Kyle Soppe also writes about the NBA for Pickin’ Splinters. Follow him on Twitter.
Anything but your average night in the Association, as reserves saw extended minutes while other stars chased season ending awards. Here are the top Wednesday performers:
Player: Russell Westbrook
Standout Stats: 30 points, 6 rebounds, 9:2 assist to turnover ratio, 3 steals, 4 blocked shots
- On a night where Kevin Durant was looking to further his lead in the scoring race with Kobe Bryant, Westbrook was the most valuable Thunder player on the court. He may not be your prototypical point guard, but it’s nights like this where he makes up for his flaws with his athleticism and play making ability. He penetrated and found his open teammates, didn’t force his shot, and left his finger prints all over the defensive half of the court. The thought that Westbrook can play like this is why so many people have labeled the Thunder as title favorites, and it would be hard to argue. They beat a playoff bound Nuggets team with little production outside of the big two and with Harden sidelined. If they play their best game, they are unbeatable on a given night, regardless of their opponent.
Player: JJ Redick
Standout Stats: 31 points, 6 three pointers made, 63.2 eFG%. +11 plus/minus
- His stroke is pure, and the Magic will need this to continue if they want to make any sort of noise in the postseason. He buried 6 of his 10 three point attempts, single handily outscoring the Bobcats from downtown. Orlando needed Redick on this night, as they were outscored by 4 points when he was out of the game. Due to the heroics of the Duke product, the Magic avoided being that team that bailed out Charlotte from having the highest losing percentage of all time. Redick was on the floor for 36+ minutes for the seventh time this season, and his Magic have won on five such occasions.
Player: Tiago Splitter
Standout Stats: 76.9 FG%, career high 26 points
- Splitter managed a career high 26 points in just over 19 minutes of action, giving the Spurs a boost off of the bench that will be crucial to their postseason success. With a first round match up against the Jazz, competing in the paint will determine how successful San Antonio is, as the Jazz have the best trio of bigs in the league. While Splitter did see an increase in production with the Spurs “Big 3″ out, he has been remarkably efficient of late, regardless of who is on the floor. He is shooting 75% from the field over his last 6 games, proving that he can provide a valuable spark. Splitter isn’t the type of player you build a championship team around, but he is the type of piece you can’t win without.
Player: Lance Stephenson
Standout Stats: Scored 11x his season average against an elite defense in Chicago.
- Apparently the term “balance” applies for anybody who suits up for the Pacers these days. The Bulls were walking through the motions a bit, but their starters played, and couldn’t stop Stephenson. Without Danny Granger, the second year man shot 66% from the field on his way to a career high 22 points. He had scored 17 total points since February 16th, and while he is not likely to have a huge impact on the postseason, he may have earned himself a look should Granger find himself in foul trouble. The Pacers are a rare team that still boasts the “team” mentality, and they seem to be a trendy pick to contend for a title in the near future. Having said that, this is a star driven league, and it is hard to imagine this team going far without a true superstar.
The Philly guards combined for 60 points, 20 rebounds, 14 assists, and 7 steals in a win over the Bucks. This is a playoff team who nobody wants to see, as they play with unquestioned effort and grit. The back court is as promising as any in the league, with extreme youth combined with tremendous talent. They may need another piece, but this a promising start for a team that is headed in the right direction.
Top Flop Lineup: Cavalier starters
The starting five scored a mere 33 points on 11/34 shooting. Despite having the probable rookie of the year in Kyrie Irving, the Cavs starters managed only 3 assists and 8 defensive rebounds. To put that in perspective, D.J. Kennedy (not exactly a well known rookie from St. John’s) handed out 3 assists last night. This game was a matchup of the last two top draft picks, and it wasn’t close. In fact, Wall nearly outdid the starters single-handedly from Cleveland with his 21 points, 13 assists, and 6 defensive rebounds. Some like the youth of the Cavs, and while Irving is a stud in the making, I am unsure if this team is destined to move out of the lottery any time in the near future.