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8 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2014

8 Takeaways from Sunday Night's NBA Action

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    If you're a fan of watching Kevin Durant approach perfection while vanquishing foes against whom he usually struggles, Sunday's NBA slate was for you.

    Of course, if you're a Philadelphia 76ers fan, Sunday never happened.

    KD blew up in the first game of the day, showing Carmelo Anthony how far he and the Oklahoma City Thunder had come in recent weeks. Then, the Los Angeles Clippers welcomed back Chris Paul with an eye-popping blowout against the Sixers.

    In between those extremes, the Orlando Magic scaled another mountain, the Dallas Mavericks kept right on streaking, and some seriously weird stuff went down in Cleveland.

    Plus, Mason Plumlee climbed to new heights, and a fascinating turn of events could have major repercussions for the Los Angeles Lakers' future.

    So, to recap: Fans of Durant are safe to continue, but any Philly supporters should probably just move on. Nothing to see here.

Kevin Durant Is Imperfect

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Maybe the timing of that headline seems a little weird given Kevin Durant's ridiculous line of 41 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on Sunday.

    The MVP favorite's numbers in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 112-100 win against the New York Knicks weren't out of the ordinary this year—especially not during the absurd run KD has been on since the beginning of 2014. But they were distinctly unusual for another reason.

    Per ESPN Stats & Information, Durant entered Sunday's tilt with a 1-11 record in head-to-head matchups against Carmelo Anthony.

    Make that 2-11.

    The Knicks couldn't do anything to stop Durant in isolation, on the pick-and-roll or in transition. It was a complete defensive failure.

    On the other end, OKC clamped down on Anthony, forcing him into an ugly 5-of-19 night from the field.

    KD wasn't just better than Anthony; he also had much more help. In the end, things looked downright unfair out there.

    It'll take a while for Durant to even out his career mark against Anthony, but as Royce Young wrote on DailyThunder.com, it's more clear than ever that KD's rise is now officially meteoric: 

    Durant’s elevation as a complete player has been majestic, as Melo has remained the guy that can score in bunches with an array of different isolation moves. One has trended up, the other has mostly stayed where he is.

    Durant might not be perfect yet, but he's getting awfully close.

The Lakers Are at a Crossroads

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    It's been a complicated season for Steve Nash.

    The 40-year-old point guard desperately wants to keep playing, but it's unclear whether his presence on the floor is actually a good thing for the Los Angeles Lakers' long-term plans (whatever they are). Plus, Nash's body has been uncooperative ever since he fractured his left leg and suffered nerve irritation last year.

    Nash had to leave the Lakers' 92-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the third quarter after getting hit in that same leg, and though his comments after the game were somewhat encouraging, they didn't change the fact that things are only going to get more complicated from here on out.

    Per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Nash said of the leg that caused his exit, "I don't think it will be a long-term effect at all."

    Not so fast, Steve.

    You see, Nash has now played in nine games for the Lakers this year. That's truly a magic number, because if he plays game No. 10, he won't be able to medically retire. And if he can't medically retire, the Lakers can't wipe his salary off the books in 2014-15, per Arash Markazi of ESPN.

    In other words, things just got a lot more complicated.

    This particular game didn't much matter for the Lakers. Nor will any other game they play in what has become another lost season. But clearing cap space and setting up for the future does matter. And while it'd be nice for both Nash and the Lakers to get through this year without more difficulties, Nash's latest setback might make that impossible.

    L.A. shouldn't want Nash to play again, but the veteran guard is entitled to keep fighting until his body fails him for good. It's never ideal when player and team are working at cross purposes.

    That might be what the Lakers are in for in the coming months.

Something Weird Is Happening in Cleveland

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    The list of oddities observed in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 91-83 overtime victory against the Memphis Grizzlies is long, but it should probably start with the fact that the Cavs actually won the game.

    In itself, that was a strange thing.

    But it gets stranger: The Cavaliers' win gave them back-to-back victories for the first time since beating the lowly Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz on Jan. 7 and 10, respectively. Plus, Cleveland actually turned around a late-game deficit instead of letting the contest get out of control.

    Down by four with 2:16 remaining in regulation, the Cavs managed to pull even and eventually take control in the extra period. They did it with a strong defensive effort, holding the Grizz to just 1-of-9 shooting from the aforementioned 2:16 mark until the final buzzer.

    The crowd was hyped, the Cleveland bench was hopping up and down, and Dion Waiters powered home a thunderous dunk to give the Cavaliers a six-point lead with just 41 seconds left in the game.

    Strangest of all, Kyrie Irving was smiling during the late-game run.

    I don't think SportVU can track facial features yet, but if it could, Irving would have ranked near the NBA's basement in smiles per game. Not against the Grizzlies, though.

    Cleveland is now 2-0 since general manager Chris Grant was replaced by David Griffin. And while it sounds crazy to say a front-office alteration could have such a profound impact on the Cavs' on-court performance, something has to be responsible for all of the weirdness in Cleveland.

Less Is More

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Head coach Randy Wittman has been trimming down the Washington Wizards' rotation of late, and his strategy finally met with positive results in a 93-84 victory over the disjointed Sacramento Kings on Sunday.

    Just three reserves—Martell Webster, Kevin Seraphin and Garrett Temple—saw significant minutes off the pine.

    The Wizards bench has been a major weakness all season long, and Wittman is confronting the problem with the simplest solution imaginable: He's using his backups less and less frequently.

