9 Takeaways from Saturday Night's NBA Action

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IJanuary 12, 2014

9 Takeaways from Saturday Night's NBA Action

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    Saturday's NBA action did not disappoint. 

    In the Atlantic, the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets met in a "first vs. second" matchup that would have made for a punchline just a few weeks ago.

    In Dallas, the ageless Dirk Nowitzki played like the Dirk of old, dropping 40 points and willing Dallas to victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Even the mercurial J.R. Smith managed to patch things up with his team, the New York Knicks...if only for a night.

The Raptors Seized Back Momentum in the Atlantic Division

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    Momentum is a tricky thing. Sometimes you have it...but you don't know how you got it. Sometimes it vanishes as quickly as it appears.

    The Toronto Raptors seized the lead in the Atlantic Division with a five-game winning streak that was snapped on Jan. 5. But they had to answer the call from the hard-charging Brooklyn Nets, who were riding a five-game winning streak of their own coming into Saturday.

    Well, consider the momentum firmly in the hands of the Raptors after Saturday's 96-80 win.

    Brooklyn started the second half on an 18-3 run to take a 60-50 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter. But the Raptors immediately regained momentum, taking back the lead before the end of the quarter. 

    DeMar DeRozan led the way with 26 points, seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block. Patrick Patterson offered a spark off the bench with 14 points, 12 rebounds, one assist, three steals and one block. 

    Toronto is now four games ahead of Brooklyn in the standings. The Nets have looked better of late, but the Raptors look like serious contenders to hold on to the division. 

Josh Smith Gave the Pistons the Boost They Needed

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    Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith is not often considered to be a wily veteran. But on a young, struggling team, Smith has stepped up his game like an old pro.

    Smith led the Pistons with 22 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and five blocks in Friday's 114-104 win over Philadelphia.

    He hit the game-winning shot with 1.2 seconds left as Detroit won the second game of its back-to-back, 110-108, against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. He notched 25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and one block. 

    Greg Monroe (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists), Andre Drummond (13 points, 13 rebounds, three steals, five blocks) and Brandon Jennings (eight points, 18 assists) also had stat-stuffing games. 

    For Phoenix, P.J. Tucker (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Channing Frye (21 points) led the way. 

    Prior to Smith's two-game outburst, the Pistons had lost six straight and were in danger of falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

    Compared to Detroit's highly touted young frontcourt duo of Monroe and Drummond, the 10-year veteran Smith is practically ancient. And he gave Detroit the veteran presence it needed, at least for two nights.

At Least the Wizards Players Deserve to Be Taken Seriously

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    When a franchise has not made the playoffs since 2007-08, it is important that they at least maintain an image of professionalism.

    The Wizards failed in that regard early in Saturday's game against the Houston Rockets. First, the game was delayed due to a leak in the Verizon Center roof. Then the game was delayed yet again after halftime. 

    On the court, however, the Wizards at least played like a team to be taken seriously. They didn't beat the talented Rockets, but they did come back from a 25-point deficit to take a brief fourth-quarter lead before bowing to James Harden, Dwight Howard and co., 114-107.

    Trevor Ariza notched 23 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and five steals, while John Wall added 23 points, 10 assists and two steals. Unlikely scorer Kevin Seraphin (18 points) was also a presence.

    For the Rockets, Terrence Jones had a huge game with 19 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks, while James Harden (25 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Jeremy Lin (18 points, two rebounds, eight assists) and Dwight Howard (23 points, seven rebounds, two assists) provided the offensive spark.  

    The Wizards are still comfortably ensconced in an Eastern Conference playoff spot at 16-19. Until they finally make the playoffs, though, they'll have to fight to be taken seriously. The least they can do is fix the dang roof.

J.R. Smith and the Knicks Have an Uneasy Truce

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    The New York Knicks were down eight to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second quarter and looking listless. They needed a spark.

    Last year, that spark usually came from shooting guard J.R. Smith, who won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award for his consistent play off the bench. This season, Smith has been so erratic that coach Mike Woodson chose to bench him for the entirety of New York's win over the Miami Heat.

    But on Saturday, Woodson went back to Smith, and he responded with a clean game: 14 points (5-of-8 from the floor), three rebounds, six assists, one steal and just one turnover.

    After the game, Woodson was not interested in discussing Smith, per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring: "Woodson, on his mindset heading into the game as it pertained to playing JR: 'I'm not gonna comment on that.'" 

