8 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

8 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

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    Monday night's NBA theater spoiled audiences, providing healthy doses of comedy, tragedy and drama.

    The Detroit Pistons opened things up with a thriller that left the Indiana Pacers stunned. After that, the Los Angeles Lakers forgot to return after intermission against the Atlanta Hawks, resulting in yet another disappointing loss for Kobe Bryant and Co.

    Elsewhere, the New York Knicks helped construct a funny, but ultimately sad ending that everybody saw coming. Plus, the Miami Heat waited until the second act to turn up the excitement against the Utah Jazz, and the Los Angeles Clippers sent fans to the exits with a remarkable closing run.

    Oh, and Joe Johnson stepped into a starring role for the first time all season.

    Grab some popcorn as we run through the biggest takeaways from an exciting night of NBA hoops.

And Then There Was One

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    When the Detroit Pistons bullied their way to a 101-96 win over the Indiana Pacers, the Oklahoma City Thunder became the only team in the NBA without a home loss.

    I'm not sure the Pistons are all that concerned about knocking the Pacers off that list. They probably care more about knocking the Pacers over, period.

    Indiana's physical style and punishing front line has been a big part of its success over the past couple of years, but the Pistons showed that they can do "big" even better than the Pacers. Thanks to a rebounding margin of plus-15 overall and plus-11 on the offensive glass, the impressive Pistons limited Indy's second-chance opportunities while creating a ton of their own.

    On the night, Detroit scored a whopping 44 points in the paint.

    Per Scott Agness of Pacers.com, head coach Frank Vogel knew well in advance that Indy was in for a fight:

    With great length, the Pistons (12-14) are one of the few teams that can equal the Pacers’ (20-4) size and present other problems, which is why head coach Frank Vogel called them a scary team to prepare for in his pregame media session.

    This isn't indicative of any kind of sea change in the East. Indiana is still the class of the Central Division. But this is how the Pistons have to play to get the most out of their size.

    The Pacers now have a blemish on their previously perfect home record. Actually, after seeing how the Pistons notched their big win, it's probably more appropriate to call it a bruise.

Don't Forget: Games Have Two Halves

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Maybe it was the fatigue of playing their third game in four nights. Or, perhaps it was the disappearance of Pau Gasol after the first quarter. Then again, maybe we should just assume the simplest explanation is the best and say that Al Horford was simply better than every Los Angeles Laker on the floor.

    Whatever the cause, the Lakers shut down in the third quarter, surrendering 35 points and scoring just 19 in that decisive period. In the end, L.A. dropped a 114-100 contest to the Atlanta Hawks.

    Kobe Bryant totaled just eight points on 14 shots, and Gasol logged just two field goals after the game's first period. Los Angeles' younger legs—Xavier Henry and Nick Young—performed very well off the bench, totaling a combined 41 points on 28 shots.

    But the Lakers' old guard just couldn't keep up with the younger, fresher, better Hawks.

    The circumstances weren't ideal for the Lakers, who are dealing with injuries, the re-integration of Bryant and a tough road trip through the East. But if they can't find the energy and consistency to avoid disastrous quarters like the one that sank them in Atlanta, games like this are going to become the norm.

The Free-Throw Line Doubles as a Bottom Line

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    There are a lot of solid explanations for why the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped a 101-97 contest to the Boston Celtics, not the least of which was Jared Sullinger's 15-point outburst in the fourth quarter.

    Beyond that, the Wolves could pin the defeat on Kevin Love missing nine of his 11 three-point attempts, Ricky Rubio playing so badly that he couldn't get off Rick Adelman's bench in the final moments or Corey Brewer's ghastly 1-of-8 shooting night.

    But you know what? There's a much simpler way to explain why the Celtics got the better of the Wolves on Monday: Minnesota couldn't hit its free throws.

    The Wolves shot just 15-of-26 from the foul line, a devastating result in a game that was decided by just four points. If Minny could have knocked down a mere five more free throws, which would have upped its percentage on the night to just 77 percent, it would have won.

    That's not a tall order, either. The Wolves came into the game hitting 79.9 percent from the line, good enough for fourth best in the league, per NBA.com.

    Credit the Celtics for getting balanced scoring, defending when it mattered and, most of all, hitting their free throws. Boston went 18-of-23 from the stripe.

    Let this be a reminder that sometimes, NBA analysis doesn't have to be complicated. If Minnesota knocks down a few more freebies, this game ends differently.

Joe Johnson Is Through Waiting Around

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    The Brooklyn Nets were supposed to be a team full of stars, leveraging unrivaled experience and a winning pedigree into certain success.

    Well, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have been duds. Deron Williams is still working his way back, Andrei Kirilenko has contributed almost nothing and Brook Lopez is hurt again.

    So Joe Johnson took matters into his own hands, catching fire for 29 points in the third quarter of the Nets' blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Johnson knocked down eight triples in the period on his way to a total of 10 on the night.

    Brooklyn has now won four out of five and, thanks to Johnson, finally has a little momentum going.

    Johnson won't be able to singlehandedly lift his team every night, but it's certainly nice to see that at least one of Brooklyn's high-priced commodities can still pay dividends. If Johnson can stay hot as the rest of his aged and infirm teammates round into form, the Nets can still easily make the playoffs.

