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Three Things to Know: Jahlil Okafor gets his chance. What will he do with it?

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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.

1) Jahlil Okafor gets his chance. The #FreeJah movement got what it wanted on Thursday — Jahlil Okafor has been traded, and landed in about as good a situation for him as could be found, Brooklyn. The trade is Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and the Knicks 2019 second-round pick to Brooklyn, while Philly gets Trevor Booker.

The Sixers needed to move on from Okafor, the former No. 3 pick, he was not part of their future and was wasting away on their bench. Okafor did not play well next to Joel Embiid (in limited minutes) or Nerlens Noel, who also is gone. Okafor has a throwback game that is not the direction the NBA has moved with its bigs — he doesn’t have to be guarded more than 10 feet from the rim, he plays below the rim, and he struggles defensively both in space and protecting the paint. But he can score around the bucket.

Okafor is going to get his chance in Brooklyn, there are minutes to be had because the center spot is thin (Tyler Zeller has been starting, Jarrett Allen could be part of the future but is a project, and Timofey Mozgov is basically out of the rotation). The question is what will Okafor do with his second chance? He has to prove he can be an efficient scorer — through his career in Philly his true shooting percentage of 53.9 is basically league average. He has to be a better playmaker passing out of the post when doubled, and he has to be stronger on the boards. Assuming his defense is what it is at this point and not going to improve much, he needs to show he can be the efficent offensive force we saw at Duke, not the rather meh player he’s been at the NBA level. Guys like Zach Randolph and Enes Kanter have made nice careers playing below the rim and not defending much in the NBA, but they are incredibly efficient on offense. That’s what Okafor needs to be. Do so and he will find a nice contract next summer (probably in Brooklyn). Don’t and the market for him will be slim.

I like this trade for Philly, Booker adds solid depth up front off the bench. The Sixers didn’t give up much — neither Okafor nor Stauskas was part of their future — and they get another pro’s pro veteran who can come in, play with energy, be a glue guy and help them both make the playoffs and be a difficult out once there. Pair him with Richaun Holmes off the bench and you have a solid rotation that works for Philly.

2) If this Lakers/Sixers game is what we see in the NBA Finals in four or five years, I’m good with that. This game was fun, played at a good pace and with long, young athletes figuring their game out. There was a lot to like. The young and playoff-bound Sixers had Ben Simmons with a triple-double (12 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists) although he turned the ball over four times and didn’t do a great job getting the Sixers into their game plan and sets early in the clock. Joel Embiid was a beast with 33 points. Robert Covington (19 points) and Richaun Holmes had good games for the Sixers as well, but Philly came out flat (down 13 in the first quarter) and, like a lot of young teams, tends to play to the level of their competition. Philly has lost back-to-back games to the Suns and Lakers, the kinds of games playoff teams win.

With the Lakers, Brandon Ingram is turning the corner. He wants to be the team’s closer, and showed why Thursday on national television.

As for the game winner, we all thought Lonzo Ball was going to take this shot, right? With the game tied 104-104, Brandon Ingram passed the rock to Ball who was wide open in the right corner — where Ball is 0-of-6 shooting on the season. Ball said earlier in the season he would have taken the shot, but this time he drove past the Joel Embiid closeout, got close to the paint and sucked all five Sixers defenders in with him — then Ball whipped the pass to a wide-open Ingram at the arc. Ingram shot it like a closer, like the guy with the killer instinct he wants to be.

I’ve written here before in recent weeks (and posted on Twitter) that Ingram is making big strides. He’s still got to get stronger, but he’s confident now and uses his length and more strength than people realize to get his shot. He had 21 points in this game (on 21 shots) and still goes more in isolation than I would prefer, but he is starting to develop into the key cornerstone piece the Lakers hoped for.

3) And the Oscar goes to… Andrew Bogut for the flop of the season so far. Either this was a great flop, or Andrew Bogut was shot by the second gunman in the grassy knoll. Either way, no way he went flying like this based on the contact involved — but it worked. Bogut got the foul call.

Report: NBA executives expect 76ers to pursue LeBron James in free agency

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In 2010, LeBron James left the Cavaliers’ weak supporting cast to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat.

In 2014, LeBron left declining Wade and Bosh to play with younger stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland.

Could LeBron make another proactive move next summer – specifically to join Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with the 76ers?

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

executives around the league believe Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo will attempt to sign James.

Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just connecting dots? The possibility of the former makes this intriguing.

