12 Takeaways from Friday Night's Intense NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 2, 2013

12 Takeaways from Friday Night's Intense NBA Action

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    A loaded slate of Friday games featured a handful of marquee matchups and more than a few lopsided beatings.

    LeBron James showed he was human in his first March game after a decidedly superhuman February, but his Miami Heat still managed to extend the NBA's longest winning streak by snaring the Memphis Grizzlies.

    In addition to that, the New York Knicks actually played some defense for the first time in months, and the Dallas Mavericks won the Battle of Billionaire Owners in Brooklyn.

    The biggest story of the night—and the one with the most significant repercussions for the stretch run—saw the San Antonio Spurs commit some pretty thorough regicide against the Sacramento Kings while losing Tony Parker to an ugly ankle sprain in the process.

    And in the late game, a couple of the Western Conference's biggest guns traded shots down to the final seconds.

    All in all, Friday's action gave us glimpses of playoff intensity, along with a couple peeks into what some of the league's lottery-bound clubs might look like next year. That's some pretty good range from a single night, don't you think?

David West Is a Paradox

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    For being one of the NBA's toughest dudes, David West sure has a non-confrontational game. Sure, he'll mix it up underneath when he has to, but the Indiana Pacers power forward tends to do most of his damage from about 15 feet away.

    One of the league's premier mid-range shooters, West knocked down five of his six field goals against the Toronto Raptors from between eight and 19 feet. In today's increasingly savvy and analytical NBA world, those are precisely the types of shots smart defenses love to concede.

    But with West, allowing mid-range jumpers is a dangerous proposition. He put up a tidy 15 points on just 11 shots in Indiana's 93-81 win in Toronto.

    Not only did West show off his stroke, he also served as a facilitator for a good portion of the Pacers' offensive output against the Raptors. His four assists were second best on the team, and he did it all from the elbows.

    His history and demeanor suggest West would be more than happy to go toe-to-toe with anyone, but his game is all about dealing damage from a safe distance.

    Going forward, his unique scoring style is likely to present plenty of problems for playoff defenses that are designed to allow exactly the kinds of jumpers he loves.

The Knicks Haven't Completely Abandoned Defense

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    After Bradley Beal hit a three to pull the Washington Wizards to within one, the New York Knicks slammed the door, holding the Wizards to zero field goals over the final four minutes of their 96-88 win.

    After starting the season on an improbable defensive tear, the Knicks have essentially been a .500 team the past couple months, as their defensive efficiency has slipped into the middle of the NBA pack. Thus, the Knicks' game-ending D has special significance.

    New York has maintained one of the league's best offenses all season, but it's going to be their defense that determines whether they'll be a real playoff threat in the slow-it-down postseason.

    Holding the Wizards scoreless isn't a monumental achievement, as John Wall and Co. have the NBA's very worst offense. But the emphasis on closing games out with defensive intensity is a good sign for Mike Woodson's squad.

    They'll need a few more games like this before anyone will believe there's a trend brewing, but the win over the Wizards is a start.

Tobias Harris Looks Like a Keeper

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    Considering J.J. Redick was going to walk as a free agent anyway, it's sort of amazing that the Orlando Magic were able to get any value for him at the trade deadline. But based on the way Tobias Harris has played since coming to Orlando in the Redick deal, it appears the Magic did pretty well for themselves.

    Harris put up 27 points, 10 rebounds and two assists on 11-of-15 shooting in just 31 minutes against the Houston Rockets. He saw little playing time in Milwaukee for some reason, but he's getting some run with the Magic.

    As a result, he's been enjoying a nice little late-season breakout. The second-year man from Tennessee has his PER up to an above-average 16.12 at the moment.

    Sure, James Harden had another stat-stuffing night and the Rockets had six players score in double figures in a 118-110 win over the Magic. But Orlando, realistically, isn't interested in winning games at this point anyway.

    What should interest them, though, is the fact that Harris looks like he might be a player.

The Warriors Are Finding New Ways to Lose

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    During a six-game losing streak in February, the Golden State Warriors surrendered 117.5 points per game. That skid was emblematic of a larger second-half trend that has seen the Warriors go from playing like a top-10 defense to playing like one from the league's bottom five.

