8 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

8 Takeaways from Monday Night's NBA Action

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    If I told you Monday's NBA slate included Kevin Durant streaking toward territory occupied only by Michael Jordan, Gerald Green doing Gerald Green things and a historic streak by the Philadelphia 76ers, is that something you'd be interested in?

    I thought so.

    This edition of takeaways also boasts a secret weapon in Denver, a pertinent reminder in Houston and one of the oddest shot charts you'll ever see, courtesy of Paul Millsap.

    The postseason contenders are still jostling for position, and resurgent showings from key figures (see: Williams, Deron) are already hinting at which clubs could make deeper-than-expected runs when the games really start to count next month.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we're seeing the league's bottom feeders battling one another in a depressing contest to see who can pile up the most negative historical milestones. Even those are fun to recap in a morbid way.

    Let's check out the goings-on from Monday's seven-game schedule.

Kevin Durant Is Still Streaking

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    This might not qualify as news, but Kevin Durant can score the ball a little bit.

    He blessed the Chicago Bulls with 35 points in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 97-85 road victory, running his streak of games with at least 25 points to 32 straight. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that's the longest active streak in the league.

    According to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), only Michael Jordan's 40-game run in the 1986-87 season tops Durant's current surge. And according to Joakim Noah, Durant is really good at basketball.

    Per Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago, the Bulls' always-honest center said: "He's the best player in the world right now."

    Noah might not have been aware of Durant's ongoing scoring binge, but he saw enough from KD on Monday to inform his opinion. The lanky sniper pulled up from wherever he pleased, drilling bombs in transition before Chicago could set up its vaunted defense. And even when things were more settled in the half court, KD worked effectively in tandem with Russell Westbrook in the pick-and-roll.

    With the Bulls' stifling stopping power in the rearview mirror, Durant will see just three more top-10 defenses over his next eight games. If he can crack the 25-point mark against the Toronto Raptors on March 21, the San Antonio Spurs on April 3 and the Houston Rockets on April 4, he'll tie Jordan's all-time mark.

    Nothing is certain, but MJ's mark appears primed to fall.

For Some, the Status Quo Is Just Fine

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Concerns about tanking and the vast chasm in quality between the Western and Eastern Conferences has spurred plenty of talk about a need for more parity in the NBA this season.

    Everything from a proposed lottery wheel to the abolition of divisions has enjoyed at least preliminary discussion. And things as drastic as erasing conferences entirely aren't totally beyond the realm of possibility.

    It's safe to assume the Boston Celtics would prefer new commissioner Adam Silver not go so far as to do away with the current East-West divide. After dropping a 94-89 contest to the Dallas Mavericks, Boston fell to 0-15 in road games against the West this season.

    Overall, the Celtics have won four times in 30 tries against the league's superior conference.

    Back in the 2007-08 season, Boston notched a 25-5 mark against the West, per C's play-by-play man Sean Grande. But these are different times; Boston is in a new phase, and the talent gap between conferences is wider than ever.

    So if the NBA ever gets serious about balancing out the schedule, rest assured the Celtics will be first in line to protest.

    And hey, here's a silver lining: The Celtics won't see another team from the West this year. In that small way at least, the hurting in Boston will stop.

There Is Never Enough Gerald Green

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    Not every takeaway has to feature incisive, forward-looking analysis. Sometimes, it's enough to simply point out the good stuff that happens on a routine Monday night in the NBA.

    Gerald Green dunked on Brooklyn Nets rookie Mason Plumlee, and as is always the case when the Phoenix Suns wing goes poster hunting, this was no ordinary slam.

    Streaking down the left side of the lane after a steal, Green found himself walled off from the bucket by the outstretched arms of the dangerously athletic Plumlee. So he elevated, cocked the ball back and to the side in a double-clutch move most guards use to draw fouls and flushed a two-handed jam on Plumlee's head.

    Simple as that.

    There's no big revelation here, other than this: We need more Gerald Green. He's ridiculous.

D-Will Getting Right

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    There was another dunk in the Nets' 108-95 win over the Suns, and although it wasn't nearly as aesthetically awesome as Green's, it might have had more significance for the season's stretch run.

    That's because this dunk—weak as it was—belonged to Deron Williams.

    D-Will "threw down" his first slam of the season on a fourth-quarter breakaway. It was a rim-grazer that certainly wouldn't have earned him any high marks in a contest setting, but the fact that Brooklyn's balky-ankled point guard felt fit enough to jam is a huge positive.