Philadelphia can relatively easily carve out max cap space next summer. Any team with so much room would want LeBron, though determination to chase him will vary. Some teams will bow out, not wanting to waste their time. Others – maybe including the 76ers? – will make harder pushes.

LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and manager, Maverick Carter, have both publicly emphasized that winning should be LeBron’s priority. There’s a case Philadelphia with LeBron would win more than Cleveland with LeBron.

The 76ers are overloaded with assets – Embiid, Simmons, Markelle Fultz (whatever you make of him at this point), Robert Covington, Dario Saric, several other young and an extra future first-round pick. Philadelphia also signed J.J. Redick in a bid to accelerate its timeline, and the team is 12-8. If LeBron comes, it’d be easy to flip young players and picks for more players capable of winning now.

Embiid and Simmons already appear to be on that level, and they’re just 23 and 21, respectively. The 76ers’ championship window could be open from the moment LeBron signs until he retires. That should intrigue him.

But it’s not so simple. LeBron also cares about his legacy, and leaving the Cavs again would compromise it. He doesn’t want to be known as a carpetbagger. On the other hand, another title would bolster his résumé, and Philadelphia offers the possibility of LeBron continuing his reign over the Eastern Conference.

I don’t know what LeBron will do next summer. He probably doesn’t know what he’ll do next summer. But between now and then, multiple teams will have their moment where speculation centers on them signing LeBron. This is the 76ers’.

It’s a long way from actually signing the superstar forward, but after years of tanking, Philadelphia ought to feel good it has established enough credibility where a LeBron pursuit is at least taken seriously.

Three Things to Know: Despite ugly loss to Magic, too early to panic for Thunder

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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.

1) Oklahoma City had some ugly losses this season, but Wednesday to Orlando is a new low… and it’s still not time to panic. Every time you think “this is as ugly as the Thunder’s start to the season can get” they find a way to dig the hole just a little deeper. The Thunder had their shovels out Wednesday.

The Orlando Magic had dropped nine in a row when the Thunder came calling, but it didn’t matter. A resurgent Aaron Gordon dropped 40 points on OKC’s vaunted defense, and a 13-0 Orlando run late in the third, followed by another 13-0 one to start the fourth, made Russell Westbrook’s 20 points in the fourth quarter moot. Orlando got the win 121-108, handing Oklahoma City its third straight loss and seventh in a row on the road.

A team with this much talent as OKC should not be 8-12 and be looking up in the standings at a Rudy Gobert-less Jazz team. Coach Billy Donovan is frustrated — you know he has drawn up plays to use some combination of Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony to force defenses into difficult decisions, but they don’t run/execute them at all, and just play isolation ball.

And it’s still not time to panic.

The Thunder have lost close games and had ugly fourth quarters on both ends, but they still have the point differential of a team that should be 13-7. They are playing better than their record indicates, and most importantly the Thunder still have the third-best defense in the NBA. Those fundamentals point to the Thunder turning things around, likely sooner rather than later.

On offense, the Thunder are still trying to put the puzzle pieces together. They lead the league in isolation sets, and those have too often ended with a long midrange jumper or a contested shot closer to the basket. They don’t leverage all that star power to play off one another and get better looks.

I have written/said before (and I am far from alone) that this Thunder team looks like the 2010-11 Miami Heat when LeBron James first joined that team — those stars played next to each other, not with each other. “You take a turn, then I’ll take a turn.” It took them a long time (really until the middle of the following season) to learn to make the sacrifices needed to win. That team got off to a slow start over 20 games, 12-8, looked sloppy, and had tongues wagging about what was wrong.

That Heat team finished with 58 wins and made the NBA Finals.

I’m not saying these Thunder are destined for those heights (the Warriors are still in the way in the West), but there are 62 games left and plenty of time for the Thunder to find its groove, start moving the ball, use their stars together in plays that leave defenses without good options, and for the players to make sacrifices to win. The Thunder defense is already there, the offense will improve, and this team will rack up plenty of wins. No need to panic yet.

2) Anthony Davis ejected for first time in his career. If you’re going to get ejected and fined by the league office, be sure to get your money’s worth. Anthony Davis did just that.

Davis was frustrated by the lack of a call on his shot from the post (going against Karl-Anthony Towns), and he got his first technical arguing the lack of a call. Then when he was called for a foul on an attempted blocked shot on the other end, Davis lost it, and he got run.

Davis is going to get a healthy fine for this from the league, but he at least he got his money’s worth.

