9 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's Heated Action
This NBA season is just warming up.
Or at least that's the heat coming off Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks.
The NBA moves closer to its postseason as the 82-game exercise of final seeding winds down. Teams are beginning to find their places as the playoffs near, and Wednesday night's action helped some teams separate and shift in the standings.
But one shift has left the Utah Jazz back on the outside looking in while, oh yes, those sneaky Los Angeles Lakers are back in the playoffs picture.
Carmelo Anthony Leads New York Knicks to 10th Straight Win
Apparently, Carmelo Anthony is back. And with that, so are the New York Knicks.
Anthony followed Tuesday's career-high 50 points against the Miami Heat with 40 points on Wednesday in a 95-82 road win against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks have now won 10 straight games—wait, even without Amare Stoudemire?!—and the team is sitting alone in the Eastern Conference's second spot.
Playing in the last nine games of the current streak, Anthony has averaged 31.4 points per game.
Obviously New York is moving in the right direction, but even an impressive double-digit win streak can be torn down a bit with some tough-love perspective.
The streak is just now taking on meaning, as it began with the then-awful Utah Jazz, and it continued with wins against the Orlando Magic and back-to-back wins against the Toronto Raptors.
Not exactly wins Mike Woodson hangs on his mom's fridge.
Of course, the last six games actually have included brag-worthy victories. Other than the Charlotte Bobcats, the Knicks knocked off quality competition in the Boston Celtics (twice), Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat and now the Hawks.
Josh Smith Fails to Show Up for Knicks Game
As the New York Knicks surge, Atlanta Hawks have settled into mediocrity.
Atlanta is .500 in its last 10 games and the current No. 5 seed of the East has not beaten a playoff team since March 24 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Josh Smith had a rough night in Wednesday's loss to the Knicks, mostly from the the free-throw line, where he was 0-of-7 on the night. He was also 0-of-3 from the three-point line. But hey, that happens to the best of guys who (think they) deserve max dollars.
Josh Smith can finally say he has something in common with LeBron: neither played against the Knicks this week.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 4, 2013
It was actually the Kyle Korver show in Atlanta's loss, as one of the league's top shooters went for six three-pointers in a 25-point, no-assists performance.
The Denver Nuggets Reveal Another Layer of Depth
The Denver Nuggets need one final push heading into the postseason.
Sometimes it's fun to deliver with a shove, as the Nuggets did on the road against the Utah Jazz for a 113-96 win.
No Ty Lawson wasn't a problem, as the role was filled by the forever-young, forever-underrated Andre Miller. The 37-year-old guard played 27 minutes and was an efficient 6-of-12 shooting for 13 points and added six assists.
The depth of the Nuggets appears ever more remarkable, as 20-year-old French rookie Evan Fournier stepped off the bench with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and ripped off three steals.
Crazy to think that Andre Miller was like 17 years old when Evan Fournier was born— Benjamin Hochman (@nuggetsnews) April 4, 2013
AThe Nuggets are now 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for third and remain in a tie with the Memphis Grizzlies at 51-24 in the Western Conference standings.
It will be a big advantage in the postseason to keep the third spot and host the Golden State Warriors as opposed to having to face the Clippers, either at home or away.
The Utah Jazz Fall Back out of the Playoffs Picture
The NBA season is one long story that consists of spontaneous changes and abilities to rewrite narratives.
The Utah Jazz have been an unsteady tale.
After five consecutive wins and a move back into the eighth spot in the West, the Utah Jazz blew it at home against the Denver Nuggets. The Jazz entered Wednesday 28-9 at home. The loss to the Nuggets, without Ty Lawson, has now moved the Jazz back behind the Los Angeles Lakers by half a game for that final postseason spot.
The Nuggets play six more games this season while the Lakers have seven left. Utah's six games are split home and away, and three come against teams with winning records: the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies. The other three contests come against the New Orleans Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves (twice).
The Lakers play five of their remaining seven games at home, but they also play five teams with winning records.
