12 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 19, 2013

12 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

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    Wednesday's blockbuster NBA action kicked off with a fantastic, competitive, controversial matchup between the Eastern Conference's two best teams.

    But the terrific tilt between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat was just the beginning.

    Following the evening's marquee engagement, we saw game-winning shots, a reshuffling of the league's point guard hierarchy and a classic performance from a beloved veteran who almost called it quits a few months ago.

    Plus, Andrea Bargnani did something that would get most middle school hoopers immediately benched. Trust me, you're going to want to see Bargs' epic, inexplicable brain fart. It's an all-timer.

    Perhaps best of all, a brilliant talent made a stunningly quick recovery from an injury that threatened to derail his phenomenal season.

    If you love NBA basketball, you picked a great night to spend in front of the television. Don't worry, though; if you missed out on any of the action, we've got you covered with takeaways from Wednesday's games.

We Might Finally Have a Real NBA Rivalry

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    It's hard to forge a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry in today's NBA. Thanks to the AAU circuit, players on opposing teams have all known each other since grade school, and fighting has been totally phased out of the league.

    Plus, we haven't had two teams butt heads in repeated playoff series in the way that's typically necessary to form real competitive hatred.

    The Heat and Pacers might be changing all that.

    The games between Miami and Indiana don't necessarily have the same vitriol that marked classic rivalries between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, or, further back, the Bulls and Detroit Pistons. But the Heat and Pacers clearly get up to play one another, and they didn't disappoint on Wednesday.

    LeBron James shook off an ugly ankle injury to suit up, something he almost certainly wouldn't have done if any team but the Pacers had been in town. The crowd in Miami cheered at a fever pitch, every call was hotly contested and both teams showed the kind of energy that usually doesn't show up until June.

    James and Dwyane Wade combined to erase a 15-point second-quarter deficit, and Chris Bosh finally broke his three-point shooting slump to tie the game with just over a minute left. Then, Ray Allen buried a three from the right wing with less than a minute remaining. It was Miami's first lead since midway through the first quarter.

    There'll be plenty of controversy following Miami's 97-94 win, most of which will focus on a non-call when James had his hand on Paul George's waist as Indy's superstar elevated for a potential game-tying triple.

    But that's part of a good rivalry, too.

    These two teams legitimately care about beating one another, and with the East already a clear two-team race, they're destined to give us a phenomenal playoff series this spring.

    Good times.

Utah's Point Guard Tradition Lives On

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    The Utah Jazz have spent the bulk of the past 30 years with a legitimate star at the point guard position. John Stockton held down the spot at a Hall of Fame level until retiring after the 2002-03 season, and Deron Williams took over in 2005.

    Since D-Will forced his way out of town in 2011, Utah has fumbled around without a clear heir to the throne.

    After pouring in a career-high 30 points in an 86-82 win over the Orlando Magic, Trey Burke appears ready to continue the tradition.

    Burke controlled the game, knocking down jumpers, attacking when necessary and finding his teammates. He handed out eight assists against just two turnovers. The diminutive guard even mixed it up underneath, hauling in seven rebounds.

    Per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was impressed with his guts in going after rebounds: "He's not afraid to go in there and get his hands on the basketball."

    More broadly, the rookie showed real resilience in bouncing back from a 1-of-8 performance on Dec. 16 against the Miami Heat. Burke had been building some serious momentum in the month of December until Miami's high-pressure defense ate him up.

    Clearly, he got over that humbling experience in a hurry.

    Nobody's saying Burke is a lock to play at anything close to the level of Stockton or Williams. But he's showing the kind of skill and leadership Jazz fans have come to expect from the point guard spot. In a Utah season that'll surely feature fewer ups than downs, that has to count for something.

Kemba Walker Did What Had to Be Done

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    Kemba Walker was fed up.

    As his Charlotte Bobcats fired up brick after brick from the foul line down the stretch against the Toronto Raptors, the gutsy point guard said to himself, "Enough is enough."

    Well, that's what I imagined him saying anyway.

    With one second remaining, Walker drilled a jumper from the left baseline to give his 'Cats a 104-102 victory in a game neither team showed much interest in winning down the stretch.

    DeMar DeRozan played a heck of a game, and his terrific strip on Walker at the end of regulation prevented the Bobcats from a chance to end the affair before the extra period. The Raptors guard finished with 30 points on the night.

    But he missed a free throw that would have given Toronto a one-point lead with one second left.

    And even though Walker buried the game-winner, he missed a pair of foul shots with 11 seconds remaining in overtime. Maybe he was just trying to fit in, though, as teammate Gerald Henderson had clanged two free throws seven seconds earlier.

