6 Takeaways from Saturday Night's Momentous NBA Action
Saturday night's NBA action was all about momentum.
The Philadelphia 76ers put the brakes on their runaway train of dysfunction, knocking off a Golden State Warriors team that picked up even more speed on their four-game nosedive. The Sixers aren't likely for the playoffs, but the Dubs' losing skid has them sprinting in the wrong direction as the playoffs near.
At the United Center, the Chicago Bulls rode their starters into the ground, all in the name of building a little steam in their quest for home-court advantage.
And it wasn't just the teams involved in Saturday's four-game schedule that built or destroyed momentum, either; plenty of individual players had performances that either continued or started some serious rolls.
Brandon Jennings had his own personal assist party, and Joakim Noah kept chugging along with a second straight huge statistical night. Stats aside, J.J. Redick proved that he might be the guy to propel the Milwaukee Bucks to another level.
Let's check out who changed direction, who picked up speed and who came to a screeching halt on Saturday.
It's Official: The Warriors Are in Big Trouble
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The Golden State Warriors lost their fourth straight game, falling by a final score of 104-97 to a disjointed Philadelphia 76ers team that had no business beating anybody right now.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to hit 10-of-21 from long range, but the Warriors shot just under 42 percent as a team and allowed the punchless Sixers to make nearly 52 percent of their field-goal tries. In other words, the Dubs finally found a way to go cold and let the other team get hot—at the same time.
Poor shooting and poor defense had previously existed in separate games during the Warriors' inconsistent second half. But now they've found a way to unite the two.
Jarrett Jack, once a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, has hit a mini slump of late. He followed a 1-of-9 performance on Thursday against the Boston Celtics with 3-of-13 against Philly on Saturday.
Toss in a minus-13 rebounding disadvantage, and you've got the recipe for one of the season's most alarming losses.
With a shrinking lead on the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets for the sixth seed in the West, Golden State is hitting the skids at the absolute worst time.
It's Never Over for Tom Thibodeau
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Enjoying a 17-point lead with less than 2:30 remaining in the game, all five Chicago Bulls starters remained on the court against the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls went on to win the game by a final score of 96-85, but the real takeaway here is that head coach Tom Thibodeau seemingly has no regard for the long-term health of his players.
He left them out there until the contest was over.
Luol Deng plays more minutes per game than any player in the league, and Joakim Noah is the only non-guard in the top 10. With a woefully-thin rotation, it's somewhat understandable that the Bulls leave their marquee players on the court for longer periods than teams with the luxury of more depth.
But Saturday's game was ridiculous.
Chicago held an 18-point advantage at the end of the third quarter, and the Nets never mounted a threat in the fourth. There was absolutely no reason to leave all five starters on the floor until the final buzzer.
In the end, Deng logged 44 minutes and Noah played 41. Even Kirk Hinrich, whose cranky elbow has cost him several games in recent weeks, played 39 minutes.
The Bulls play a high-energy style on defense that taxes even the most finely-conditioned athletes. If Chicago wants to do anything but suffer a disappointing first-round defeat in this year's playoffs, Thibodeau has to find a way to rest his big-name players.
Saturday night would have been a perfect opportunity to do that, but clearly, preserving his starters for the postseason isn't a priority for Thibs.
Milwaukee Might Be Turning the Corner
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Thanks to a pair of blown calls, the Milwaukee Bucks had to go into overtime to beat the visiting Toronto Raptors. But a supremely unselfish night from Brandon Jennings and remarkable efforts from the frontcourt duo of Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova helped the Bucks secure a 122-114 win.
The Bucks' third consecutive victory was a big one—not just because it helped them inch over .500, but also because it showed how dangerous they could be in a playoff series.
Jennings dished out 19 assists, Ilyasova poured in 29 points, and Sanders blocked five shots.
More important than the statistics, though, was Milwaukee's ability to overcome adversity. Late in the game, Sanders catapulted skyward, pinning a Raptor attempt to the glass. Perhaps the officials weren't used to seeing anyone get up as high as Sanders did, but despite clearly catching the ball before its apex, Sanders was whistled for goaltending.
Moments later, the ball ricocheted out of bounds in a scramble on the sideline, brushing DeMar DeRozan's hand before it landed. The ball went to the Raptors, who used the extra possession to tie the game late.
Despite all of that, Milwaukee held on to win easily in overtime. This kind of win counts extra for a club trying to find its identity as it heads into the playoffs.
If the Bucks keep getting these kinds of performances from so many players, there's no telling how much momentum they'll be able to build.
J.J. Redick Could Be the Difference
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Yeah, we already covered the game between the Raptors and Bucks, but J.J. Redick's contributions were significant enough to warrant their own slide.
Put simply, Redick has taken Milwaukee from a fringe playoff contender to a club that could really give a high seed a run for its money.
Never mind that the Bucks' deadline acquisition pumped in 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and had a couple of his buckets at key moments down the stretch. His real contributions are far more subtle. When the Raptors' out-of-control penetrators barreled into the lane, Redick was there to take charges. And when Milwaukee needed a smart possession, it seemed to always involve Redick.
Let's face it: The Bucks have some loose cannons on offense. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings aren't exactly the poster boys for sound, fundamental basketball. Redick's presence gives the Bucks a guidance chip for their ballistic missile.
It's no coincidence that they've won three out of four since he came to town.
Jo Knows Box Scores
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He didn't log a beastly triple-double or post another 20-20 game, but Joakim Noah still filled up the stat sheet for the second night in a row.
Noah put up 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals on 10-of-13 shooting against the Nets.
Part of the explanation for his massive statistical totals has to do with Tom Thibodeau's aforementioned penchant for leaving his players on the court for huge minutes. But Noah's recent statistical brilliance is also related to his own unparalleled effort and unappreciated skill.
Those seem like some pretty good numbers to me.
J.J. Hickson Would Very Much Like a New Contract
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Playing on a one-year deal, Portland Trail Blazers forward J.J. Hickson is doing his best to position himself for a multi-year offer when he hits unrestricted free agency this summer. His 18 points and 16 rebounds in Portland's 109-94 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves was a good representation of the kinds of lines he's been putting up in his career year.
Teams should always be wary of a guy who suddenly finds an extra gear when he's got a potential payday ahead, and Hickson's breakout season should be viewed no differently.
After posting career averages of 9.7 points and 6.5 rebounds on 50 percent shooting—nothing to sneeze at, to be sure—Hickson is averaging 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds on 57-percent shooting this season.
For the rebuilding Blazers, it'll be very tempting to retain Hickson's services this offseason. But bringing him back will certainly involve a raise. Portland can't afford to invest in a player who might start to coast after signing a big contract.
Nobody's saying Hickson is that type of guy; it would just be wise of Portland to be careful.