12 Takeaways from Friday Night's Unbelievable NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 9, 2013

12 Takeaways from Friday Night's Unbelievable NBA Action

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    Friday night's NBA slate had just about everything a basketball fan could ask for—so long as that fan wasn't rooting for the Charlotte Bobcats. Sorry, Kitties fans—maybe next year.

    Charlotte supporters aside, though, League Pass surfers were treated to a record-setting long-range performance from Deron Williams, yet another Miami Heat win, and a truly stunning last-second victory in Chicago.

    And that was just in the early games.

    There was also a shocking blowout in San Antonio, and another heated installment of the budding rivalry between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.

    And, of course, Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers starred in a stirring Hollywood drama with an ending too crazy to be based on a true story.

    Strap in, NBA fans. Friday night was chock-full of truly unbelievable action.

LeBron Has Tweaked His Buzzer-Beater Strategy

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    After needing a handful of favorable calls and a game-winning layup to survive against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, LeBron James and the Miami Heat took care of business much sooner against the Philadelphia 76ers.

    This time, James buried his buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter. His three-point bucket gave Miami a one-point advantage heading into the final period and the Heat coasted home over the final 12 minutes. It's probably valid to criticize Miami for screwing around and eventually relying on its ability to flip the switch when necessary, but at least James has moved up the team's switch-flipping timetable to the third quarter.

    The win, you may have heard, was Miami's 17th in a row. That streak matches the one the L.A. Clippers posted earlier this year. With the Indiana Pacers looming next on the horizon, the Heat won't get to No. 18 if they wait around until the late stages to start playing.

    Against the Sixers, though, the Heat's fourth-quarter effort was more than enough.

A Greg Oden Sighting in Cleveland

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    Sure, it's worth mentioning that the Memphis Grizzlies won their 11th game in 12 tries and improved to 12-4 since dealing Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors.

    And yeah, Cleveland Cavaliers fans would probably like to hear a bit about Kyrie Irving's return to the court after missing time with a bad knee and the flu. But who cares about that stuff? Greg Oden was in the building in Cleveland!

    Greg Oden sitting next to Cavs bench, sharing a couple laughs with Luke Walton. Future teammates? #imallforspeculation

    — Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) March 9, 2013

    There have been rumblings about an impending Oden return next season, and the Cavs have been repeatedly mentioned as a possible destination, thanks to Oden's Ohio connections.

    It's a little sad that a sideline guest stole the spotlight in this game, but with the Grizzlies firmly entrenched in the No. 4 spot in the West and the Cavs wallowing around in lottery territory, there really wasn't much else worth discussing.

Apparently, Deron Williams Has Found a Substitute for Dunking

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    Deron Williams pumped in a franchise-record 11 three-pointers (including an NBA-record nine in the first half) as the Brooklyn Nets thumped the Washington Wizards by a final score of 95-78.

    Maybe this is a sort of reinvention for Williams, who revealed earlier this season that his cranky ankles had rendered him earthbound, causing too much pain for him to dunk the ball. Well, he hasn't registered a single slam this season, so he wasn't joking.

    But with the way Williams shot the ball on Friday, he may never need to go inside the arc (let alone dunk) again.

    D-Will finished with 42 points and continued his excellent post-All-Star-break run in the Nets' 36th win of the year. In the previous five games, Williams had been averaging 23 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and from long range.

    It's safe to say those numbers are headed north after his huge performance against the Wizards.

    Apparently, dunks are passe. Williams is all about the long ball now.

A Lot Has Changed Since the Thunder and Bobcats Last Met

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    On Nov. 26, the Charlotte Bobcats were a surprising 7-5 and were enjoying the prospects of what looked to be a respectable season. Well, the Oklahoma City Thunder crushed them by 45 points on that date, sending a depth charge into the hull of the Kitties' soon-to-be sinking ship.

    Since then, the Bobcats have gone 6-44, reassuming their rightful position in the absolute basement of the NBA.

    OKC blew Friday's game open with a 19-0 run in the second quarter and rested its starters for the entire final period, ultimately prevailing by a 116-94 margin. The Bobcats shot just 41 percent, while allowing the Thunder to hit nearly 57 percent of their shots.

    Those figures are a pretty good illustration of the all-around ineptitude that has caused Charlotte's plunge over the last three months.

    I guess the good news is that the 'Cats won't have to play the Thunder until next year. Based on the way their two matchups have gone this season, that's got to be a relief.

The Pacers Didn't Look Past the Magic

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    Following a gut-wrenching loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday and with a huge matchup with the streaking Miami Heat coming up Sunday, it would have been incredibly easy for the Indiana Pacers to overlook the Orlando Magic.

    Based on the 115-86 beatdown Indy delivered in Orlando, maintaining focus clearly wasn't an issue.

    Paul George had 25 points and the Pacers made 11-of-19 threes on the night. All of that hot shooting had to be a little bittersweet, as the Pacers could have used just another bucket or two to stave off the Celtics during their stunning comeback a couple of days ago.

    Still, the Pacers will head to Miami with a win under their belts and a little momentum, both of which they'll need to stop the Heat's streak from hitting 18.

The Mavericks Might Not Be Dead Yet

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    With the Utah Jazz falling apart and plenty of veterans with something to prove, the Dallas Mavericks' 102-99 win over the Detroit Pistons might really end up affecting the playoff picture. Crazy, right?

    Well, with all of the attention being paid to the Los Angeles Lakers' late-season playoff push, the Mavs have quietly crept to within just 3.5 games of the Jazz for the West's final ticket to the postseason dance.

