7 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

7 Takeaways from Wednesday Night's NBA Action

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Rajon Rondo was all business on Wednesday night, shooting nonstop death stares at the hated Miami Heat and setting the tone for a night of NBA hoops that provided some serious excitement.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks streaked up and down the floor in a thoroughly entertaining affair that looked, initially, like a complete disaster. And the San Antonio Spurs did some streaking of their own, notching yet another win at the expense of the hapless Los Angeles Lakers.

    Plus, we had the rare opportunity to hear everything that went on between the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately, most of the audio from that game will probably come with at least a PG-13 rating. So kids, check with your parents before proceeding.

    Finally, Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks enjoyed a banner day. It was so good, in fact, that Jackson should probably start thinking about cashing in his valuable "public sentiment" chips while he's up.

    From the steely-eyed seriousness of Rondo to the giddy smile-fest in New York, here's what you need to know from Wednesday's NBA slate.

It's a Little Too Quiet in Philly

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    A near-empty arena and the Chicago Bulls aren't a great combination, but that's what we got when Joakim Noah and Co. visited the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

    Per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell: "There can't be more than 2,000 people in here right now. Can't say I'm surprised. Why would you pay to watch the Sixers right now?"

    Why is a cavernous, unpopulated echo chamber a bad thing when the Bulls are involved? Well, let's just say guys like Noah and Carlos Boozer aren't shy about letting the four-letter words fly. And with no crowd noise to drown out the expletives, every "gosh darn" and "aw shucks" (OK, those weren't the words, but you get the idea) were clearly audible.

    If there had been a swear jar in Philly, it would have been overflowing with dollar bills by halftime.

    To the credit of the attending Sixers fans, they got plenty loud when there was something to cheer about. They piped up when Philly tied the game up at 85-85 halfway through the fourth quarter, but a 6-0 Bulls run allowed silence to reign once more.

    Then, when Byron Mullens (who inexplicably scored 10 points in the final period) threw down a sweet transition slam with just over a minute remaining, things got a little louder.

    Ultimately, though, small crowds and relative quiet have been par for the course in Philadelphia this season. For a fanbase that has a long history of boisterousness, that just feels wrong. But 22 straight losses tend to have that effect.

    Chicago took this one by a final of 102-94.

    To the relief of censors and easily offended listeners everywhere, the Bulls don't make another visit to Philadelphia this season.

Rajon Rondo Meant Business

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Rajon Rondo was lucky to spend his formative years studying under veteran teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and one of the lessons he picked up was on display when the Miami Heat came calling Wednesday.

    Per Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, he broke out the pregame "mad dog" routine: "Rajon Rondo--in what was a KG/Pierce tradition--walks out for the opening tip without acknowledging anyone from Miami."

    We're all for sportsmanship around here, but it's hard not to enjoy Rondo channeling his former teammates—especially against a hated foe.

    It's hard to say whether Rondo's tone-setting stonewall or the back spasms that kept LeBron James on the sidelines were responsible, but the Boston Celtics managed to secure a 101-96 win over the Heat. Maybe it was a little bit of both.

    One thing is for sure, though: Rondo was damn good in this one.

    He totaled just nine points on his own but added 10 rebounds and 15 assists. His ball movement was integral to Boston's deadly perimeter attack. On the night, the C's buried 13-of-28 shots from long distance, with Avery Bradley nailing a career-high six triples.

    And Rondo's beautiful running floater from the right baseline helped increase Boston's lead from three to five points with just 18.7 seconds left.

    After the game, Rondo was particularly relieved to see that shot fall, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: "That's the most frustrating part of my game that hasn't came back that I expected to be there."

    Boston joined the Brooklyn Nets and the Bulls as the only teams to beat Miami twice this season.

    More importantly, Rondo looked like a guy prepared to pay forward the lessons he learned from past veterans. For a rebuilding Celtics team, his willingness to take on the role of resident cranky leader could be immensely valuable.

D-Will's Friskiness Continues

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    The Brooklyn Nets notched their 10th consecutive home win by taking care of the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday, 104-99.

    And Deron Williams, who's made a habit of falling apart and putting himself back together in recent seasons, was the biggest reason for Brooklyn's continued surge.

    He finished the game with a team-high 25 points, tossing in eight assists and three boards for good measure. His brief takeover in the fourth quarter was key in salting the game away. After a lay-in at the six-minute mark, Williams hit a three, snagged a steal and hit a pair of foul shots to turn a one-point deficit into a four-point advantage.

    Enlivened by Williams' personal run, Brooklyn fought with purpose for the final five minutes to take the contest.

    D-Will's resurgence (he's averaging a season-best 17.2 points on 48 percent shooting in March) was necessary for the Nets to win this game, but its impact on the remaining few weeks of the regular season is hard to overstate.

    Brooklyn moved a half-game ahead of the idle Washington Wizards with the win and dumped the Bobcats a full 3.5 games behind them in the standings. In a conference where absolutely nobody wants to face the Heat or Indiana Pacers in the first round, putting some distance between itself and the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds is critical.

