Robin Lopez

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Cavaliers, Celtics just keep on winning

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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) Cavaliers win streak up to 10, while Celtics knock off Sixers. This is the NBA: We get excited about teams that are better than we expected (Pistons) or worse (Thunder) but in the end, things tend to play to form. Going into the season we thought that Cleveland and Boston would be the top two teams in the East, and as we head into December that looks to be the case (with all due respect to upstart Detroit, still technically second in the standings, but come the playoffs they will not hang with the other two).

On top are the Boston Celtics, who handled another upstart team in the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday. Kyrie Irving had 36 points on 21 shots, and as a team shot 41.4 percent from three. Al Horford had another strong night with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, plus had eight rebounds and five assists — Irving is the guy Boston fans are pushing for MVP (he’s on the second tier in that chase right now at best, sorry) but Horford may be the most valuable to this team. His ability to pop out off a pick opens up the Celtic offense and gives Irving and the other Celtics room to operate.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers pushed their win streak to 10 games, handling the struggling Hawks 121-114. Kevin Love had 25 points and 16 rebounds, LeBron James had 24 points, 12 assists, six boards, and a few highlight plays of his own. The key for this streak — and for the Cavaliers return to prominence — is they are playing defense again, allowing 101.9 points per 100 possessions during the streak (sixth best in the NBA in that time). It was their last in the league defense that held them back early, but Cleveland has turned that around.

It’s going to be Boston and Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. Just as expected. And now the season is following form.

2) Nicola Jokic’s ankle injury doesn’t seem to be that bad…*knocking on wood*. For the second day in a row, the league has dodged a bullet on a serious ankle injury to a young star. Wednesday it was the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, who is day-to-day with an ankle sprain.

Thursday night it was Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who went down when he stepped on Jerian Grant‘s foot, and it looked bad.

Fortunately, this appears to be just a sprain — X-rays were negative — and nothing more.

Jokic may miss a little time, he is day-to-day also, but it doesn’t appear to be as serious as first feared. Which is good for us fans.

3) With Jokic out, Will Barton drained game-winner to lift Nuggets past Bulls. A thrilling end to the game in Denver, where Kris Dunn made a difficult driving layup that put the Nuggets up, then Will Barton came to the other end and just drove right through a scattered Bulls defense. Robin Lopez helped at the rim, but Barton made the difficult shot for the win.

Denver will need more plays like that until Jokic returns.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn dunks on T.J. Warren after savvy/explosive halfcourt drive (video)

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Kris Dunn had a nice weekend – 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds as the Bulls beat the Hornets and lost to the Suns – punctuated by this dunk in Chicago’s 113-105 loss to the Suns last night.

T.J. Warren paid the price for Tyler Ulis overplaying a Robin Lopez screen Dunn cleverly never used.

NBA Power Rankings: Detroit, Minnesota crash top five party

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A few weeks into the season and we’re starting to see which hot starts are for real — Boston, Detroit — and which teams are coming back to earth (Orlando). The top three on this list have started to separate themselves from the pack… for now, it’s a long season.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (9-2, Last Week No. 1). When Gordon Hayward went down, one of the expected drop offs was that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were young players about to be thrust into much larger roles, and how were they going to handle it? Turns out, just fine. For example, the pair has shot 35-of-71 (49.3%) during team’s a nine-game win streak, plus they are part of a very switchable perimeter defense. They have been fantastic

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (8-3 LW 3). Their offense hasn’t just been good, it’s been all-time good to start the season. The Warriors are averaging 116.4 points per 100 possessions, that is 7.5 more than the second-place Cavaliers and 1.8 per 100 better than the 1986-87 LA Lakers, who have the best mark of all time. As they were last season, the Warriors have been a dominant third quarter team to start this season.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (8-3, Last Week No. 4). The Rockets have started to pick up their pace again, and with that their offense has returned to being a force — then James Harden exploded, dropping 56 points on a very good Utah defense. Tough week with the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Pacers, and Raptors ahead, but if Harden does this again the Rockets will be just fine.