    Carmelo Anthony (18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) and Amar'e Stoudemire (21 points, five rebounds) led the way offensively.

    The Knicks remain an enigma. But they are winning, and that's better than what was going on before.

Dirk Nowitzki Is Ageless

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    Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points Saturday night, his highest single-game tally since 2012, according to ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon: "Dirk has his first 40-point game since April 16, 2012. It's his 19th regular-season 40-point game of his career."

    And Dirk's Dallas Mavericks needed all 40 of those points to hold of the pesky New Orleans Pelicans, 110-107.

    Along with Dirk, Monta Ellis had a strong game, registering 26 points, five rebounds and four assists. For New Orleans, Anthony Davis (28 points, 14 rebounds, two assists) and Eric Gordon (20 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals) were the top performers, though the latter did have eight turnovers. 

    Nowitzki is 35 years old, an age when most players have already retired. And all he's doing this season is averaging 21.3 points on 48.8 percent shooting (41 percent from three). Those are tremendous scoring numbers at any age.

The Bobcats Look Like the Odd Team Out in the East

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    The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets have caught fire in January and are quickly moving up the ranks in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers also have a shot to improve after trading for Luol Deng.

    Those three teams are battling for the last seeds in the East, and the Charlotte Bobcats don't look like they belong just yet. 

    Charlotte has been a Cinderella story this season, but it fell from the eighth seed after Brooklyn's win on Friday night and stayed there after losing to the Chicago Bulls, 103-97, on Saturday.

    Al Jefferson (20 points, 11 rebounds), Kemba Walker (29 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Gerald Henderson (30 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals) had big games, but seven Bulls scored in double figures: Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin, Taj Gibson and Cartier Martin. 

    The Bobcats have been playing excellent defense under first-year coach Steve Clifford, but that defense has been trending down of late. On Saturday, they surrendered 103 points to a Bulls squad averaging 91.4 points per game.

The Bucks Are the NBA's Miracle Cure

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    Coming into Saturday, the Oklahoma City Thunder had lost two straight and faced questions about their ability to win consistently without injured All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

    And then they faced the Milwaukee Bucks.

    The Thunder beat the Bucks handily, 101-85, because of course they did. These are the Bucks.

    Kevin Durant had 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Serge Ibaka notched a double-double with 17 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.

    For the Bucks, on-again, off-again rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo filled the stat sheet with 13 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks, but he didn't have much help. 

    Milwaukee is now 7-29 on the season. It should get the first overall pick in next year's draft...if only as payment for how much the Bucks have helped their NBA brethren. 

The Nuggets Are the Streakiest Team in the NBA

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    Hold on tight, Nuggets fans, the Mile High roller coaster is climbing yet again.

    The Denver Nuggets won their fifth game in a row Saturday, 120-94, over the Orlando Magic. This team, which suddenly can do no wrong, is a far cry from the Nuggets squad which lost eight games in a row from Dec. 17 to Jan. 1. 

    So what changed? Certainly, Denver has been playing some weaker teams—the Grizzlies, Lakers, Celtics and now the Magic. But the Nuggets also knocked off Oklahoma City in a nationally televised game on Thursday.

    On Saturday, seven players scored at least 13 points: Quincy Miller, Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Timofey Mozgov and Evan Fournier. That's San Antonio Spurs-like production. 

    For Orlando, Tobias Harris (22 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and Glen Davis (20 points, six rebounds) led the way with Arron Afflalo out of the lineup with a strained right foot. 

    Perhaps this is just the kind of team Denver is: streaky. It's had two win streaks of at least five games this season.

At Least Celtics Fans Have the Patriots

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    Congratulations, New England sports fans: The Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22.

    Oh, and the Boston Celtics played as well.

    The Celtics didn't fare as well as their football brethren, losing on the road, 112-104, to the Portland Trail Blazers. That makes eight losses in a row for Boston.

    After a hot start to the season, the Celtics have settled in to playing the kind of ball their fans expected after dealing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in the offseason.

    They played hard against Portland, as they usually do, but they still lost a close game to a superior team. 

    For the C's, Avery Bradley had another big game with 25 points, five rebounds and three assists. But Portland had seven players reach double-figure scoring: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum.   

    Boston fans are winning in just about every other sport, and the Celtics have a good coach in Brad Stevens and a wealth of future assets. Things are still bright in Boston.