3) Hack-a-rookie: Wizards send Ben Simmons to free throw line NBA record 24 times in one quarter. And it almost worked. Down 24 points to the Sixers, Wizards coach Scott Brooks decided to make the desperation play — hack-a-Simmons. The Wizards started intentionally fouling Simmons every time down, and he went to the line an NBA record 24 times in the fourth quarter, hitting 12.

Here’s the thing — the strategy almost worked. The Wizards cut the 76er lead down to 3 and had a chance to steal a win, but couldn’t close it out.

When Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan/Andre Drummond (can’t do it to him anymore) were hacked in recent years, they usually were pulled by their coach because the strategy often worked. Philly coach Brett Brown said he left Simmons in for the learning experience, which is interesting. The way to stop “hack-a” is to make your foul shots, and that’s not something that has to be learned in game (as opposed to, say, properly defending a pick-and-roll at full speed). And as long as the Sixers held on for the win, Brown can say it was a learning experience and get away with it.

But hac-a-Simmons worked, so you can bet the Sixers will see it again.

Three Things to Know: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston

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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.

1) East shakeout: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston; Cavaliers remind 76ers who is the power right now. There are no statement games in November. Not really. We are four-and-a-half months away from the playoffs even starting, teams will evolve and grow between now and mid-April. Any “statements” made now are long forgotten by the time the second season starts.

What we did see Wednesday was some shakeout in the East: Detroit’s start is no fluke and they proved that in Boston behind a monster game from Andre Drummond; and Cleveland reminded upstart Philadelphia who is the team to beat in the East.

Drummond has saved some big games for the Celtics in the past, but Tuesday night he looked like the best traditional center in the game (which he might just be the way he’s played this season): 26 points on 83.3 percent shooting, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He was a beast, quieting the Boston faithful when he his 6-of-8 free throws, and the Celtics had no answers.

Drummond had a lot of help. Tobias Harris continued his impressive season with 31 points on 68.8 percent shooting (including 5-of-6 from three) and eight rebounds. Avery Bradley reminded the Celtics he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the game and pushed Kyrie Irving into a 6-of-16 shooting night. It was an all-around game from Detroit that said they belong in the top half of the East, and that this 13-6 start to the season is no fluke.

Down the Eastern seaboard a little in Philadelphia, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town as a measuring stick for the upstart 76ers… and the Sixers were reminded they are still a young and developing team.

Ben Simmons was assigned LeBron James to start the game, and LeBron put up 15 points in his first 10-minute run of the game as he attacked aggressively from the start. Simmons was overwhelmed, and so were the Sixers as a whole. LeBron finished the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and he got to rest the end of the fourth because the game was out of reach.

Cleveland has won eight in a row and that has been sparked by better defensive play, something Philly saw first hand. Of course, the Sixers helped out going 0-of-11 from three in the first half (that wasn’t all Cavs’ defense). Cleveland’s bench was dominant (Dwyane Wade had 15 points, Jeff Green 14), and the Sixers’ Simmons finished the night with 10 points on 11 shots. Joel Embiid was the lone bright spot, he had a monster third quarter on his way to 30 points and 11 boards on the night.

2) Grizzlies shock NBA world, fire coach David Fizdale. There had been long-simmering tensions between coach David Fizdale and his star center Marc Gasol in Memphis, and those bubbled to the surface Sunday when Fizdale benched Gasol during the fourth quarter of an ugly loss to a shorthanded Brooklyn team — Gasol made it clear he was not at all happy watching the end of the game.

Less than 24 hours later, Fizdale was fired.

Gasol isn’t the kind of player who goes to management and says “him or me,” but Grizzlies management took the opportunity to show who it backed. The Grizzlies have lost eight in a row and are fading from the playoff picture, even in a West where a lot of teams are stumbling, and management was sending a message that they still want to win. Memphis management thinks this thing can be turned around, that they put together a playoff team (one that has been beset by injuries). From the outside, there are a lot of “do the Grizzlies trade Gasol and/or Mike Conley?” questions, looking ahead to a rebuild. Internally, this move says Memphis isn’t there yet.

Around the league there was a lot of support for Fizdale, who is well-respected by players and coaches. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Damian Lillard and others expressed surprise at the firing. Gregg Popovich said Fizdale “did a helluva job, and I don’t think he’s going to have any problem landing someplace.” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said “It’s not right. He’s done a great job, take that team to the playoffs last year and was in a dogfight with San Antonio. Did an unbelievable job, especially when no one expected them to even make the playoffs.”