Pistons small icon 4. Pistons (7-3, LW 10). Detroit is off to its fastest start in nine years, and one key reason is the play of Anthony Tolliver off the bench, particularly defensively. While a lot of attention has gone to Andre Drummond shooting 75% from the free throw line (with good reason), he also has improved true shooting percentage (59%), assist rate (doubled it to 12.2%), and his rebound rate (which was already the best in the league and is now at 25.8%). Drummond has been a beast.

 
5. Timberwolves (7-3, LW 14). Winners of five in a row, and it’s not a coincidence it started with the return of Jimmy Butler to the lineup — they are 8.4 points per 100 possessions better when Butler is on the court. As Zach Lowe noted on Twitter, it’s not because he is dominating the ball, he has the fifth highest usage rate on the team, it’s because of his defense, and he is being efficient on offense.

 
Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (7-4, LW 2). The Grizzlies are 2-1 so far into a five-game road trip, splitting a pair in Los Angeles then winning in Portland. Tyreke Evans is impressing off the bench, averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 43.1 percent from three. Watching him live this week he is moving well — which is amazing considering the knee injury he is coming off of — and hitting shots his coach wishes he wouldn’t take. So, vintage Evans.

 
Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (6-4, LW 11). The Spurs offense has not been consistent without Kawhi Leonard, as one would expect. San Antonio is 19th in the NBA in offensive rating, and they no longer shoot threes the same way (22.6 attempts per game, 29th in the league). What is surprising is their usually stout defense (even without Leonard) has fallen to 11th in the league. San Antonio’s ability to execute and not beat themselves works against the Hornets and Suns, but not against the Celtics and Warriors, where they lost.

 
Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (6-4, LW 20). While all the attention is focused on Kristaps Porzingis (he did have a monster week), the Knicks are 6-1 since steady veteran Jarrett Jack was made the starting point guard. He keeps the offense moving and puts the ball in the right place. Porzingis — who gets compared to Dirk Nowitzki all the time but reminds me more of a better Andrei Kirilenko — dropped 40 on a Pacers defense Sunday.

 
Raptors small icon 9. Raptors (6-4, LW 9). DeMar DeRozan is still a guy who gets his buckets in the midrange, but one thing is different this season — he is attacking earlier in the shot clock, rather than letting the defense set. It’s worked, his true shooting percentage is up to a career high 57.1% this season. After a respectable 3-3 road trip through the West, the Raptors came home and got beat by the Wizards without John Wall, a tough loss in this East.

 
Magic small icon 10. Magic (6-4, LW 7). Injuries to their top two point guards — Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin — set this team back against Chicago and Boston, and it continued a slide for an offense that was hot early (No. 2 in the NBA) but has since regressed to the middle of the pack. Payton should return Wednesday against the Knicks. Aaron Gordon has shown no signs of slowing down his hot shooting.

 
Sixers small icon 11. 76ers (6-4, LW 21). What team leads the NBA in passes made per game? You guessed it, the Sixers. Rookie point guard/power forward Ben Simmons is averaging the most passes made per game of any player in the league. Those are good signs for the future and speaks to a selfless team. Tuesday night in Utah (a Philly win) started a five-game road trip that includes facing the Warriors and both Los Angeles teams.

 
Blazers small icon 12. Trail Blazers (6-5 LW 13). Damian Lillard remains one of the most clutch players in the NBA. Look at it this way: Lillard shoots 42.3% in the first quarter, 32.4% in the second, 37.9% in the third, then suddenly 54.3% overall and 43.8% from four in the fourth. He was getting to the line late against the Thunder, then against the Lakers he did this.

 
Pelicans small icon 13. Pelicans (6-5 LW 19). This needs to be pointed out: DeMarcus Cousins is putting in real effort on defense and doing well. It’s small sample size theater, but the Pelicans’ defense is 7.1 points per 100 possessions better when Cousins is playing this season (granted, being paired with Davis for a chunk of that time helps). The Pelicans are feasting on weaker teams this season, but that’s a start.

