Yeah, much of last night was dominated by a guy everyone hates talking about why everyone hates him, but there was also more fun stuff happening. Stuff like a pretty damn awesome Heat-Lakers game. Let’s break it all down.
LeBron reminds us all who’s king.
The Heat, whose struggles early on in their road trip led to some reports of unrest on the team, took a big step forward Wednesday night when they crushed the Warriors, and last night’s game against the Lakers provided another big opportunity to regain their footing. The Lakers, of course, have been terrible more often than not this year, but they’ve shown signs of life recently, handily winning their last two games. Thanks to those strong performances, what looked before the season like a potential Finals preview had the feel of a marquee matchup again.
And it lived up to every expectation anyone could have had. It was a tightly contested game throughout, with the Lakers leading by one at halftime despite Kobe struggling mightily. The Heat then took advantage of those struggles to grab an eight-point lead by the third… and then Kobe finally caught fire, hitting four straight shots and scoring 10 points in a three-minute span to propel the Lakers back into the lead. Did we have the makings of a classic Kobe game?
Well… not quite, because what we did have was a classic LeBron game. The game’s best player was at his best in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points and adding three rebounds and three assists to ward off every Laker rally – oh, and not to mention guarding Kobe late in the game (by request). His final stat line: 42 minutes, 39 points (17-for-25 shooting), seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and a block. Somewhat surprisingly, the 39 points represent a season high – he’s done his scoring this year consistently, without the occasional 50-plus-point outbursts that were more common in the Cleveland days.
But as always with LeBron, the scoring was just part of the picture – the really impressive thing was the all-court havoc. He passed. He defended. He helped the Heat get a big road win in every way possible, and those all-around skills are why, once the playoffs begin and the Heat actually start caring every game, they’re still going to be tough to beat. As for the Lakers: as losses go, this one wasn’t terrible. The best player in the league was playing out of his mind, and their best player struggled for most of the night, but they still made it close against a better team. Obviously a win would have been much better, but the effort was another positive step for a Laker team still badly in need of those.
Around the Association…
L.A.’s other team continued to roll without Chris Paul, beating the T-Wolves (who, in fairness, are without their best player too, as Kevin Love recovers from his re-broken hand) 90-77 in Minneapolis. Jamal Crawford kept up his tear, scoring 22 off the bench and further strengthening his Sixth Man of the Year case. The Knicks beat the Pistons 102-87 – Carmelo Anthony led the way with 26 points, but also impressive was Amar’e Stoudemire scoring 17 on just five field goal attempts off the bench (he went 11-for-12 from the line). Finally, the Bucks beat the Suns 98-94. Interesting note: road teams were 4-0 last night. Have to think that doesn’t happen often.
College basketball upset watch:
Northwestern beat No. 23 Illinois 68-54, but the Illini are struggling lately – this was their third straight loss, none of them especially close – so it’s not a shock. No. 5 Michigan beat No. 9 Minnesota in Minneapolis in what wasn’t exactly an upset, but was the biggest game of the night. And No. 24 UCLA beat Oregon State 74-64 – that’s not an upset, but what is an upset, at least to us? UCLA sneaking back into the top 25 so soon after their early-season struggles. Having freshmen like Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson will do that.
The Cardinals have a coach.
Remember when the Cardinals were totally about to move quickly to replace Ken Whisenhunt by hiring Andy Reid? Well, they wound up being the last team in the league to hire a head coach, but finally completed the process last night by hiring Bruce Arians away from the Colts. It’s technically Arians’ first head coaching job, but he of course got some experience in the role this past season when he took over day-to-day operations in Indianapolis following Chuck Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis. And it’s that experience that led to him getting this offer – the Colts went 9-3 under his guidance. He did a masterful job in an incredibly tough spot.
Of course, running the show, period, is a different situation from temporarily taking the reins, and it’s impossible to predict exactly how this will go – especially as long as the Cards don’t have a viable quarterback solution. But Arians’ experience working with quarterbacks is undoubtedly part of why he got the job, so it’s on him now to find that solution. It’s no small task, but it’s no small chance, either: and given that this time last year, Arians was “retiring,” no small career turnaround. Here’s hoping he makes it work.
Lance Armstrong confessed.
Thoughts on Lance: MEH.
Our Friday night plan: watch Part 2 of the Armstrong interview lol no.
Photos via Getty