5 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action
Monday's NBA slate was a light one, featuring just five games and no matchups pitting two playoff contenders against one another.
If you think that made for a boring schedule, think again.
Dirk Nowitzki helped solidify the New York Knicks' status as the league's most irreversibly cursed franchise. His game-winning bucket erased an utterly brilliant performance by Carmelo Anthony and helped extend New York's losing streak to three.
Elsewhere, the Golden State Warriors buckled down to make a late push against the Detroit Pistons, the Milwaukee Bucks lost by winning and the New Orleans Pelicans trotted out a new definition of fear in place of a mascot.
Seriously, the Pellies slide is not for the faint of heart. You've been warned.
Disclaimers aside, let's run through Monday's contests.
Do Not Underestimate the Sixers
The Philadelphia 76ers will not be denied.
In the midst of a major losing streak and already in possession of the NBA's worst per game differential, the Sixers were very, very bad heading into the NBA trade deadline. Apparently, they weren't bad enough.
So, general manager Sam Hinkie swapped out Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for multiple second-round picks and a handful of players who couldn't possible help Philly win basketball games this season.
Depleted, reeling and focused firmly on securing the league's worst record, the Sixers faced the ultimate test on Monday: Could they be worse than the cellar-dwelling Milwaukee Bucks?
Could they ever.
Philadelphia suffered a 130-110 defeat at home and in the process secured their position as the very worst team in the NBA. Milwaukee hit 57.1 percent of its shots from the field, scored 60 points in the paint and drilled 12 of 20 triples. Feasting on the Sixers' breakneck pace and lack of defense (a recipe for tanking if I've ever heard one), the Bucks completely annihilated their opponents.
In the second quarter alone, Milwaukee outscored Philadelphia by a margin of 43-16. By halftime, this one was completely over.
Per ESPN Stats and Information: "The Bucks lead the 76ers 73-44 at halftime, the most points the Bucks have scored in a half since Nov. 14, 2009."
Maybe it's worth mentioning that O.J. Mayo hit seven threes, while poor Thaddeus Young led the Sixers with 28 points. Michael Carter-Williams, the only 76ers player with a positive plus-minus figure (plus-six), scored 20 points.
But individual stats don't really mean anything in a contest like this. Calling it a glorified pickup game is an insult to recreational basketball everywhere.
The Sixers now trail Milwaukee by a mere three-and-a-half games for the league's worst record. The takeaway: There's a new front-runner in the NBA's race to the bottom. Philadelphia is on a mission.
Defense Wins Championships...and Road Games in Detroit
Getting Andrew Bogut, one of the West's preeminent stoppers, back for a tilt against the Detroit Pistons was a big boost for a Golden State Warriors team starting off a six-game road trip.
And although Bogut didn't have his typically transformative impact, the Warriors defense was predictably stout. Remember, the Dubs climbed all the way up to No. 3 in the NBA in defensive rating while the big man recovered from a bum shoulder.
In fact, with a potentially embarrassing loss to a sorely inferior Pistons team growing more real by the second, it was Golden State's stingy defense that turned the tide. The Dubs allowed just 13 points in the final period and countered with 23 of their own.
In the end, a two-point deficit to start the quarter gave way to a final score of 104-96.
Jermaine O'Neal started for an ill David Lee and continued his recent resurgence. His 16 points and 10 rebounds were a nice follow-up effort to the 23 points and 13 boards he notched in the Dubs' last game against the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 22.
Naturally, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson led the way for the Warriors down the stretch. They combined to score 12 points in the final period, but the Dubs' hot-shooting backcourt is no longer what defines this team's identity.
The Warriors are a defensive team now. They are the winners of four straight and slated to take on the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics before heading back to Oakland. A lengthy slog through the East is never a treat for a California team, but as long as the Dubs pack their elite defense, they'll be just fine.
Sometimes, It's Just Not Your Year
Ready for some hard-hitting analysis? OK, here goes: This might not be the New York Knicks' year.
That much was abundantly clear before Dirk Nowitzki hit a buzzer-beating game-winner to give the Dallas Mavericks a 110-108 victory in Madison Square Garden on Monday. But after Dirk's isolation jumper from the top of the key caromed off the back rim, bounced high off the front lip of the iron and then fell delicately through the cylinder, the Knicks' lost season took on a a new sense of inevitability.
Terrible offseason moves haven't helped. Mike Woodson's seeming inability to control the team's effort, rotations and defensive schemes have also been problems.
But something else is happening now—something that feels a lot more like fate than bad luck.
Nowitzki's shot seemed destined to drop. It was as though the laws of physics took a breather just so the ball could fall through the net.
Carmelo Anthony's 44 points were for naught, and all he could do was watch as Nowitzki fired off the decisive attempt over his own outstretched hand.
Even Dirk himself acknowledged the improbability of his final look, per Bryan Gutierrez of Mavs Outsider: "I think it every part of the rim, hit the glass, it hit Jerry West on the left. It wasn’t the greatest of shots."
Well, it wouldn't have been a great shot if it had come against any other team. With the Knicks involved, though, there was no way it was rattling out.
The Pelicans Are Doing It Wrong
When Pierre the Pelican's devilish visage terrified enough observers to necessitate reconstructive surgery, the New Orleans Pelicans should have gleaned a valuable (if obvious) message: The best way to mess up a mascot is to make it creepy.
Mascots aren't that hard to figure out. All you have to do is pick an animal, give him a jersey and a name that involves a basketball pun. If you want to slap a pair of sunglasses on him, go ahead. Just don't under any circumstances make him look like some kind of nightmare creature from an acid flashback.
That's what Pierre v.1.0 was.
Suffice it to say the Pelicans didn't learn their lesson. They unleashed the abomination that was "King Cake Baby" on Monday night.
Look, I get that king cakes and the little plastic baby baked into the batter are both parts of New Orleans culture. That's perfectly fine. It's weird, but it's fine.
Fashioning a giant baby mascot with a wholly disturbing smirk, eyes that follow you everywhere and a crown is not fine. Not at all.
The Pelicans' equipment storage area must be a complete hellscape. Next to Pierre's original beak, there's now a full-body baby suit. Enough's enough, New Orleans. No more mascots for you. It's clear you cannot be trusted.
Oh, also, the Los Angeles Clippers notched a 123-110 win over the Pelicans behind 19 points and 13 assists from Chris Paul. Anthony Davis had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Pellies, but all of that information is beside the point.
The Pelicans game was really just a trip into a horror movie. I'll be sleeping with the lights on for a week. Don't judge me.
The Celtics Would Like to Take Ball, Go Home
The Utah Jazz ran roughshod all over the worn-out Boston Celtics, notching a 110-98 win on the strength of 55 percent shooting and six players in double figures. With high energy and the added boost of Derrick Favors' return to the starting lineup, the Jazz torched Boston with great ball movement and a paint-heavy attack.
On the night, Utah piled up 54 points in the lane.
The Celtics, on the other hand, looked very much like a team playing the final contest of a four-game road trip through the West. The ball stuck, legs were tired and the Celtics only registered 16 assists as a team.
They were exhausted. Worse, they were mentally beaten by halftime.
With this latest loss, Boston's road record against the West fell to 0-13, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe.
Heading home can't hurt, but the Celtics' next four games will be against playoff teams. The Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Warriors and Brooklyn Nets won't make life any easier on the struggling C's.