Apparently, Memphis management did — and they expect to make the playoffs again. Realistic or not. Fizdale is out because the Grizzlies were losing — even though that falls more on management and the roster he was given, which was thin and can’t handle being without the injured Conley — and combine that with he didn’t have a great relationship with the team’s best player and you have a recipe for a firing. That’s happened to a lot of coaches in the NBA.

The questions about the future and what kind of team Grizzlies management is trying to build remain. Their rebuild-on-the-fly thing hasn’t impressed so far, and that wasn’t about the coach. But management has sent its statement.

3) Warriors without Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, Kings have Bogdan Bogdanovic so they get win. Sacramento isn’t a better team than Golden State (not by a long shot), but they took Monday night’s meeting more seriously. Golden State was short handed without its two former MVPs due to injury — Curry and Durant — and that opened the door.

Bogdan Bogdanovic walked through it when, with the game on the line, he isolated against Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and got the bucket.

There’s no big-picture takeaway from this game, but the Kings are a feisty team and the Warriors are not invincible. At least when not at full strength.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Warriors, Rockets solidify as top three

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The top three teams in the Association have separated themselves — Boston, Golden State, and Houston, and they remain atop these rankings (and may well for a while). However, after that, there is more East than West at the top, not something we expected to see before the season.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (16-2, Last Week No. 1). Welcome to the season of Al Horford appreciation. He’s a four-time All-Star who once made an All-NBA team (2011), but he still might be the most underappreciated star in the league. At least until this season. He’s not flashy, but he does everything well — there are no serious holes in his game. That is showing this season as he anchors the Celtics’ league-best defense plus gives them almost 15 points and 9 boards a night. He is at the heart of the reason the Celtics have won 16 in a row and beat the Warriors.

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (13-4 LW 2). This season the Warriors are taking 31.4 percent of their shots at the rim, once you exclude garbage time (as is done by Ben Falk at Cleaning The Glass). Last season that was 36 percent. Last season the team free throw rate was 20.6 (FTA per 100), this season that is down to 19.6. The Warriors still have the best offense in the NBA, but to Charles Barkely’s dismay (if he paid attention to stats) they are even more of a jump shooting team.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (13-4, Last Week No. 3). Chris Paul has only been back two games, but he’s averaged 14 points and 8 assists, while shooting 6-of-11 from three in the two wins (against the Suns and injured Grizzlies). Houston is entering a soft part of the schedule, including having 11-of-14 at home, look for CP3 (and James Harden) to put up impressive numbers for a few weeks.

 
Spurs small icon 4. Spurs (11-6, LW 5). The 23-point comeback win against the Thunder shows the grit and resilience of a team still without Kyrie Irving (and who knows when he returns). Their five-man starting lineup — LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, and Patty Mills — outscores teams by 6.7 points per 100 minutes and is key to their success.

 
Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (11-5, LW 7). The Raptors have been flying under the radar to start the season, but their net rating is better than the Wizards’ team everyone thought could be the team that challenges Cleveland/Boston at the end of the season. Toronto has adapted well to its new move-the-ball offense (most of the time), and is scoring at a more efficient clip than a season ago already.

 
Wizards small icon 6. Wizards (10-7, LW 8). The Wizards lost to the Raptors but beat the Bucks in the first two games of one of the toughest stretches of the schedule this season — 8-of-10 on the road, much of it against good teams (over .500). Remove garbage time from the stats and the Wizards are top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating (8th in both), often a sign of a potential contender (Warriors, Rockets the only other teams to do that so far).

Pistons small icon 7. Pistons (11-6, LW 4). They have lost three-of-four and were absolutely demolished at home by LeBron James and the Cavaliers this week. In the one win in the last week, they had to come from 11 down against the Timberwolves. Detroit’s starting five — Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, and Andre Drummond — is getting outscored by 12.3 points per 100 possessions, Stan Van Gundy can’t stick with it much longer.

 
8. Timberwolves (10-7, LW 6). Quietly, the Timberwolves have finally started to play good defense — in their last five games they have allowed 101.6 points per 100, ninth best in the NBA for that stretch (they were 28th in the league overall a couple weeks back). Still, they have lost two in a row to beatable teams (Charlotte and Detroit) heading into a four-game homestand.