    As has been the case all year, Dallas didn't do things the easy way against the Pistons. Ahead by 15 in the final period, the Mavericks actually allowed the Pistons to take a late lead before clawing back behind Dirk Nowitzki's pair of key buckets down the stretch.

    The signs of life are faint, but this win went a long way toward proving that the Mavs are still kicking.

Celtics Prove Three Really Is a Magic Number

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    The Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks in overtime by a final score of 107-102, and the long ball had everything to do with it.

    Jason Terry hit a three with less than a minute remaining in overtime to give the Celtics the lead for good—the Celtics' 10th made triple in 20 tries on the night.

    Thanks to another pair of threes in the overtime period (by Paul Pierce and Jeff Green), Boston avoided a massively disappointing loss. Up 12 in the fourth quarter, the Celtics allowed the Hawks to fight back behind Josh Smith's 32 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

    But Terry's third three of the night put any comeback dreams to bed.

Hustle Is Everything for the Bulls

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    In a game-ending sequence against the Utah Jazz, the Chicago Bulls managed to encapsulate their entire team philosophy.

    Down by two with the ball, Marco Belinelli drove the lane and flipped up a floater as he was knocked (or flopped, depending on your perspective) to the floor. The ball rattled out, but Utah couldn't secure the rebound. Joakim Noah tipped it, Carlos Boozer shouldered Jazz big men out of the way, Noah tipped it again, saving it as he fell out of bounds.

    Then Jimmy Butler came up with the ball in a mini-scrum, leaving his feet to find Belinelli, who had picked himself up and shuffled back to the left corner. As Belinelli rushed an attempt, his right toe nearly touched the three-point line.

    The ball swished through and after a frantic Jazz possession in the last few seconds, Chicago had won by a single point, 89-88.

    So, in summation, the Bulls won the game with multiple hustle plays and just barely enough offense. Does that sound like their season in a nutshell, or what?

Every Machine Malfunctions Once in a While

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    Because the players on the San Antonio Spurs are (allegedly) comprised of flesh and bone, most folks tend to agree that the guys sporting silver and black are actually human.

    Although, considering the mechanical efficiency with which the Spurs have operated for the last 15 years, their organic qualities are at least up for debate.

    Against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, the Spurs proved that even the most finely tuned machines can malfunction on occasion. Portland shot 61 percent from the floor and scored an astounding 79 points in the second half en route to a 136-103 dismantling of San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

    Damian Lillard put up 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting and Eric Maynor pumped in 20 off the bench as the Spurs struggled to keep up with Portland's youth and pace.

    The win was a nice one for the mediocre Blazers, but they should probably keep in mind that the Spurs are recalibrating their instruments as we speak. It seems unlikely that Gregg Popovich's squad will suffer a similar malfunction next time around.

Context Is Always Important

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    In a vacuum, the Sacramento Kings' 121-112 win over the Phoenix Suns might look like a stunningly efficient offensive performance. The Kings had four players score at least 22 points, shot 55 percent as a team, and made 13-of-27 three-pointers.

    But when you factor in the utter awfulness of the Suns, it really puts the Kings' night in perspective.

    Phoenix ranks 22nd in defensive efficiency, and the forward combination of Luis Scola and Michael Beasley, who played a combined 64 minutes, doesn't do a whole lot of locking down on D. So while it's nice that DeMarcus Cousins diced up the opposition to the tune of 22 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists on 9-of-13 shooting, it's not like he was facing the '89 Pistons' front line.

    And in the interest of fairness, Goran Dragic's 17 points and 16 assists deserve an asterisk too; the Kings are the second-worst defensive team in the NBA.

    In other words, it's almost impossible to make distinctive statements about this game because of the quality of both clubs involved....except for this one: These teams are both terrible.

The Rockets Are a Better Team Than the Warriors

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    A lot of these takeaways have been sort of esoteric. You know, drawing big-picture conclusions from specific plays, making blanket statements and comparing humans to machines—that sort of stuff.

    Well, the takeaway from the game between the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors is simple: The Rockets are just better right now.

    The overall shooting numbers for both teams were very similar, the rebounding battle was fairly even, and both teams gave solid efforts. But by getting to the foul line for 34 attempts and coming up with the bigger plays down the stretch, the Rockets proved that they're a cut above the Warriors.

    Houston won in a hostile Oracle Arena by a final score of 94-88, making it three straight over the Dubs.

    The standings might still show the Warriors with a narrow one-game advantage on Houston, but that figure doesn't come close to explaining the gap in quality between these two teams. The Rockets have a far superior per-game differential and they've handled the Warriors every time they've met them this year.

    At this point, Golden State needs to concede its inferiority and focus on an easier task: being better than the Utah Jazz.

The Madness Continues

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    We can all agree that what Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers have been doing lately is getting a little ridiculous, right?

    After leading L.A. to a 25-point comeback against the New Orleans Hornets Wednesday night in a season-saving victory, the Mamba struck again, dragging his team to yet another stunning come-from-behind win. This time, L.A. fought back from a 10-point fourth-quarter disadvantage in a thrilling 118-116 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors.

    Bryant fired off 15 points in the final period, including three three-point buckets in the final 1:40 to pull the Lakers even with the stunned Raptors.

    Four more points in the extra period by No. 24 and a huge three from Steve Nash moved the Lakers above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5 on Nov. 20.

    Bryant finished with 41 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. He is in his 17th NBA season, by the way.

    On a night of truly unbelievable games, no contest stretched the bounds of plausibility further than the Lakers' amazing comeback win.