    The Bobcats did all they could to lose the game from the stripe, so it's a good thing Walker decided to end it from the field.

NBA Games Have 4 Quarters

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    I know what you're thinking. Everybody already knows there are four quarters in an NBA contest. I mean, that's why they call them quarters, right? Because there are four of them.

    It seems appropriate to offer such an obvious reminder, though, after watching the Sacramento Kings completely fold up the tents after just three quarters in their 124-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

    DeMarcus Cousins and Co. actually played very well on the road against a solid Eastern Conference foe...until the final period. In fact, the Kings took a two-point advantage into the fourth.

    But they forgot to guard Kyle Korver (or anybody, really) from that point on.

    Atlanta nearly doubled Sacramento's output in the final 12 minutes, posting a dominant 39-20 advantage down the stretch. Korver had 11 of his 28 points and hit three of his eight triples in the period, as the Kings hopelessly tried to keep up with the Hawks' ball movement.

    Eleven of Atlanta's remarkable 38 assists came in that closing period.

    Overall, the Kings should be pleased with Cousins' 28 points, not to mention the fact that Rudy Gay made eight of his 13 field-goal attempts. But until Sacramento brings a little defensive intensity when it matters, it'll continue to occupy the lower rungs of the Western Conference.

Breaking News: Growing Pains Hurt

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    The Boston Celtics roared out to a 42-23 lead against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, finishing a remarkable first-quarter burst with a Jared Sullinger tip-in that defied logic.

    But it was all downhill from there, as the Celtics, a team whose young roster isn't yet accustomed to managing success, gradually gave the entire lead back. Brandon Jennings diced up Boston's defense and buried triples on the way to 28 points and 14 assists, and his three-pointer with 46 seconds left gave Detroit a two-point lead.

    With a couple of late chances to win it, Boston got two very shaky possessions from Brandon Bass and Jeff Green that both came up empty. Detroit held on to win by a final score of 107-106.

    In a big-picture sense, the Celtics shouldn't feel too badly about the way they coughed up a massive early advantage. Nobody expected them to have a dozen wins before Christmas, let alone lead their division.

    Basically, they're playing with house money at this point.

    Even though Brad Stevens has already established himself as a top-notch coach, there are bound to be more painful collapses like this one. It's all part of the process, Beantown.

The Point Guard Hierarchy Is Changing

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    There was a time when Deron Williams and Chris Paul were viewed as near equals in the NBA's point guard rankings. Injuries and a growing reputation as a malcontent have taken D-Will down a peg in recent years, but it's still widely accepted that when he's right, he's still a force to be reckoned with.

    In the Washington Wizards' 113-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets, John Wall did the reckoning.

    When the dust had settled, Wall had outplayed Williams by a significant margin. And he punctuated his performance by viciously swatting away a Williams shot attempt in the fourth period.

    If you only looked at the numbers, it might have seemed like a close battle. D-Will totaled 15 points and 13 assists while turning the ball over just three times. Wall had 21 points and six assists, though he gave the ball away six times.

    But Wall totally controlled the game with his raw athleticism. He was a constant, terrifying threat in a way that Williams simply isn't anymore.

    It was one game, but it was indicative of the leaps Wall has made—and continues to make. Williams is looking up at him now.

Time and Space Have No Meaning

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    Andrea Bargnani doesn't wear a watch. He cannot read maps or properly use a compass to assess direction. Most of the time, he's not even sure what day it is.

    I've drawn those speculative conclusions based solely on his epic, earth-shattering failure to understand time and space in the New York Knicks' 107-101 win against the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Up by two points with 33 seconds remaining in overtime, Bargnani checked into the game for the Knicks. (If you're looking for a way to blame head coach Mike Woodson for New York's latest blunder, this provides an opportunity.)

    Carmelo Anthony missed an 18-foot jumper that he had to take as the shot clock wound down, but Tyson Chandler hauled in the offensive board. He pitched the ball out to Bargs, who, if he had any concept of where he was or how much time was left, would have simply waited for the desperate Bucks to foul him.

    But Bargnani didn't know those things.

    He confidently stepped into a three-point shot that would have caused Madison Square Garden to spontaneously combust if the Knicks had been at home. New York's bench—and all sentient beings who were watching—gasped in utter shock.

    All he had to do was hold on to the ball. The decision was inexplicable, but Grantland's netw3rk summed up the sentiment nicely: "When Bargs loosed that three, it was like when you slam your car door and realize the keys are inside as the door leaves your hand."

    Naturally, the Bucks secured the board and tied the game on the ensuing possession.

    If you want to take a glass-half-full approach, it's worth mentioning that the Knicks won the game in double-overtime. All's well that ends well, I guess.