The Lakers' remaining schedule plays out as followed: against the Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans, Portland Trail Blazers, Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
It's hard to say which team has the advantage at this point.
Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets Maintain Ground in West
The postseason is becoming closer to a reality for two franchises that have missed the playoffs for a combined eight consecutive seasons.
Both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets picked up wins on Wednesday to maintain a buffer between the fight for the West's eighth spot between the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.
The Warriors won at home against the New Orleans Hornets, 99-88, while the Rockets traveled for a 112-102 road win against the Sacramento Kings.
Curry had 20 points and nine assists while Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jarrett Jack had 19 points and eight assists.
The Rockets returned their two top scorers against Sacramento.
James Harden returned from a sore right ankle injury that kept him out for two games, both Houston wins. The Rockets star tallied 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Chandler Parsons, who was out with illness against the Orlando Magic Monday, scored 29 points in his return.
The Warriors finished their five-game homestand with four wins and remain one game ahead of the seventh-seeded Rockets in the West.
The Los Angeles Lakers now trail the Warriors and Rockets by four and three games, respectively.
Washington Wizards Lose Bradley Beal, Lose to the Raptors
So you never understood the "adding insult to injury" line?
The Washington Wiazards announced Wednesday the loss of Bradley Beal for the remainder of the season with a right leg injury. Then they lost 88-78 to the Toronto Raptors.
Bradley Beal will miss the rest of the Washington Wizards season with a "stress injury in his right fibula," the team says.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 3, 2013
Beal averaged 13.9 points and 3.8 assists his rookie season.
So now John Wall will go it alone for the final seven games of the season. He led the Wizards with a team-high 20 points and five assists in the loss, but he also had the worst plus/minus mark of minus-21.
There's no insult directed at Wall, though.
The Wizards were 5-28 when their star guard returned from injury and the team has been 23-19 since.
A Race for the Bottom
Uh oh, the Orlando Magic just gained a game.
The Charlotte Bobcats are in a serious relationship with losing but they're flirting with the loss of their league-best lottery odds.
The Bobcats won their 18th game of the season, 88-83, against the Philadelphia 76ers, pulling just a dangerous half-game behind the Orlando Magic.
Not that there is a clear top pick in the 2013 draft, but No. 1 is always better than No. 2 and any franchise prefers the best odds.
Orlando lost—or gained?—ground in a 98-84 defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio Spurs Win Despite Resting Stars
The San Antonio Spurs weren't going to use up fuel just to beat the bottom-dwelling Orlando Magic.
Already short-handed without the injured Manu Ginobili, the Spurs rested Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard (in addition to only playing Tim Duncan 14 minutes) in a 98-84 win over Orlando.
Danny Green was 7-of-10 for 20 points and Gary Neal added 16 points and eight rebounds. The Spurs ended a quick two-game losing blip with the victory.
San Antonio is now 1.5 games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the top spot in the West and trail the Miami Heat by 2.5 games for the league's overall top record.
It appears that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is opting for rest ahead of home-court insurance as the season nears its conclusion.
At the least, he's making reasonable gambles to sit his top talent against lesser opponents.
The Los Angeles Clippers Find Winning Form
It's a good night when you get out to a 15-0 lead, as the Los Angeles Clippers did against the Phoenix Suns.
It became a weird night when the Suns then rallied back for 10 consecutive points to make it 15-10. But everything went back to normal as the Clippers cruised past the Suns 126-101.
Chris Paul looked himself, as the superstar had 15 points and 12 assists in just 26 minutes. DeAndre Jordan had a big night, too, with 20 points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes.
DeAndre Jordan just jumped 4 times in celebration after Chris Paul finished off a one-handed dunk.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) April 4, 2013
It was a celebratory night in Los Angeles. Cruising to the win has to feel good for the Clippers, who have struggled with three straight losses and won't play again until Sunday against the Lakers.
Matt Barnes (ankle) and Blake Griffin (calf) played though minor injuries and will now have time to rest.
The win allowed the Clippers to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings, who also picked up wins.