9 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

9 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Raise your hand if you thought Monday's NBA action would feature a backdoor lob to Kyle Korver in crunch time, a ridiculously easy win by the Phoenix Suns or a killer crossover from Tim Duncan.

    Seeing no hands, I'll continue.

    Monday's busy slate featured those surprising moments and many more. On the predictable side of things, the New York Knicks struggled mightily without their biggest star, the Brooklyn Nets settled into a disturbing groove and Dirk Nowitzki hit enough jumpers to make history.

    As the old saying goes: Expect the unexpected. Although, I guess the lesson here is that you should also expect the expected. Sometimes, the NBA is confusing.

    These takeaways should help you sort it out.

Limpin' Ain't Easy

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    And it sure ain't fun.

    The New York Knicks sprinted out of the gates against the Orlando Magic, amassing a 65-41 halftime lead that probably had Mike Woodson thinking dreamily about resting Carmelo Anthony for a good chunk of the second half.

    'Melo got his rest, but probably not for the reason Woody would have preferred.

    A sprained ankle ended Anthony's night halfway through the third quarter, and as he limped to the locker room, New York seemed safe in its 20-point advantage. But things got tough for the star-crossed Knicks from that point on.

    The ball stopped, shots quit falling and New York's defensive intensity dialed back from "Chandler" to "Bargnani." The result: Orlando erased the lead, outscored New York by 19 in the second half and very nearly stole a win.

    The Knicks escaped with a 103-98 victory, but they limped to the finish line in much the same way their star hobbled off the floor.

    Breaking: New York is in trouble without Anthony.

Anthony Bennett Is off the Hook

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    For one night, Cleveland Cavaliers rookie and world-renowned object of sympathy Anthony Bennett wasn't the saddest story on his own team.

    He owes a debt of gratitude to Andrew Bynum, who went 0-of-11 from the field and offered up almost no resistance against the Detroit Pistons' punishing front line. Thanks to his woeful effort, the Pistons out-rebounded the Cavs 50-39 and piled up 18 offensive boards on the night.

    As you might expect, Detroit also dominated the paint-scoring battle, amassing 58 points in the lane.

    More importantly, the heat was off Bennett, who actually managed a respectable seven points in 16 minutes. Bynum's remarkably terrible night gave the rookie a breather from the constant scrutiny he's been receiving throughout his disappointing season.

    Enough with the negativity, though. How about this: The Pistons' 115-92 thrashing gave them their eighth road victory of the season. Good for them.

The Nets Are Getting Comfy

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Usually, there's nothing wrong with being comfortable. But for the Brooklyn Nets, who recently lost Brook Lopez to a broken foot and have managed to accumulate just nine wins in an injury-stricken campaign, comfort is a dangerous thing.

    Why?

    Because complacency and resignation could be right behind for the snakebit Nets.

    Head coach Jason Kidd is concerned about the way his team has been rolling over of late. He expressed his worries after Brooklyn dropped a 103-86 decision to the visiting Indiana Pacers that was never even close.

    Per Roderick Boone of Newsday, Kidd said: "I think it's getting very close to just accepting losing. We kind of get comfortable with losing and we've got to make a stand with that."

    To be fair, nobody on Earth expected the Nets to give Indiana much trouble. But Brooklyn was a little too content to shoot 38 percent from the field, turn the ball over 18 times and lose the rebound battle by a full 10 boards.

    If Kidd and the Nets aren't careful, losses like this are going to become routine. The East is weak, which means there's hope for teams like Brooklyn to put together a run later in the year. Staying engaged and motivated long enough to do that might be a struggle, though.

    Comfort kills.

Mike Budenholzer Is Super Fun

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    Trust me, Kyle. They'll never see it coming.
    Trust me, Kyle. They'll never see it coming.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    I realize there were a lot of worthwhile things to discuss from the Miami Heat's 121-119 overtime victory against the Atlanta Hawks.

    Most responsible types would probably focus on things like Paul Millsap's seven made threes or LeBron James' 21 points after halftime. Those things had major impacts on the outcome, and it's irresponsible to brush past them.

    (Brushes past them.)

    But the Atlanta Hawks did something so bold, so brazenly sneaky, that it has to get some coverage here.

    With 2.8 seconds left in overtime, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer drew up a backdoor lob for Kyle Korver (yes, that Kyle Korver) that could have tied the game. It didn't work out, which wasn't all that surprising.

    Per K.L. Chouinard of TrueHoop: "Drawing up a lob for Korver ends up exactly the way you would think it would: Sitting in camera row with zero points to show for his efforts."

    Still, though, it was a great idea. And for what it's worth, it met with the approval of James, per B/R's Ethan Skolnick: "LeBron says 'No one expects Kyle Korver to go for a lob, so it's a great play call.'"

    No argument here.

