12 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

12 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

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    Remember Greg Oden? You know, the guy who went ahead of Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA draft, played a couple of injury-plagued seasons and logged his last NBA game in December of 2009?

    He dunked the ball twice in a regular season game on Wednesday.

    That's not much of a takeaway, but the way he gave the Miami Heat a spark in an otherwise dismal losing effort is worth remembering.

    Elsewhere, we learned that Thaddeus Young appreciates the concept of liberty, Jared Sullinger can see the future and Gregg Popovich will never change.

    Plus Nick Young had to deal with Alex Len in Phoenix, LaMarcus Aldridge put a game to bed in Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers proved there's more than one way to fight.

    It was a busy 12-game night in the NBA, with plenty of exciting action. Here's what you need to know about Wednesday's loaded slate of hoops.

Three Overtimes Make Takeaways Harder Than Usual

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    In much the same way statistics get comically inflated by triple-overtime games, the three extra periods played between the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic created far too many takeaways for a normal slide.

    For starters, I guess I should mention that the Bulls managed to gut out a 128-125 win—a win in which Jimmy Butler logged over 60 minutes of playing time. 60 minutes! Let's hope he sleeps in an ice bath tonight.

    There were big shots all over the place, too. Jameer Nelson hit a tough jumper over Joakim Noah to end regulation, Mike Dunleavy nailed a three to keep the game going in the extra period and Glen Davis buried an improbable triple to force a third OT.

    Plus, Victor Oladipo played what might have been his best game as a pro. In 57 minutes, he made 15-of-24 shots for 35 points. The rookie was a blur in transition and even Butler, a terrific defender, couldn't stay in front of him in halfcourt sets.

    The No. 2 overall pick hustled like a maniac all game long, as you can see in the clip above.

    Oh, and one final cramp-inducing stat: Nine players tallied at least 40 minutes.

    I hope you'll forgive the overabundance of information here, but with triple-OT contests, there's just too much to talk about. If you need to take a breather before moving on, I totally understand.

Thaddeus Young Is a Lot Like William Wallace

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    Even if you've never seen Braveheart, you're familiar with William Wallace's iconic, dying wail: "Freeeeedom!"

    At the time, Wallace, played by a then-mostly-sane Mel Gibson was being drawn and quartered after falling into the hands of the folks he was rebelling against. It was brutal.

    Nobody's saying that Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young was in a similarly torturous situation under Doug Collins last year, but, you know, it was pretty close.

    Young wasn't allowed to shoot threes during the 2012-13 season. Collins loved the mid-range game and per his instructions, Young attempted just eight triples all year. He made one.

    The one he made against the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday won the game for the Philadelphia 76ers, 95-92.

    On a pick-and-pop with Michael Carter-Williams, Young raised up and buried a triple with 3.2 seconds remaining. Charlotte couldn't answer and Philly notched its 13th win of the season.

    Now out from under Collins' old-school rules, Young is shooting 39.3 percent from long range and has already nailed 34 three-pointers on the year.

    Freedom is feeling pretty good.

Greg Oden: Momentum Shifter?

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    It's probably a little irresponsible to call Greg Oden a "momentum shifter." But the big man's first regular season action since 2009 provided the only noticeable energy boost in the Miami Heat's 114-97 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.

    At the 6:03 mark in the second quarter, Oden entered an NBA game that actually mattered.

    It took him 15 seconds to snatch his first rebound. It took 17 ticks for his first dunk.

    His second-quarter stint lasted just five minutes, but Oden added another dunk, a couple of rebounds and made a pair of foul shots before exiting. It's not often you see an entire bench rise as one despite being down by 30 points, but Oden's debut elicited that kind of excited response from the Heat reserves.

    When the second half tipped off, Oden was in the starting lineup. He saw just three minutes, but Miami went on a 24-4 run that trimmed a bloated Wizards lead to just nine points. Granted, he didn't have much to do with the surge. But on a night when Miami just didn't have any sort of spark, Oden provided the closest thing to it.

    Nobody can say how long his fragile frame will hold up. Nothing's promised.

    The point, though, is that Oden actually mattered in an NBA game, albeit in a small way. For an awfully long time, it didn't seem like we'd ever be able to say that.

    ESPN's Tom Haberstroh tweeted: "Another dunk for Oden. I can't even comprehend this. Dude hasn't played in four years."

    Ultimately, Miami has some increasingly serious problems that Oden won't fix. This was its third loss in a row, Ray Allen can't find his stroke and the entire team is suffering from some obvious malaise.

    Still, on this night, Oden's comeback mattered more than anything—if only because of the fact that it seemed so impossible for so long.

Jared Sullinger Is a Prophet

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    "We’re competitors. When you’re a competitor, you always find a way to stay positive. You always find a way to try to win. And we’re fighting every day. We’ve played hard these last four games. This team doesn’t quit. We’re going to find a way to win. And when we find that way, we’re going to have a snowball."

    That's what Jared Sullinger told Jay King of MassLive.com on Jan. 13.

