A guide for which teams to watch


Our ideas of fun may be completely different. Personally, I like to pretend I’m playing Supermarket Sweep in the grocery store, but you may like going out on “dates” or “talking to actual people.”

With that said, I can’t in good faith tell you which teams will be fun this year. That’s a decision for you to make, based on your own tastes. What I can do, though, is provide this helpful guide that relates real life activities to watching NBA basketball in an effort to guide you towards some of the more intriguing teams and away from the Bobcats. Far, far away from the Bobcats. To the list:

If you like going out clubbing, you should watch the:

Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets

Entertainment! Egos! Alpha dogs galore! These four teams are the equivalent of going out clubbing – no matter what happens, you’re probably not going to end up bored. Just how crazy are the Lakers? A guy who changed his name to Metta World Peace is now a third-string ego behind Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Miami, meanwhile, is defending their title and rolling with a former enemy (Ray Allen) for added fireworks. The Knicks ran Jeremy Lin out of town for Raymond Felton, which couldn’t possibly create any resentment in the Garden, right? Deron Williams may have the quietest wingman in the game next to him (Joe Johnson), but he’s ready to make a lot of noise and try to take New York’s spotlight from Carmelo Anthony. First man to play defense probably wins.

If you like being a parent, you should watch the:

New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Detroit Pistons

You can’t truly comprehend the joys of being a parent until you are one (or so I’ve heard), but these teams offer up all the fun with less of the sleep deprivation. Watching a player slowly figure the league out is one of the more rewarding fan experiences, so having the chance to watch New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis grow into a superstar game by game should be a treat. The Rockets have plenty of exciting rookies as well, but the big draw should be the Jeremy Lin/James Harden backcourt learning to play together. Portland will hand the keys to rookie Damian Lillard in hopes of developing the league’s latest and greatest point guard, while Pistons big man Andre Drummond provides some much needed sizzle to Greg Monroe’s steak. There will be some screaming here from both the kids and the adults, but it’s supposed to all be worth it in the end.

If you like solving puzzles, you should watch the:

Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs

Do you like to solve puzzles and make every piece fit? So do these teams. The Spurs seem to be able to find a home for every piece, don’t they? Two of their biggest additions last year were an overweight guy on the Bobcats (Boris Diaw) and a player more renowned for his dancing on the sideline (Danny Green) than anything else, and it worked out pretty darn well. The Jazz and the Hawks did a good job of following suit, bringing in players this offseason that fit their exact needs. They may not have the frame the Spurs do, but watching a team built with a vision get rewarded with success is just like putting in that last piece of the puzzle.

If you like crashing parties, you should watch the:

Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers

So what if they’re not invited? While no one really expects the Nuggets and Pacers to truly contend for the title, it would be pretty aesthetically pleasing if they did. The Nuggets play one of the most entertaining styles of basketball on the planet, and with Andre Iguodala on board, they should wreak even more havoc in transition than usual. Indiana is easy to forget about — until Paul George or Gerald Green tear down the rim with something nasty. They may not be on the invitation list, but you’ll be glad they came.

If you like getting into bar fights, you should watch the:

Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers

The Celtics and the Clippers are the bro in the $120 t-shirt with skulls plastered all over it. Whether it’s Kevin Garnett stirring up trouble with tiny European players or Blake Griffin uncomfortably staring down a referee for about three minutes too long, the Clippers and Celtics are two of the most hated teams in the league – and they love it. They see it as playing mind games; everyone else just sees it as being obnoxious.

If you like going to bed early and sleeping in late, you should watch the:

Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks

In need of a good night’s sleep? How about two months worth? The Bulls can still have success without Derrick Rose for most of the early season, but even the staunchest supporter of defensive play couldn’t recommend watching them on a nightly basis. The Wolves won’t have Ricky Rubio or Kevin Love for the start of the season either, the Wizards will be hopeless without John Wall, and the Mavericks may struggle to break 80 points a game without Dirk Nowitzki. Turn on that soothing league pass music and set your alarm for 2013 if you’re going to watch these teams.

If you like listening to music that everyone else has “probably never heard of”, you should watch the:

Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors

Hey, if this band just had a better sound system and the instruments were in tune and the songwriting was better and the drummer wasn’t out all the time — they’d be really good!  The Warriors and the Raptors need everything to break their way to nab a playoff spot. That’s counting on Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, and Andrea Bargnani all being healthy for a full slate. That probably won’t happen, but if it does, you’re not going to like them anymore, anyway. That’s how that works, right?

If you like going to the gym, you should watch the:

Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies

Grit and grind. If your fun comes from tireless self-improvement, like it does for Kevin Durant, you’re a lucky individual. One thing you know about the Grizzlies and Thunder – they’ll work hard every single game. You probably won’t find two teams that give more consistent effort, which is nice if you’re opposed to wasting nights watching bad basketball.

If you like playing video games all night, you should watch the:

Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers

You probably won’t have a horrible time or a fantastic time playing video games, and you probably won’t remember many details of what happened the next day. Watching the Cavs, Bucks and 76ers is sort of unremarkable in the same way.  You just sort of do it until you’re done. You don’t get the peaks, but you won’t suffer through the valleys, either. As a bonus, Kyrie Irving, Monta Ellis and Jrue Holiday are really fun to play with in NBA2k13, so there’s that.

