Still mostly basketball out there, but there’s some tennis and NFL head coaching news from last night/the wee hours of this morning to get to, too, so this will probably be one of the more balanced “What Happened Last Night?”s you’ll see for a while. Now, down to business.
Are The Lakers finally putting something good together?
OK, it’s just two games, and even in this dismal year they’ve had good stretches. And the fact that I’m on the verge of getting excited about a 17-21 Lakers team is a little sad. But it is a good sign that they followed up a 20-point win over the Cavs with a 104-88 win over a better Bucks team (still mediocre, but plenty superior to the Cavs) last night. Perhaps an even better sign: Dwight Howard dominated for the second straight game, posting 31 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in 40 minutes – the fact that he was able to go for 40 minutes in spite of all his recent injury trouble is another good sign.
And while Pau Gasol remains sidelined following a concussion, the Lakers’ other star pieces played their parts well last night, too. Kobe had an efficient 31 on 12-for-19 shooting, while Steve Nash shot just 3-for-10 but produced a very Nash-like 11 assists. Best of all, the Lakers once again stifled an opponent on defense – the Bucks shot just 34-for-95 (35.8 percent). Of course, the fact that the Bucks took that many shots – aided by 21 offensive rebounds – might be a cause for some concern, as is the fact that Lakers opponents getting that many shots is a recurring pattern. A better team might be able to take better advantage of all those extra chances.
But for now, it’s working. And the shot discrepancy last night wasn’t as bad as it’s been in some of the Lakers’ other games recently: the Bucks took 95 shots to L.A.’s 84, and one reason the Lakers took fewer shots is that they did a way better job making the ones they took, shooting 50 percent (though just 10-for-29 from three). And in a stark contrast to their 22 turnovers against the Cavs on Sunday, the Lakers coughed it up just eight times last night, while racking up 30 assists. If they take that kind of care of the ball and keep defending hard, they’ll be tough to beat… even when the Heat come to town on Thursday. Suddenly, that matchup looks awfully intriguing again.
The Clippers, now they’re putting something together.
At the same time, don’t get any ideas just yet: the Lakers are a long way from being the best team in L.A. again. The Clippers got off to a slow start against the Rockets last night, and I thought, “Great, right after I gushed about them earlier today. Oh well – Chris Paul’s out, the Rockets are tough at home, and I said performances like the one they out together against the Grizzlies last night were unsustainable over long stretches anyway. Also, the game’s not over.” And practically on cue, the Clips went on an overwhelming run at the start of the third quarter to go ahead for good and eventually beat Houston, 117-109. This team is good.
As they dd against the Grizzlies, the Clippers had balance: five players scored in double figures. Unlike the previous night though, one player in particular went off: Jamal Crawford scored 30. The Clippers completely smothered the Grizzlies’ offense the previous night, and 24 hours later they won by outscoring a team led by one of the NBA’s top scorers, James Harden. Their leading assist man was Blake Griffin. Seldom-talked-about Willie Green contributed 15 points in 17 minutes. Lamar Odom had 11 rebounds off the bench.
No team in the league is deeper – and again, the last two nights they’ve done it without their best player. Of course, Paul’s backup Eric Bledsoe is pretty damn good too – last night he had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Oh, and eventually they’ll get Chauncey Billups back too. The Clippers’ biggest problem at full strength could be finding enough minutes for all their quality players. Nice problem to have – and for those who remember this, a bit of a surreal problem to have.
Around the Association…
The Nets are quietly on a roll – they beat the Raptors 113-106 last night for their seventh straight win, and ninth in 10 games. Maybe it was time for Avery Johnson to go after all. And the Hornets are on a run of their own – following last night’s 111-99 win in Philly, they’ve won five of six. Clearly, they’re a different team with Eric Gordon – possibly even a downright good team. Speaking of good teams, the Pacers and their best-in-the-league defense routed the Bobcats 103-76 in Charlotte. And while the Nuggets might not be quite as good as some predicted, at home they’re damn near unbeatable, and continued that success last night with a 115-111 overtime win over the Blazers. They’re 15-2 at the Pepsi Center now, and we would not want our team to have to play there during the playoffs.
The Bears head north for a new coach.
Jimmy Johnson was right after all – Marc Trestman, head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, got the Bears job. While it’s unusual for a coach to make the CFL—>NFL jump, Trestman seemed like as logical a candidate to do it as any: he had tremendous success in Montreal, and before that was an NFL assistant for many years. However, the flip side to that is that he was no longer an NFL assistant because teams weren’t much interested in hiring him anymore. We’re about to find out if that non-interest was justified, but in the meantime, we’re at least glad that if the Bears were going to let go of the relatively successful Lovie Smith, they’d hire someone intriguing to replace him.
Real-live college basketball upsets!
First off, No. 2 Indiana fell to Wisconsin 64-59… at home, no less, and despite a monster first half from national player of the year candidate Cody Zeller. The Badgers slowed him down late in the game, though, and made just enough happen on offense to get their biggest win of the year, and remain unbeaten in the Big Ten. Look for the Badgers in the next Top 25 if they can beat Iowa on Saturday. And in the other upset of the night, St. John’s topped No. 20 Notre Dame 67-63 at the Garden. The Red Storm have ben uneven this year (10-7, now 2-3 in the Big East), but Steve Lavin knows how to bring in talent, and as long as he keeps doing that – and he will – St. John’s will have a chance to be a good team more often than not.
Aussie Open update:
Still light on the upsets, and we’re still happy about it. The biggest name to fall in recent action is No. 9 women’s seed Sam Stosur, who lost in the second round to unseeded Jie Zheng. Maria Sharapova, though, dominated, overwhelming Misaki Doi 6-0, 6-0. Forget not losing a set – through two rounds, Sharapova hasn’t lost a game. In the third round, she faces Venus Williams. Here’s guessing that changes then. On the men’s side, no surprises – Novak Djokovic easily advanced to the third round, where he will most likely win going away once again. Give it a couple more rounds – then things will ramp up.
If you can stay up late enough, Heat-Warriors should be a good one. And if you’re on the West Coast, you don’t even have to worry about staying up for it. Jerks.
Photos via Getty