Portland @ New York, 7:30 pm. Marshall Plumlee went to sleep late Saturday night, fresh off of a 22-point performance for the D-League Westchester Knicks and a hang session with his brother Mason, a Trail Blazers center in town for Sunday afternoon’s game in Brooklyn. Thinking he would sleep in a bit before Westchester’s 5 pm tip against the Canton Charge, Marshall was woken up at 10 am by a call from Madison Square Garden - Joakim Noah was sick, and the rookie was needed to make his NBA debut for the Knicks. That day. At noon. “I was asleep,’’ Plumlee said. “I was going to sleep in a little bit. Imagine being woken up and saying, ‘Hey, we need you to guard Dwight Howard.’’’ The 24-year-old took a Metro-North express train to Grand Central, then hopped in a cab for the final mile or so to the Garden. Caught in midtown Manhattan traffic, Plumlee tossed the cabbie $60 for running a red light, hopped out, and sprinted the last few blocks, barely making it in time for the game. In five minutes of action, Plumlee went scoreless, grabbing one rebound and eating a Howard alley-oop in the face, in the Knicks’ ten-point win.
Even with Noah out, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek was hesitant to deploy 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis at center. Even though most analysts look at the big Latvian’s frame and skills and see a paradigm-shifting true stretch-5, New York is hesitant to play him there right now - still so thin and raw, Hornacek doesn’t want his young prize to get bullied and knocked around in the paint. Against Atlanta, Porzingis spent just four minutes on the court without Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez, or Plumlee. For the season, New York is plus 2.6 points per 100 possessions with Porzingis at center, against an overall minus-3.9 net rating.
New Orleans @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm, NBATV. Another side effect of Noah’s absence is that Howard was able to go wild Saturday with minimal resistance. The Hawks center put up 18 points and pulled in 18 rebounds against New York’s overmatched and undermuscled front line, continuing his interior resurgence this year after a few seasons of diminished production. Howard has recorded a double-double in 10 of 12 games, his rebound rate is at an all-time high, and his offensive board percentage is the highest in the league - he grabs an astonishing 18.6 percent of his own team’s misses. Let’s not forget that Howard won Defensive Player of the Year three straight times from 2008-11, and recognize that even as he inches towards his 31st birthday in early December, he still could make another run at that honor. Atlanta leads the league with just 99 points allowed per 100 possessions, and with Howard on the floor, they give up a miniscule 91 points per 100.
We now interrupt your nightly edition of “Poor, poor Anthony Davis” for this breaking news alert: the Pelicans are on fire! Davis won Western Conference Player of the Week last week (November 14-20) as the Pelicans went 3-1, only falling when he sat out against Orlando. The big man averaged 33.7 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals for the week, and now tops the NBA with 31.7 points per game. After missing training camp and the beginning of the season while his pregnant wife was undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, Jrue Holiday returned to the New Orleans lineup Friday with a healthy wife, a healthy daughter, and a healthy offensive jolt for the punchless Pelicans. In his two games so far - both wins - Holiday is putting up 21.5 points and 8 assists, connecting with Davis specifically on eight of his 16 total dimes, clearly an intentional and smart move:
Chicago @ Denver, 9 pm. According to this tweet from NBA.com analytics maven John Schuhmann, the 9-5 Bulls are actually a losing team when their trio of backcourt All-Stars shares the floor; their offensive rating of 105.3 would be tied with Denver at 18th in the league, slightly behind the Wizards. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the shooting-challenged Bulls haven’t had as many spacing issues or trouble generating points when alpha dog Jimmy Butler plays with one of his running mates, but the offense tanks again when Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade lead Chicago with Butler on the bench. Look at those defensive numbers when Butler and Wade man the wings:
The Nuggets have only played three times since last Sunday, but they’ve impressed in those three games. Sandwiching an overtime loss to a very good Toronto team between 16- and 14-point wins over Phoenix and Utah, respectively, Denver flashes a balanced, versatile attack that can break down nearly any defensive weakness. They’ve got shooters: teenager Jamal Murray is a true talent, shooting over 45 percent from downtown since an ice-cold spell to kick of his career. They can score in isolation: forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are rangy playmakers who can take their man off the dribble, though the Rooster isn’t getting to the hole as effectively this season. And they have the skill to hurt you in the paint, with bruising Jusuf Nurkic and slick Nikola Jokic not meshing together well, but each improving significantly since their minutes became staggered. The key to it all, of course, is point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — still painfully young, the Congolese wrecking ball needs to realize he’s a terrible shooter, and work possessions for the benefit of the team. The past three games, the 20-year-old has been doing that, shooting 61 percent on two-pointers while averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists.
Oklahoma City @ LA Lakers, 10:30 pm, NBATV. Let’s catch up with our buddy Russell Westbrook, shall we? Oklahoma City has fallen back to Earth a bit after an above-their-head 6-1 start, but Westbrook just keeps doing literally everything for the Thunder. Yes, EVERYTHING. If this holds, his assist percentage of 58.7 would top John Stockton’s for highest in NBA history, while his 40.8 usage rate surpasses Kobe Bryant’s historic 2005-06 mark. Add those together, and Russell Westbrook is directly responsible for 99.5 percent of the Oklahoma City Thunder offensive output. *DISCLAIMER: I don’t think adding those two together actually works mathematically, the denominators aren’t measuring the same thing. But in the way that baseball analysts say “fuck it” when using OPS, we’re gonna do the same here*
Westbrook is four rebounds — not four rebounds per game, four freaking rebounds — from making Oscar Robertson slide down a seat; as it is, he’s averaging 31.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 9.7 rebounds per game, and showing no signs of slowing down. The guy already owns the NBA record for 30-15-10 games in a season, and it’s not even Thanksgiving! He’s done it three times in 14 games, and that doesn’t even count his 51-13-10 masterpiece OR his fifth triple-double of the season, a ho-hum 30-11-13 showing. But as the Thunder’s record shows, relying on one guy with historically-bad shot selection to do so much can be fatal. Against Indiana on Saturday, Westbrook missed four shots and turned the ball over twice in overtime; the previous week, Westbrook sprinted downcourt and jacked an off-balance three, down two to the Clippers, with 5 seconds left on the clock and Luc Mbah a Moute in his face the whole way: