10 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2014

10 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Monday's NBA slate featured a full day of basketball, thanks to the annual matinee tradition of Martin Luther King Day.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers lost track of time, Doc Rivers performed some surgery and the Charlotte Bobcats kept things interesting.

    Plus, John Wall and the Wizards inched closer to a modest historical achievement.

    In Madison Square Garden, the Brooklyn Nets continued their surge at the expense of the New York Knicks. And Tyson Chandler was none too happy about it.

    I won't spoil the rest of the takeaways for you, but just keep in mind that Taj Gibson made Tom Thibodeau do something he almost never does. Enticing, huh?

    Check out the rundown on everything you need to know from a busy holiday hoops schedule.

Every Second Counts

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Especially when you've only got five of them.

    The Dallas Mavericks withstood a late-game surge from the host Cleveland Cavaliers to notch a 102-97 victory on Monday. Sloppy defense by Dallas and a suddenly functional Cavs offense turned a sure blowout into a nail-biter.

    But Cleveland made a costly (and unfortunately typical) error in the final seconds that dashed any hope it had of completing a stirring comeback.

    Trailing by three with 2.8 ticks remaining on the clock, Jarrett Jack couldn't inbound the ball before being whistled for a crippling five-second violation. There would be no last-second shot to tie the game. Instead, the Cavaliers could only foul after the turnover, allowing Dallas to put the game out of reach with a pair of foul shots.

    Compounding the disappointment: Kyrie Irving was open.

    Per Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, head coach Mike Brown said after the game: "Kyrie was wide open. I don't know if we've ever been that wide open before at the end of a game in a situation like that. Jack just couldn't see him."

    To that point, Irving was just 10-of-27 from the field. So there's no guarantee he would have canned the bucket. But for a Cavs team that now sits at just 15-26 on the year, missing out on the opportunity to find out has to hurt.

    Cleveland has botched a couple of other crunch-time situations this season, and frankly, the Cavs just aren't good enough to get away with mistakes like the one Jack made. Ownership desperately wants a playoff berth this year.

    More finishes like this one will make that dream impossible.

Doc Isn't Afraid to Operate

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Jared Dudley wasn't cutting it as a starter, so Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers performed a Dudley-ectomy, removing him from the first unit and attaching Matt Barnes in his place against the Detroit Pistons.

    Barnes scored 10 points to Dudley's seven, but the rugged veteran offered a defensive spark that had been missing from the Clips' perimeter defense in recent days. Overall, the difference was positive, if minimal. But it's good to see that Rivers isn't satisfied with his team's 6-2 record since Chris Paul went down with a shoulder injury.

    Clearly, "good" isn't good enough for Doc.

    We've spent some time on the Dudley-Barnes swap here, but the Clippers frontcourt was the real reason they notched a 112-103 road win against the Pistons.

    Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 41 points, 26 rebounds and 12 dunks as the Pistons' inexplicably porous interior defense failed to offer any resistance at the rim.

    Per The Associated Press (via ESPN), Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks had this to say after the demoralizing dunk-fest: "That's the way they play. They pound the ball inside, and they are always looking for the lob. They don't usually get as many of them as they did tonight, but that's what they do."

    Yes, coach; that's what they do.

    What you do is allow anyone and everyone to traipse down the lane for uncontested slams and lobs. Nobody has ever accused Greg Monroe of being a defensive force, but with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond on the roster, there's no excuse for the way the Pistons fail to defend the paint.

    Maybe it's time for Cheeks to take a cue from Rivers and start operating on his own lineup. It couldn't hurt; his current frontcourt rotation is dying on the table. Worse still, the Pistons have slipped to ninth in the East.

The Bobcats Are Exciting

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    An explanation: The Charlotte Bobcats aren't exciting in any conventional sense. They play a slow, uninteresting offensive style, muddy up the game with dogged defense and are now operating without Kemba Walker.

    But these Kitties have a way of keeping games interesting, a fact they proved in a 100-95 home victory over the Toronto Raptors.

    Early on, Charlotte was cruising behind Al Jefferson's dominance down low. Big Al pumped in 22 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and handed out a team-high seven assists in what was easily his best game of the year. A slow start from Toronto compounded the problem, ultimately resulting in an 18-point Bobcats advantage at the start of the fourth quarter.

