Russell Westbrook tried to do his part Tuesday night: 34 points (on 13-of-30 shooting), 13 assists, and eight rebounds. He was attacking and making plays, and that includes the monster tomahawk dunk you see above. If nothing else, Westbrook is going to give the fans a highlight.
Here are the three things we learned Tuesday night, which as a bonus maybe should have included the Pelicans going into Atlanta and getting a win — New Orleans has played much better since Jrue Holiday returned. But we’ll save that for another day now.
1) Knicks future is Kristaps Porzingis — and he looks more like the present every day, too. It was a play Knicks fans have seen countless time over the years: It’s the fourth quarter of a close game, the ball swings to Carmelo Anthony on the wing, and the ball movement stops as he takes his time sizing up how he’s going to attack in isolation.
Except for this time, you could hear the audible groans in Madison Square Garden. The fans knew that Kristaps Porzingis was on his way to a 31-point night and was moving well off the ball (plus getting half his shots via the pick-and-roll). They saw the up-and-under shots from Derrick Rose at the rim and knew he was feeling it on the night. The fans knew ‘Melo in isolation was not the answer — he had dominated the ball at times in the third and was 2-of-9 shooting in the quarter. Those fans eventually got enough of what they wanted, including an isolation step-back dagger by Rose (who was fantastic in the fourth), to give the Knicks the 107-103 win over Portland. It was Porzingis and Rose that accounted for 17 of the Knicks 26 points in the fourth, while Anthony went scoreless in the quarter.
The Knicks are now a .500 basketball team (7-7) and looking like a team that is figuring things out. The biggest key is on defense — they were the worst defensive team in the NBA at the start of the season, but they have been middle of the pack the past couple weeks statistically. Against a dangerous Portland offense, the Knicks held the Blazers to a respectable point per possession (100.5 points per 100 possessions, with the Blazers shooting 6-of-22 from three, to be specific). New York is making strides.
On the other end, the Knicks are finding the rotations that work. Against Portland, in just under 9 minutes that Anthony was at the four and Porzingis was at the five, the Knicks were +7. It’s a small sample size, but it continues a trend over the past couple weeks where that combo has been the Knicks’ best front court. The primary lineup with ‘Melo and Porzingis as the bigs Tuesday night — with Rose, Courtney Lee, and the surprising Mindaugas Kuzminskas — had an offensive rating of 123.1 (points per 100 possessions) and were outscoring the Trail Blazers by 42.4 per 100 (small sample size, but still).
Anthony is still a key part of the Knicks, but this is evolving into Porzingis’ team. Fast. With Rose playing a larger and larger role. This is becoming the kind of team where the ball doesn’t stick in isolation. And it’s one that can make the playoffs.
2) Lakers keep winning, Nick Young keeps making plays — even ones that weren’t intended for him. There is no bigger surprise in the NBA this season than Nick Young. As Baxter Holmes of ESPN and I discussed in the latest PBT podcast, he is hustling on defense and may be the Lakers’ most consistent perimeter defender. Which is “the Joker beats Robin to death” kind of shocking. Young has been an unrepentant gunner on offense since his days at USC, and he’s treated defense like it was a Drew League game. But this season it has been different.
And on offense, Young is hitting game-winning shots — even when the pass wasn’t to him. Watch the three he knocks down to beat the Thunder Tuesday: Brandon Ingram gets the ball, drives, and when Victor Oladipo rotates over Ingram makes the right pass to Lou Williams — except Young steps in front and steals it. Then he knocks down an awkward looking three.
It may not be how Luke Walton drew it up, but the Lakers will take it — this is a win over an OKC team with a top-five player in Russell Westbrook (34 points on 13-of-30 shooting) that is considered a likely playoff team. The Lakers are looking like they could be one, too, although the coming home-and-home with the Warriors will be tough.
3) Did we just see a Jamal Murray breakout game? The biggest upset of the night may have been Denver knocking off the Bulls (it was probably New Orleans going to Atlanta and getting the win, but Denver got an upset, too). Rookie Jamal Murray was a big part of that — 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting off the bench, with six rebounds tossed in as well. This is the shot chart of a man having a good night.
Watch the buckets for yourself.
Murray isn’t jumping into the Denver starting lineup yet, and Mike Malone didn’t have him on the floor to close out the game, but the rookie is starting to find his footing in the league. He’s for real, and the Nets have another quality piece to the puzzle.
DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets defense was absent for most of the night. They got a stop with the game on the line and sent Chicago to another loss in Colorado.
It was Denver’s 10th straight home win over the Bulls and its 16th in the last 17 meetings at Pepsi Center.
