LA Lakers @ New Orleans, 7 pm. The Pelicans won on Thursday, the Sixers on Friday, and there are no winless teams left in the NBA. Anthony Davis led the charge in Milwaukee with 32 points and eight rebounds, and don’t for a second hold him responsible for New Orleans’ futility. Davis sits in the top six in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, steals, Player Efficiency Rating, and Win Shares. So while he puts up MVP-level production, he has to share the starting lineup with Tim Frazier, E’Twaun Moore, Dante Cunningham, and Terrence Jones. Poor, poor, (rich) Anthony Davis.
While the Lakers have been a pleasant surprise so far, second overall pick Brandon Ingram has yet to join the party. He’s shown flashes, certainly, and his long arms play well defensively and create extra space for him to get his shot off, but he looks passive and underprepared for NBA size and speed. The 6-foot-9, 190-pound teenaged toothpick moves the ball well, and uses his size and vision to generate good looks for his teammates, but just can’t create his own offense at this point — which was his calling card at Duke. He’s using just 15 percent of possessions through nine games, with his turnover rate almost equal to that, at 14.7 percent. The Los Angeles offense has been able to survive his negative impact thus far with a consistent, incredibly-balanced scoring attack: Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Nick Young, D’Angelo Russell, and Lou Williams all average between 14.2 and 15.9 points per game.
Boston @ Indiana, 7 pm. Remember how I’ve spent damn near every Boston analysis lamenting their lack of rebounding? Wednesday night, in a 25-point loss to a bad Wizards team, they gave up 19 offensive boards and 31 second-chance points to Washington, none more egregious than all five Celtics handing the ball to a fallen Bradley Beal underneath their own basket:
Indiana stares down the second night of a back-to-back, traveling back to the Hoosier state from Philadelphia late last night in the wake of two straight overtime contests with the Sixers. Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Pacers guard Monta Ellis scored a season-high 19 points, grabbed six rebounds, and handed out four assists. Installing CJ Miles in the starting lineup will hopefully goose the defense, because Indiana’s offense is already shooting and scoring at a top-five clip. On the other side of the ball, however, they’re giving opponents way too many clean looks at the basket: the Pacers permit a league-high 47 percent shooting, and Indiana foes have hit 3.2 percentage points higher against them than their season averages.
New York @ Toronto, 7:30 pm. DeMar DeJordan DeRozan just keeps plugging along, scoring 30 points and knocking down midrange jumpers. The 27-year-old dropped 34 on Charlotte last night, keeping his league-leading scoring average at 34.1 points per game with a dizzying array of dribble moves and body feints. He beat the Hornets with 11-of-17 shooting on shots between 8 and 20 feet, scoring ten points in the Raptors’ fourth-quarter comeback. The final one was the prettiest, as DeRozan spun Marvin Williams in a circle, clearing enough room to launch the game-sealing shot with 28 seconds remaining:
Four days after Donald Trump’s election shook much of the Northeast urban metropolii, Manhattan at the very least has a new Public Enemy Number One. After picking up a questionable loose-ball foul in the second quarter of last night’s game in Boston, Carmelo Anthony voiced his displeasure to referee Tony Brothers, getting rung up for two technicals (and the ensuing ejection) in quick succession. Longtime Knicks fans, and Melo’s wife LaLa, have called out Brothers as having a long-standing grudge against Anthony. His response about the incident during his postgame NBA referee report:
Philadelphia @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm. ONE-AND-SE-VEN! CLAP, CLAP, CLAP CLAP CLAP!! With a 109-105 win over the Pacers (the second time in three nights those teams couldn’t settle things in four quarters), Philadelphia has recorded its first pre-December victory since 2013. Yes, 2013. Entering yesterday, the Sixers were a combined 0-42 over the past three Octobers and Novembers, en route to a ten-win season last year, and just 18 the prior season. Rookie center Joel Embiid returned to the floor after sitting out Wednesday’s loss, scoring 25 points in a shade under 26 minutes — 16 in the fourth and overtime to lead the Sixers to victory. Well on his way to a career blending the best parts of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Reggie Miller, the 22-year-old Embiid has already established himself as the greatest scorer in league history:
Atlanta has climbed to second in the Eastern Conference standings, sandwiching two three-game winning streaks around a two-game lull. While Al Horford was a more skilled and versatile offensive big man, Dwight Howard has re-energized the Hawks by opening different avenues to free points. With a true rim protector anchoring the paint, Atlanta’s guards and wings have more leeway to be aggressive and pressure the ball, and sit second in the league in both turnovers forced and points off turnovers. Howard is also grabbing nearly five offensive rebounds a game, propelling Atlanta to an average of 15.4 second-chance points.