    The Nets have come to life since the calendar flipped to 2014, going 24-10 after a 10-21 start. Williams has gradually rounded into form during that run, and his 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting against Phoenix should be just as encouraging as his aerial work.

    At the very least, the fact that he's looking more like the franchise point guard he once was is less controversial than the legitimacy of his dunk.

    Per Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game, Nets coach Jason Kidd wasn't so sure the slam was official:

    "We're trying to debate if that was a dunk. You have to ask him if it was a dunk. He doesn't want to say it was a dunk."

    The Nets can debate the play all they want. What's certain, though, is that a healthy Williams makes Brooklyn a threat to win a playoff series or two.

Some Games Don't Need to Be Played

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    The Houston Rockets stomped out the Utah Jazz by a final score of 124-86 in what was easily the evening's most foreseeable outcome.

    It's not just that the Jazz came in having lost nine of their past 10 games, and it's not just that the Rockets appear to be a viable contender nowadays. No, the result was actually etched in stone the second the final buzzer sounded in Houston's gut-punch loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday.

    That was a painful defeat for the Rockets, one they'd obviously be motivated to purge from their memories.

    So it didn't matter that Dwight Howard skipped the tilt against Utah, and it didn't matter that the Jazz hung tough for the first 12 minutes. This one was over before it started.

    Fatalism is a heady subject for an NBA conversation, though, so I'll close this one with a more encouraging thought: Houston got a glimpse of what Omer Asik might provide during the postseason.

    Starting in place of Howard, the Rockets' backup big man notched a double-double and reminded everyone just how valuable he could be.

    Per Jason Friedman of Rockets.com:

    Remember Omer Asik? The Rockets never forgot him in the first place, and the reasons why were written all over the court Monday night - in bold, capital letters, no less - within every rebound, altered shot and bone crushing screen. This is a player who consistently makes plays that win basketball games.

Paul Millsap Is a Straight Shooter

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    Via @ESPNStatsInfo

    There's no nonsense in Paul Millsap's game.

    That's not to say the Atlanta Hawks' All-Star forward is boring. Quite the opposite, Millsap can score from just about anywhere with a variety of moves, an underrated jumper and a deadly face-up attack. But more than anything, he's a single-minded force whenever he's on the floor.

    He's not into flair. He's more substance than style. Even when he crams home a big dunk, there's a utilitarian sense about it. If you asked him, he'd probably point out smashing the ball violently on the head of an opponent was simply the best way to get the bucket.

    With Millsap's figurative straight shooting established, it's interesting to note he adopted a literal approach to match in Atlanta's 97-83 defeat of the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Take a look at Millsap's shot chart!

    He did his damage against Charlotte exclusively from a dead-on angle. That kind of direct approach is exactly what the Hawks need from Millsap, whose recent return from injury helped right the ship after a 1-9 stretch.

    The Hawks can win a playoff series, but they'll need Millsap and his no-nonsense game to do it.

The Sixers Made History, Are Hungry for More

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    The Philadelphia 76ers did the same thing against the Indiana Pacers that they've done in every game since Jan. 31: They lost.

    Indy secured a comfortable 99-90 win, giving the Sixers their 21st defeat in a row. The run of futility is the longest in Sixers history, and per Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, no team had ever dropped 21 straight by five or more points.

    Until now.

    If Philly keeps this up for five more games, it'll tie the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for the longest losing streak in league history. With an upcoming schedule that features two tilts against the Bulls and matchups against the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Rockets, that record is in serious jeopardy.

    Assuming the Sixers stay true to form, a March 29 contest against the Detroit Pistons will determine whether they stand alone in the annals of NBA losers.

    That one will be for all the marbles—the very sad, depressing marbles.

The Nuggets Have a Secret Weapon

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

    You might be thinking the secret weapon referenced in the title is the altitude at the Pepsi Center, long a friend of the Denver Nuggets and an enemy of weary road opponents.

    But the Los Angeles Clippers didn't snap their 11-game winning streak because they were unprepared to face the Nugs on the second night of a back-to-back set. Granted, playing in Denver in those circumstances is typically a scheduled loss.

    But it's my contention that L.A. was simply dazzled by Denver's sweet throwback jerseys.

    Clearly, Blake Griffin shot 7-of-25 because the Nuggets' navy duds conjured images of Dikembe Mutombo lurking in the lane. How else do you explain all the long twos he settled for?

    The Clips are going to be just fine. Monday's game was going to be tough under any circumstances, so this loss shouldn't do anything to detract from their status as legitimate contenders.

    For the Nuggets, though, a little blast from the past is necessary. Old-school jerseys will help fans remember better times, which should help ease the pain of missing the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.