    But the Raptors woke up, roaring back to pull within a single point in the game's final seconds. If Kyle Lowry could have hit the free throw to complete a three-point play with 26 seconds remaining, this one could have gotten really interesting.

    According to The Associated Press (via The Toronto Star), Jefferson said: " Of course we had to make it a game. We couldn't enjoy an easy win, right?"

    Ladies and gentlemen, your Charlotte Bobcats: exciting to the end.

It's Finally Going to Happen...Probably

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    John Wall has never been above .500 in his NBA career. After beating the Philadelphia 76ers 107-99 on Monday, Wall and his Wizards evened their record on the season to 20-20. For the fourth time this year, a winning record is tantalizingly close.

    And they'll get a crack at the Boston Celtics on Jan. 22.

    Don't get too excited, though; nothing is certain with this bunch. The Wizards have been here three times this year—"here" being .500 with a chance to climb over that imposing break-even mark. They've blown all three opportunities so far.

    On Dec. 6, the Wizards dumped a 109-105 overtime contest to the putrid Milwaukee Bucks, falling to 9-10 despite a matchup against the league's worst team. Then, Washington failed to capitalize on Jan. 1 against the Mavs. Most recently, it fell short in a loss to the Pistons on Jan. 18.

    This time will be different, though.

    The Celtics are reeling, losers of nine out of their last 10 games. Plus, as the old saying goes, "the fourth time's the charm."

    That's how the saying goes, right?

    I'm calling it, folks. Wall and the Wizards are going to get their first taste of success on Jan. 22. For the first time since the 2008-09 season, they'll have a winning record.

    Unless they blow it again, in which case, forget everything I just said.

The Natives Are Restless

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    First of all, credit the Brooklyn Nets for running their 2014 record to 7-1. They've been getting terrific performances from low-cost contributors that have sparked a major turnaround. Suddenly, they're looking like a near lock to make the playoffs.

    With that out of the way, we can move on to the continuing dysfunction of the New York Knicks, who lost at home to the aforementioned Nets by a laughable final score of 103-80.

    The latest issue involves defensive philosophy, which is interesting because it had been unclear to this point that the Knicks actually had one. Apparently, they do.

    And Tyson Chandler, a former winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award, isn't cool with it.

    Per Ian Begley of ESPN, Chandler complained after the game:

    I think we came to play. They outschemed us. They played to our defense as far their offensive scheme, knowing our rotations and knowing what we wanted to accomplish. Kind of putting us in vulnerable situations. ... I don't want to switch. I personally don't like it. You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility. I think switching should always be your last resort.

    Digest that for a second. Chandler believes the Knicks were "outschemed" by Brooklyn. That's a clear shot at head coach Mike Woodson, and it's one that seems intended to do real damage. After all, the best way to wound a coach is to make the assertion that Jason Kidd managed to out-think him.

    In addition, we're at the halfway point of the season. Shouldn't the Knicks have their schemes ironed out by now?

    Maybe Woodson should just give in and let Chandler determine the Knicks' defensive tactics. As it stands, New York's defensive rating of 105.9 is fifth worst in the league, per NBA.com.

    How much worse could it get?

    Wait a minute, this is the Knicks we're talking about. Don't answer that.

Memphis Needs to Relocate

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    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Rest easy, Tennesseans. Nobody wants to take your Memphis Grizzlies away.

    But this team needs to get out of the Southwest Division...fast.

    Memphis lost its third consecutive game to the New Orleans Pelicans this season, running its division record to a stunning 0-10 on the year. This particular defeat, a 95-92 decision that dropped the Grizz back to .500, was emblematic of their many intra-division failures this year.

    Anthony Davis hurt the Grizzlies from all angles, totaling 27 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks, four steals and two assists on the night. Zach Randolph did his part, scoring 23 points and hauling down 20 boards, but Memphis didn't get any support from its bench.

    Overall, the Grizz don't have the athleticism or depth to compete with the trio of Texas teams in their division. But there's really no explanation for why the Pelicans seem to have their number as well.

    Memphis has a back-to-back set with the Houston Rockets on Jan. 24 and 25, which means its ongoing futility against the Southwest is likely to continue.

Sharing Is Caring

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Though it's seemingly easier to beat the Miami Heat these days than it has been in a very long time, the Atlanta Hawks still had to work to notch a 121-114 home victory over the stumbling champs.