    In fact, after beating the Sixers, Brooklyn is just a single game out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

    Welcome to the Eastern Conference, everybody! Where no hole is too deep and no dysfunction too great.

The Knicks Would Have Been Excellent Explorers

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    No team seeks out new and uncharted routes to failure like the New York Knicks. They're blessed with an intrepid spirit, a wanderlust that leaves them forever searching for undiscovered paths toward disappointment.

    Against the Washington Wizards, the trail-blazing Knicks managed to combine total defensive apathy with an incomprehensible disregard for clock management. The result: a gut-wrenching 102-101 defeat.

    Give Bradley Beal a little credit. The second-year guard buried a three to tie the game at 100 in the waning moments. But also note that it was the Knicks' complete defensive breakdown that allowed him to flip in a virtually uncontested layup to take a one-point lead seconds later.

    Beno Udrih was no match for Beal's first step, and predictably, no help came as Beal swooped in for the lefty layup.

    On the ensuing possession, the Knicks took the ball out underneath the basket with six ticks remaining, decided not to call a timeout and casually advanced the rock up the floor. Carmelo Anthony had possession, and his calm would have been impressive if not for his long history of failing to understand how to manage last-second situations.

    'Melo dribbled the ball over half court with no apparent sense of urgency, then seemingly realized he'd have to shoot the ball. Jumping into two defenders and firing up an off-balance heave from well behind the three-point arc was his solution.

    Frankly, it was breathtaking.

    I defy you to find another team that could lose a game with such a creative combination of inexcusable gaffes.

    The Knicks are 7-17, which means they have 58 chances to try to top this one. I'm excited.

Never Wake a Sleeping Giant

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    The Utah Jazz had the audacity to take a three-point lead into halftime against the Miami Heat. That might seem like a good thing for Tyrone Corbin's team on the surface, but it's almost never a great idea to give the Heat a reason to start caring about the game.

    The potential to get embarrassed by the lowly Jazz was obviously enough to spark some interest in Miami's locker room.

    Thanks to a blistering second-half surge, the Heat handily dispatched Utah by a final score of 117-94. LeBron James fought through a sprained ankle to hit 13 of 17 shots while missing a triple-double by just a single assist and a single rebound. Dwyane Wade knocked in nine of his 14 shots, and Chris Bosh was 8-of-13 from the field.

    When it was all over, the Heat had set a franchise record by shooting a remarkable 63.4 percent on the night, per ESPN Stats & Information.

    According Jason Leiser of the The Palm Beach Post, head coach Erik Spoelstra said: “The two games before that, we played poorly after halftime and the guys owned that. It was a much more aggressive disposition than we had previously.”

    I'll say.

    Next time, maybe Jazz will just roll over in the first quarter. That seems preferable to getting completely run out of the gym by a suddenly motivated Miami squad.

D.J. Augustin Matters, Which Is Terrifying

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    Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

    As the Lakers struggled to find a solution to their point guard problems last season, I came to a profound realization: Chris Duhon is never the answer.

    It's a simple, logical truism based on the proposition that there is no problem an NBA basketball team can face that Duhon solves. Need to pick up the pace? Chris Duhon is not the answer. Need some sound shooting? Chris Duhon is not the answer.

    Want to win some games? Chris Duhon is not the answer.

    Having now seen the dire straits of the Chicago Bulls, I have developed a new, somewhat similar mantra: When D.J. Augustin is the answer, you're totally, irretrievably screwed.

    That one's not quite as concise, but it's a little more descriptive.

    The Bulls gave Augustin a whopping 37 minutes in their 83-82 loss to the Orlando Magic on Monday, but only because they had no other choice. Kirk Hinrich was out, Marquis Teague did nothing to wipe off the "D-League" stamp on his forehead and nobody else on the roster was capable of running the offense.

    The Bulls ground their gears, fired up bricks and played yet another appallingly ugly offensive game under Augustin's stewardship.

    There's simply no way for the Bulls to be a halfway decent team as long as Augustin is logging minutes. That's probably a little unfair to him; he's doing the best he can. As much as anything, taking shots at Augustin is a stronger statement about how broken Chicago's offense is without Derrick Rose.

    Say it with me: When D.J. Augustin is the answer, you're totally, irretrievably screwed.

We Got Robbed

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Don't get me wrong, the late game between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs was probably the most entertaining contest on the night. Both Western Conference powers gave strong efforts, the ball hopped all over the court, the atmosphere was that of a playoff game and Chris Paul did Chris Paul things down the stretch.

    But a very good game could have been great if Tony Parker had been involved down the stretch.

    A bruised shin knocked Parker out of the game at a crucial time, and San Antonio suffered without its most important player.

    L.A. caught fire in the final few minutes, drilling threes, getting stops and opening up a lead that helped hide the nip-and-tuck nature that had largely defined the contest to that point.

    The final score of 116-92 marked the Clippers' largest margin of victory over the Spurs in franchise history.

    Paul had 23 points, seven assists and eight rebounds. Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

    This is a matchup we might very well see again in the playoffs. Assuming Parker doesn't miss significant time, San Antonio looks poised for yet another deep playoff run. And thanks to Doc Rivers working his defensive magic, it appears the Clips now have the two-way game they'll need to make a run of their own.

    Hopefully, all of the important parties will be fully healthy the next time these two clubs run into one another.