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. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out a coffee puzzle.
1) What is wrong with the Clippers?Joel Embiid puts up 32 as Sixers hand them a sixth straight loss. The Clippers were a great story when the season tipped off, Chris Paul was gone, and they still won four straight and looked like a team, led by Blake Griffin, that was going to be a playoff team. The offense was great led by Griffin knocking down threes — he’s still doing that at 36 percent and taking a third of his shots out there, no longer living on long twos — and the defense was good enough.
Since then the Clippers are 1-7 and after the Sixers came into Staples and beat them Monday 109-105, Los Angeles has lost six in a row.
What happened? They stopped defending.
During the six tame losing streak, the Clippers still have a solid offense (scoring 106.1 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA in that stretch) but they have the NBA’s worst defense (113.8 per 100). Teams are shooting 49.9 percent against the Clippers, and while the Clips are forcing midrange shots they are not contesting them enough. The defensive issues start with DeAndre Jordan, who has been an All-NBA level anchor on the defensive end for the past few seasons but has been a step slower this season. Monday night, Joel Embiid had far more energy and dropped 32 points and 16 rebounds on DJ (and backup Willie Reed, who got in a tussle with Embiid and motivated him). Another sign of his Jordan’s rim protection not being the same — and the Clippers rotations being lax — is Ben Simmons having seven dunks on the night.
We shouldn’t let the Clipper offense entirely off the hook, there has been a lot less player movement and a lot more isolation than there was, the ball is not switching sides of the court anymore, it’s just that Griffin and the Clippers are talented enough to keep scoring with the ugly ball. They just can’t get stops.
Injuries are part of this. Three starters have been out: Milos Teodosic with a plantar fascia injury since the second game of the season, Danilo Gallinari with a strained left glute, and Patrick Beverley, who has a sore right knee that was drained of fluid last week. Their team doesn’t have the depth to survive injuries for long. But that’s still not an excuse for the defensive effort.
The Clippers head back out on the road for five straight, starting Friday in Cleveland. Things could get worse before they get better.
2) LeBron James, Kyle Korver turn it on for one quarter, and that’s enough to beat Knicks. The Knicks thought they were going to have a statement win — they were up 23 points in the third, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, and Madison Square Garden was rocking and climbing all over LeBron (both for his pregame comments and then having words with Kanter during the game).
Then the Cavaliers woke up and played one hard quarter — Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the fourth, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks.
All of that got the Cavaliers back in it, then LeBron isolated against Kristaps Porzingis and put Cleveland up for good.
This was an ugly win for the Cavaliers, but it pulls them up to .500 at 7-7 so they will take it. For the Knicks, improving in the NBA as a young team comes with some hard lessons. This is one of them, but at 7-6 and with Porzingis playing well this looks like a playoff team. Just not on the level of the Cavaliers when the Cavs care.
3) Pelicans get Rajon Rondo back… and win over Hawks thanks to Darius Miller. Two of the most significant questions coming into this season in New Orleans were how well Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could pair along the front line, and how well Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo could mesh in the backcourt? The answer to the first question is very well — the Pelicans were +7.7 points per 100 possessions when both Davis and Cousins are on the court together coming into Monday night’s game against the Hawks.
We don’t know how well Rondo and Holiday will pair yet because Rondo has been out all season following a sports hernia surgery. But answers to that question is coming soon as Rondo was back on Monday night — on a minutes limit where he only played 4:55, but at least back. Rondo entered in the middle of the first quarter and made his one shot, and the Pelicans were +6 in the just over one minute he was paired with Holiday. It’s a start.
Atlanta somehow kept Anthony Davis in check despite Luke Babbitt being his opposite number most of the night, but New Orleans came back thanks to five threes from Darius Miller, who had 14 points in the fourth quarter to spark the win. It’s not a win the Pelicans should celebrate — they struggled with a bad Hawks team at home — but you take the wins where you can get them in the NBA.