (More on Bogie in a minute when we get to the Pacers game.)

Boston as a team shot 37.5 percent. Celtics not named Kyrie Irving (11-of-24) or Jaylen Brown (6-of-10) shot 28.3.

So even though Miami couldn’t make a free throw (14-of-25, 56 percent) to save their lives, they still eked this one out.

Highlights of the vengeful soul who haunted the house in which he once lived:

And a wild finish down the stretch:

How Do You Say Redemption In Croatian?

Speaking of Bogdanovic, he would not be denied as the Pacers won 105-95 over the Atlanta Hawks in a game they led 105-85 before they put the garbagemen in and those guys crashed the trash truck into a telephone pole to give up a game-ending 10-0 run.

Seriously, Alex Poythress and Damien Wilkins were each minus-10…in 2:11. That’s about minus-203 per 48 minutes.

Anyway, the Croatian had 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, Myles Turner got 20 points on 6-of-13 to go with six rebounds and three blocks, and Victor Oladipo solidified his case as the second-best shooting guard in the league with 23 points on 8-of-15.

Plus, Good Lance Stephenson showed up and poured in 10 points, eight boards, and six assists off the bench.

Atlanta, meanwhile, saw Ersan Ilyasova, Taurean Prince, and Dennis Schroder shoot a combined 11-of-36 (30.6 percent.) That’s not going to win you many ballgames.

Highlights from the 21-year-old who’s growing into his role:

Pitchfork and TOR-CHA

The Toronto Raptors “Torcha’d” the Charlotte Hornets 129-111, winning the second quarter 41-21 to take a 16-point lead into halftime and permanent control of the game.

The Raptors shot 53.8 percent from the field, got a Triple 20 from DeMar DeRozan (28), Serge Ibaka (24), and OG Anunoby (20), and did we mention that Anunoby is shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from three? Because he is.

So even though Toronto got just 41.1 percent shooting from guys not just named above, it was still enough to win this one.

Jeremy Lamb had 32 off the bench for Charlotte, but the rest of the team didn’t do jack, getting roundly outshot and beaten on the boards as well.

Highlights of the other Best Shooting Guard candidate, who had 8 of Toronto’s 35 assists:

Zeebo Encore

Zach Randolph came up big for the Kings on the road again, this time in a 104-99 win at Brooklyn that served as an encore to the big win in Philly Tuesday night.

Z-Bo had 21 on 8-of-11 in the road SEGABABA, the Kings owned the boards 48-39, the Nets kindly obliged by shooting 38.6 percent from the field, and George Hill had a hyper-efficient 22 on 7-of-9 shooting, including making all four each of his triples and charity tosses.

A terrible case of Scott-Hollins Syndrome made this closer than it needed to be, as Sacramento went only 7-of-19 from three-point land against the 15-of-42 that the Nets put up, but counting by two is enough when the other team misses enough to count by zero.

Spencer Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe were a combined 9-of-30 from the field and 4-of-20 from long range. You want scapegoats? They’re not exactly Steph and Klay out there.

Highlights from the venerable man of the match:

Utah Dirge

Can you really call it jazz when a team scores 79 points, shoots 35.6 percent from the field and 22.6 from long range, and gets their asses kicked 107-79 by a Thunder team that watched Russell Westbrook score 24 points on just 10-of-13 from the field?

The Thunder as a team put up 51.7 percent shooting, saw their whole starting lineup put up at least a plus-30 plus/minus (Carmelo Anthony) and as high as plus-38 (Steven Adams), and took ruthless advantage of a Jazz squad lacking both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

Joe Johnson was a poor substitute at the two-guard, scoring just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, Joe Ingles had zero points in 23 minutes as he missed all four of his shots, and Oklahoma City won the turnover battle (18-13), the rebound battle (42-39), and the assist battle (23-13.)

This one wiped out a bit of the point differential boost from that thumping of the Wizards a few games ago.

Highlights from the reigning MVP as his team rises to 16-15 and the six spot in the West:

Bulls Market

From 3-20 to 10-20 in seven games. This is the first Fred Hoiberg seven-game winning streak of his coaching career, and this is a guy who had Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo on his team and has previously coached Derrick Rose.

Chicago beat Orlando 112-94 and led by 24 points after three quarters. The Bulls shot 50 percent (44-of-88) from the field, 33.3 from long range (11-of-33), and watched Orlando make just five three-pointers on 27 tries (18.5 percent) and 39.3 percent of their shots overall.

Plus the Bulls savaged Orlando on the boards 51-35. Any questions?

Denzel Valentine‘s 16 points led the Bulls. Seriously. They got to 112 without a single player topping 16. Valentine’s 10 rebounds gave him one of two double-doubles; Nikola Mirotic, with 15 and 10, had the other.

It’s worth pointing out that the Bulls are now undefeated with Mirotic back; he came back to start this seven-game run.


Nuggets Know Not Of Breakfast

Weird but true: The Denver Nuggets are 9-1 on Friday or Saturday, when there’s no Breakfast Special the following morning.

They’re 7-14 on the other five days of the week, when I get to write about them.

No wonder I never seem to have anything nice to say.