    After shooting just 34 percent against the Boston Celtics in a 94-86 loss, the Dubs have apparently figured out how to lose because of their offense, as well.

    Stephen Curry couldn't stay hot for a third straight game, following up his combined 92 points against the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks with just 25 on 6-of-22 shooting against Boston.

    Jarrett Jack, a huge key off the bench for the Dubs, managed just two points on 1-of-9 shooting.

    When the dust had settled, the high-scoring Warriors ended up with one of the most improbable losses of the year. Don't be mistaken, Golden State certainly can't expect to go into Boston and leave with an easy W. But with a plus-10 rebounding advantage and a shaky Celtics free-throw performance, all the Warriors had to do to win was score.

    With the playoffs on the horizon, now is not the time for the Warriors to start finding new ways to fail.

Maybe Kyrie Irving Matters After All

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    Coming off two straight wins without Kyrie Irving, it appeared that the Cleveland Cavaliers were starting to show they were more than just a collection of role players around their star point guard. But a thorough 105-89 drubbing at the hands of the L.A. Clippers should quickly dispel any notion that the Cavs can win consistently without Irving.

    Dion Waiters scored 17 points and Tristan Thompson posted 15 points and 12 boards, but the Cavaliers were no match for the Clips, who nursed a comfortable lead all game before running away in the fourth quarter.

    It shouldn't be a surprise that the Cavs came back to earth without their star; perhaps no team relies on one player more than the Cavaliers rely on Irving. If anything, this loss underscores the importance of the young All-Star's health in the future.

    With the way he's been prone to missing time in his two-year career, it might be best for Cleveland to shelve him for the foreseeable future. There's no sense in risking Irving and the team's future for a few meaningless games down the stretch.

LeBron James Misses the Month of February

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    After a torrid, historic February streak that saw LeBron James win the most obvious Eastern Conference Player of the Month Award in memory, March got off to a surprisingly poor start for the King.

    James shot just 4-of-14 from the field against the Memphis Grizzlies. For a while there, it even appeared that his streak of 474 straight games of double-figure scoring was in jeopardy. But, because this is LeBron James we're talking about, everything turned out just fine for everyone involved.

    Well, except the Grizzlies.

    Miami extended its winning streak to 13 games, and James finished with 18 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a 98-91 defeat of the Western Conference's hottest team. Even though LBJ came back to earth just a bit, his overall performance was still pretty stellar.

    If the Heat are good enough to now win games against top competition when James isn't close to his best, the rest of the NBA may want to consider packing it in before the playoffs. Miami's getting downright scary.

Dollars and Sense

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    In a battle between two teams owned by two of the most outspoken, eccentric billionaires, the Dallas Mavericks knocked off the Brooklyn Nets, 98-90, at the Barclays Center.

    (As an aside, are there any billionaires who aren't outspoken or eccentric? Seems like a prerequisite for the gig.)

    Anyway, the game had some interesting implications for one of the league's most intriguing issues under the revised collective bargaining agreement: money.

    Mark Cuban's collection of short-term, low-dollar players were good enough to take a road win from Mikhail Prokhorov's expensive, soon-to-be luxury-taxed club. Dallas' lone big contract, Dirk Nowitzki, put together one of his best games of the season, amassing 20 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting.

    In a lot of ways, the game was a study in patience and smart spending versus knee-jerk buying sprees. Dallas not only won this game, but it'll definitely be winning any free-agent bidding wars in the future with its mountain of upcoming cap space.

    The Nets, on the other hand, lost the game and are effectively out of the running for any big future acquisitions.

The Hornets Clearly Don't Understand How Tanking Works

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    Greivis Vasquez continued his out-of-nowhere season by piling up 25 points, nine assists and four boards in a 100-95 win over the Detroit Pistons. The game was close down the stretch, but a Vasquez floater put it out of reach, earning the New Orleans Hornets their 21st victory of the year.

    Which was basically the worst thing that could have happened for the rebuilding Hornets.

    At this point, the season is about ping pong balls, not meaningless wins. If New Orleans needs any proof of the value of the draft lottery, it need only look to No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, who spent the game nursing a shoulder injury on the bench.

