What Happened Last Night: J.R. Smith Did It Again, And The Lakers’ Win Streak Ended
Welcome back to our daily recap of the previous evening’s events, “What Happened Last Night?” Once again, today’s is almost all NBA, since last night was a near-dead period in both college football bowl and college basketball season. But the NBA schedule was loaded, so let’s break it down.
J.R. Smith is Mr. Clutch.
The Knicks needed someone to come up big at the end of their game against the Suns last night, with Carmelo Anthony (and Raymond Felton and Rasheed Wallace, for that matter) out. Enter a guy who already has come up big at the end of a game for the Knicks this year: J.R. Smith. In that linked post, we talked about the dueling players within Smith, Good J.R. and Bad J.R. Both were on display once again last night. The bad: Smith shot just 11-for-27 for the game, including 0-for-4 from three. Those are Kobe-on-an-off-night/Iverson-like percentages.
The good: Smith’s overall shooting was mediocre, but on his last two shots of the game, he was 2-for-2. If you checked out the linked post, you might have noticed we mentioned his ability to hit bad-looking shots. Well… here was his buzzr-beater last night:
Yes, he might drive you crazy at times, but if I needed one player to take an off-balance or otherwise difficult game-winning shot attempt at the buzzer, there are few players I’d rather have taking it right now than J.R. Smith. Good J.R., when he’s paired with Jason Kidd channeling Jason Kidd from 10 years ago (23 points, six rebounds eight assists), can win you a ballgame, and having him around is an important reason the Knicks are as good as they are.
The Lakers’ winning streak is over.
OK, so even after a 126-114 loss to the Nuggets last night, the Lakers (now 14-15) are in a much better spot than they were a couple weeks ago. Still, any time you give up 126 points, it’s safe to say it wasn’t your best night. And while the Lakers had won five in a row going into the game, one moderate winning streak isn’t going to cure all that ails the team. For proof, check out earlier in the season, when the Lakers won five of six following that 1-4 start that got Mike Brown canned… then lost nine of 12. This team needs to go on a sustained run to prove it has a chance to live up to its potential, and defensive efforts like last night’s (the Nuggets shot 12-for-22 from three) won’t cut it.
The Lakers player whose efforts will cut it, though? As always, it’s Kobe. He had 40 points last night (and since I know you’re wondering, he only needed 24 shots to do it, and had six assists). He’s now averaging 30.2 points per game this season – on what, if it holds, will be the highest shooting percentage of his career – and last night was his 10th straight game with at least 30. (In the game before that, Kobe had 29.) Kobe’s had scoring outbursts like this for so long that we’re used to them, so it’s easy to forget that he’s reached an age where he really should not be doing this anymore. Kobe’s 34. He should be declining much faster than this. But hes not – and he’s the No. 1 reason the Lakers still have a chance to pull things together and be an elite team.
Around the Association…
The Pistons had the worst type of gigantic comeback – a gigantic comeback that results in a loss anyway. They outscored the Hawks 39-20 in the fourth quarter last night to force overtime, but wound up falling 126-119 in the second extra period. And there were more tightly-contested matchups where that came from: last night’s schedule featured a trio of three-point victory margins. The Cavs, despite 38 percent shooting, held off the Wizards 87-84, the Hornets rode the unlikely combo of Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez (56 combined points) past the Magic 97-94, and the Rockets, led by James Harden’s 30, edged the T-Wolves 87-84.
Elsewhere: the Heat recovered from an exhausting Christmas win over the Thunder to hand the Bobcats their 16th straight loss, 105-92. LeBron had 27, 12 rebounds, eight assists, four steals, and two blocks. Ho-hum. The Nets kept struggling, falling 108-93 to the Bucks and to an even .500 on the season. The Sixers impressively turned back the Grizzlies in Memphis, 99-89. The Spurs methodically dismantled the Raptors, 100-80, the Warriors continued to quietly put together a very good season, beating the Jazz 94-83, and the Trail Blazers easily handled the hapless Kings, 109-91. Poor Kings.
There was a bowl game last night.
In it, Central Michigan edged Western Kentucky 24-21. Next up for the Hilltoppers: the Bobby Petrino era. We’re very curious to see how that goes. And we’re also curious to check out today’s bowls: the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C. between San Jose State and Bowling Green at 3:0) p.m. Eastern, the Belk Bowl in Charlotte between Cincinnati and Duke (yep, Duke’s in a bowl) at 6:30 Eastern, and finally, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego between Baylor and UCLA at 9:45. Bowl season’s heating up, folks. Enjoy it. See you tomorrow.
Photos via Getty