This time, it was a Triple 20 from the Minnesota Timberwolves, and it was another unconventional one. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns each had 25, while Jamal Crawford had 20 off the bench and managed to pull a plus-27 during his 28 minutes on the floor.

That was good enough to power Minnesota to a 112-104 win a mile up, and despite Denver shooting 50 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three, the simple fact is that Minnesota turned it over eight times to the Nuggets’ 21.

Nikola Jokic had more turnovers by himself (10) than the entire Wolves team.

Which means the Wolves took 87 shots (and made 49.4 percent of them) against only 72 for Denver. That’s a fine way to win a ballgame, shooting that many more times.

And, of course, making free throws helps too; Minny was 18-of-19.

Highlights belong to the KAT, whose 10 rebounds gave him the double-double and man of the match honors:

A Detroit Meltdown

Not even HERO OF SERBIA could save the Pistons this time—Boban Marjanovic was 0-for-4 from the field, getting his four points at the line to go with three boards and an assist.

Stan Van Gundy pulled all of his starters in the third quarter of a game his team lost 110-93 to the Dallas Mavericks, including Andre Drummond, who ended up with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 13 rebounds, and a plus-10 in his 22 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Mavs feasted, scoring at will on their demoralized opponent, shooting 53.5 percent as a team including 14-of-30 (46.7 percent) from long range.

Harrison Barnes had 25 to lead Dallas, while Tobias Harris and his 4-of-16 night for Detroit knocked the wheels off the Motor City squad.

This was a game that undid a lot of the hard work Detroit’s been doing to try and stay in the top four; they surrendered the four spot to the Pacers with the loss.


The Blazers’ Fire Went Out

The San Antonio Spurs went to Portland and smacked the Trail Blazers 93-91.

San Antonio’s been good at grinding out defensive battles, and while it may leave a lot of questions about their offense (14th in the league per 100 possessions), that third-ranked defense is why they’re 22-10.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 22 on 10-of-17, Pau Gasol added 20 on 8-of-14, and the Spurs took advantage of a horrifying 5-of-22 from CJ McCollum and 6-of-17 from Damian Lillard (28.2 percent for the Blazers backcourt) to eke out the win.

Portland shot just 39.6 percent as a team, including a wretched 24 percent (6-of-25) from three, and they didn’t do any better from the free throw line, making just 9-of-14 (64.3 percent).

The Spurs, meanwhile, made 51.3 percent of their shots and won the rebound battle 53-38.

So why was the game close? Turnovers, folks. 22 for the Spurs, eight for the Blazers. This would’ve been a complete blowout if San Antonio weren’t so bent on trying to give the game away.

San Antonio also had only 17 assists on their 41 makes, terrible ball movement for a team that usually passes the ball well.

But if you can’t shoot for beans, you don’t win.


Golden State 97, Memphis Hustle 84

Seriously, if you Folgers Switched the Grizzlies for their G-League team, would anyone even notice?

The Grizz shot 38.4 percent from three against the Dubs. That’s the good news.

The bad news? They shot 30.2 percent (16-of-53) on two-point shots.

So even though Golden State made only seven threes on 21 tries (33.3 percent) as a team, at least their two-point shooting was on point to the tune of 50.9 percent.

Klay Thompson exploded for 29; Kevin Durant had 22. Omri Casspi added 12 off the bench. No other Warrior was in double figures, and indeed the next-leading score total for a player was seven for David West and Nick Young.

The Dubs need to get Stephen Curry back and soon, but on the other hand, they do keep winning; that’s 10 in a row to pull just a half a game back of the Rockets for the league’s best record, and Golden State’s 10.9 points per game to the good is the league’s best point differential.

But for highlights, let’s talk defense. Because holding the other team to 84 is worth some defensive highlights, and Golden State is, after all, the fifth-best defensive team in the league:

And Finally…

Man, where’s Devin Booker when you need him?

T.J. Warren had 22 points, but it took him a Dark Ages 9-of-24 to get them. The Suns as a team shot just 36.1 percent from the field and a hopeless 22.9 (8-of-35!) from three, and that’s how they lost 108-95 to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

The Clips hit only a third (10-of-30) of their threes, but making 54.4 percent of their deuces and getting a 12-point, 20-rebound performance out of DeAndre Jordan to power a 50-50 split (literally; each team had 50 boards) proved decisive.

The Suns had 97 attempts to the Clips’ 87 despite comparable free throw numbers (17-of-19 for Phoenix; 16-of-24 for LA) and similar turnovers (10 for the Suns, 9 for the Clips.)

The difference? Offensive rebounding; Phoenix pulled down 14 to LA’s 9.

Put it all together and it doesn’t matter if you get more shots if the only reason you’re shooting more is because the shot didn’t go in the first time round.

But we’ve got higlights to dish out, and you think the Clips’ Twitter guy enjoys these 280-character tweets a bit too much? A box score in a box, plus highlights:

Coming later today? It’s Is He Any Good, your favorite weekly series that asks the question that’s exactly what it says on the tin. No spoilers, and by that I mean I haven’t decided on the subject yet. So stay tuned and thanks for reading!