8 Takeaways from Tuesday's NBA Action

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IJanuary 1, 2014

8 Takeaways from Tuesday's NBA Action

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    Tuesday, December 31, was the last day of 2013 (and the last day before the good college football bowl games), so hopefully you had a chance to enjoy some NBA action.

    The Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors closed out the year on impressive winning streaks, while the Atlanta Hawks continued to play strong basketball in the wake of Al Horford's injury. DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings pulled off the last big upset of the year in Houston. And the Portland Trail Blazers put their recent losing streak behind them with a big with in Oklahoma City.

    But the news wasn't all good. Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving injured his knee and will go for tests on Wednesday. The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets continued their descent into mediocrity (or worse) with a pair of embarrassing losses.

    Happy new year, and let's get to it!

The Atlanta Hawks Are Lucky They Signed Paul Millsap

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    On a day when they officially announced All-Star center Al Horford would miss the remainder of the season, per USA Today's Sean Highkin, the Atlanta Hawks rallied from an 18-point first-half deficit to defeat the Boston Celtics, 92-91.

    No Hawk came up bigger than Paul Millsap, who scored 34 of Atlanta's 92 points. After the game, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer praised Millsap for carrying Atlanta to victory despite his teammates' offensive problems.

    Per NBA.com's Brian Robb:

    We were able to find a way to win a game where we weren't able to shoot well from the perimeter, from the basket, really from anywhere except for Paul Millsap. He kind of put us on his back and was able to score enough points and our defense kept us in it.

    Millsap was signed last offseason to replace forward Josh Smith, who signed with the Detroit Pistons. Smith may be a defensive whiz, but he was a black hole on offense for the Hawks, netting negative-0.3 offensive win shares in 2012-13, per Basketball-Reference.

    Exchanging Smith for Millsap might just have given the Hawks enough offense to withstand the Horford injury and compete for home court in the East.

For Cleveland, the MRI Results Are More Important Than the Game

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    The struggling Cleveland Cavaliers played the Indiana Pacers tough, leading by one going into the fourth quarter before Indiana pulled away for the 91-76 win.

    Not that the Cleveland fans are worried about the score...

    Star Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury in the game. Though he would return in the fourth, the team is sending him for tests Monday.

    Per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

    #Cavs Irving said he felt a "pop" in his knee, feared the worst when it happened. Said knee is weak, kept falling on court after he returned

    — Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) December 31, 2013

    Irving: "I thought the worst had happened." Doc cleared him to return, but said he still didn't feel right. MRI tmrw

    — Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) December 31, 2013

    That doesn't sound good. Cleveland fans can take comfort in the fact that doctors cleared Irving to return to the game, but they won't be able to breath easy until those test results come back negative. 

    Needless to say, the Cavs' entire season is riding on the results of that MRI.

The Warriors Closed out the Year in Style

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    Nobody is sorrier to see the new year than the Golden State Warriors; they just got the hang of this 2013 thing!

    Golden State took a 23-point lead into the half at Orlando and never looked back, beating the Magic 94-81. The Warriors ended 2013 on a six-game winning streak, their first such streak in quite a while, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

    Warriors: won 6 straight games, longest streak since Nov. 23-Dec. 2, 2007 (also 6)

    — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 1, 2014

    Golden State's last lost, a humiliating, nationally televised home defeat to a San Antonio Spurs team resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, seems to have stirred something in this underachieving team. The Dubs are now playing the kind of ball worthy of their impressive talent.

    The Warriors will need all the help they can get extending the streak into 2014—their next game is Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Miami Heat.

Gregg Popovich Is a National Treasure

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    The venerable San Antonio Spurs closed out 2013 with a 113-92 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Tony Parker led the Spurs in scoring, with 18 points, but the real hero was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich—as usual.

    Check out this photo of Coach Pop "enjoying" his team's massive lead, courtesy of The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian. 

    If you like grizzled old curmudgeons who win a lot of games, give legendarily brusque halftime interviews and sit their best players for nationally televised games just for fun, then Pop is the coach for you. 

    This was a momentous year for Coach Pop, as he came achingly close to his fifth NBA title. Would he have smiled more if Ray Allen had missed that three in Game 6? Probably not. But that's why we love the guy.

DeMarcus Cousins' D Is Clutch

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    When thinking of Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, the word "defense" may not immediately come to mind—words like "scoring," "rebounding" and "technical fouls" are much more common.

    But Cousins used his defense to seal the Kings' 110-106 win in Houston against the favored Rockets. Better yet, he did it against one of the league's offensive stars, James Harden. Cousins took a charge and stole the ball from Harden in back-to-back possessions in the final minute.

    Cousins didn't lead the Kings in scoring like he usually does—his 17 points were topped by 25 from teammate Rudy Gay—but he was Sacramento's best player when it mattered.

    With the acquisition of Gay, the Kings have added some serious firepower. But make no mistake, this is still Cousins' team.

The Blazers Stopped a Slide and Made a Statement

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    The surprising Portland Trail Blazers were staring down the barrel of a three-game losing streak to end the year, limping into the second half trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder 54-42 on the road. They were still losing 79-71 at the start of the fourth quarter.

    But the Blazers rallied with an impressive fourth quarter and stormed past the Thunder to win, 98-94.

    LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 25 points. All five Blazers starters finished in double figures.

    The Blazers had just experienced their first true cold streak of the season, losing three of their last five games. For a young, untested team like Portland, it's always interesting to see how it responds from its first stretch of adversity.

    Beating the Thunder in Oklahoma City, even a shorthanded Thunder team without the services of Russell Westbrook, is a significant achievement for Portland. The Blazers have put their recent struggles behind them.

The Toronto Raptors Just Might Make the Atlantic Respectable

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    The Atlantic Division is perhaps the weakest single division in NBA history. Three of the five teams (Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets) have already lost 21 games. To put that into perspective, there are only four 21-loss teams in the other five NBA divisions combined. 

    But there is a glimmer of hope in the Atlantic, and that glimmer is coming from north of the border.

    With their 85-79 win over the Chicago Bulls, the Toronto Raptors are now 14-15, within a single game of .500 for the first time since they were 6-7 on November 22.

    Center Jonas Valanciunas led Toronto with 15 points and nine rebounds.

    The Raptors are on fire, winning eight of their last 11 games. The rest of the division (except Boston), on the other hand, is a dumpster fire. 

    If the Raptors can keep up their winning ways, perhaps the Atlantic will move up from "historically bad" to "very bad."

We Should Celebrate the Career of Pau Gasol

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    The Los Angeles Lakers are not a good team right now. Their 94-79 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was their sixth loss in a row. Losing to the 6-24 Bucks is probably the lowest point of their season.

    Lakers forward Pau Gasol is also not having a good season. According to Basketball-Reference, his mark of .058 win shares per 48 minutes coming into Tuesday was by far the lowest of his career.

    But Gasol did achieve an impressive milestone in the game. Per ESPN's NBA site:

    Pau Gasol scores the Lakers' first basket, ending 14-0 run and passing Pete Maravich for 100th on NBA's career points list.

    — NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 1, 2014

    Not bad for a guy who spent much of his prime playing second fiddle to Kobe Bryant

    Gasol is nearing the end of his tenure as an above-average NBA player, but he has had an extraordinary career.