It was the rare TNT Monday games this week, so there was plenty of quality NBA action, but if you were too busy watching Daffy Duck/Coolio mashups then we’ve got you covered with what you need to know from around the league.
1) Dallas knocks off Cleveland, and LeBron James passes Michael Jordan on a list that makes him look old. If you don’t follow the NBA closely, this loss looks far worse — Dallas entered Monday night’s game against Cleveland 17-30, one of the few teams in the West seemingly out of the playoff hunt midway through the season. But if you follow the league you know Dallas finally has gotten healthy and started to win games — they are 7-3 in their last 10, with a top 10 in the NBA offense and defense in that time.
The Cavaliers will attest to that. Kevin Love was out, Tristan Thompson was limited by foul trouble, and Kyrie Irving and LeBron (who had 23/9/9) couldn’t carry the team on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas got the win 104-97 behind 24 points and 11 rebounds from Harrison Barnes. LeBron still had some highlights.
The Cavaliers will finish January 7-8. It’s a midseason swoon, although it’s hard to get worked up over that because the Cavaliers had a mid-season slump last year, changed coaches, and went on to win a ring. LeBron’s Heat teams hit midseason doldrums, too, yet always made the Finals. What is more concerning about the Cavs ability to bounce back is this, via ESPN:
That’s a lot of miles on the tread. Part of the reason LeBron, at just age 32, passed Jordan has been the annual deep playoff runs — he has been to six straight NBA Finals — plus he didn’t spend a year in college like MJ. But the load is not lightening up. LeBron leads the NBA in minutes played per game this season at 37.5 (he’s 11th in total minutes because he’s had nights off). Those minutes are close to what LeBron and coach Tyronn Lue discussed before the season, and there is no better conditioned athlete in the league than LeBron, but still that’s a lot of wear and tear. At some point it’s going to catch up to him. Maybe not this season, maybe not next, but eventually.
2) Miami has won eight in a row.It seems ridiculous after their start to the season to discuss Miami’s playoff chances, but here we are — after winning their eighth in a row Monday night the Heat are just 4.5 games out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s unlikely they can leapfrog four teams (New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Charlotte) to get in, but if they keep playing like this it’s possible.
Miami won its eighth in a row, beating lowly Brooklyn 104-96 by making the big plays.
The Heat’s offense is good — they are shooting 42.3 percent from three during this win streak — but it is the defense that has keyed the run: Miami is allowing less than a point per possession during this run. And the help on that end is coming not just from Hassan Whiteside but also from unexpected sources.
Maybe more surprising than Miami’s hot streak is Dion Waiters has become a force controlling the game — he had 19 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in the win Monday.
The Heat are at home against the Hawks and Sixers this week, then head out on the road for four as they try to keep this win streak going. And maybe their playoff chances.
3) Mike Conley scores career-high 38 to get Memphis a win. Mike Conley has become an annual snub for the All-Star Game and competes for the title of “most underappreciated player in the NBA.” There’s not much he can do about the ASG snub again this year, but he did do something about getting noticed dropping a career-high 38 on the Suns in the Grizzlies’ win Monday.
Bonus thing we loved from Monday: Andrew Wiggins unleashed a dunk of the year candidate on Orlando.