    The soon-to-be Pelicans are a long way away from being a decent club, and a couple of high lottery picks would certainly help expedite the process.

    Come on, Greivis—point guards are supposed to read situations and make decisions that are best for their teams. By playing so well, he's definitely not helping.

It's Possible to Win and Lose at the Same Time

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    The San Antonio Spurs blew out the Sacramento Kings by a final score of 130-102, hitting 60 percent of their shots and cruising for the better part of four quarters. The win was nice, but it came a potentially massive cost.

    Tony Parker, playing at as high of a level as anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant, sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. He had to be helped off the court, and the postgame prognosis from Gregg Popovich wasn't great:

    Pop on parker ankle sprain: 'it's a good one, he'll be out a while'

    — Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) March 2, 2013

    For years, the Spurs' skill has been beyond question. The health of their aging stars, however, is always an issue.

    Parker, 30, is by no means old, but he's certainly a star. If his injury lingers into the postseason, San Antonio could be in for another disappointing playoff exit. Perhaps the only bright spot to take out of Parker's injury is that Manu Ginobili did a masterful job of stepping in as the team's primary facilitator. His 15 assists were a team high (and in just 23 minutes).

    Expect Parker to take his recovery at a snail's pace. San Antonio's title hopes cease to exist if he can't play at a high level in May.

Enes Kanter Is a Cat Person

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    Thanks to a matching pair of ankle sprains for Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter got the chance to play some heavy minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Judging by his 23-point, 22-rebound night, it appears Mr. Kanter enjoys playing against the hapless Kitties. As a team, the undersized, overmatched Bobcats pulled down just two more rebounds than Kanter grabbed on his own.

    That's some serious glass ownership.

    With the Jazz likely to lose one or both of Jefferson-Millsap duo in the free agency market this summer, it's certainly a good sign that Kanter appears to be a capable replacement. On the year, he's improved his numbers across the board from last season, with particularly notable jumps in field-goal accuracy (50 percent to 53 percent) and free-throw percentage (67 percent to 76 percent).

    In just 14.3 minutes per game this year, Kanter has averaged 6.4 points and four rebounds. Just imagine how good those figures might look if he got to play 44 minutes against the Bobcats every night.

The Road Gets to Everyone Eventually

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    The Atlanta Hawks fell to the Phoenix Suns by a final score of 92-87, proving that no matter how soft the competition, an unexpected road loss can jump up and bite even the hottest teams.

    Atlanta had won four straight and six of seven overall, but playing their fourth road game in a string that will keep them out of Georgia until the middle of next week, the Hawks slipped against the lowly Suns.

    Josh Smith forgot his jumper in Utah, as he hit just 2-of-11 from the field. To be fair, some would argue that Smith's jumper doesn't exist and therefore can't be lost. You get the idea, though. Not even Al Horford, on a torrid streak of his own, could help the Hawks avoid a disappointing defeat. He did manage 20 points and seven boards on 8-of-16 shooting, though. So he certainly wasn't the problem.

    All in all, this loss is merely a speed bump on a Hawks season that has picked up some serious momentum over the past couple of weeks. With tougher tests ahead—like upcoming road games against the L.A. Lakers on Sunday and Denver Nuggets Monday—the Hawks have to chalk this one up to inevitability and move on.

Ty Lawson Likes the Moment

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    The Denver Nuggets continued their dominance at home, knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder by a down-to-the-wire final score of 105-103.

    Although Wilson Chandler's 35 points and Andre Miller's big game off the bench helped keep the Nuggets in step with the hard-charging Thunder, it was Ty Lawson's last-second jumper that sealed the deal in the night's most exciting game.

    Kevin Durant had 25 points and 14 rebounds, but his short jumper with 17 seconds left merely set the stage for Lawson's heroics.

    Perhaps most frustrating for the Thunder, Russell Westbrook utterly dominated the point-guard matchup, posting 38 points, six rebounds and five assists to Lawson's 11 points and seven dimes.

    In the end, Denver's point man got the final word, as his 23-footer gave Denver its 25th home win and a whole ton of confidence for the stretch run.