The Nuggets survived a 35-point, eight-rebound night from Jimmy Butler to keep Chicago winless in Denver since Feb. 8, 2006. Dwyane Wade had 22 points after sitting out Sunday’s game against the Lakers.
Butler insisted the streak wasn’t weighing on the team’s mind.
“It’s a basketball court with two rims, two backboards and a ball,” he said. “At the end of the day put the ball in the basket, do everything you can do in every other city and win the game.”
Chicago had a chance to end the streak but with the game tied Barton was fouled by Wade on a drive to the basket, and he hit two free throws left to give Denver a 109-107 lead.
“We are going to put the ball in Will Barton’s hands, let him attack downhill,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “If he draws a crowd, let him get the ball to Murray, who had been shooting the ball light’s out, on the back side to make a shot.”
The Bulls called timeout and Fred Hoiberg drew up a play for Butler, but Denver shut it down.
“Kenneth Faried was standing in the paint so I didn’t have nowhere to go,” Butler said.
Wade got the ball to Isaiah Cannon, coming around the defense but shot an airball on a 3-point attempt and the Nuggets got the ball.
“We got a shot from a very good 3-point shooter. We’re fine with it,” Wade said. “We had a chance to come in and get one and we didn’t.”
The Bulls were in control early but the Nuggets used a 22-0 run at the start of the second quarter to take a 41-31 lead. Murray had 15 of his 17 first half points in the period and Wilson Chandler scored 12 of his 16 in the second quarter.
“It just takes one shot to have confidence,” Murray said. “It doesn’t take me long to get hot. I think every shot is going in. If I miss I don’t worry about it.”
Bulls: Butler was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 27.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists in four games. He scored a season-high 40 Sunday. … Michael Carter-Williams is still out with a left knee bone bruise and left wrist sprain. … Doug McDermott (concussion protocol) missed his fifth game.
Nuggets: Mike Miller is away from the team for family reasons. He is expected to rejoin the team later in the week.
ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID
The Nuggets courted Wade as a free agent this summer but he ultimately chose his hometown Bulls. He came away impressed with his meeting with Denver.
“Those guys, I was sold on them,” Wade said. “They made it a lot tougher than people think.”
Even though he didn’t sign with the Nuggets, they felt good about the process.
“To have a chance to sit down with a first-ballot Hall of Famer who was giving us serious considerations showed our fans of the positive vibes about this team, around the NBA,” Malone said.
The Nuggets’ bench scored 39 of their 41 points in the second quarter and outscored the Bulls reserves 61-13 for the game. Three of Denver’s double-digit scorers came off the bench.
“Our bench was phenomenal tonight,” Malone said.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nick Young hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5 seconds to play, and the Los Angeles Lakers blew a 14-point lead in the final minutes before rallying for a 111-109 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
After Westbrook scored 17 points in a five-minute span to trim the Lakers’ big lead to one point, Steven Adams scored on a go-ahead putback of Westbrook’s miss with 13.9 seconds to play.
The Lakers then passed the ball around the perimeter before Young coolly drained his fourth 3-pointer of the night.
Westbrook missed a long shot shortly before the buzzer.
The Los Angeles native finished with 34 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds, barely missing his sixth triple-double of his amazing season.
Timofey Mozgov scored 16 points for the Lakers, who ended a two-game skid with their seventh win in 11 games overall.
Adams had 20 points, including two baskets in the final minute, for the Thunder, who have lost six of eight.
The Lakers jumped to a 13-point lead in the first quarter, hitting five 3-pointers while the Thunder went 0 for 7. Westbrook led the Thunder’s comeback, but Young drained a 25-footer at the halftime buzzer to put the Lakers back ahead.
Westbrook’s fourth 3-pointer of the night trimmed the Lakers’ lead to 108-105 with 1:38 left.
Russell sat out for the second time in three games to rest his knee, which prevents him from playing at full speed. He won’t play Wednesday, and the Lakers aren’t sure whether he’ll return Friday or Sunday or later. Calderon has played sparingly in his first season with Los Angeles, but the Spanish guard excelled in this spot start.
Thunder: G Semaj Christon missed his second straight game with a concussion. … Westbrook committed a flagrant-1 foul in the second quarter, hitting Luol Deng around the head and neck. The veterans exchanged words and had to be separated.
Lakers: Julius Randle had three points in 21 minutes while playing with a hip bruise that nearly kept him out of the Lakers’ lineup. … Lou Williams converted a four-point play in the first quarter and finished with 13 points.
Rajon Rondo has had the fake-behind-the-back pass in his back pocket for years, pulling it out now and then for a bucket.
It wasn’t enough. Denver executed better down the stretch and got a quality 110-107 win at home.