A great recipe for disaster – at least if you’re the Lakers – is playing in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back. Old legs. The high altitude. The penchant of the Nuggets to play fast and frenetic. It almost never works out for L.A., and last night, not even 40 from Kobe Bryant was enough. Denver got it done, exploding for 126 points. Kenneth Faried was all over the rim and backboards, going for 21 and 15, and Corey Brewer made six threes off the bench, dropping 27 points. Faried physically dominated L.A.’s frontline, and even got it going with Metta World Peace during the third quarter, frustrating MWP enough that the small forward started going out of his way to hit people. A few minutes later, Dwight Howard (12 points, seven boards) was ejected after Faried came down the lane and Superman basically tried to mash his face. Was it frustration? Probably. And it’s funny because we were going to write this in Smack after Christmas, but how soon is it until Howard flips out over not getting the ball and either goes into a funk or starts bicep curling his teammates? He was THE defense for the Lakers against the Knicks, and he’s being asked to do it all defensively around the hoop while getting a front row seat to Kobe’s own personal highlight video on the other end. That must be eating away at him … Houston and Minnesota are both fighting for lower playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but when the Rockets beat the Wolves by three last night, we saw the difference between the two: James Harden. The Beard (30 points) shredded Minnesota for 17 points in the fourth quarter. In the final minute, he twice scored on nearly identical plays: catching beyond the arc, and taking one or two dribbles before transitioning into the Euro step and spinning in running layups. On the other end, the ‘Wolves lost it because they went to J.J. Barea (18 points), who turned it over, and Alexey Shved (16 points), who thought the hoop was 14 feet high. Where was Kevin Love? He was busy pulling misses (3-for-14) from out of his beard. He really needs to trim that facial hair by the way. Looking like a cross between Gandalf and Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Even Harden has to be like C’mon bro… … Does any player in the league bust out with more coast-to-coast forays than James Harden? Three times in the opening segment of the first quarter, Harden scooped rebounds, floated down court, and then transitioned into his Euro step, sometimes as far as 17 feet from the rim. Whether there were two defenders or three defenders back, it didn’t really matter – he was drawing a foul … We might’ve been the only people in the entire country who watched Orlando lose to the Hornets, 97-94, but it was actually a pretty fun game. Jameer Nelson (28 points, 10 dimes) from 2009 mistakenly showed up from out of a time machine, and Robin Lopez, aka the untalented brother, was such a beast (29 points on 10 shots) that the Orlando announcers started comparing him to George Mikan (outside of the hair, it was apt). In the end, Nikola Vucevic (19 points, nine boards) was long on a wide open three that would’ve tied it after Greivis Vasquez (27 points, eight helpers) had scored New Orleans’ final four points. At this point, he might as well switch his name to Greivis He Hate Me because no one is showing him any love whatsoever. Even his own fans don’t know who he is … We all know Josh McRoberts is one of the honorary “white boys with hops” but he took it a little too far during the first half. On one possession, McBob pulled off a behind-the-back, between-the-legs dribble move, and then went in for this incredible skying reverse layup that’s only been pulled off by Stretch from NBA Street. Predictably, it never touched the rim … Keep reading to hear about J.R. Smith’s buzzer-beater …
It took two overtimes, but Atlanta barely survived Detroit’s second unit, 126-119. Up 22 with under 11 minutes to go, the Hawks watched as Will Bynum (31 points), Andre Drummond (16 points, 12 rebounds, 167 gushing compliments from the ATL TV guys), and the rest of the Pistons’ bench unleashed Hell on them. That group somehow made eight of nine triples in the final period. When Al Horford (22 points, 10 rebounds) stepped up to the line with tap water in his veins and missed a freebie with 1.8 seconds left, we had overtime. Even with the Atlanta announcers pleading with their guys to play inside-out, it still took the Hawks about seven minutes of extra play to really get it going. Josh Smith (31 points, 10 boards, six dimes) stopped shooting airball threes, and Jeff Teague (17 points, 11 assists) decided he wasn’t going to get his shorts dropped by Bynum anymore, and after that, the Hawks had just enough to survive what would’ve been one of the most embarrassing losses of the season … Other notable stat lines from Wednesday: LeBron and Dwyane Wade pummeled Charlotte by combining for 56 points, 21 boards and 13 assists in a 13-point Miami win. The Heat celebrated in the locker room by serenading special guest Ric Flair with a collective Woooo; Kyrie Irving dropped 20 of his 26 points in the first half, and then Cleveland survived a last chance triple try from Jordan Crawford (17 points) to beat Washington by three; without Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings (25 points) took advantage of the reeling Nets, dropping pull-up J after crossover after three-point bomb in Milwaukee’s easy 108-93 win; the Grizzlies surprisingly fell by 10 at home. Dorell Wright exploded for 28 points in the Sixers’ mini lineup; San Antonio was paced by 15 from Tim Duncan in a 100-80 blowout over the Raptors; Steph Curry (23 points, eight boards, seven assists) and the Warriors took out Utah, 94-83; LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points, 12 rebounds) and Portland had no problems in a 18-point beatdown of Sacramento; And in Phoenix, the Knicks didn’t need Carmelo Anthony. They didn’t need Raymond Felton, either. They have J.R. Smith, and in his first chance to don the Dark Knight armor, Smith erupted for 27 points, five steals and the game-winning buzzer-beater as New York won, 99-97. Remember his game-winner against Charlotte earlier this month? This one looked almost identical, and Smith scored on both of New York’s final touches – he had to because Jared Dudley (36 points) played out of his mind. Outside of taking out Goran Dragic on a play that would’ve started a fight in pretty much any gym, Smith basically had a perfect night … We’re out like Indiana vs. Chicago.
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