Even Superheroes Have Need for a Break

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    First of all, credit the Minnesota Timberwolves for taking care of business on their home court against the league's hottest team. Kevin Love tossed up 29 points, 15 boards and nine assists in a thorough 120-109 win against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    What comes next shouldn't be construed as a knock against Minnesota. It played one of its best games of the season.

    But the Blazers were bushed.

    Playing their fourth game in five nights, Portland fell behind by 26 points at halftime and simply couldn't recover. So, while it'd be nice to use this game as a potential blueprint on how to beat the Blazers, it's just not fair to read too much into this one.

    Yes, the 72 paint points the Wolves amassed were stunning. And yes, Nikola Pekovic's total interior dominance (30 points on 14-of-19 shooting) might otherwise stand as an indicator that Portland's bigs don't always defend like champs.

    But we can chalk this one up to fatigue. Let's all just agree on that and move on, shall we?

Z-Bo Can't Do It Alone

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    Zach Randolph has been doing his best lately, but the Memphis Grizzlies forward just hasn't been productive enough to keep his team afloat.

    He totaled 14 points and nine rebounds in a 105-91 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, and the heavy load he bore with Mike Conley on the bench clearly wore him down. Z-Bo made just five of 18 shots from the field and couldn't muster enough offense to hold off a balanced, efficient Dallas attack.

    Randolph has averaged 16.4 points, 11 rebounds and 3.4 assists over his last five games, all of which have been Grizzlies losses. Without Marc Gasol to help create easier scoring chances, Memphis' lone frontcourt scoring threat has converted just 36 percent of his field goals in that span.

    Against Dallas, it was more of the same: Quality looks were few and far between, fatigue was a factor and Randolph just didn't have the lift he needed to get the job done.

    There are a lot of signs that the Grizzlies are in trouble, but the fact that Randolph has proved he can't carry the load anymore might be the clearest.

Hitting Switches: Not Just for Dr. Dre Anymore

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    At the risk of dating myself, there was a time when "hitting the switches" was a fun new phrase suburban kids learned from Dr. Dre. The term referred to engaging the hydraulics on a 1964 Impala.

    Knowing that made me feel cool back then. Explaining it makes me feel very uncool now.

    Anyway, the Houston Rockets hit their proverbial switch against the Chicago Bulls, leaping out to a 15-1 run to close the third quarter of their eventual 109-94 win. Dwight Howard hit 11 of 14 shots from the field on the way to 23 points, offsetting Jimmy Butler's team-leading 20. 

    Before Houston's run, Chicago had uglied up the game enough to make it seem like either team had a chance to come away with the victory.

    In a way, the Rockets' surge helped add to their case as a legitimate contender. It's common for a superior team to play down to the level of its competition, but the great ones have a knack for raising their level of play when necessary.

    Houston did that against Chicago, and even though it would be better for the Rockets to slam the door at a much earlier juncture, it's good to see that they know how to put teams away.

    Oh, and just to put a bow on this one, Dr. Dre doesn't hit switches anymore. He's now a zillionaire because people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for headphones.

    Go figure.

Manu Ginobili Made the Right Decision

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    After a seriously rough playoff performance last year, Manu Ginobili thought about hanging up his Euro-stepping sneakers for good.

    Based on the way he played in the San Antonio Spurs' 108-101 win over the Phoenix Suns, it's safe to say his decision to come back was the right one. Manu put up 24 points, six rebounds and seven assists on 9-of-17 shooting in 27 minutes off the bench.

    On a night when Tony Parker sat out with a bruised shin, Ginobili was the man who kept the Spurs offense humming. The fact that he played so well against the speedy, hard-to-contain duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic is further testament to how much Manu has left in the tank.

    In fact, Ginobili's terrific performance was really just an extension of his excellent overall season. He's shooting the ball better from long distance and from the field, his turnovers are down, he's as aggressive as ever and all of his various tricks are still working.

    San Antonio may need him to carry a heavier load while Parker's out, and it looks like Ginobili is more than ready for the task.

Our Brief National Nightmare Is at Its End

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    Talk about DeAndre Jordan's cartoonish stat line (14 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks) and Tyreke Evans' triple-double all you want, but we all know there's only one thing that mattered about the Los Angeles Clippers' 108-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Anthony Davis is back!

    Celebratory church bells are ringing throughout the countryside, and schools have canceled classes. There might even be a citywide holiday scheduled in New Orleans, although, to be fair, nobody would be able to tell the difference.

    The 'Brow has returned!

    After missing just two weeks with a fractured hand, Davis came off the bench for the Pellies. The league's most promising young star picked up right where he left off, scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 32 minutes.

    Adjust your League Pass settings accordingly.