 
Nuggets small icon 14. Nuggets (6-5, LW 22). Last season after the All-Star break — when the Nugget offense was the best in the NBA — they were taking 70 percent of their shots either at the rim or from three. This season that has fallen to 58.2 percent and that is part of the reason their offense is off 5 points per 100. The Nuggets are 3-1 in their current six game homestand after a win over the Nets (tougher matches with the Thunder and Magic are ahead).

 
Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (5-5, LW 16). Kemba Walker is once again brilliant and once again overlooked. This season he has averaged 21.8 points per game and is hitting a solid 37.1 percent from three. More importantly, the Hornets are 30.3 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court.The Hornets started a four-game road trip 0-3 with Boston still remaining.

 
Wizards small icon 16. Wizards (5-5, LW 8). The Wizards have a soft schedule for the next week plus, giving them a chance to bank some wins, but the problem is this team does not bring its focus against weaker teams. As evidence, look at the home loss to Dallas on Tuesday night. The Wizards want to be contenders but championship level teams bring it nightly. John Wall missed a couple games with a shoulder injury but returned Tuesday.

 
Clippers small icon 17. Clippers (5-5 LW 5). The Clippers just stumbled through a 1-4 homestand where you understand the loss to the Warriors but the other ones hurt, and it’s due to their defense completely falling apart (second worst in the NBA over the past six games). Tuesday’s loss to San Antonio started eight of nine on the road and that includes facing the Thunder and Cavaliers, it’s a tough stretch for a slumping L.A. that could see them tumble down these rankings and the standings.

 
Lakers small icon 18. Lakers (5-5 LW 23). Brook Lopez has been a fantastic big for what the Lakers want to do — he is their best three point shooter, a good passer, and can get buckets down low (they go to him in the post on mismatches after a switch). The Lakers start a four-game road trip in Boston on Wednesday, where Lonzo Ball matches up with Kyrie Irving.

 
Pacers small icon 19. Pacers (5-6, LW 18). Myles Turner is back, which has bumped Domantas Sabonis to the second unit — and that could be a good thing. Sabonis has been fantastic as the guy the offense ran through with the starters, if he can boost the bench it’s a big help in Indy. The loss to the Suns stings, but serves as a reminder that teams struggling on defense — the Pacers are 24th in the league this season — are more likely to have ugly losses. Indy needs to improve on that end of the court.

 
Cavaliers small icon 20. Cavaliers (5-6 LW 17). Four of the five Cleveland wins have come against the Bucks, Wizards, and Celtics — the Cavaliers show up and care against teams seen as a perceived threat. They don’t other nights. LeBron played the best game of the season last Friday night against Washington, scoring 57 points and single-handedly ending the Cavs four-game losing streak. To do that in his 15th NBA season is insane. But it just put a Band-Aid over the Cavaliers woes, and their worst in the league defense. The Cavs biggest defensive problem is not chasing teams off the arc and not contesting out there — teams are shooing 41.9 percent from three against them.

 
Thunder small icon 21. Thunder (4-6 LW 6).. Their defense is second best in the NBA, but the offense remains people taking turns going in isolation, not playing like a team. They have thrown the fewest passes of any team in the league. Carmelo Anthony is taking one more three and seeing one or two fewer possessions a game in OKC, but aside that his numbers are almost identical to his last season in New York. Things are not changing for him. Anthony needs 12 points to pass Hall of Famer and former teammate Allen Iverson for 24th on the all-time scoring list.

 
Jazz small icon 22. Jazz (5-6, LW 15). Utah’s offense is 8.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rudy Gobert is sitting? There’s no one simple answer as to why, but with Ricky Rubio at the point the pick-and-roll with Gobert has no threat of someone taking an outside shot, so the spacing becomes all muddled. Rubio is being more aggressive shooting the ball this season, especially from three, but his hitting just 29.8 percent of them.