    Fortunately, they worked together.

    Atlanta passed the ball like crazy on offense, an absolute must against Miami's scrambling, trapping attack.

    Per Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, that's been a hallmark of the Hawks' success all year:

    The Hawks finished with 33 assists on 42 field goals. The NBA leaders in assists have had at least 20 assists in 22 straight games. It also marked the eighth time this season, the Hawks have had 30 or more assists. They are 7-1 in those games.

    Seven Hawks reached double figures in the game, led by Paul Millsap's ruthlessly efficient 26 points on 13 shots. The ball was hopping, and a beleaguered Miami club that has now lost four of its last six games couldn't quite keep up.

    Still, the Heat put a scare into Atlanta late, cutting the lead to just two points in the final stages. Miami couldn't get over the top, though, and its defensive problems are looming larger than ever. Thanks to the Hawks' equal opportunity offense, Miami surrendered a whopping 71 points in the first half.

    From there, the Hawks held on to preserve a true team victory—their first against Miami since 2012.

The End Is Nigh

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    See that picture up there? That's what Tom Thibodeau looks like almost all the time: upset, uncomfortable, generally displeased.

    But after the Chicago Bulls snatched a 102-100 overtime victory from the Los Angeles Lakers on Taj Gibson's buzzer-beating layup, Thibs was all smiles. Don't believe me? Check out the photographic evidence here.

    The Lakers got 31 points from Nick Young, including three free throws at the end of regulation that tied the game. You can bet that Thibodeau wasn't smiling when Young drew a three-shot foul on Joakim Noah 25 feet from the bucket.

    But D.J. Augustin nearly matched Young's output with 27 points of his own off the bench, and he did it with seven fewer field-goal attempts.

    Oh, and aside from his costly late foul, Noah was incredible. He basically went bonkers, tallying 17 points, 21 boards, six assists and a couple of steals in 42 high-energy minutes. Pau Gasol was nearly as good, amassing 20 points and 19 rebounds while scoring a series of key buckets for the Lakers down the stretch.

    We're getting away from the point here, though. Thibodeau was smiling and slapping high-fives after Gibson's game-winner, a sight that clearly signals the apocalypse is upon us.

    It's been nice knowing you.

The Blazers Are Enablers

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The Houston Rockets are at their best when they're running and gunning, operating in a free-flowing game where defenders aren't set.

    Astute observers will likely note that the Portland Trail Blazers' nonexistent defense provides precisely those conditions. Suffice it to say that the Rockets were completely comfortable throughout their 126-113 win on Monday.

    Houston got 31 points from Chandler Parsons, 22 from James Harden and 24 from Dwight Howard. In all the Rockets buried 16 of 33 attempts from long distance, feasting on endless open looks against Portland's step-slow rotations.

    Good ball movement helped, but the Blazers just didn't do enough to make the Rockets work for high-percentage shots. They were simply there for the taking.

    This game didn't tell us much about the Rockets that we didn't already know. For the Blazers, though, it was yet another blemish on what they hope is a championship resume. Teams worthy of title consideration don't just surrender easy looks like this.

    Portland won't be punished so severely by other teams; the Rockets are uniquely skilled at running up the score. But the Blazers will have to clean up their D if they hope to do much damage against anybody when the games start to really count.

Not All Contenders Are Created Equal

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Both the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers are part of the championship race this year. But after watching Indy secure a 102-94 win against the Dubs in Oracle Arena, it's safe to say the Pacers are clearly in pole position.

    Lance Stephenson and George Hill lost the scoring battle against Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but Indiana's rugged duo did well to make the Warriors' snipers into volume shooters.

    Elsewhere, Roy Hibbert and Andrew Bogut battled to a draw, while David Lee gave the Warriors an edge at the 4.

    Ultimately, though, it was the Warriors' woeful bench that did them in. Jordan Crawford was 1-of-5, Draymond Green was 1-of-7 and Marreese Speights was 1-of-4. Harrison Barnes, Golden State's bench-scoring leader, had just seven points in 21 minutes.

    Indiana's reserves defended better, shot better and generally swung the game whenever the Warriors had to rest starters. None of that should be a surprise to observers who've watched either team this season.

    Golden State is still a very good team perched somewhere on the fringes of championship contention. The Pacers showed us they were something much more than that.