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NBA Viewing Guide, November 2

Illustration for article titled NBA Viewing Guide, November 2

Philadelphia @ Charlotte, 7 pm. In the first back-to-back of Philadelphia’s schedule, star rookie Joel Embiid will not play, remaining in Philly to rest his healing foot. Last week, Embiid talked to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins about his family, his upbringing, his introduction to basketball, and how he felt during his two years on ice. Mild-mannered and comical by nature both in his native Cameroon and after emigrating to America for high school, Embiid played off of his new classmates’ and opponents’ stereotypes to create an intimidating persona:

“I was a little soft,” Embiid says, “but the Americans had no idea about any of that. They just knew I was from Africa. They thought I grew up poor, in the jungle, killing lions. I was like, If that’s how they think of me, I’m going to use it.”


Charlotte signed fourth-year big man Cody Zeller to a four-year, $56 million rookie extension prior to Monday night’s deadline. Typically, a mid-tier center would go to the (semi) open market and test out his restricted free agency, still retaining the ability to negotiate with the Hornets or return to Charlotte if they matched another team’s offer. But Zeller has been dealing with knee problems since the summer; to him, the security of locking up his payday now was greater than the risk of missing out on a bigger offer as a 7-foot, 24-year-old free agent. $14 million a year for a mobile, starting-caliber center with development potential seems like a slight bargain for Hornets’ GM Rich Cho — look at the rookie extensions for Kenneth Faried, Tristan Thompson and John Henson, or the free agent deals signed by Bismack Biyombo and Ian Mahinmi — and he now has his preferred starting five of Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and now Zeller, all under contract through 2019.

Toronto @ Washington, 7 pm. On Monday, Orlando paid off the final bit of deferred compensation on the six-year, $111 million contract that the Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas to in 2008. No, Arenas hasn’t played in the NBA since a forgettable 17-game stint with Memphis in 2012. Before the sad decline, Arenas was SO good, and SO entertaining, in a league that really didn’t have the charisma and watchability in the post-Jordan void that it does today.


Before the injury (that terrible contract was signed a year AFTER his lateral meniscus tear) and the fucking locker-room gun showdown, there was “Hibachi!” and the guy who wore number 0 to remind him how many games his own college coach said he’d play in the NBA. His four pre-injury seasons in Washington compare to the best of today’s premier scoring guards: 26.2 points, 5.9 assists, with 36.4 percent three-point shooting on seven attempts a game. Imagine what Arenas, had he come along a decade later, could have been in a league tailored specifically to his offensive strengths.

Detroit @ Brooklyn, 7:30 pm. After hanging tough and looking perfectly acceptable in losing two of their first three games, Brooklyn’s offense and defense collapsed simultaneously in a 30-point Halloween loss to Chicago. The Nets shot 34 percent from the floor, and just 5-of-31 from three; their shotmaking was so abysmal that despite grabbing 16 offensive rebounds, Brooklyn only scored 14 second-chance points.


Tobias Harris has really stepped up his offensive role for Detroit in absence of Reggie Jackson. The 24-year-old, whose per-minute scoring had barely budged since his 2011 debut, is now averaging over 20 a game, and scoring nearly 5 more points per 36 than his previous career high. Harris, firmly entrenched at power forward next to Marcus Morris after bouncing between the forward spots as Orlando tried to gauge Aaron Gordon the past few years, scored 25 points and grabbed ten rebounds in a 102-89 win over the Knicks last night.

Houston @ New York, 7:30 pm. Giving up 64 first-half points to an offensively-challenged team like Detroit is shameful, yet the Knicks somehow stayed within striking distance despite allowing 55 percent shooting from the floor and 71 percent from three before the break. With the game still in doubt, though, New York missed its final nine shots and went scoreless after a Derrick Rose pullup cut the Pistons’ lead to five with 5:40 remaining. Joakim Noah led the Knicks in both rebounding and assists, for the second straight game, but since New York lost, this is all anyone will remember:


That kind of dismal two-way performance, complete with running out of gas late, bodes poorly for their matchup against Houston, night two of the season’s first back-to-back. The go-go Rockets are coming off of a 120-point game in Cleveland, keeping pace with the champs until the final 90 seconds; James Harden scored 41 points and handed out 15 assists in a masterfully efficient performance, missing just seven shots and turning the ball over only once.