 
Cavaliers small icon 9. Cavaliers (10-7 LW 18). Winners of five in a row, and what matters most is in those five games their defense is 8.6 points per 100 better than their season average (and eighth in the league). LeBron James is putting up MVP numbers this season, 28.3 points, 8.5 assists, and 7.4 rebounds a game. All in his 15th season, about to turn 33 years old. Insane. Derrick Rose is out for more than a week still with his sprained ankle, and now Iman Shumpert is out with water on the knee, putting even more on LeBron’s plate.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (10-7, LW 14). Portland fans and players feel they should have done better, but their record to start the season isn’t bad (it’s about where I pictured them), especially in a West where a lot of potential playoff teams are stumbling and/or battling injury. However, the Blazers have had a heavy home schedule so far and Monday’s win in Memphis was the first of five straight games on the road as they will be racking up the frequent flyer miles through the end of the year.

 
Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (10-7, LW 10). Paul Millsap is out for a few months (surgery to repair a ligament in his wrist) and he has been key to Denver’s improved defense. As a team they are 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when he plays, both Trey Lyles and Kenneth Faried need to help make that up. The Nuggets are 2-2 to start their stretch of 11-of-15 on the road, they have started to play better but the Millsap injury is a setback.

 
Knicks small icon 12. Knicks (9-7, LW 11). In his last five games, Kristaps Porzingis is shooting just 38.3 percent (although he still is hitting 44 percent of the five threes a game he puts up. It’s just a little efficiency slump. Joakim Noah is eligible to return from his PED suspension, but has yet to suit up for the Knicks as Jeff Hornacek rightfully likes his big man rotation right now (just a reminder Noah is making $17.8 million this season and has two-years, $37.8 million left on the deal after this season… thanks again Phil).

 
Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (9-7, LW 12). When Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the court together the Sixers outscore opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions, and defensively the team allows less than a point scored per possession. Enmbiid by himself is a force, with the Sixers 19.2 points per 100 better than when he sits. Brett Brown must think Embiid is all the way back because he’s played him more than 30 minutes a game regularly recently. Also, #FreeJah

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (10-8, LW 22). Indiana has won four games in a row, and 5-of-6 (the lone loss is Houston), knocking off some other potential East playoff teams in the process (Detroit, Miami, Orlando). They’ve been better on both ends during the streak, but it is the improved defense that has mattered more. That and Lance Stephenson going off for 13 in the fourth against Detroit. Pacers are in a home-heavy stretch and need to pad their record now.

 
Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (9-8 LW 9). DeMarcus Cousins is having a monster year averaging 26.6 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, but when he got tossed for an elbow to Russell Westbrook’s head (whether Russ sold that or not), it was Anthony Davis who took on the scoring load with 36 and got the win. The Pelicans needed that W, had lost their previous two and have a rough stretch ahead — 4-of-6 on the road with the Spurs, Warriors, Timberwolves, and Trail Blazers in the mix.

Bucks small icon 16. Bucks (8-8 LW 16). Malcolm Brogdon has struggled adjusting to his bench role, shooting 34.1% (down from 46%) with his assists dropping almost in half in his last five games. After winning four in a row with the arrival of Eric Bledsoe, thanks in large part to an improved defense, they have slipped back and dropped two straight — and as of Saturday the Bucks head out for 5-of-6 on the road.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (7-9, LW 20). They stopped an ugly six-game losing streak with wins at home over the stumbling clippers, then with Dwight Howard going off for 25 points and 20 rebounds against Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves. Maybe the Hornets can find some consistency now that their healthy, but the next four games are no help — Wizards, Cavaliers, Spurs and Raptors.

 
Heat small icon 18. Heat (7-9, LW 17). Miami is being held back by an offense that doesn’t move the ball (25th in percentage of buckets with an assist), 29th in turnover percentage, and 27th in the league in free throw rate. We’re not going to run the video of Dion Waiters going 0-of-10 from the floor against the Pacers, but it wasn’t pretty.

 
Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (7-9 LW 19).. The fourth quarter woes for this team are real — in six of their nine, losses, the Thunder have blown a double-digit lead in the game, the latest being a 19-point lead to the Pelicans (without DeMarcus Cousins). The Thunder’s fourth quarter defense is 10.6 points per 100 possessions worse than the rest of the game (when it is top five in the league). Big showdown with Kevin Durant and the Warriors Wednesday night.

