10 Takeaways from Wednesday's Gripping NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2013

10 Takeaways from Wednesday's Gripping NBA Action

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    Wednesday night's 10-game lineup of NBA action was loaded with ridiculous individual performances.

    Stephen Curry came a penny short of matching Michael Jordan's famed "double nickel" game at Madison Square Garden, Monta Ellis tossed in an improbable buzzer beater and Al Horford left the Utah Jazz singing the blues.

    Team play still counted, as the Sacramento Kings bounced back from their double-overtime loss to the Miami Heat to make the Orlando Magic disappear and the Oklahoma City Thunder exterminated the New Orleans Hornets by 45 points.

    But make no mistake, Wednesday night was all about truly gripping individual efforts.

    Oh, and daggers. It was also about daggers. If that's at all confusing, just keep clicking; you'll see what I mean.

A Royal Beating

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    Maybe a little bit of the Miami Heat's recent greatness rubbed off on the Sacramento Kings. After dueling with LeBron James and Co. into double overtime the night before, the Kings handed out a royal beating to the Orlando Magic.

    No fewer than seven Kings scored in double figures, and the team shot nearly 55 percent from the field in Sacramento's easy 125-101 victory.

    Obviously, the Magic have entirely given up on this season, having lost Glen Davis to injury and traded J.J. Redick at the deadline. So it's probably wise to take Sacramento's performance with a grain of salt. But back-to-back games like this don't come along every day for the hapless Kings.

    The win was the Kings' 20th win on the year, snapping a six-game slide.

    Sacramento's going nowhere this year—other than Seattle, maybe—so it might be best to just enjoy short streaks of good play without getting too analytical.

Dion Waiters Coming of Age

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    With Kyrie Irving sitting out his second consecutive game with a sore right knee, rookie Dion Waiters continued his run of excellent play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Waiters' 23 points and six assists on 7-of-16 shooting helped the Cavs overcome 34 points from the Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan in a 103-92 victory in Cleveland.

    In Irving, the Cavaliers clearly have a transcendent star around whom they can build. The next step in the team's growth is finding the right complementary pieces around him. Based on the way Waiters has played lately, it's looking more and more likely that he's one of those pieces.

    In the five games leading up to Wednesday night's win, Waiters had been averaging 19.8 points on 54 percent shooting. With Irving out against the rough-and-tumble Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, Waiters scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting in a stirring 101-98 victory.

    This latest accomplishment might seem less significant, as it came against a weak Raptors club, but consistency counts for something.

    If Waiters can keep this up, the Cavs' starting backcourt looks set for the next decade or so.

Calderon's Dimes Complement Career "Knight" as Pistons Dodge Dagger

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    The Detroit Pistons got a career-high 32 points from Brandon Knight and an impressive 18 dimes from Jose Calderon, but somehow had to dodge a major bullet to knock off the Washington Wizards.

    With 30 seconds remaining, Trevor Ariza hit a three from the right wing, cutting Detroit's lead from six to three. On the ensuing possession, Ariza stole the ball and was off to the races when Will Bynum fouled him.

    It wasn't a terrible play, except that there was nobody between Ariza and the bucket as he started to streak the other way. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what's known as a "clear path foul." Ariza would get (and make) two foul shots and the Wizards would keep the ball.

    Washington's final possession was an exercise in poor clock management. Despite trailing, the Wizards waited until the last second to shoot. Most elementary school coaches instruct their teams to take a shot as soon as possible in those situations, so a possible miss can either be rebounded or an opponent can be fouled.

    Instead, the ball found Ariza in the corner with virtually no time left. He rose and fired.

    It looked like Ariza finished the poorly executed play by burying a corner three at the buzzer. But in fact, the shot was an air ball that hit the net as it whistled under the rim.

    In the end, the Pistons had withstood a furious comeback that saw the Wizards outscore them 27-14 in the fourth quarter.

    It would have been a massive comeback win for the Wizards, but a truly atrocious game by John Wall (six points, four assists and seven turnovers) created just too big of a hole.

Curry's NBA-Best Scoring Explosion Can't Get Dubs Past Knicks

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    Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry shot the ball from everywhere during his NBA season-high 54-point night in Madison Square Garden.