    Korver attempted nine shots on the night, with the other eight coming from beyond the arc. Budenholzer broke out his trickiest trick play, and it didn't work. But it sure was fun to watch.

Dirk Keeps Climbing

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    With 31 points in the Dallas Mavericks' impressive 111-104 win over the Houston Rockets, Dirk Nowitzki moved past Alex English to take possession of 13th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

    The Diggler was in vintage form, draining jumpers over a rotating cast of hopeful defenders, sending each new body Rockets coach Kevin McHale tried back to the bench without any answers.

    With 25,629 points, Nowitzki is primed to surpass some big-time names in the coming months. If he maintains his current scoring average of 21.5 points per game, he'll shoot past John Havlicek and Dominique Wilkins before the season ends.

    If he stays completely healthy and really keeps up his scoring, Nowitzki might even catch Hakeem Olajuwon at No. 9 all-time before the 2013-14 campaign comes to a close.

    Keep shooting, Dirk.

The Denver Nuggets' Shot-Clock Operator Can't Fool Me

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    With 7:06 remaining in the second quarter of the Golden State Warriors' 89-81 win over the Denver Nuggets, something fishy happened.

    Golden State was inbounding the ball with 2.2 ticks left on the shot clock, ample time to catch the ball, perhaps take a dribble or two and then fire off a shot. Or so you'd think.

    At the very instant David Lee received the inbounds pass, the horn signaling the expiration of the shot clock sounded, distracting the hell out of Lee and resulting in a shot-clock violation. Warriors coach Mark Jackson turned to whoever was operating the horn and incredulously mouthed "Are you kidding me?"

    Golden State knocked the Nuggets out of the playoffs last year in a particularly chippy series, and now Andre Iguodala has switched sides, too. It might be too early to call whatever's going on between the Dubs and Nuggets a rivalry, but the staff at the Pepsi Center apparently disagrees.

    Nuggets employees are pulling out all the stops to give their team an edge against the Warriors.

    No word on how Denver's horn operator managed to make Golden State miss its first eight foul shots on the night, but the investigation is ongoing.

Tyreke Evans Hasn't Been Trying His Best

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    I know it seems mean to pick on a guy who just turned in one of his best games of the season, but what else are we supposed to take from Tyreke Evans' big night against his former team?

    Maybe if Evans could convince himself that he was taking the floor against the Sacramento Kings every night, he'd muster the kind of effort necessary to duplicate his 25-point, 12-assist, six-rebound effort. I'm sure the New Orleans Pelicans would be interested in getting a little more from the guy they foolishly gave $44 million over four years.

    That's Steph Curry money, for crying out loud!

    Evans has been a mystery since basically regressing after his rookie season.

    Now that we've seen what he can do when properly motivated by a desire for revenge against his old team, it seems fair to conclude that he's been getting by with less-than-maximum effort on most nights.

    And because I can't go five minutes without talking about how good Anthony Davis is, he gets a nod for his 21 points and 11 rebounds in New Orleans' 113-100 win. Because I also can't go five minutes without pointing out how terrible Rudy Gay is, he finished 2-of-12 on the night.

    There. Glad we got those out of the way.

If You're Willing to Reach, Tim Duncan Still Willing to Teach

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    Before we get to the good stuff, it bears mentioning that the San Antonio Spurs had to dig deep into their bag of tricks to handle the Toronto Raptors.

    Typically, San Antonio doesn't care much about the offensive boards. They rank 28th in the league with an average of just 9.1 per game, according to NBA.com. It's a defensible strategy; the Spurs just want to get back on defense.

    But some cold shooting to start the game forced San Antonio to get on the offensive glass more than usual. On the night, the Spurs snatched 16 offensive rebounds, and the resultant second-chance points were a key to the 112-99 win.

    Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's all enjoy Tim Duncan crossing over Amir Johnson in full stride. Timmy got an assist from a slippery floor and an overly aggressive Johnson, but the clip is still fun to watch.

    A devastating crossover never looked so fundamentally sound.

The Suns Are Doing What They're Supposed to Do

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Nobody expected the Phoenix Suns to be where they are right now when the season began. But their consistently impressive play has led to some elevated expectations.

    As such, the Suns were actually supposed to beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday.

    Mission accomplished...easily.

    Phoenix got 17 points and 20 boards from Miles Plumlee, an effort that is only going to complicate the "Which Plumlee is better?" conundrum. Gerald Green hit six threes off the bench, Eric Bledsoe dominated the game while taking just 10 shots and the Suns absolutely buried the punchless Lakers.

    Just like they were supposed to.

    We're living in an upside-down NBA world these days. The Suns are sitting at 17-10 and enjoying walkover wins against former superpowers. It's hard to know how long this'll keep up, but the Suns are looking like a team with some serious confidence right now.

    They've earned it.