 
Bucks small icon 23. Bucks (4-6 LW 12). After dropping three straight and feeling like this might be another season they take a step back, the Bucks made the big move and traded for Eric Bledsoe. That will help the rotations: Bledsoe will start, pushing Malcolm Brogdon to the second unit, and Matthew Dellavedova out of the rotation (a good thing, he’s been awful). Ideally Tony Snell gets fewer shots. On paper this is a smart gamble, now we will see if it pays off.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (4-6, LW 24). Hassan Whiteside returned last Wednesday and they needed him — he helped get the win over the Bulls then had 21 and 17 against the Clippers. The Heat just need consistency out of him now. Miami has started 1-2 on a six game road trip, and they have eight road games and three home games the rest of this month.

 
Nets small icon 25. Nets (4-7, LW 26). The Nets are averaging 109.2 possessions per game (via NBA.com), 3.5 possessions faster than the second place Suns, but combine pace and a bad defense and you have five guys having dropped at least 30 points on the Nets this season. Brooklyn has dropped five of its last six, and suddenly all that talk about the pick the Cavaliers got not being all that good has been silenced.

 
Suns small icon 26. Suns (4-7, LW 25). After the Suns sent Eric Bledsoe home, they gave up all their leverage, so the first-round pick they just got back for him — despite all the odd protections — is about as good as they were going to do. The question now is can the Suns flip Greg Monroe for more assets from another trade? Probably, but they are not going to get much in return as every team knows they want to dump him.

 
Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (2-7 LW 30). Bobby Portis is back in the rotation and didn’t look bad in his first game against the Raptors. Lauri Markkanen remains impressive, and is second in the NBA among rookies in both points per game and rebounds (trailing Ben Simmons in both categories). With Robin Lopez as an anchor, the defense for the Bulls’ starting five is pretty good, but get into the bench and things get ugly fast.

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (2-8, LW 27). They still have the worst net rating in the NBA — -11.5 per 100 possessions — but the win over the Thunder Tuesday night keeps them out of the bottom of these rankings. It’s an odd mix with coach Dave Joerger trying to get minutes for George Hill (when healthy, he’s not right now), Zach Randolph, Garrett Temple and Vince Carter, and with them win games, then also be sure their young players get run to develop.

 
Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (2-9, LW 29). Their ailing offense looked good against the Cavaliers, which speaks more to Cleveland than Atlanta. Dennis Schroder is averaging 22.6 points and 6.6 assists per game, both career highs, and he’s been efficient if not consistent this season.

 
Mavericks small icon 30. Mavericks (2-10 LW 28). It’s been a rough start to the season (save for a nice win against Memphis last week), with Dallas having the third worst defense and seventh worst offense in the NBA this season. While seven of their remaining 10 games this month are at home, it’s a brutal schedule with the Thunder and Spurs twice each, the Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Celtics also in the mix.

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins lead Pelicans in 96-90 OT win over Bulls

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CHICAGO (AP) — Anthony Davis had 27 points and 16 rebounds to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 96-90 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

DeMarcus Cousins added 25 points and 11 rebounds – 18 and seven after halftime – to help the Pelicans snap a six-game, regular-season losing streak to the Bulls.

Jameer Nelson added 13 points, Darius Miller had 11, and Jrue Holiday 10 for New Orleans. The Pelicans improved to 4-2 on the road.

Justin Holiday had 18 points, Denzel Valentine added 16 and Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez had 14 apiece for the Bulls. They were coming off their first road victory.

Both teams looked sluggish completing their first back-to-backs of the season. The Bulls shot 35.4 percent from the field to the Pelicans’ 40.2 percent.

Cousins made two of three foul shots for a 91-86 lead with 2:35 left in overtime before Nelson hit a 3 for a 96-88 lead with 48.9 seconds remaining.

Davis rebounded Lopez’s putback attempt with 9.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Holiday missed at the other end with 3.3 to go before Cousins blocked Lopez to send the game to overtime.

The Pelicans opened the final quarter on a 20-7 run to take a 77-71 lead. Valentine hit a 3 to put the Bulls ahead 83-81 with 2:28 left before Davis dunked to tie it.

Justin Holiday scored 10 points in the third quarter for the Bulls, who led by as much as nine and 64-57 after the period.

The Pelicans shot 40.5 percent from the field to the Bulls’ 32.6 percent in the first half of a tied game. Davis led New Orleans with 14, and Lopez had nine for Chicago.

