Breakfast Special: NBA Underdogs Put It On A T-Shirt

Five of the six worst teams in the NBA won games last night. Of those, four beat teams that either would make the playoffs if the season ended today or, in the fifth case, would’ve been had they beaten the bad team.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls continue to charge ahead, winners of eight of their last ten and, at 11-22, just one game back of the 11th-seeded Nets.

And sure, the Bulls aren’t exactly threatening the playoff field—they’re 6.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Heat, who are nearly as close to first place (7.5 back of Boston) as they are to 13th place. But we’re witnessing a crazy shuffle at the bottom of the pile.

It’s also worth pointing out that the sixth team, Memphis, beat the league’s 7th-worst team, the Lakers.

But we’ll take out the trash later. For now, let’s start with…

The Resurgent Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder really just had to demonstrate that Dark Ages basketball doesn’t work in 2017 no matter how many stars you put in those isolations.

This time around, Oklahoma City outrebounded the Toronto Raptors 52-34, Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds, Paul George poured in 33 on 11-of-17, Carmelo Anthony had 18, and the Thunder shot 52.6 percent from the field in the 124-107 win.

That’s six in a row, eight out of nine, and 12-3 in their last 15 since the Thunder started 8-12. They’re fifth and rising in the Western Conference and finding one heck of a groove.

Toronto, meanwhile, has lost two in a row, dropping from nipping at the heels of the Celtics to stuck 2.5 games back. It doesn’t help when the backcourt can’t find their shot; Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 28 points, but it was on a dreadful 7-of-26 shooting.

Shooting 11-of-38 (28.9 percent) didn’t help. If you’re going to run a three-and-dunk Rockets-style offense, you can’t shoot that badly from long range.

But we’re not here for the Raptors laying bricks. We’re here for excellence, and PG13 and Russ provide the heroics:

When Your Opponent Can’t Shoot, You Win

The Celtics beat the Hornets 102-91 in Charlotte thanks mainly to the Hornets obliging the Boston defense by shooting only 36.8 percent from the field and 69 percent from the line.

The Boston offense? 47.4 percent from the field and they made all 13 of their free throws as a team. Throw in a 15-of-34 night from long range and it didn’t matter that they got absolutely pasted on the boards to the tune of 19 Hornets offensive rebounds.

The rise of Jayson Tatum has created a Big Three quite unlike the one the Celtics thought they were getting when they signed Gordon Hayward; Tatum had 18 along with Kyrie Irving‘s 21 and Al Horford‘s 20 to power the Boston attack.

Dwight Howard had 17 rebounds, but between his 3-of-10 shooting and Kemba Walker‘s Dark Ages Spectacular in which the point guard shot 9-of-22 to get his 24 points, the Hornets’ execution simply wasn’t there.

Oh, and their bench went 7-of-27. That didn’t help either.

Kyrie Irving is your man of the match…

…and how’s this for a stinging rebuke of Irving’s Iversonian tendencies?

17-3 when Irving takes less than 20 shots. 11-7 when he takes 20 or more. Any questions?

Kyle Kuzma Forgets How To Basketball

Kuzma was atrocious in the Lakers’ 109-99 loss to the Grizzlies at Staples Center, scoring nine points on 4-of-24 shooting. He was 1-of-11 from Long Beach, did not get to the line for a single free throw, and was a complete non-factor defensively as Jarell Martin of the Grizz got 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

Brandon Ingram wasn’t much better, scoring 23 points but needing 9-of-20 shooting to do it, and the Lakers defense was so foul-happy that Memphis shot 34-of-39 from the line.

Despite 22 (yes, really, twenty-two) offensive rebounds, over 40 percent of the available misses, the Lakers’ horrific 37.6 percent shooting sank their chances.

Jordan Clarkson, meanwhile, has proven a more than adequate replacement for the injured Lonzo Ball; Clarkson, who had 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting, should be starting (and in truth, Ball should be in the G-League to learn how to shoot like an NBA player.)

The Lakers are 11-22, same record as the Bulls, but Chicago’s moving up in the world; Los Angeles has dropped seven of their last eight and are effectively in position to tank the rest of the season away.

Then again, Tyreke Evans scored 32 points against Clarkson, who can’t guard my dead grandmother, so there’s that, and let’s just go ahead and marvel at Reek’s fantastic offensive night, shall we?

Highlights:

The Old-Fashioned Choke Artists In Indiana

Man, it hurts as a Pacers fan to watch a blown game in the fourth quarter. This year’s squad was supposed to be better than that, but even at home, the combination of a SEGABABA and the sixth game of what will be an 11-game stretch where the team plays road-home-road-home was enough to run the engines dry of gas, and that was what the Dallas Mavericks needed to win the game 98-94.

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 15 points on 7-of-10, no Dallas player attempted more than 12 shots, and the Pacers lost the turnover battle 15-9 and allowed the Mavs to shoot 51.2 percent from the field. That combination will kill you, especially when you don’t have Victor Oladipo around.

Sure, Lance Stephenson had 16 on 7-of-12 shooting, capably starting the game, but let’s face it. The Pacers rely on their emerging superstar, and not having him down the stretch made the game-closing 14-4 run by the Mavs possible.

Plus, Bad Lance showed up with a choke on the next possession after his layup tied the game at 94; he turned the ball over, Dallas scored on a fast break, and that was your ballgame.

It was a classic “schedule loss”; rest your best player with a sore knee and watch the game get away from you. Not the first time a playoff team has punted a game this year.

Highlights of a wild come-from-behind finish:

Hotlanta Hot Mess For Washington

The Wizards lost to the Hawks 113-99 in Atlanta, and it was a textbook case of failing to control the glass.