Washington @ Chicago, 8 pm. Monday night, like he has so many times before, John Wall ripped the ball from an opponent, streaked down the court like a blur, and dished off to a trailing teammate for the dunk. When Bradley Beal flushed the ball through the net, Wall racked up his 3,823 career assist, passing Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld to set the Wizards franchise record. Wall, a preternaturally gifted passer, is always among the league leaders in assists, but has to shoulder a bigger scoring load than he’d like, given Washington’s paucity of scoring options. His teammates’ brickiness - particularly when missing the injury-prone Beal - hinders his ability to create for others or himself; what on earth is he supposed to do when he’s triple-teamed and his opponents are happy to play two-on-four on the weak side?
Even as Chicago has dropped four of six since the calendar flipped to November, Jimmy Butler keeps doing amazing things. In Wednesday’s loss to Atlanta, Butler led all scorers with 39 points, tied for the game high with seven assists, and captured six steals. Still a vicious defender when keyed in, Butler rates sixth in the league in win shares, and in the top 20 in most other holistic metrics.
San Antonio @ Houston, 8 pm. When these Texas rivals faced off Wednesday night in San Antonio, the Rockets held on for a two-point win on the back of James Harden’s first triple-double of the season. Unshackled as a Mike D’Antoni point guard after playing the two, and even seeing significant minutes at small forward, his whole career, Harden is pushing for admittance in the LeBron James/Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant stratosphere. Fourth in the league in scoring, first by a country mile in assists, and pulling in close to eight rebounds a game after setting a career high last year with 6.1, Harden is even playing passable, league-average defense when his teammates and coaching staff would make it easy to slack off at that end.
This might be me retreating even further into my liberal, elitist bubble, but damn, I love how free NBA personnel feel to say what’s on their mind. Gregg Popovich joined fellow coaches Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy — older white millionaires, all — in articulating the reasons that so many of us are scared and hurting right now. No, most Trump voters probably didn’t make their choice based on overt racism, xenophobia, and similar bigotry, but the candidate himself made such behavior an integral component of his campaign: the economic policy comes part and parcel with the racism, and vice versa. That 59 million people walked into their voting booth and were OK with making tens of millions now fear for their physical well-being goes beyond partisan squabbles, and it SHOULD make us sad.
LA Clippers @ Minnesota, 8 pm.
Voice in the sky: “*THIS. IS. JEOPARDY*”
Player X: “I’ll take the 2016-17 NBA season for $600, Alex.”
Alex Trebek: “This is the least likely phrase that a basketball fan growing up between 1970 and 2010 could ever imagine.”
Player X: “What is, ‘ The Clippers are the best team in the NBA?’”
Alex Trebek: “That’s the one. Player X controls the board when we return from this brief message.”
Well holy shit, the Clippers are the best team in the NBA! Los Angeles’ second team is in first place, their 8-1 record reaffirmed by a league-leading 15.2-point average margin of victory. Annihilating the seven other teams on their schedule, squads good and bad, the Clips avenged their only loss of the season last night, escaping Oklahoma City with a hard-fought two point victory. Withstanding a 16-of-28 barrage from downtown by the Thunder, their own late free throw shooting woes (from Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers this time, not DeAndre Jordan), and an, um, ill-advised-at-best final shot from Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin scored 25 and Chris Paul had a typically-understated 17/10/6 monster night where he controlled everything. Check out how he lulls Anthony Roberson into thinking he’s walking into a play call, then forces four defenders to collapse into the paint and leave one of the game’s best shooters open in the corner:
Utah @ Miami, 8 pm. At the final buzzer tonight, Utah will have played eight of their 11 games on the road, while missing rotation mainstays Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Derrick Favors, Boris Diaw, and Alec Burks for a combined 29 player-games. Depending on the outcome, they’ll fly home with either a 7-4 or 6-5 record, a positive testament to the depth and talent that Quin Snyder has at his disposal. After giving up 104 points to Charlotte on Wednesday, the Jazz defense clamped down in the Amway Center last night and held Orlando to just 74, nearly 20 points below the Magic’s already-bad season average. Particularly impressive was Utah’s long, athletic frontcourt, as Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert held opposing bigs Serge Ibaka and Nik Vucevic to a combined 12 points of 5-of-24 shooting.
