Happy Friday! It’s time to take a look back at last night’s NBA on TNT doubleheader!
Hello and welcome to another edition of Thursday Night Thoughts (TNT) on Friday! In this space I will give my takes on both games of the NBA’s premiere weekly broadcast. If you have any of your own thoughts on last night’s slate, feel free to hit me up on Twitter and tell me about them!
Miami Heat 101, Houston Rockets 94
The Miami Heat are about to embark on a seven-game road trip, so they needed a win to start this arduous journey off on the right foot. They get the victory over a Rockets team that has struggled offensively as of late. The Heat gained their fourth consecutive win, while handing Houston their fourth consecutive loss.
This was a game between two really good defenses. Miami entered the game 10th in defensive efficiency on the season. Meanwhile, Houston has ranked second in that category since dealing away James Harden. However, this is also a game between two middling offenses. Miami entered this game 26th in offensive efficiency while Houston has ranked 25th in that category post-Harden trade.
The efficiency equation equals a sluggish rockfight of a game. Miami won the game by shooting 43.0 percent on their field goals. Houston shot just 38.6 percent from the field. Both teams combined to chuck up 92 three-pointers! Honestly, I didn’t realize it was that many in real time. The combatants made 32.6 percent of those outside attempts, 15 each.
Jimmy Butler led the charge for Miami with his triple double of 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Two-way signee and fellow South Chicago Suburbanite Max Strus followed up with 21 points off the bench, including five threes! As Miami did just enough to get by offensively in this game, it will be interesting to see how they handle the mighty Utah Jazz in their next matchup on Saturday. That’s going to be quite a challenge!
Houston, meanwhile, has fallen on some hard times. They have followed up a six-game winning streak by losing five of their last six games. It’s the second time in this slump they have scored 94, as that was all they could muster on Monday at the Charlotte Hornets.
The loss of Christian Wood to a right ankle sprain has apparently proven too much to bear. His inactivity coincides with the team’s current four-game losing streak. It also doesn’t help that PJ Tucker and Victor Oladipo left this game in the third quarter due to injuries. That’s potentially three starters on the injured list, just as this team is looking to solidify its on-court identity.
Houston tips off a three-game road trip through the Northeast on Saturday. With Wood out, and Tucker’s and Oladipo’s statuses up in the air, the directive is clear. The remaining players have to step up, band together, and find a way to produce consistently on offense again if they want to reverse their current skid.
Portland Trail Blazers 118, Philadelphia 76ers 114
The Portland Trail Blazers were set to host the best team in the Eastern Conference, armed with the third-worst defense in the NBA. They would need a strong offensive performance and some key defensive stops if they wanted to pull off this victory.
Lo and behold, Rip City found a way to get the job done. They end up sweeping the Sixers in their two-game season series, as this win follows up their 121-105 win at Philadelphia last Thursday.
Three-point shooting was the biggest key to Portland’s win. The Blazers finished the evening 17-of-38 (44.7 percent) from beyond the arc. Considering the 76ers entered the game allowing the ninth-fewest points in the paint per game, the best way to combat them was to shoot over them. Gary Trent Jr. led the way with five treys, Damian Lillard and Carmelo Anthony had four each.
Portland also edged out Philadelphia on the offensive glass. The Blazers secured 30.0 percent of their own misses while Philadelphia grabbed just 25.5 percent of theirs. This stat is particularly huge because the Sixers were the team with the size advantage. Portland had only one player over 6’9″ available (Enes Kanter) while Philadelphia played three (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dwight Howard) and had two more dressed to play (Tony Bradley, Vincent Poirier). Kanter finished with a game-high seven offensive rebounds.
The amazing thing for Portland is that they won this game without much offensive help from Lillard most of the way. He managed to set the tone early with a 19-point first quarter. However, he cooled down quickly with two points in the second, five in the third, and four in the fourth. He went 2-of-14 from the field over those latter three frames. Instead, the team around him chipped in to help the team stay competitive. Despite Dame’s struggles, the Blazers never trailed by more than eight points.
The biggest contributor during that span was Carmelo Anthony. All 24 of his points came in the last three quarters. 17 of those points came in the fourth quarter. His hot streak in the last act was just the offensive boost Portland needed to get past Philly. Robert Covington sealed the deal with a steal with 1.4 seconds left in regulation.
Sometimes, Portland can come off like a one-man team, with Damian Lillard completely running the show. However, victories like this show that the Blazers can still get the job done as a unit. A win on tonight against Cleveland would give them the three-game sweep of their current homestand.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, is now 1-1 two games into their four-game road trip. They wrap up their trip with challenging games at Phoenix and Utah. If they want to finish this stretch strong, they will have to shore up their three-point shooting (only six makes against Portland) while improving their own perimeter defense (especially against Utah!). The Sixers will also need just a little more help from their role players, as the bench scored just 19 points Thursday, 14.7 points below their season average.