We know you were busy finishing your holiday shopping Monday night — yes, you can just buy your dad a bottle of bourbon — so here are the big takeaways from the night in the NBA that you missed.
1) Russell Westbrook needs a little help — from teammates, officials, anyone really. Russell Westbrook is pretty much turning into the exasperated kid on the playground yelling, “little help here” as the ball rolls away, only to have to go get it himself anyway.
Monday night Westbrook didn’t get the help he wanted from his teammates for 47 minutes or from the referees in the final one, and the result was a 110-108 Atlanta win in Oklahoma City. It was a night of Westbrook vs. the World, and the smart money was on the world. Not coincidentally, this is the fourth game in a row Victor Oladipo has missed with a sore right wrist — he will not need surgery, but he’s going to miss more time — and the Thunder are 1-3 in that stretch.
Westbrook made plays. He shot 16-of-33, was attacking the rim and getting to the line (11-of-13), but also was knocking it down from the midrange, where he was 8-of-14. The problem was the other Thunder starters combined to shoot 30.8 percent for the game. It forced Westbrook to take on more and more. The result was a lot more Westbrook isolation, and Atlanta’s defense made the shots for Westbrook tougher and tougher as the night went on — he still hit 8-of-16 contested shots (stat via NBA.com).
But in the final minute, the referees swallowed their whistles and Westbrook did not get the calls he wanted. After Paul Millsap had given Atlanta the lead on a short jumper (where Westbrook and Andre Roberson messed up the switch), Westbrook brought the ball up and attacked the basket but didn’t get the call, did get his own rebound, but couldn’t hit the follow-up. The Thunder still had 2.9 seconds, and Kyle Singler got the ball into Westbrook who took a contested three — and tried to sell the foul call but didn’t get it. Steven Adams got the rebound, but rather than flipping it up quickly to the bucket he tried to dunk it, and time expired before he got it off. Ballgame.
Needless to say, after the game Westbrook was more than a little frustrated.
Give the Hawks credit here. On a night Dwight Howard was out, Mike Budenholzer started a small lineup and got the first 30-point game of the season from Paul Millsap, who was his All-Star self, seeming to score at will. But the real star was Dennis Schroder, who had 31 points and eight assists, who took advantage of mismatches off switches on the picks all night and seemed to get into the lane whenever he wanted. This was a good win for a Hawks team that could use a couple of those after their recent slump.
2) Nikola Jokic has a coming out party, and Denver is just half a game out of the playoffs. Denver coach Mike Malone’s new starting lineup and frontcourt rotation — a lot of Nikola Jokic and no Jusuf Nurkic — has won the Nuggets three games in a row and has the team just half a game back of stumbling Portland for the last playoff slot in the West. After an ugly start to the season, Denver’s postseason goal is still well within reach.
And if Jokic keeps playing like this they may get it. The second-year big man had 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists as Denver beat Dallas 117-107. He did most of his damage near the basket (9-of-13 shooting within eight feet of the rim) but was 4-of-4 outside the paint, including hitting his only three. He was getting his buckets using his varied game — as the roll man, on the offensive glass, cuts off the ball and more.
It’s not just Jokic on this win streak. Gary Harris had a career-high 24 points Monday. The up-and-down Emmanuel Mudiay was on the upswing again with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup has been a veteran influence the team needed. A lot of things are going right for Denver the last few games — we’ll see if they can sustain it. But the Nuggets are playing an energized brand of basketball in this homestand.
3) Honest Stan Van Gundy is the best Stan Van Gundy. You sick of coach speak? Tired of hearing “I think it was just an off night” or blaming the schedule after a blowout loss? Then we present to you Stan Van Gundy after his Pistons got blown out by the Bulls Monday night.
The Pistons’ had a couple of blowout losses leading into this game, which sparked “players only” meeting where defense and ball movement were stressed. It worked about as well as SVG suggested. The Pistons didn’t do either of those things, and the result was a blowout 113-82 loss to the Bulls (who had lost three in a row before this game). The Pistons are still in the playoff mix in the East and likely will stay there — just four games separate the three seed Celtics from the 12-seed Magic. That’s 10 teams that have playoff dreams, but six spots. There’s a lot of basketball to go, and the Pistons are too talented to not be in the postseason. But they have stumbled since Reggie Jackson‘s return (it’s not all on him), and it’s going to take more than words — from Van Gundy or the players — to right the ship.