6 Takeaways from Saturday's NBA Action
And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.
Saturday was a banner night for some of the NBA's downtrodden—in all seven matchups, the team with the worse record emerged victorious. Six of the seven winners came into the night with losing records, and four of the seven have at least 12 losses, including the last place teams in both conferences, Milwaukee and Utah.
The lone elite team to win tonight was the Houston Rockets, who scored an impressive 112-106 road win against in-state rival San Antonio.
In the East, the Nets are starting to look like an actual professional basketball team, but they have a long way to go to catch the red-hot Washington Wizards.
Let's get to it!
John Wall Is Showing No Signs of Slowing Down
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall put up his second 20-point, 10-assist game of the season on Saturday with 26 points and 12 dimes in the Wizards' 108-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Such displays of scoring and playmaking wizardry have become commonplace for Wall over the past two weeks. In his last eight games, Wall is averaging a stellar 22.6 points and 8.9 assists per game.
Of course, Wall has always had the potential to put up big numbers. But something very important is happening for the third-year point guard and his Wizards: Those numbers are starting to translate into wins. The Wizards are now 6-2 in their last eight games and are now 8-9 and in the thick of the playoff race in the weak Eastern Conference.
Veteran guard and former NBA champion Trevor Ariza likes the development his Wizards have shown of late. Per Rich Dubroff of NBA.com: "We're showing growth. We're showing maturity. I feel we're ready to take the next step and become a playoff team."
If the Wizards are truly on the verge of making the playoffs, the development of Wall will be the primary reason.
The Houston Rockets Can Close out Big Games
If Houston fans have any concerns about the Rockets' ability to close out close games, they can dismiss them following their team's clutch 112-106 win over the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs had turned around a double-digit deficit in the second half and were threatening to close out the game. But the Rockets showed their character down the stretch.
They beat the Spurs at the free-throw line, especially in the final quarter. James Harden had 10 free-throw attempts in the fourth, and Dwight Howard put up "only" six. Howard did make four of those attempts, however, and that should only increase his confidence.
The Nets Run New York...for Whatever That's Worth
Do the Brooklyn Nets want to run New York basketball, or do they want to compete for an NBA championship?
Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.
Well, the Nets have achieved the former for the time being, jumping two full wins ahead of the hapless Knicks with Saturday's 97-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Though they are only two games out of first place in the Atlantic Division, the Nets haven't looked anything like a title contender, with a 5-12 record in November.
But Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd doesn't seem concerned, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com: "What rough month?" Kidd responded to questioning. "It’s been a great process and a great learning experience."
The Nets need to get healthy, of course, and mesh as a team before they begin the long, slow climb toward .500.
The Minnesota Timberwolves Would Be Lost Without Kevin Martin
The Minnesota Timberwolves climbed back to .500 on Saturday night with a 112-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately for them, they play in the Western Conference, where .500 only gets you within sniffing distance of the eighth seed.
If the Wolves are going to make that long-awaited run to the playoffs, then they will have to continue to lean heavily on shooting guard Kevin Martin, who paced the Wolves on Saturday with 27 points.
Martin has been one of the best free-agent pickups of the offseason, averaging 23.1 points per game. Considering the underwhelming performances of some of the incumbent Wolves, Minnesota would be lost without Martin.
Trey Burke Is Just What the Doctor Ordered for the Utah Jazz
Rookie point guard Trey Burke didn't take long to help the Utah Jazz.
While the first-round pick and 2013 NCAA Player of the Year sat with a finger injury, the Jazz struggled out of the gate, winning just one of their first 12 games without him. Utah has an intriguing frontcourt, with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward, but their guards struggled mightily to open the season.
Burke led the Jazz with 20 points in Utah's 112-104 win over the Phoenix Suns, Utah's second win in their last three games.
Utah is still dead last last in the Western Conference, but with Burke playing this way, they are a threat to climb out of the cellar.
Luol Deng Can't Carry the Bulls
Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng had himself quite a night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring 27 points to lead both teams. And the Bulls lost, 97-93.
Is that Deng's fault? Of course not. Deng is a quality player, but he's not a superstar. With Derrick Rose lost for the season, the Bulls need other players to step up, particularly on the offensive end.
Ironically enough, the Bulls lost to a much more balanced Cavs team—a team that usually relies heavily on star point guard Kyrie Irving. Four Cav players scored in double digits, led by Andrew Bynum and Dion Waiters, who each recorded 20 points. Irving chipped in with 19.
The Bulls would do well to learn from this game.