The Miami Heat built up an 18-point lead on the Thunder halfway through the first quarter of Wednesday night's game. Then Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks made the move fans have been wanting to see for months, if not years. Brooks pulled Kendrick Perkins after just four minutes and shifted to a smaller lineup. Up to that point, Brooks was about the only person in North America with a passing knowledge of the NBA that wasn't calling for Perk to be benched.
OKC went on a 60-30 run, eventually blowing out the defending champs, 112-95.
What's more fun than that? A team finally makes the adjustment you've been hoping for, and it works exactly the way you expected?
A similar phenomenon is taking place in New York, where Mike Woodson has finally given in and started playing three-guard lineups. Woodson's resistance to the smaller sets is hard to explain. The Knicks played small for most of last season and won 54 games in the process, but Woodson had largely abandoned the three-guard set in favor of a bigger, more traditional lineup with Andrea Bargnani at power forward.
Since Bargnani's injury, they're back to playing small. And they're undefeated, with four blowout wins over the Bobcats, Lakers, Celtics and Cavs. (Not the toughest competition, sure, but they lost to the Sixers with Bargnani before starting this streak.)
Throw in the Nets - who are also thriving with a small lineup and now look like the favorite to win the Atlantic - and the trend becomes even clearer. It really only makes sense to play an old-school big-man tandem at the four and five if you have players perfectly suited to those spots. For example, David West and Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan and... well, pretty much anybody looks good playing next to Timmy.
Hell, even the All-Star teams won't start traditional centers this year.
What's Next for Lowry?
Any Raptors fans reading this column may take exception to the idea that Brooklyn is the favorite in the Atlantic. Sorry about that. I don't mean to belittle Toronto's accomplishments to this point. But the Raptors' success is due, in large part, to Kyle Lowry's outstanding play this season, and I simply don't believe he'll finish the year with the team.
Lowry's name has been in and out of trade rumors for most of this season, and for good reason. He’s on an expiring deal, and does not make a ton of sense for a rebuilding team like Toronto to invest long-term money in a 27-year old point guard with an extensive history of injuries and trouble with coaches. As with the Lakers and Pau Gasol, a trade simply makes too much sense to rule out completely.
Picks for the Week:
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo!
JR Smith (75%): Playing in a smaller lineup seems to have snapped Smith out of his season-long funk. He's shooting under 38 percent from the field on the season but has been at 50 percent or better in six of his last nine games. (Thanks to @tommybeer of basketballinsiders.com for that stat.) He may get a short-term boost in minutes, too, as Iman Shumpert is dealing with a minor shouder injury.
Randy Foye (55%): Nate Robinson's sprained ACL makes the NBA a lot less fun, temporarily, but it also makes Foye a much more important scoring option in Denver's backcourt.
Avery Bradley (54%): Getting close to a return from injury and should be a much more productive player sharing the backcourt with Rajon Rondo (instead of running the point in Rondo's place).
Jordan Crawford (27%): Warriors coach Mark Jackson has told reporters that Crawford will be seeing more minutes and could get some run in the backcourt alongside Steph Curry, at times. That probably doesn't bring his fantasy value back to pre-trade levels, but it would certainly mean an upgrade.
Marco Belinelli (20%): Should see a big uptick in minutes with both Danny Green (finger) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) sidelined for at least a few more weeks.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (10%): His 29-point outburst in Thursday's win over the Cavs will generate some attention, but the blowout score and Iman Shumpert's absence were important factors. Could be a source of threes in very deep leagues right now. He’s someone to grab quickly if Shumpert is moved at the deadline.
Mirza Teletovic (9%): Second-year forward has been a big part of the Nets' resurgence and has been red-hot from three. He won't be a big across-the-board contributor, but he's a very solid one-category play.
Chase Budinger (9%): Still working his way back from a knee injury, Budinger's minutes-limit has been increased to 24, which also increases the chances that he'll return to fantasy relevance soon.
Ronny Turiaf (5%): Good short-term blocks-and-rebounds option while Nikola Pekovic works his way back from an Achilles' injury.
Devin Harris (4%): Harris' playing time has been increasing steadily since his Mavs debut, as coach Rick Carlisle tries to find a backcourt combination that can slow opponents down even a little bit.
Evan Fournier (4%): Moves up the Nuggets' depth chart due to Nate Robinson's injury. Should get an extended look in the short term, as Ty Lawson is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
Nando de Colo (0%): Meet the Spurs' new starter at shooting guard. Of course, on a Gregg Popovich team, the starting spot doesn't necessarily mean all that much - sixth man Marco Belinelli will be a much better fantasy play. But with both Manu Ginobili and Danny Green out, de Colo should see consistent minutes.
Jeremy Tyler (0%): Tyler has played 20-plus minutes in four straight games, but injuries to both Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire - and blowout scores - were a major factor. Still, Tyler is worth watching in deep leagues, as K-Mart and STAT aren't exactly Cal Ripken-esque in the durability department.