LA Lakers @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm. Dwight Howard is saying all the right things, preaching team over individual - he’s averaging a career-low 10.3 points per game, on an also career-low 7.3 shots, yet his Hawks are 3-0. Hopefully Howard sees that he’s playing as well as he ever has despite the lack of scoring. He’s rebounding and blocking shots at a higher rate than he ever has before, and with Howard’s still-impressive agility and skill, Atlanta boasts the best defense in the league. The Hawks are first in turnover rate, and top five in shooting percentage allowed and defensive rebound rate (an area they traditionally struggled with pre-Howard). With Dwight manning the paint for his hometown team, Atlanta is the toughest team to score against, permitting the fewest points on both a per game and per possession basis.

The Lakers’ late comeback attempt fell short last night in Indianapolis, and after an opening-night win in Houston, they’ve dropped three straight games while facing a below-average strength of schedule. When Lou Williams found Julius Randle for a dunk with just under 2 minutes remaining, the Lakers had wiped out a 16-point deficit to take their first lead since 2:20 into the game. Then, Paul George happened. George scored the Pacers’ final 12 points of the game, hitting four of five from the field and all four of his FTs in the final 3:58 as the Lakers have given up 113, 114, and now 115 points early in the season.


New Orleans @ Memphis, 8 pm. Anthony Davis. Again. I don’t know how many times I can say this: 35 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 1 loss. This time, Davis’ Pelicans teammates actually hit some of their shots, but New Orleans couldn’t defend against a bad Milwaukee team, allowing 58 points in the paint. Sometimes, Davis just has to embrace his own individual brilliance, and not let the Pelicans’ chances of defending OR scoring be left in the hands of his inferior teammates:


Memphis, so good for so much of the Grit-n-Grind era, has had an alarming spate of super-blowout losses over the past two seasons. Last night, with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley sitting out the first game of a back-to-back, the Grizzlies starting five was outscored 86-40 by their Minnesota counterparts in a 36-point Timberwolves victory. In the franchise’s first 13 years, spanning Vancouver and their early Memphis days, the Grizz suffered twenty-five losses of 30 points or more. During Lionel Hollins’ tenure from 2009-2013? Just two. But in barely one calendar year, from an October 28, 2015 40-point loss to Cleveland to last night’s embarrassing showdown, they’ve been on the wrong end of five such games.

Chicago @ Boston, 8 pm, ESPN. In a rematch of Thursday night’s 105-99 Bulls win in Chicago, these two longtime rebuilt former Eastern Conference powerhouses run it back at the TD Garden. Off since Saturday, the Celtics look to build on their fourth-quarter comeback win over Charlotte, sparked by Avery Bradley’s career high eight three-pointers and 31 points, one off his record mark in that category as well. Bradley drained five jumpers, including three triples, in the final stanza, and hauled in 11 rebounds for the third double-double of his career.


In the offseason, it really looked like the Bulls overhaul led to so much redundancy that they would stagnate at both ends of the floor. Neither Taj Gibson nor Robin Lopez is a versatile or high-volume offensive threat, and even Gibson — the power forward — is more comfortable defending the low post than chasing stretchy fours around the perimeter. Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade were both older, declining ball-stoppers in the Jimmy Butler mold, and there were serious questions about the spacing and movement permitted by their non-shooting. But they’re defending the hell out of the basket, crashing the boards, and every one of their main guys loves to run. When it works, as it has for their opening three games, it can be a thing of beauty:

Dallas @ Utah, 9 pm. Rudy Gobert’s four-year, $102 million rookie extension was the most expensive of the five that got inked on deadline Monday (Giannis Antetokounmpo and CJ McCollum signed larger deals over the summer), and was a great show of commitment from general manager Dennis Lindsay to his his core. Salt Lake City isn’t a destination for top outside free agents, so there wasn’t going to be much hope of navigating an impact signing around his lower cap hold anyway. This way, Utah saves a few million off of the maximum offer sheet he’d receive from multiple suitors over the summer, and can have a firmer grasp of their balance sheet heading into meetings with their other upcoming free agents.


Locking Gobert up early shows George Hill (an unrestricted free agent after this season), Gordon Hayward (player option to unrestricted free agency this summer), and Derrick Favors (unrestricted as his own rookie extension expires in 2018) that the Jazz are serious about spending for a winner. Those four, plus Alec Burks (unrestricted in 2019), Dante Exum and Rodney Hood (eligible for rookie extensions next summer), and Trey Lyles (under his original four-year rookie contract through 2019), are all young enough that they can grow, on-court and financially, on similar timelines, and look to make the backbone of the next contending Utah team.

Portland @ Phoenix, 10 pm. World, meet TJ Warren. A third-year small forward out of North Carolina State, the Durham native was a fairly unheralded prospect despite leading the ACC in scoring by more than 5 points per game as a sophomore and being chosen 12th in the 2014 draft. The 6-foot-8 Warren has often been dismissed as a tweener: too small and weak to play power forward, not quick and agile enough to thrive on the wing, and there were serious questions about his ability to get his shot off against NBA athletes. He still hasn’t become much of a stopper or floor-spacer, and tends to turn into a bit of a black hole once he gets the ball, but Warren is displaying an Antawn Jamison-like array of pullups, floaters, and crafty post moves to compensate for his lack of explosiveness, averaging 21.3 points a game to lead the Suns.


Jake Layman, second-round rookie out of Maryland, saw his NBA action last night, entering the game with 8 minutes left and his Blazers trailing Golden State, 114-81. When the final buzzer sounded, Layman had poured in 17 points to record the highest-scoring Portland debut since Damian Lillard in 2012. A solid, and consistently-improving, three-point shooter throughout his four years of college ball, Layman drained 5-of-7 from downtown. Obviously, his 71 percent three-point shooting and his super-Westbrook 44 percent usage rate are comically unsustainable; Noah Vonleh is the only other Blazer to even attempt a shot in Layman’s minutes on court. But he’s long, agile, and a good shooter — a little more creativity off the bounce, and the playing time to understand and execute complex NBA defensive schemes? Portland could have the framework for another solid young rotation piece.

Oklahoma City @ LA Clippers, 10:30 pm, ESPN. Blake Griffin hosts his future team in ESPN’s marquee West Coast game. Just kidding, Clippers fans. In the second leg of a home back-to-back, Los Angeles smoked Phoenix on Halloween night, moving to 3-0 with the 116-98 victory. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan matched double-doubles, notching 21/11 and 19/11, respectively, while Chris Paul poured in a game-high 24 points, handed out eight assists, and snagged five boards of his own.


The Thunder are starting to build and solidify their identity, three games into a post-KD universe. They’ve yet to play a team that grades out anywhere beyond “bad,” so tonight will be a good barometer, but Billy Donovan’s squad seems to know who they are, and who they will be for the foreseeable future. In a 17-point win over the Lakers on Sunday, Russell Westbrook notched his second straight triple-double, and now averages an ungodly 38.7/12.3/11.7 per game. Westbrook and Enes Kanter are both under contract through next season, with 2018 player options each are likely to exercise. With Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo now locked up through 2021, Westbrook knows this is the group he’ll have to roll with for the next two seasons, and can start figuring out whether Oklahoma City is where he wants to be long-term.

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