    At the time, it sounded like the typical rhetoric of a player on a losing team. After watching Sully go off for 25 points and 20 rebounds in an 88-83 win over the Toronto Raptors, it's safe to say he was being sincere.

    To be fair, Toronto had an off night. As a team, the Raptors shot just 38.5 percent from the field and got obliterated on the boards, 58-44.

    But let's get back to the most important thing here: Sullinger can clearly see the future. Well, either that, or he's very comfortable leading by example. 

    Whatever the case, Boston notched its first win of 2014 and managed to get by without Jordan Crawford or the not-yet-returned Rajon Rondo manning the point.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to get Sullinger to pick a few lottery numbers for me. His predictive powers are pretty hot right now.

Do Not Feed the Bears

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    The Memphis Grizzlies are fat and happy right now, winners of four straight after gorging on some venison. They beat the Milwaukee Bucks 82-77 in a game that could be politely described as a mauling—not because the Grizz tore the Bucks apart, but because it was an ugly, stomach-turning affair.

    Just one starter—Mike Conley—managed to reach double figures, and his 15 points tied for the team lead with suddenly vital reserve James Johnson.

    Johnson played 28 brilliant minutes off the bench, piling up six blocks, five assists, six rebounds and a pair of steals. Without him and Ed Davis providing critical reserve help, the Bucks—who, to their credit, never quit in this one—would probably have gutted out a win.

    Memphis got Marc Gasol back on Tuesday, which provided a big boost to a Grizzlies team that was slipping out of playoff discussions. And although the big Spaniard went scoreless in 14 minutes, still obviously out of shape after missing so much time, Memphis was able to continue building momentum.

    Now sitting at 19-19 on the year, the Grizzlies look like a team ready to feast on an upcoming schedule that features just three playoff-caliber opponents in their next eight contests.

    If you're a Memphis fan, I believe the word you're looking for is "yum."

Rudy Gay Might Soon Change His Stance on Box Scores

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    Rudy Gay made at least 50 percent of his field goals just once in 18 games as a Raptor this year. After hitting 12-of-19 for 33 points in a 111-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, he's now done it a dozen times in 17 games as a member of the Sacramento Kings.

    For a guy who so infamously brushed aside box scores during his time in Toronto, that's a serious turnaround. Maybe now he'll reconsider banning stat sheets from the locker room.

    If I were him, I'd want everyone to know about my ridiculous shooting percentages. After going 12-of-19, I'd probably stack up a few hundred copies of the game recap and make 'em rain all over the locker room.

    Gay's not going quite that far, but there's no question that he's got much more reason to celebrate nowadays. He's got the Kings playing decent ball since his arrival (they're 9-10 since the trade), and nobody is burying him for horrible shot selection.

    That could all change quickly if he reverts to his brick-laying ways, and in the interest of being objective, he's still a certifiable ball-stopper on offense. But for now, Gay is playing more efficiently than ever.

    That's a good thing for him, the Kings and box scores everywhere.

    Oh, and just to keep this as objective as possible, it bears mentioning that Sacramento very nearly gave this one away with some late-game gaffes. In many ways, the Kings are still the Kings.

Better Late Than Never

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    The Houston Rockets fell behind early and looked very much like a team that wasn't going to muster enough effort to knock off a reeling (do Pelicans reel?) New Orleans Pelicans squad that had dropped six straight games.

    Eric Gordon scored 35 points in the contest and was getting whatever he wanted in the early going. Anthony Davis was, of course, his typically excellent self. He finished with 24 points and seven boards on 8-of-13 shooting.

    But a late push and a few key stops helped Houston salvage a 103-100 victory that extended the Pellies' winless streak to seven games.

    The Rockets forced five consecutive misses from the Pelicans in the final three minutes, a stout defensive stretch made all the more impactful by a simultaneous scoring burst. Houston closed the game on an 11-1 run.

    James Harden led the Rockets with 26. His late parade to the foul line and clutch jumper over Austin Rivers with 28 ticks remaining proved to be the difference in this one.

    It's great that Houston buckled down and finished off a game they should have won. But lapses like this are far from ideal. Over the next two weeks, the Rockets will face the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Grizzlies (twice), San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks.

    They'd better come ready to play from the opening tip against those foes.

I Will Never Get Tired of Gregg Popovich

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    Gregg Popovich is a difficult man to please, a fact we saw verified for the thousandth time in the San Antonio Spurs' 109-105 win at home against the Utah Jazz.

    With 8:15 remaining in the fourth quarter and his team up by nine, Kawhi Leonard collected a steal and rocketed up the court, skirting Trey Burke with a behind-the-back dribble and finishing the play with a jam. It was a breathtaking display.

    But Enes Kanter dunked on the other end as Leonard failed to make it back on defense, which is when Popovich lit into his small forward from the sideline, chastising him (loudly) for not hustling back. It probably wasn't Leonard's fault, and the dressing down didn't seem to bother him too much—he buried a three on San Antonio's very next possession—but the tirade was vintage Popovich.

    Nothing's ever good enough for him, and the grizzled four-time champion head coach never hesitates to lay into any player on his roster for a perceived failure in effort.