    Washington narrowly fell to the Cavs on Feb. 7, and Wittman only allowed Seraphin and Webster to log double-digit minutes in that contest. Against the Kings, the shorter bench worked out a little better.

    Rotations always shrink in the playoffs, which is where the Wizards figure to be in just a couple of months. Giving minutes to just seven or eight players won't be a problem then, but in order to reach the postseason with all five of their starters intact, Wittman might need to consider a happy medium between his recent tactic and the more bench-friendly approach he used earlier in the year.

    Of course, the Wiz could also go out and try to deal for some reserve assistance at the deadline, too.

    Guys like John Wall and Bradley Beal are already charged with heavy responsibilities. So while it makes sense for the Wizards to keep their rotation tight, it'll be key for them to also mind the health of their stars.

There Are No Mountains Left to Climb

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Somebody get the Orlando Magic some oxygen; they just summited Everest and K2 in back-to-back games.

    After defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder on a buzzer-beating Tobias Harris dunk on Feb. 7, Jacque Vaughn's boys took care of the Indiana Pacers with a huge fourth-quarter comeback Sunday.

    Down 10 heading into the final period, Victor Oladipo (who came off the bench in this one) scored 13 points to lead an inspired charge against the NBA's best team. The rookie finished with a team-high 23 points in 33 minutes and helped set the tone in an improbable win.

    Nikola Vucevic also chipped in 19 points and a team-high 13 boards to help the Magic secure a 93-92 victory.

    At just 16-37 on the year, Orlando obviously hasn't had much luck against most of its opponents. But we now know they can handle the two best teams in the NBA—and in consecutive games to boot.

    The Miami Heat will host Orlando on March 1. We'll see if the Magic's mountain climbing continues then.

Old Heights: Almost as Much Fun as New Ones

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    The Brooklyn Nets beat the New Orleans Pelicans by a final score of 93-81 on Sunday. The victory moved them to within three games of .500, the closest they've been to that distinction since they were 3-6 on Nov. 16.

    To reach that old, familiar high, Mason Plumlee rose to some new ones.

    The backup big man finished with a season-high 22 points and 13 rebounds, which made this game a figurative peak of sorts. Literally, though, Plumlee also soared.

    On seemingly every play, he was snaring lobs above the rim and hammering them home. Some of his jams didn't involve alley-oops, but were spectacular nonetheless.

    After the game, Plumlee displayed another elevated part of his game: a high IQ.

    Per The Associated Press (via The Wall Street Journal), he astutely said: 

    Any time we can rest our older guys — it's no secret we're old, so we look at this as a win in a couple of ways. We can rest them and keep them fresh, and going into All-Star break that's good.

    Thanks largely to Plumlee's airborne efforts, the Nets built a massive halftime lead and cruised home. Best of all, Kevin Garnett had to play just 13 minutes.

    If Plumlee keeps this up, the Nets will soon crack the .500 mark while still preserving their older players. I'm guessing the Nets are high on both of those ideas.

Streaks Are Bigger in Texas

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    No, I didn't misspell "steaks," although the sheer volume of edible bovine products in the state of Texas is probably greater than anyplace else in the union.

    This is about streaks, like the five-game surge the Dallas Mavericks have been on recently. They beat the Boston Celtics 102-91 on Sunday, moving into the No. 7 spot in the West and increasing their consecutive run of victories to five.

    Only the Houston Rockets (also in Texas, if you're not a geographer) have an active streak of success long enough to match Dallas'.

    The Mavs have climbed to a season-high 10 games over .500 on the strength of their offense, which now ranks third in the NBA at 108.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. The usual suspects got to work on that end against the Celtics, with Dirk Nowitzki dropping 20 and Jose Calderon hitting 18.

    As a unit, Dallas hit 43.5 percent of its shots from long distance.

    Nowitzki, though, isn't satisfied with the Mavericks' current position. Per The Associated Press (via ESPN) he's hungry for a little more streak: "We're looking to move up. If you look at the standings, (places) five through eight is only separated by a couple of games. We'd love to keep pushing."

Lawler's Law Is Safe

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Clippers play-by-play man Ralph Lawler lives by a few simple principles, one of which is that the first team to reach the 100-point threshold is going to win the game. "It's the law," says Lawler.

    Well, with a 100-51 lead (you read that correctly, by the way) over the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of the third quarter, the Clips were in good standing with the law. Shortly thereafter, the wave spread throughout the Staples Center—yet another official sign victory was assured for Doc Rivers' club.

    In truth, this game should have been called off after L.A. finished the first quarter with a 46-15 lead. And if not then, as soon as Blake Griffin turned in a pair of windmill jams in the second period. It was a joke from start to finish.

    Well, Ryan Hollins took it seriously, pointing to the rim for lobs and celebrating after uncontested dunks in the fourth quarter. In many ways, he was made for this game.

    Buoyed by Chris Paul's first action in 18 games, the Clippers surged out of the gate and turned the contest into a glorified shootaround in short order. It was an incredible performance, and one that should put the rest of the league on notice that the Clips are capable of doing some pretty amazing things.

    Yes, this was the Sixers. And no, nothing that happened after the first quarter should be viewed as legitimate; both teams were just exchanging transition plays for the final 36 minutes.

    When the final buzzer sounded, DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and 20 boards, CP3 had seven points and eight assists in 23 minutes, and Blake Griffin piled up 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The final score: 123-78.

    Yowza.

    I'm not sure what to think about this game. It was literally a 50-point game for most of the second half. So, we'll close with another Lawler catchphrase—one that neatly sums up what happened on Sunday: "Oh me, oh my."

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