    As long as Williams is feeling frisky, the Nets should continue to separate themselves from those bottom two spots.

The Grizzlies Have a Switch

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    You hear it all the time: The good teams can flip the proverbial switch whenever they need to play their best. Typically, that's a refrain that comes up whenever a purportedly strong club is struggling to take care of business against a weak opponent.

    "They'll just turn it on when they need to," we always say.

    Well, by that standard, I guess we have to admit the Memphis Grizzlies are, once again, a good team.

    They flipped the switch against the spunky Utah Jazz on Wednesday, taking complete control of a game Utah had rallied back to tie at 84 with 5:37 remaining in the fourth quarter. Despite dominating on the glass and in the paint, Memphis coasted a little too much during the first half of the final period.

    After Dave Joerger's 20-second timeout, though, the Grizz roared to the finish.

    Mike Conley found Tayshaun Prince for a layup, Zach Randolph scored down low, and Conley hit one jumper and then another. Meanwhile, Utah turned the ball over, missed shots and committed shot-clock violations.

    All told, Memphis outscored Utah 12-2 after flipping the switch.

    Admittedly, assuming a team is of good quality simply because it can toy with an opponent for a while before deciding to crush it is a little unscientific. But we know these Grizzlies are legit. They put a scare into the West last year, and all signs point toward them doing it again this time around.

    So, to whichever top seed has to contend with Memphis in the first round, good luck.

These Go to 11

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Like the lads in Spinal Tap, 10 wasn't enough for the San Antonio Spurs. Their 125-109 drubbing of the Los Angeles Lakers gave them 11 consecutive victories, the longest active streak in the league.

    As per usual, San Antonio got a balanced, efficient effort from just about everyone who played. Tony Parker led all scorers with 25 on 11-of-16 shooting, and Kawhi Leonard chipped in with 22 of his own.

    In all, the Spurs shot 52.6 percent from the field and tallied 34 assists on 50 buckets. Seven players reached double figures.

    The Lakers did what they've been doing for a few weeks now, which is completely ignore the defensive end. They've surrendered at least 110 points in seven straight games.

    On the bright side, Pau Gasol didn't look half bad in totaling 22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. But as far as positives go, that was pretty much it for Los Angeles.

    The Spurs, meanwhile, are looking as dominant as ever. They're now a full two games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 1 spot in the West and possess the league's highest per-game differential at plus-7.4.

    The Spurs have made it to 11, and with the Sacramento Kings on deck, I'm guessing they're on the way to 12.

The Best Game of the Night Almost Didn't Happen

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Early on, it looked like the Dallas Mavericks' failure to read the scouting report would doom them to a blowout loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    The first quarter was a track meet, and the Wolves were the only team that heard the starter's pistol. Despite a reputation around the league as a cherry-picking bunch always in search of run-outs, Minnesota still managed to sprint past forgetful Mavs defenders for transition buckets.

    Corey Brewer streaked down the court for three breakaway hoops in just over a minute, contributing six of the Wolves' 15 first-quarter fast-break points. All told, Minnesota put up 37 points in the period and looked primed to win the game by 50.

    In short order, Dallas found its wits (and transition defense). A 35-29 advantage in the second quarter cut Minnesota's lead to just seven points at halftime. From there, the two high-powered offenses traded shots in one of the better back-and-forth affairs we've seen this season.

    Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 27 points, and Monta Ellis erupted for 15 points over the final five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime to keep the game tight.

    Kevin Love countered with 35 points of his own, while Ricky Rubio notched his third career triple-double, totaling 22 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in what might have been the very best game of his career.

    After an opening period that probably prompted many viewers to tune out, the Mavs and Wolves played a thoroughly entertaining game. In the end, Minnesota notched a 123-122 overtime victory.

    Let that be a lesson to all of us: Never give up on two teams that refuse to play defense.

Phil Jackson Should Retire Again

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    There's a lot to be said for quitting while you're ahead.

    Phil Jackson bathed in the support of fans at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, as long-suffering Knicks loyalists rousingly greeted the man they already believe will save them. It was a little weird, per B/R's Jared Dubin: "Phil's gotta be the first executive to get a mid-game standing ovation in his second day on the job."

    If you think about it, Jackson's tenure in New York might not ever get better than this. Sure, the Knicks could find the right path under his guidance, perhaps winning a title three or four years from now. But that's a pipe dream at this point.

    In just a couple of days, Jackson has sold himself to Carmelo Anthony; gotten James Dolan to admit he knows nothing about basketball in an interview with MSG's Al Trautwig; and added a remarkable sense of direction to a team that had absolutely none last week.

    And the Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers by a final score of 92-86, extending their winning streak to seven games.

    How much better could things realistically get?

    Jackson might be in for even better days down the line, but why risk it? Head back to Montana now, Phil. This is as good as it'll get.