11 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 28, 2013

11 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

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    LeBron James went home, Jason Kidd stooped to a new low and the Los Angeles Clippers got a real scare when Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury. If Wednesday night's NBA action stopped there, it still would have been a pretty big night in the Association.

    But there was more.

    The Chicago Bulls went back to their roots, relying on dogged defense and a collective effort to put a vintage beating on a division rival. Plus, the Phoenix Suns put a stop to the Portland Trail Blazers' impressive streak. Not to be outdone, the Oklahoma City Thunder got a big night from an unlikely source in ending the San Antonio Spurs' 11-game run.

    Elsewhere, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced a familiar problem, Nikola Vucevic gave the Philadelphia 76ers an unpleasant reminder, and the Houston Rockets notched a big win with an even bigger performance from their bench.

    Consider these takeaways your NBA Thanksgiving appetizer. Bon appetit!


Reggie Jackson Stepped Up

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the third quarter, thanks to a big effort from Serge Ibaka. But it was OKC's confident, aggressive combo guard who helped put the game out of reach in the final period.

    On most nights, it'd be a safe bet to assume the guard in question was Russell Westbrook. But OKC's usual spark plug couldn't find his stroke against the Spurs, hitting just two of his 16 attempts in 32 brick-laden minutes.

    In his place, Reggie Jackson stood tall.

    The backup guard scored 23 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter that helped the Thunder maintain some breathing room against a Spurs team that never quit. It was an ugly game on the whole, but the Thunder certainly enjoyed the sight of someone other than Kevin Durant or Westbrook taking control with the game hanging in the balance.

    OKC defended their home court against the Spurs, knocking off the West's top team by a final of 94-88.

C.J. Watson Should Have Saved Some for Later

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    It's never a good idea to play down to the level of competition in the NBA. At the same time, you never want to waste your best games against hapless opponents, either.

    That last tenet is clearly one to which Indiana Pacers point guard C.J. Watson doesn't subscribe.

    Having hit just six of his 29 three-point attempts on the season, Watson caught fire against the Charlotte Bobcats, nailing five triples in the final quarter to help Indiana blow past the Kitties by a final score of 99-74.

    Four of them came in a span of about three-and-a-half minutes as the Pacers expanded their lead from just eight to a much more comfortable 17. Watson's fifth long bomb came at the 3:12 mark in the fourth, ballooning Indy's advantage to 25 points.

    According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said:

    I think he was just looking for it and we drew some plays up for him. One of them was in transition and we got him one early when we got him a corner flare. Sometimes, when you hit the first shot, it changes your momentum of the game. He'd been struggling with his shot but he's kept working.

    Here's hoping Watson didn't use up all of his big shots in a game the Pacers would almost certainly have won anyway.

Nobody Likes a Painful Reminder

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    The Philadelphia 76ers dropped a 105-94 road contest to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, but watching Nikola Vucevic go off for 21 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and three blocks on 10-of-13 shooting had to sting a little more than the defeat itself.

    The Sixers sent Vucevic to the Magic as part of the massive four-way deal that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia in the summer of 2012, and the big man has blossomed since the trade. With averages of 15.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, Vucevic is the type of center Philly thought it was getting in Bynum.

    Nobody in the Sixers organization should feel too dejected these days, though. Philadelphia is a surprisingly respectable 6-10 on the season, and Michael Carter-Williams (who had 23 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals) is practically a lock to win Rookie of the Year after just under a month of the season.

    Things haven't been as bad as expected for the 76ers. But if Vucevic were still on the roster, they could have been even better.

Jared Sullinger Might Be a Player

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    Jared Sullinger didn't exactly have a rookie year to remember. Injuries and a struggle to adjust to the athleticism of NBA opponents limited him to somewhat pedestrian averages of just six points and 5.9 rebounds per game in 2012-13.

    But the No. 21 pick in the 2012 draft has been showing signs recently that he might actually be a major part of the Boston Celtics' rebuilding effort.

    The 6'9" forward tallied 23 points and 12 rebounds in a 100-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, going head-to-head with Zach Randolph and conducting himself admirably in the effort. In Sullinger's past five games, he has averaged 15 points and 10.2 rebounds in just under 32 minutes per contest.

    Impressively, he's been a benefit to Boston on both ends of the floor. Per NBA.com, the Celtics' offensive and defensive ratings are both better when Sully is on the court. With Kelly Olynyk starting to look like another keeper before going down with an ankle injury, it appears Boston might have two pieces of its future frontcourt in place.


Jason Kidd Is Shameless

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    I'm sure there's a contingent of fans who'll find Jason Kidd's deliberate drink spilling to be an indicator of his competitive fire. Maybe there's something to that.

    But the Brooklyn Nets coach has spent the season doing next to nothing on the sidelines, so his bush-league attempt to ice Jodie Meeks at the foul line comes off somewhere between desperate and childish.

    You can see in the clip above that Kidd clearly says "hit me" to Tyshaun Taylor as the guard walks off the floor. Just as Kidd planned, the two collided, sending the coach's drink (Where'd he get that, by the way?) cascading onto the court.

    During the stoppage required to sop up the mess, Kidd and the Nets got to make Meeks think a little longer about his foul shot and draw up a game-ending sequence. Appropriately, though, the out-of-his-depth coach didn't notice two Los Angeles Lakers eavesdropping on the huddle.

    L.A. went on to win 99-94, thanks largely to a pair of huge misses by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. I don't want to point out that karma might have had something to do with it, but karma might have had something to do with it.

You Can't (And Shouldn't) Go Home Again

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    LeBron James has seen all he needs to see.

    After getting a glimpse of the utter disaster that is the Cleveland Cavaliers' franchise during a 95-84 victory, there's no way on Earth LBJ would ever consider returning to his former team when he hits free agency this summer.