 
Magic small icon 20. Magic (8-9, LW 13). The wheels have come off after a strong start in Orlando — they have dropped five games in a row, with a bottom four offense and defense in that stretch. And that is with point guards Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin now healthy. It doesn’t get easier now with four straight and 6-of-8 on the road against some quality teams (Celtics, 76ers, Pacers, Thunder, Warriors).

 
Grizzlies small icon 21. Grizzlies (7-9, LW 15). Memphis has lost five in a row, the last three without Mike Conley who will remain out for a couple more weeks to rest his Achilles. It doesn’t get any easier, because in a week the Grizzlies start a brutal stretch of the schedule with a home-and-home against the Spurs — Memphis has to find a way to keep its head above water in this stretch to keep the playoffs within sight.

 
Lakers small icon 22. Lakers (8-10 LW 21). If the playoffs started today (Wednesday, Nov. 22), the Lakers would be the eighth seed in the West. While the NBA world watches Lonzo Ball’s jumpers go astray (and that is an issue), the Lakers have the No. 4 defense in the NBA, which considering they were dead last a year ago is a big step. That keeps them in games, then they get enough offense in flurries to pull out wins. The defense will likely regress some, but the offense should improve as the season wears on, and the Lakers staying within striking distance (or in) the playoffs is not so far-fetched right now.

 
Jazz small icon 23. Jazz (7-11, LW 24). Utah has gone 2-4 since Rudy Gobert went down. With their offense floundering and already 24th in the league, Utah has turned over more playmaking duties to rookie Donovan Mitchell — he started the last seven games and he’s done fairly well, for a rookie. He has averaged 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, and in the last six games the Jazz have a top-10 NBA offense. However, without Gobert as an anchor in the middle the Utah defense has fallen off to bottom 10 in the league, and the offense may not be able to cover that up for long.

 
Suns small icon 24. Suns (7-11, LW 26). Giving up 90 points in a half to the Rockets on national television was ugly, but there are some good things happening in the desert. The ball is moving better on offense and their assists are up, for example, and that has helped Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels to shoot better. Josh Jackson’s offense still has a long way to go, however. Starting Sunday, Phoenix heads out on a tough six-game road trip through the Midwest and East that includes the Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors.

 
Nets small icon 25. Nets (6-10, LW 25). No D’Angelo Russell for at least a month after he had his knee scoped, which is a tough break for a guy playing to impress his bosses and get a new contract. With him and Jeremy Lin out injured, point guard duties have fallen to Spencer Dinwiddie, who has done well and led scrappy performances against the Celtics and Warriors recently (both still losses, of course). Allen Crabbe is finding a groove.

 
Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (3-14, LW 29). They have been playing better than their record suggests of late, it just hasn’t translated into wins. The brightest spot for the team this season is just how well rookie John Collins has played, averaging 11.6 points on 56.9 percent shooting, with 7.4 rebounds a game. The Hawks are 1-2 at the start of a home-heavy stretch of the schedule (5-of-6).

 
Clippers small icon 27. Clippers (5-11 LW 23). The Clippers went into this season with a re-signed Blake Griffin and looking to stay in the playoff mix in the West, then build from there. However, after dropping 9 in a row — in the last 10 games Griffin is shooting just 38.2% — the question becomes at what point do they consider other options? Specifically, looking at trade options for DeAndre Jordan — in the last year of his contract — for players/picks to help a rebuild. The Clippers will deny this, however, if they continue to lose, it’s a question that will come up around the trade deadline. The other question is how hot Doc Rivers’ seat is getting.

 
Mavericks small icon 28. Mavericks (3-15 LW 30). They have lost 5-of-6, but have shown some spark by beating the Bucks and pushing the Celtics to overtime in their last two games (this deep in the rankings that’s enough to move a team up). One thing not moving up in Dallas is Nerlens Noel on the depth chart — undrafted rookie Maxi Kleber is starting a little and is ahead of Noel now.

 
Kings small icon 29. Kings (4-13, LW 27). This ranking may be too high for the Kings. Seriously. They have the worst net rating in the NBA and just got blown out by 46 points by the Hawks (another of the NBA’s worst). One thing to look forward to: Wednesday night Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox will go head-to-head against each other for the first time since Kentucky’s Fox owned UCLA’s Ball in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last year.

 
Bulls small icon 30. Bulls (3-12 LW 28). With rookie Lauri Markannen leading the way, the Bulls are taking 9.4 more threes per game this season than they did last season. They are hitting 33.5 percent of them, which is about the same as last year, but it has opened up the offense. The Bulls have started 0-2 on a four-game road trip.