    But the most telling stat of Curry's night might not have been his gaudy point total—he also led the Warriors with a measly six rebounds (alongside Festus Ezeli's six).

    Without David Lee (suspension) and Andrew Bogut (injured, again), the Warriors couldn't hang with the bigger, badder Knicks on the boards or in the paint. Tyson Chandler feasted on an undersized Dubs frontcourt on the way to 28 pulls, and the Knicks had a plus-eight rebounding advantage.

    Back to the good stuff, though.

    Even though the Warriors fell by a final score of 109-105, Curry's huge night was the most notable takeaway from this game (or any other) on a full night of exciting contests.

    He hit 18 of 28 shots from the field and just missed an NBA record by hitting 11-of-13 from long range. The full arsenal was on display and Curry's confidence was off the charts. He shook defenders on pull-ups, buried heaves from well beyond the arc and even slipped into the lane for floaters and layups.

    Everything was working for the Warriors point guard, and suddenly, that $44 million extension the Warriors doled out last fall looks like a monstrous bargain.

    Can you imagine if the Warriors hadn't signed Curry to that $44M extension in October? Would've hit restricted free agency like Godzilla.

    — Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 28, 2013

    I don't know if Godzilla ever made it to the Garden, but Curry did his best impression of the destructive monster Wednesday night.

Grizzlies Roar Back

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    The Memphis Grizzlies came back from 25 points down to stun the visiting Dallas Mavericks by a final score of 90-84.

    At this rate, the Dallas Mavericks' ".500 beards" may never see a razor blade.

    Because this is the Grizzlies we're talking about, they obviously got the job done on defense. So if you were expecting tales of a red-hot shooting exhibition that helped vault Memphis past the Mavs, you'll be disappointed.

    Memphis held Dallas to a paltry five points in a decisive third quarter. Considering the Mavs sprinted out to an early lead with 38 in the first period, the Grizzlies' post-halftime defense was truly remarkable.

    Going forward, the Grizzlies will continue to rely on their defensive excellence, as it's now clear that they simply don't have the firepower to outscore opponents.

    This was an ugly game from both clubs, as Dallas shot just 43 percent from the field and the Grizzlies made under 38 percent of their looks.

    Fortunately for Memphis, ugly is what it does best.

Rockets Grounded by Ellis' Buzzer-Beating Three

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    The reeling Milwaukee Bucks got back to even on the season, but they needed a one-footed, buzzer-beating three from Monta Ellis to do it.

    After trading spectacular plays over the game's last two minutes with the host Houston Rockets, Ellis sent everyone home by rattling in a 30-foot prayer. Leading up to that play, Larry Sanders stopped a Houston breakaway with a wicked chase-down block and then put the Bucks ahead with a tip-in.

    James Harden (because he's James Harden) made an awkward, driving layup in traffic to tie the game, which set up the final play.

    A stymied Brandon Jennings desperately threw the ball to Ellis, who caught it on the move way out beyond the top of the arc. In one motion, he heaved up a fading one-footer that swirled around the rim, popped out and then dropped through.

    That final shot gave Ellis 27 points to go with his 13 assists, six rebounds and six steals on the night.

    Milwaukee notched its 28th win of the year, evenly offsetting its 28 losses and helping it build a six-game lead on the nearly extinct Toronto Raptors for the final playoff spot in the East.

    Maybe Monta Ellis really does have it all.

Kevin Durant Now Impersonating LeBron James

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    So, try to keep in mind that the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Hornets are actually teams that play on the same planet and in the same league. That might be tough to do if you saw OKC's 45-point demolition of the Hornets.

    Kevin Durant, apparently taking a cue from some of LeBron James' recent stat lines, scored an ultra-efficient 19 points on just eight shots while putting up 10 assists and 11 boards in his third career triple-double.

    To be fair to the Hornets, both Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon sat out the game with injuries. But it's hard to imagine that either of them would have made much of a difference in this one.

    The Thunder pumped in 119 points on 55 percent shooting, dominated the boards by nearly a two-to-one ratio (48-to-25) and held the Hornets to just 35 percent from the field.