    It's not just that James—who had 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists—would never want to play for overmatched head coach Mike Brown or under vindictive owner Dan Gilbert ever again either. The biggest reason James will never go back to Cleveland is the putrid collection of talent he'd have to join.

    The Cavs have missed badly on a number of high lottery picks, and those errant selections were on display Wednesday.

    Tristan Thompson made just a single field goal in 23 minutes, Kyrie Irving shot 6-of-19 from the field and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett couldn't even get off the bench. If you're looking for a bright spot, I guess you could cite Dion Waiters and his 24 points off the pine.

    But the only reason he gave more than his typically minimal effort is because he's working hard to get himself traded away from the Cavs.

    Cleveland is a complete mess, and if LeBron had any doubts about that before, he's dead certain of it now.

Some Recipes Never Change

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    When Derrick Rose went down for the season, everyone knew Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would fall back on the "we have enough to win" mantra he trumpeted throughout the 2012-13 playoffs.

    Thibs' assertion wasn't true last year, and it isn't true now. But as you'd expect, the Bulls are giving maximum effort, stretching the limited talent they have on hand and defending like their lives depend on it. That's what they've always done.

    Thanks to a yeomen's effort from Luol Deng and a career-high 23 points from Taj Gibson, the Bulls pounded the life out of the Detroit Pistons. Chicago held Detroit to 15 points in the third period, then followed that effort up by relenting just 11 in the fourth.

    Yep, Thibodeau's suffocating defense was in vintage form.

    The Bulls are now 7-7 on the season, and as long as they continue to get gritty efforts from their hard-nosed cast of role players and plenty of stifling defense, they'll probably play better than .500 ball the rest of the way.

    Maybe Thibodeau should change his motto to "we have enough to win just a little more often than we lose." That'd be a more accurate.

It Helps to Be Deep

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    The Houston Rockets easily took care of the Atlanta Hawks 113-84, thanks largely to 67 bench points that helped make up for the absence of James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The former missed his third straight game with a sore foot, while the latter went down with a knee contusion four minutes into the first quarter.

    Francisco Garcia pumped in 21 points on 14 shots, Aaron Brooks added 21 of his own, and even Omer Asik quit moping long enough to provide 10 points and nine boards.

    The Rockets have won six of their last seven games, including three in a row. In each of those three most recent wins, Houston has had a bench player score at least 16 points.

    Since we're dealing with the Rockets, it's hard to know whether general manager Daryl Morey will keep his deep cast of reserves in place all year or swap a bunch of them for picks. In the past, he's been a big fan of shipping off decent assets when their values peak, so we can't rule out a deal for any or all of the Rockets' bench players just yet.

    For now, though, Houston is thriving because of its terrific depth.

Clips Fans Are Holding Their Breath

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    Removing Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers offense is like ripping the steering wheel out of a Ferrari. The car can still hit some pretty impressive top speeds, but there'll be no way to control it.

    That's why Clippers fans are probably a little worried after seeing CP3 head to the locker room in the third quarter of L.A.'s 93-80 win over the New York Knicks. Paul strained his right hamstring, and although the Clips comfortably hung on to the lead, there could be significant long-term repercussions with the injury.

    And because there were way too many other things that happened in this game to elaborate on, we're switching to bullet points:

    • Amar'e Stoudemire was abysmal, posting a plus-minus figure of minus-29 on the night. His defense was atrocious—even for him.
    • Iman Shumpert scored two points in 25 minutes, continuing his baffling reluctance to shoot the ball.
    • New York lost its seventh straight game, dropping its overall record to 3-11.

    There. Wasn't it easier to digest the hideous notes from the Knicks' side of this game in bite-sized chunks? Let's just move on, shall we?

Things Change Quickly in the NBA

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    Don't look now, but the Minnesota Timberwolves have lost five out of six and have seen their record drop below .500 for the first time all season. That's a pretty significant turnaround for a team that was the high-scoring, stat-stuffing darling of fans throughout the league just a couple of weeks ago.

    The Wolves dropped a 117-110 affair to the visiting Denver Nuggets, and after the game, J.J. Barea had a theory that succinctly explained his team's recent struggles.

    According to Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North, a frustrated Barea said: "I've been on good teams. Your bench got to be awesome. This team, right now, we really don't have a bench."

    Perhaps Barea is unaware of this, but he comes off the bench. So, oddly, he's calling himself out. Considering the minus-15 rating he posted against the Nuggets, it's hard to disagree with him.

    All told, the Timberwolves got just 10 points from their reserves, a figure dwarfed by the 47 Denver's reserves provided. If Minnesota can't find some way to get respectable production from their backups, it might be a while before they see .500 again.

    Oh, and on an unrelated note, the sleeved jerseys the Wolves sported on Wednesday are keepers. Those things are sweet.

The Phoenix Suns Are Kryptonite

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    The Phoenix Suns ended the Portland Trail Blazers' 11-game winning streak with a 120-106 victory on Wednesday. The triumph bumped Phoenix's record to 8-7 on the season.

    The Blazers have amassed a record of 11-1 against the rest of the NBA. But they've gone 1-2 against the Suns. This raises an important question: Is it too early to give Jeff Hornacek the Coach of the Year award?

    The Suns' first-year head coach has certainly figured out a way to beat one of the NBA's best teams, but his overall handling of a young roster has been something to behold. Instead of tanking, the Suns are playing an exciting, fast-paced and, most importantly, winning brand of basketball.

    Hornacek is getting great production out of Goran Dragic, who had 31 points and 10 assists against Portland. When Eric Bledsoe returns to the lineup, the Suns backcourt is going to be downright scary.

    And even if Phoenix's youth causes it to fade as the season progresses, we know one thing for sure: The Suns have the Blazers' number.