    Maybe it's old school. Maybe it's unreasonable. Maybe it's just mean.

    But I'll never get enough of it.

    Besides, San Antonio has the best record in the West and appears to be as viable of a championship threat as ever. Pop's clearly doing something right.

Nick Young Is Confusing

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    Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

    Phoenix Suns rookie Alex Len stopped a Nick Young layup with a hard, head-hunting foul at the 7:33 mark of the second quarter. And when Young popped up off the deck, he was livid.

    A shoving match ensued that featured Young taking on Len, then Young squaring off with both Morris twins. Finally, Young took a shot at Goran Dragic that earned him an ejection. The only member of the Los Angeles Lakers to even approach the scrum was rookie Ryan Kelly.

    After the game, Young was less than thrilled with the lack of reinforcements during the scrum.

    Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweeted: "Nick Young: 'What I'm mad about is it was 1-on-5.' Young was upset no Lakers came to his side."

    On the one hand, Young has a point: He should be able to expect a little help from his teammates in that situation. On the other, he's made a career of going one-on-five on offense, so he should be used to the feeling.

    Which is it, Nick? Do you like operating as a one-man wrecking crew or not?

    L.A. didn't help Young in his fight, and it certainly didn't muster much of one on the defensive end against the Suns. Phoenix ended up winning the game by a final score of 121-114. The Lakers surrendered 64 points in the paint and allowed 16 offensive rebounds.

    In their six-game losing streak, the Lakers have allowed at least 110 points. Over their past three losses, they've given up at least 120.

    In a way, L.A.'s failure to fight back on behalf of Young was a microcosm of the way it has completely thrown in the towel on defense. Nobody's helping anybody, and the results have been disastrous. With six straight road games coming up on the schedule, it might only get worse.

The Game Is Over When LaMarcus Aldridge Says So

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    A Dion Waiters triple gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a 94-93 lead with 3:44 remaining and for a moment, it seemed like the Portland Trail Blazers might be in danger of dropping a home game to a much weaker visitor from the East.

    It was at that point that LaMarcus Aldridge decided the game was already over...and that the Blazers were going to win it.

    Aldridge erupted, taking control of the game with nine straight points that put Portland up by six. He buried a three, worked his way to the line, knocked in a mid-range jumper and scored at the rim—all in a quick burst that lasted little more than two minutes.

    Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard put a couple cherries on top with three-point buckets in the final minute, but it was Aldridge who closed this one out. In the end, Portland took the game by a final of 108-96.

    On the night, the Blazers power forward finished with 32 points, 18 rebounds and four assists in 12-of-26 shooting.

    All of the MVP chants might be a little unrealistic in a world that still contains Kevin Durant and LeBron James. But nobody was better on Wednesday than Aldridge.

Andrew Bogut Can Become Invisible

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    Sounds crazy, right?

    Well, how else do you explain Andrew Bogut's absence from a critical closing stretch in the Denver Nuggets' 123-116 defeat of the Golden State Warriors?

    The Warriors held a 116-115 lead with 1:13 remaining in the game, exhausted after battling back from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit. To be fair, they'd climbed into the game with Bogut on the bench for a good chunk of the final period.

    But as Golden State's offense unraveled, turning the ball over and committing foolish fouls, the Nuggets also got a pair of offensive rebounds on their final full possession that all but ensured the Warriors wouldn't get a shot to win the game.

    Bogut is the anchor to Golden State's defense and even with the Nuggets going small, there was no excuse for leaving him on the bench. His presence would have been a calming influence on offense and certainly would have helped the Dubs secure a few key rebounds down the stretch.

    Head coach Mark Jackson has pushed many of the right buttons this year. But he hasn't shown much acumen for lineup construction and he made a pretty serious tactical mistake by leaving his best defender on the bench when it mattered.

    It's not a coincidence that Denver controlled the glass in the final minute with Bogut on the bench, and it's also not a coincidence that the Warriors gave up 123 points in a game Bogut played just 24 minutes.

    Hopefully, Jackson will realize that eventually.

There's Plenty of Fight in the Clippers

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    For most of the second half, it appeared as though the only fighting the Los Angeles Clippers wanted to do was the kind that involved actual fists.

    Blake Griffin managed to enrage half of the Dallas Mavericks roster during the course of an exceptionally chippy contest that featured plenty of choice words and angry stares flying from both sides. But as the fourth quarter ticked away, a big Mavs run seemed to take the figurative fight out of L.A.

    But then the Clippers woke up.

    From 17 points down, Los Angeles fought back, cutting into a lead that seemed insurmountable in the final five minutes.

    Dallas couldn't get a stop down the stretch, and L.A. got key contributions from Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Griffin. It was a tidal wave of scoring from a team that didn't have a ripple of life mere moments before.

    There's a lot of justifiable criticism for the way Griffin and the Clippers entangle themselves in so many extracurricular activities during a game. But the fight spilled over into actual production in this one, and the Clips benefited.

    The Mavs' porous defense helped, but if the Clips can channel their energy like this in the future, it could help them fight their way through the West.