Two games were played in the NBA on December 27, 2012. But it was also a day filled with controversy as well.
Dallas Mavericks vs Oklahoma City Thunder: The Mavs seemed to be on a mission to end a losing streak in OKC, while the Thunder just looked flat and blase through 3 quarters. The Thunder turned on the intensity in the 4th quarter, however, and Russell Westbrook who played terribly throughout much of the game, took over in the Overtime period to finish off the Mavericks.
However, the real story was not that the Thunder pulled off the victory from the jaws of defeat on an otherwise expected win at home. No, the real story was just how well the Mavs played with Dirk Nowitzki on the court. The numbers would suggest a different story (3-11 shooting, only one assist, and a plus/minus of -13), but this has to be filed under "intangible impact." The Mavericks just simply played with a renewed gusto on offense throughout much of the game. They played more confidently, more crisply, and even quicker than the suffocating Thunder Defense. Even Nowitzki was pulling off his famous, one-legged jumpers.
Unfortunately, all of that didn't matter once the 4th quarter began, but we watched a glimpse of what it could be for the Mavericks in the near future with their best player coming back from knee surgery. In the present, nonetheless, Nowitzki showed rust and lack of stamina. TNT's Steve Kerr marveled at coach Rick Carlisle handling of Nowitzki's minutes, stating that the goal was to limit him to approximately 24 minutes. Nowitzki played 25 minutes at the end of regulation. In the overtime period, Carlisle sat out Nowitzki and one would think his night was over. However, with a minute remaining in the OT, Carlisle, inexplicably, put him back on the court where he clearly did not want to have the ball on offense and in one play on defense, Westbrook put so many moves on Nowitzki that it looked like he would not only break his ankles, but also re-injure Nowitzki's surgically repaired knee.
Nowitzki, after the game, admitted that his stamina was not up to par, but stated that he thinks he should be playing with very few limitations in about two weeks. In the meantime, Mavs' fans everywhere, including the impatient Mark Cuban, will just have to patiently wait for Nowitzki to come around again.
THE NETS FIRE AVERY JOHNSON: Not surprisingly, Johnson was finally relieved of his duties from the Brooklyn Nets, finishing his season at .500. Not where management wanted their team to end the calendar year after an offseason full of gutsy moves and over-and-uber-hype (despite the hype, I predicted that the Nets were not as good as many people thought). But aside from the mediocre December, anybody paying attention to this team could have seen the writing on the wall.
The biggest bomb came when star player, Deron Williams admitted that he was not happy with Johnson's system and waxed nostalgically about his days in Utah--the same Jazz team he basically destroyed when legendary coach, Jerry Sloan resigned from his position after a heated conflict with the guard, and the club then decided to part ways with Williams by trading him to the Nets. But somehow, Williams would like to return to that offensive system. Weird!
Along with a disgruntled Williams preferring a different offensive system (whether the motion or pick and roll, evidently), the players seemed to have tired of Johnson's act and his behind-the-scenes, ulterior motives (which is ironic because currently they have all of these cameras filming every move from every team member for THE ASSOCIATION). Johnson was also making a big stink about a contract extension, while the team wanted to take a wait-and-see approach to decide if Johnson would be rewarded with said extension. Most importantly of all, Johnson was not GM Billy King's guy. Add to the fact that any NBA fan could see that Johnson was just the wrong man for the job when he was originally hired and it all results into his firing.
Right away, I thought that Phil Jackson would be the front-runner, but David Aldridge has already squashed that rumor. Would have been great to see a lot of angry and panic-stricken Lakers' fans.
Everyday, we're finding out more and more that behind all of the goofiness and immaturity is a big kid in a man's body who has a fragile psyche. As many young players can tell you, playing with Kobe Bryant doesn't really help unstable matters. Ask Kwame Brown how his experience playing with Bryant went. Or better yet, ask Andrew Bynum, whom Bryant has been treating like a personal whipping boy since Bynum was first drafted by L.A., urging the Lakers to trade him to another team so the Lakers can get more established talent around him. That finally came to fruition this past offseason, but the Lakers have yet to reap the rewards of all the moves that brought them said talented, established stars such as Howard and Steve Nash.
While Bynum admitted that playing with Bryant can do wonders for a player trying to develop his game in the NBA, Bryant can also obstruct a player's progress. Not only that, but Bryant has a reputation for being impatient and very demanding of his teammates, which is admirable seeing how that approached worked with Michael Jordan while he was with the Chicago Bulls. However, when he was playing with the Wizards--well, let's just say, ummmm, well, let's ask Kwame Brown what he thinks about playing with Jordan. Basically, Bryant can be pain.
So all I'm wondering is, how much is Bryant messing with Howard's head, heretofore. The flagrant foul that Howard committed on Kenneth Faried wasn't as bad as the one Bynum committed in the 2011 playoffs. However, Howard was out there to make a statement to the rest of the league in case they thought that they can get easy dunks and lay-ups on the supposed best center in the NBA. While Bryant did not defend Howard after the game, one has to wonder how much did Bryant berate Howard to not let anymore easy baskets in the paint happen ever again. Knowing how Bryant operates, Howard showed Bryant that he got the message.
Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Clippers: What was supposed to be, in my view, a matchup of two great point guards, turned out to be an example of the visiting team's arrow going down and the home team's arrow going up--more like "lobbing up" and then being caught in mid-air and slammed down a 10-foot basket. Neither Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul played an astonishing game in terms of statistics, but Paul got the last laugh notching 11 assists to only 3 turnovers and a +15. Rondo on the other hand posted only 6 assists, commited 4 turnovers and got tagged with a -24.
As much as Barkley warned that the TNT audience last night that the Clippers would not be efficient when the game slowed down and their defense was still suspect, the Clippers held the Celtics to only 77 points, constricting the Celtics' offense with a rejuvenated defense (even Lamar Odom looked great with 13 rebounds and 4 blocked shots), and were able to score efficiently in transition or on half-court; with their starters or their bench players. As much as people want to question the Clippers defense, they are ranked #3 in terms of points allowed per game and 2nd in opponents' FG%. Something else that the Clippers struggled with last season was rebound differential. Around this time last season, they were on the negative side. This year, they're ranked 10th in the league in that category with a +1.7. So it's looking very good for Los Angeles--not the Lakers'--Clipper fans at the moment.