The Hawks had 16 offensive rebounds, and the 13 extra field goal attempts led to six more makes. Throw in a couple of extra threes and level pegging from the free throw line and that’s 14 points. Which is really all you need to know.

All five Hawks starters scored in double figures, Marco Belinelli caught fire with 19 points on 7-of-11 off the bench, and Bradley Beal obliged the Atlanta defense by shooting 7-of-19 in the cause of getting his 20 points the wrong way.

The rest of the DC Big Three weren’t much better; John Wall had a double-double, but that was on only ten points and 11 assists, while Otto Porter had only 15 points on 6-of-13. That kind of inefficiency won’t cut it, not even against the only team in the league still in single digits for wins.

Highlights:

That’s Atlanta’s first two-game winning streak of the year.

Bull Market

Chicago beat the Knicks 92-87 in an ugly game at United Center, winning despite shooting only 40.7 percent from the floor.

Thing is, the Knicks shot that same percentage; the difference was that New York shot a horrifying 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) from three, while the Bulls shot 10-of-28 (35.7 percent.) Six extra threes and some solid free throw shooting (12-of-16 against 9-of-13 for New York) led the way.

Kris Dunn led the way with 17 but needed 6-of-18 shooting to get it; meanwhile, Kristaps Porzingis was similarly terrible on the other side, getting his 23 on 9-of-22, joining Courtney Lee (17 points on 7-of-18) and Enes Kanter (four points on 2-of-7) on the You’re Not Helping All-Stars.

The Bulls’ bench was solid in this one, hitting 13-of-28 (46.4 percent) in the cause of scoring 32 points and outpacing the starters for offensive efficiency.

You want highlights? We’ve got those:

The Ageless Vince Carter

Last time a 40-year-old scored as many points in 30 minutes as Vince Carter’s 24 in Sacramento’s 109-95 win over Cleveland? Some guy in LA named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Carter, who is older than I am (and I’m 40 myself) led the way off the bench, hitting 10-of-12 from the field to lead all scorers.

LeBron James had a triple-double (16 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists) and five steals, but it’s hard to give too much praise when he shot 6-of-17.

Kevin Love led only three Cavaliers players in double figures, notching 23 on 7-of-12; Cleveland shot 43.2 percent overall from the field.

Meanwhile, Willie Cauley-Stein added to the bench dominance for the Kings, hitting 8-of-14 shots for 17 points; four bench players played at least 24 minutes, and of those, none had a lower plus/minus than Carter’s plus-21.

Kyle Korver, meanwhile, was minus-27 for the Cavs. This was a game won by the reserves, led by Carter, who is closer in age to Michael Jordan (who is 54) than he is to ten of his Kings teammates.

The man of the match is obvious on this one:

Jimmy Butler Is A Monster

The Denver Nuggets got 20 or more from four different players; Will Barton had 28, Trey Lyles had 23, Nikola Jokic had 22, and Jamal Murray had 21.

Somehow they lost anyway.

The Minnesota Timberwolves got 39 from Jimmy Butler, 21 from Andrew Wiggins, and 20 from Taj Gibson. Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Jeff Teague added 11 points and 10 assists in dueling double-doubles.

It was a night of amazing individual performances, but in the end, someone had to lose the game, and when the Wolves won 128-125 in overtime behind an awesome 52.2 percent shooting night as a team, that was the end result of a game that really had no true loser.

Oh, and did we mention the teams combined for only 15 turnovers? Fantastic game.

And while normally this would be Butler’s space and time to shine, let’s just enjoy the overtime highlights:

And ahh, what the hell, here’s your Butler reel:

Start ‘Em Up And Drive ‘Em to the Win

New Orleans just got a monster Quadruple 20, and unlike Denver, they actually won the game, thumping the Brooklyn Nets 128-113 after leading at one point in the third quarter by 33.

The Pelicans got 33 from Anthony Davis, 27 from DeMarcus Cousins, 23 from Jrue Holiday, and 20 from E’Twaun Moore. They shot 53.3 percent from long range as a team and 51.5 percent (17-of-33) from beyond the arc. They won the turnover battle 15-10 and notched 40 (!) assists on their 48 made shots, including a career high and franchise record 25 from Rajon Rondo.

This was, put simply, one of the strongest team performances by any team in the NBA all year. It was fantastic.

Let’s go ahead and show all those great passes from Rondo to help drive all those great scoring nights from his teammates:

And Finally…

The Utah Jazz continue to be in freefall, dropping to 3-15 on the road, 15-21 overall, and tenth place behind the Clippers in the West standings after getting smacked by Golden State 126-101.

The Warriors scored 78 second-half points, turning a one-point halftime lead into a blowout.

Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 21 points and a plus-23, leading six Dubs in double figures. Jordan Bell had 13 rebounds, and Golden State won the overall rebound battle 50-43 despite only four offensive boards of their own; that’ll happen when you shoot 59.3 percent from the field.

Limiting Utah to one shot was essential, and the 46 defensive rebounds against just ten offensive boards for the enemy (a well above average 82.1 defensive rebounding percentage) shoved a knife into the Jazz’s hopes of victory as they only shot 40.2 percent.

Plus, JaVale McGee played only four minutes of garbage time and scored six points.

Put it all together, and let’s close on a super-sized highlight reel:

This was a night full of upsets, fantastic performances, and the Warriors reclaiming the top spot in the West by a full game over the Rockets. After Garbage Day, it was refreshing.

In other news, it’s Thursday, and that means it’s time for Is He Any Good; stay tuned for that later today, and thanks for reading!