If you like rubber necking in traffic during your drive home, you should watch the:

Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns

You don’t really want to look at what happened in the accident on the side of the road, but you can’t help it. You slow down. There are cars, just like you expected. One of them is dented. You drive by and say, “That sucks”. That’s pretty much what the Magic, Bobcats, Kings and Suns have in store for you this season. You’ll stop in and look, expecting something exciting, and then you’ll leave and say, “That sucks.” Proceed with caution.

Three Things to Know: Nothing but takeaways from Cavaliers beating Raptors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Today we’re doing things a little differently, despite some other interesting games — Dwight Howard dropping 30-and-30, the genuine concern about Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle, and the Pelicans beating the Pacers because Anthony Davis is ridiculous — we are going to focus on the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Toronto at Cleveland, which the Cavaliers won 132-129.

What we are not taking away from this is a prediction of a playoff matchup between these two teams. Forget the fact that regular season meetings are crappy predictors of playoff series in general, here are three other issues: 1) Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their fifth game in seven days, which factored into their poor defense and late fade; 2) Cleveland is going to be healthier and have different guys in the rotation come the playoffs; 3) If Dwane Casey or Larry Drew/Tyronn Lue have a tactic they think could be a great weapon against the other side, no chance they break it out for long in a late-season game — they will save it for the playoffs. Sort of like to NFL teams playing each other in week 16 when they know they could meet in the playoffs. We didn’t see the best of either side.

That said, let’s get on to the real three things.

1) The biggest factor in the Eastern Conference remains LeBron James and his level of play. There are questions about how well the new-look Raptors will carry over to the playoffs. There are more questions (at least in my mind) about how well this Cavaliers roster can defend, even when healthy. All that said, this game was a reminder of one simple fact:

LeBron James can lift a team to the NBA Finals almost by himself — he’s been to seven straight Finals for a reason. He is the force of nature, he’s still playing at an MVP-level (at age 33 in his 15th season), and he took over this game with 35 points, 17 assists, and zero turnovers.

LeBron shot 62 percent from three on the night, had 14 points and 5 assists in the fourth quarter alone, and was the difference in this game. OG Anunoby is the guy the Raptors will likely lean on in the playoffs to make LeBron work for his buckets, but he looked like a guys still working his way back from injury (and like a rookie with tired legs late in the season), it was Pascal Siakam who did the best of any Raptor (LeBron was 4-of-10 with Siakam guarding him on the night). That’s something we would see in the postseason, but nobody really had an impact, and the Raptors need to figure out how to make LeBron work harder for his buckets.

Put simply, the Eastern Conference is all about LeBron James. Still. And it will remain so until further notice.

2) Which one of these teams will defend better come the playoffs? The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 79 first half points and allowed the Raptors a 135.8 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry put it this way after the game, “Disgraceful display of defense by us. We’ve got to be better than that.” The Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 140.4 (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Neither team defended well. If this was an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the team that improves their defense the most between now and then will come out on top.

Toronto has defended better all season — they are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating — but it didn’t show Wednesday. Maybe it was the back-to-back, fifth-game-in-seven-days that took their legs out from under them, particularly for the older Serge Ibaka who had an off night on both ends. (Tired legs also would explain the lack of transition points by the Raptors on the night, they needed those easy buckets). Maybe it’s the fact nobody has a good answer for LeBron. Maybe a lot of things, but the Raptors need to do better defensively in a playoff series or the outcome will be the same.

The Cavaliers lack cohesion on defense, and while they will get better defenders back from injury — Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. — that is not going to speed up the team getting used to each other on that end. Cleveland has to have better energy, they need to close out on shooters better (the Raptors got open looks late on kickouts, they missed injured C.J. Miles), and they just need more efforts like veteran Jose Calderon gave (it was a good night for him). Cleveland has time to get its defenders on the same page, but not a lot of it.

3) Is Toronto’s bench going to matter as much in the playoffs? Toronto’s bench unit has been key to their success all season — the Raptors took a double-digit lead in the second quarter thanks to their bench (who has done that to teams all season long). The Raptors lineup of Jakab Poeltl, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright was +6 in 10 minutes Wednesday. The Lowry plus bench unit has killed teams all season long.

Will it matter in the playoffs?

Right now coaches are going nine or 10 deep in their rotations, and the Raptors depth matters in that situation — their bench can beat your bench. It happened against the Cavaliers. However, come the playoffs the minutes that went to guys nine and 10 in the rotation go to guys one and two — the bench tightens way up and the best players get more minutes. A deep bench doesn’t have the same impact.

What that bench will provide Casey in the playoffs is options — if Anunoby is struggling against LeBron bring in Siakam — but it’s not the same as the regular season. I love that in big games recently against the Thunder and Cavaliers Casey is still playing around with his lineups for stretches — now is the time to experiment. Now is the time to get guys used to playing with each other. That way, come the playoffs, Casey can throw the combination out there that he thinks works and there will be familiarity.

But the Raptors will need more from their starters in the playoffs, because the bench will not have the same impact.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win


The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.