12 Takeaways from Tuesday's NBA Action

Joe FlynnContributor IJanuary 8, 2014

12 Takeaways from Tuesday's NBA Action

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    The night of Tuesday, Jan. 7, was chock full of NBA action, with 12 games filling the arenas and airwaves.

    Out West, the two worst teams beat two of the best, with the Utah Jazz knocking off Oklahoma City and the Sacramento Kings besting Portland. In the East, the Big Two (Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers) continued to roll through the competition.

    The game of the night happened in Memphis, where the downtrodden Grizzlies summoned a bit of last season's magic to give the San Antonio Spurs all they could handle. Sadly for Memphis, the game turned out much the same as the 2013 Western Conference Finals, with a San Antonio victory.

     

     

Jonas Valanciunas Isn't Ready to Play with the Big Boys

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    There's no shame in losing a close game to the Pacers at home, and there's no shame in being shut down by Pacers center Roy Hibbert.

    Hopefully both the Toronto Raptors and their promising young center, Jonas Valanciunas, learn a lesson from Tuesday's 86-79 loss in Indiana. The Raptors as a team held their own, but Valanciunas was completely overwhelmed by Hibbert, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting and eight rebounds.

    Valanciunas has been a serviceable big man in his second NBA season, averaging 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds, but he has yet to be the dominant force Toronto needs him to be down the road.

    Big men take longer to develop, so both Valanciunas and the Raptors need to be patient. If he wants a role model, he would do well to emulate Hibbert, who needed to wait four seasons before making his first All-Star team.

The Knicks Won Again, Yet Still Took a Step Backward

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    For the first time this season, the New York Knicks have won three of their last four games. But that third win, an 89-85 slogfest at home against Detroit, wasn't nearly as impressive as their Texas road trip.

    The Knicks did well to hold off a late Pistons' rally, but a couple of head-scratching late turnovers from Raymond Felton nearly blew the game. This was Felton's first game back from a groin injury, so only time will tell if he can get back to his 2012-13 level.

    The hot-shooting Iman Shumpert of the Texas trip went ice cold at the Garden, shooting just 2-of-8. Knicks fans can only hope those first glorious few games of 2014 were not a mirage.

    The Knicks will need to pick up their intensity if they want to win three in a row; their next game is against the Miami Heat.

    It's not that Carmelo Anthony is concerned. Per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:

    Melo, on whether this is a good time to play Miami: "That's who we play next? I didn't know." Honestly didn't know they were next up.

    — Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 8, 2014

     

Nobody Told Tom Thibodeau the Bulls Are Tanking

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    Doesn't anybody know how to tank anymore?

    The Bulls played their first game on Tuesday night after throwing up the white flag in the Luol Deng trade...and beat the Phoenix Suns 92-87.

    Anyone familiar with Bulls coach Tim Thibodeau knew he would never give up on a season, no matter how many players he's lost. And Thibodeau was up to his old tricks on Tuesday, playing Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler 40 minutes apiece and holding the potent Phoenix offense 16.7 points below its season average.

    After the game, Thibodeau was understandably thrilled, per NBA.com's Paul Ladewski: "That's what I like about our team—We've been hit a lot of different ways, but we always get up. We always get up."

    As long as Thibodeau is the coach, the Bulls will never give up.

The Washington Wizards Are Figuring out How to Win on the Road

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    If the Washington Wizards make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, this might end up as the most crucial statistic.

    • 2012-13 road record: 7-34
    • 2013-14 road record: 8-9

    The Wizards surpassed last season's road-win total with a 97-83 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night.

    Bradley Beal (21 points) led the Wizards in scoring, while Marcin Gortat recorded a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

    Winning on the road is a sign of maturity. Last year's Wizards were much too callow, but now that players like Wall and Beal have more experience, the Wizards are reaping the rewards.

C.J. Miles Is Excited About the Luol Deng Trade

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    How can a player impress an incoming All-Star? How about by setting a team record with 10 three-pointers.

    That's what Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard C.J. Miles did in the Cavs' first game since the announcement, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, of the acquisition of Luol Deng. Though Deng didn't play in the game, Miles made sure he wasn't needed, scoring 34 points on 11-of-18 shooting, with an astounding 10-of-14 mark from downtown.

    The Cavaliers clearly had some pep in their step, even with Deng yet to arrive. After the game, Miles was quick to praise his soon-to-be teammate, according to NBA.com's Brian Dulik:

    "Nothing against Andrew because he worked his butt off, but it just didn't work out here. Luol is an All-Star and he brings a lot of things that we're lacking as a young team."

    The Cavs may have been lacking some things, but thanks to Miles, they weren't lacking shooting on this night.

The Manu Ginobili-James Johnson Clutch Battle Was Surprisingly Fun

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    Tuesday's Spurs-Grizzlies contest could have been billed as a Western Conference rematch or a worst-vs-first matchup in the Southwest Division. Both statements would have been true. Fortunately, the game turned out to be more of the former and less of the latter.

    The Spurs won a tightly contested game in overtime, 110-108, thanks to a pair of clutch buckets from Manu Ginobili. The craft Argentine hit layups at the end of regulation and the end of overtime. But everyone knows he's capable of that.

    The surprise in this game was the clutch shooting of Memphis' James Johnson. Johnson hit a game-tying three with 13 seconds left in regulation and another game-tying shot with eight seconds left in overtime. Unfortunately, Johnson and the Grizzlies could not overcome the "Manu Show."

    Is there anything more fun than a relatively unknown player trading clutch buckets with a grizzled old superstar?

The Golden State Warriors Are Rampaging Through the East

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    When you're on the road and looking for your 10th straight win, there's no place better than Milwaukee.

    The red-hot Golden State Warriors made quick work of the Bucks on Tuesday, romping to a 101-80 win. David Lee led the Warriors with 22 points and 18 rebounds. 

    There has been no sign of a letdown from Golden State following their buzzer-beating win over Atlanta on Jan. 3. The Warriors have won the first six games of a season-long seven-game road swing through the Eastern Conference.

    The only team left between Golden State and a perfect Eastern trip is the suddenly frisky Brooklyn Nets, who will host the Warriors on Wednesday. It's a long flight from New York to Oakland, so the Warriors might as well win the next game and head home in style.

The Lakers Are Making Nick Young Sad

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    Los Angeles Lakers swingman Nick Young is a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. He has been on some bad teams, but he is usually content to smile and strut his way through life, without a care in the world.

    But following the Lakers' 110-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, even Swaggy P was feeling blue.

    Per the Orange County Register's Bill Oram.

    Nick Young on somber postgame scene in locker room: "It's sad. It's like somebody died, ain't you all seen? It's a funeral in here."

    — Bill Oram (@bill_oram) January 8, 2014

    The Lakers have now lost eight of their last nine and are sinking like a stone in the Western Conference, and nine of their next 10 games will come on the road.

    They need to turn this around soon; after all, nobody wants to see Swaggy P cry.

Boston Is the Coldest Team in the Atlantic

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    Through the first few weeks of December, the surprising Boston Celtics had a leg up in the pathetic Eastern Conference. But in January, the division standings have flipped faster than the calendar.

    The Celtics have now lost eight of their last 10 games following Tuesday night's 129-98 destruction at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.

    How bad have the Celtics been recently? Let Sean Grande of CBS Sports Network explain.

    Celtics 22+-point deficits this year... First 33 games: 2 Last 2 games: 2

    — Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) January 8, 2014

    Boston is now only 0.5 games behind the Knicks—a team they've already beaten twice—for fourth place in the Atlantic. If they continue this slide, then any dreams of playoff contention will be put aside for the winter. 

Gordon Hayward Played the Best Game of His Season

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    Tuesday night's game between the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder and last-place Utah Jazz was, as expected, not very competitive.

    That's too bad for the Thunder.

    Oklahoma City underestimated the Jazz, the Thunder underestimated Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward, and they plaid the price in a 112-101 loss. Utah snapped the Thunder's eight-game road winning streak.

    Hayward was unconscious, scoring 37 points on 13-of-16 from the field. After the game he expressed relief, according to NBA.com's Andrew Aragon: "Yeah, I was in the zone a little bit. It is finally good to be there. It has been a rough season shooting for me." 

    Indeed, 2013-14 has been the worst shooting season of Hayward's career, according to Basketball- Reference.com. But the kid has too much talent to stay cold all season. Hopefully Tuesday's game is the start of a hot streak. 

The Pelicans Need to Find Another Gear in the Second Half

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    On Saturday night, the New Orleans Pelicans held a 49-44 lead at halftime against the powerhouse Indiana Pacers. They would only score 33 points in the second half, as Indiana cruised to the victory.

    On Tuesday night, the Pelicans held a 49-43 lead at halftime against the powerhouse Miami Heat. This time they would score 39 points in the second half...and give up 64 in the 107-88 loss. 

    Miami, like Indiana knows how to find that extra gear in the second half of games. The young Pelicans do not. 

    Hopefully Anthony Davis and company can learn how to step up their game after halftime.

The Sacramento Kings Are Weird

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    Suddenly, the Sacramento Kings cannot lose...against good teams, that is. Their 123-119 triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers was their third win in their last four games against above-.500 competition. In the last 12 days, they have beaten Miami, Houston (on the road) and Portland.

    But they have also lost five of their last six games against sub-.500 competition. Their last two losses came against Philadelphia and Charlotte, both at home.

    This is the essence of the Kings. When their big three of DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay are rolling, like they did against Portland (89 combined points), the Kings can play with anyone. But their defense is so horrible, they can also lose to anyone.

    Until they fix their defense, the Kings will have to settle for being the team the big boys don't want to play.