Cousins had just seven points and four rebounds at halftime after averaging 29 points and 14 rebounds per game and posting two 20-point, 20-rebound games in his previous five contests.

 

NBA Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin can still dunk, Clippers are legit

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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) Clippers ace first real test, silence Jazz. And if you think Blake Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore… The Clippers came into Tuesday night 2-0, and we all shrugged because they had beaten the Lakers and the Suns. It was little more than extended training camp. Blake Griffin had looked like a maestro running the Clipper offense, Patrick Beverley talked a lot, but how do we judge that against two of the worst defensive teams in the league?

Tuesday night the Clippers owned a good Jazz team in the second half, and Griffin dropped 22 points with nine rebounds and 6 assists — given their first test the Clippers aced it. Griffin set the tone in the first quarter with a throwback dunk over the best defensive big man in the game, Rudy Gobert. Tell me again how Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore.

Griffin has always been an underrated passer, but he has added a legit three-point shot to his arsenal this season, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc so far. More importantly, he is now their best playmaker and they need him for Doc Rivers pass-and-cut offense to be effective — against Utah it was clear how much the Clippers missed Milos Teodosic to create with the second unit (Lou Williams was off and just 3-of-10 shooting, he has to lead that second unit now). Griffin has been at his peak to start the season, and he’s getting some help — DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 18 rebounds outplaying Gobert, Patrick Beverley had 19 points and was 4-of-7 from three, and Austin Rivers added 16 against Utah.

Three games in, the Clippers also have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 86.1 points per 100 possessions. We’re going to take a wait-and-see on how good the defense really is — the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz are not exactly offensive powerhouses — but it’s a promising start.

From the opening of training camp the question with the Clippers was not “do they have talent?” because they had plenty, the real question was “can they keep that talent on the court?” There are a lot of guys with long injury histories on this team, starting with Griffin. When healthy, however, this is a good Clippers team. Very good.

2) Anthony Davis gives everyone a scare, but MRI is clean and he is day-to-day.
That sound you hear is GM Dell Demps, coach Alvin Gentry, and the entire city of New Orleans exhaling.

Just five minutes into Tuesday night’s game against Portland, Anthony Davis left it with a sore knee. He had banged it in knee-to-knee contact with Damian Lillard, then we saw it buckle a little in a position battle with Maurice Harkless, and we were worried — Davis has been his usual, brilliant self to start the season and the basketball gods have already robbed us of enough talent to start the season. They can’t have Davis, too.

They won’t. An MRI came back negative and Davis is considered day-to-day. Without him on the court DeMarcus Cousins took over scoring 39 points and grabbing 13 boards, and keeping it close. However, Portland closed the game on a 9-0 run, and with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 24 points in the fourth quarter it was too much for New Orleans to match. Portland got the 103-93 win, and the Pelicans fall to 1-3 to start the season (the Blazers are 3-1).

3) LeBron James takes over as Cavaliers point guard, he can play that, too. Isaiah Thomas will not step on the court in a Cavaliers uniform until 2018. Derrick Rose is out with a tweaked ankle. That left Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue with a choice: Start Jose Calderon or LeBron James at the point?

Is that even a question? Actually, it was when Lue started Calderon against Orlando, and Cleveland lost. Lesson learned. LeBron played the point Tuesday and was his MVP-level self: 34 points on 20 shots, 4-of-6 from three, and he racked up 13 assists.

Kevin Love had 10 of his 20 points on the night in the fourth quarter, and the Cavaliers moved past a game Bulls team for the 119-112 win.

This was also the game where J.R. Smith moved back into the starting lineup, but he stumbled shooting 1-of-8 from the floor in this one (he had missed shootaround with a sore back). Dwyane Wade was 5-of-7 off the bench and boosted a Cavs bench that could use it, scoring 11 points. Tristan Thompson also slid into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers in this one, but that was more about Robin Lopez being at center for Chicago and Lue wanting to match up. The Cavaliers are versatile and veteran enough to make all these changes and just keep on winning.

It also helps to have LeBron James.