    As the East-leading Miami Heat continue their destruction of the league, it appears that Oklahoma City is starting to find its own extra gear.

    Winners of three straight, OKC is still nowhere close to Miami's 12-game streak. But the Thunder do have one more win and a higher per-game differential (9.1 to 7.1) than the scorching Heat.

    The San Antonio Spurs might have something to say about it, but the Heat and Thunder look like they're on another collision course. As for the Hornets, well...they might just want to change their name to the Pelicans now.

    A fresh start couldn't hurt.

Spurs Return from Rodeo Trip, Get Roped by Suns

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    After 25 days away from home because of the annual rodeo that displaces the San Antonio Spurs for a month out of every year, Tony Parker and his team couldn't have asked for a better homecoming gift than the Phoenix Suns.

    Firmly rooted in the basement of the Western Conference, Phoenix figured to be a total pushover for the Spurs, who hadn't lost a home game since Dec. 1.

    Instead, the Suns hung relatively close and then blitzed the Spurs in the fourth quarter, outscoring them by 10 and forcing overtime. That extra period was a forgettable affair, as Phoenix managed just five points to the Spurs' one. The Suns prevailed by a final score of 105-101.

    You read that right, by the way—San Antonio had just one point in overtime.

    For the Spurs, there's really no need for alarm. The first game back after a long road trip is often a trap game, and San Antonio really just went cold all at once. On the night, the Spurs shot just 43 percent and surprisingly lost the battle of the boards, 49-44.

    All of those things point to a collective fatigue that a few days at home are sure to cure.

    Oh, and it'd be criminal to neglect Jermaine O'Neal, who clearly discovered time travel recently. That might seem far-fetched, but if there's a simpler explanation for his 22 points and 13 rebounds than saying he somehow managed to shoot back to 2002 and kidnap a past version of himself, I'd sure like to hear it.

Apparently, the Hawks Are Still Trying

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    With all the deadline trade talk around Josh Smith, it was easy to forget that the Atlanta Hawks had quietly positioned themselves as a mid-tier playoff team in the East.

    And now that Smith is sticking around for the duration of the season, it seems the Hawks are turning into something more.

    Atlanta won its fourth straight game, knocking off the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City by a final score of 102-91, and really, it wasn't that close.

    Al Horford poured in 34 points, grabbed 15 boards and blocked five shots, while Smith had 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists of his own against Utah's hulking frontcourt rotation. The performance of Atlanta's 4-5 combo should serve as a reminder that the Hawks are still a dangerous team, no matter the competition.

    Horford, in particular, has been on an absolute tear of late. In his previous five games, he had been averaging 24.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 69 percent shooting. If Smith is focused and Atlanta's backcourt combination of Devin Harris and Jeff Teague continue to put pressure on opposing defenses, the Hawks could easily vault into the conversation of the East's second-best team.

    For now, the Hawks will have to settle for moving into a virtual tie with the Brooklyn Nets for the fourth seed. Call it a hunch, but it feels like the Hawks are primed to be a surprising force down the stretch.

Lawson and the Nuggets Paint the Town in Portland

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    The Denver Nuggets have a massive home-court advantage, but maybe all they need to do to notch road wins is pile up the paint points like they did in a 111-109 win against the Portland Trail Blazers in Rip City.

    Eight of Ty Lawson's team-high 12 field goals came in the lane as the Nuggets generated tons of easy buckets against the Blazers. Andre Iguodala scored 29 points in support, and nine of his 11 made field goals came inside the key, as well.

    All told, Denver scored 72 points in the paint, 30 more than Portland managed.

    And the Nuggets needed every one of those close-range looks, as the team shot 21 percent from beyond the arc and 58 percent from the foul line.

    For the Blazers, it was more of the same: The starters played well and the bench laid an egg. Of Portland's 109 points, just 17 came from its reserves.

    In the end, LaMarcus Aldridge couldn't get a potential game-tying turnaround jumper to fall at the buzzer. With the win, Denver stayed just 2.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the fourth spot in the West, a position the Nuggets desperately want.

    In defeat, the Blazers dipped to 26-31 and now face the reality that their postseason dreams are probably over.