Goran Dragic sits for the hosts, suffering a sprained ankle Thursday night in a loss to the Bulls. Though the injury doesn’t appear to be long-term or serious, the Heat have yet to give a timetable for Dragic’s return, and there is speculation that Pat Riley wants to see how Miami plays without its expensive, aging point guard as they explore trading Dragic mid-season. With no other true points on the roster, combo guard Tyler Johnson seems the natural replacement for tonight at least — when Johnson is on the court without Dragic, franchise cornerstones Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow have actually seen sizable upticks in their True Shooting Percentage.
Memphis @ Milwaukee, 8:30 pm. Even if his jumper never develops as much as the team hopes, Giannis Antetokounmpo just gets better and better; if that jumper ever does take, we’re looking at a guy in the running for the best player in the world. Jason Kidd has been too quick to abandon the Point Giannis experiment, opting for Matthew Dellavedova in the traditional role rather than his 6-foot-11 antelope, but the young Greek international keeps developing skills to diversify and enhance his game. Even though he went through training camp and preseason as the primary perimeter facilitator, Antetokounmpo’s footwork and comfort in the post has improved by leaps and bounds. Often finding himself matched up against a brutally-undersized opposing guard, Giannis is taking more shots in the paint than ever before, and hitting at the rim with incredible 75 percent accuracy. And, since he is the Greek Freak after all, he can still do things like this:
With the Bucks at 4-4 and firmly stuck in the Eastern Conference’s massive middle class, Jason Kidd replaces ineffective Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup, bringing lithe pogo stick John Henson into the first team. Offering slightly more shot-blocking than the incumbent, Henson is nonetheless of the same archetype: a slim, quick rim-runner, incapable of creating his own offense in the post, and whose usage leaves offensive-minded Greg Monroe to rot on the bench. I wonder how much improvement Kidd expects when Plumlee and Henson have been so similarly subpar:
Detroit @ Denver, 9 pm, NBATV. Ish Smith may be an offensively bad shooter, but the NBA is a better place when the 6-foot (if he’s standing on a phone book) Smith is jetting around the court, tossing alley-oops to athletic big men. Whatever limited success Philadelphia experienced the last two seasons as their prolonged tank hit its nadir, the team unquestionably started coalescing with Smith in the fold. Nerlens Noel, in April 2015, called Smith “the first true point guard [he’s] ever really played with,” and with lob chemistry like this, it’s not hard to see why:
Well-traveled even among NBA journeymen, Smith has changed addresses 13 times already in his five-plus year career (including multiple stops in Houston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, and not counting his stint with the Rockets’ D-League affiliate), but showed enough as a Sixer last season to earn a 3-year, $18 million contract as the backup point guard in Detroit. Reggie Jackson went down in training camp, and pushed into the starting lineup, Smith is averaging nearly 30 minutes per game and still throwing wonderful lobs to his big men. When these teams faced off last week, Smith ran a beautiful break off of an Andre Drummond steal, keeping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope available as a prime passing option even as he waited for his trailing center to get into alley-oop position:
Brooklyn @ Phoenix, 9 pm. With Jeremy Lin still sidelined, I legitimately have nothing to say about the Nets. They’re both bad and boring, which is a pretty ugly combination — and anyone who sat through the entirety of Wednesday’s intra-city showdown at the Garden deserves some kind of medal. New York City basketball, folks:
Devin Booker was the breakout rookie of last season - as the youngest player in the league, and presumed to be no more than a three-point specialist as a first-year, Booker was pressed into major responsibility as injuries depleted the Phoenix backcourt. Little more than a spot-up shooter in his lone year at Kentucky, Booker became much more of a creator and scorer even as his jumper abandoned him. Installed as permanent starter when Eric Bledsoe went down just after Christmas, the then-19-year-old thrived while spending more time on the ball than anyone could have possibly expected: from New Year’s through the end of the season, Booker shot just 31.3 percent from downtown, yet averaged 18.3 points and 3.7 assists in 35 minutes per game. With that substantial and unexpected experience in his pocket, the baby-faced assassin — apologies to Ted Irvine (Chris Jericho’s dad!) among others — exploded for a career-high 38 last Friday against New Orleans. Oh, and two days later, he came out and set a new high with 39 points against the Lakers his very next time on the court, handing out seven assists and finishing 10/10 from the line to boot. This kid is gonna be a good one.