Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while getting your dinner out of the burrito vending machine….
Brooklyn Nets. For the first third of the season the Nets were listless, seeming adrift, and continually beset by injuries. Well, the injuries are still there but these Nets are playing with a real fire and winning — four in a row now, capped off by beating Golden State and snapping their 9-game win streak. Joe Johnson has been key to this resurgence and he had 27 against the Warriors, 10 in he fourth quarter. We’ll see how long it lasts but this is more what we expected out of the Nets this season.
James Harden, Houston Rockets. The Beard makes the list not just for the 38 points he dropped on the Lakers, and not just for his 17 points in the third quarter when the Rockets blew this game wide open. He’s also here because he’s the first Rocket player to score 37 or more points in three straight games since Hakeem Olajuwon back in 94-95 (one of the Rockets’ title seasons).
Indiana Pacers’ offense. They shot just 40 percent and put up 87 points against a fairly average Hawks defense, with an offensive rating of 89.7 points per 100 possessions. The problem is this hasn’t been a one-game thing — Indiana has an offensive rating of 92.7 points per 100 possessions in its last five games, which ranks 27th in the NBA in that span. As good as their defense is — and it’s very good — the offense needs to find a better groove in the second half of the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. In the first half (more than that, really) the Magic single-covered Aldridge to stay home on the Blazers’ shooters, and the result was a 14-point first quarter for Aldridge and 21 points by the break. Still, when Orlando switched strategies — double Aldridge, make outside shooters make their threes. That failed miserably. The Blazers took the lead and Aldridge came in late to seal it. He finished with 36 points.
Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.
Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied.
Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.
Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.
The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.
Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.
In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.
That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.
He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.
Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.
DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.
He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).
Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).
“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’
“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”
Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.
“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”
Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).
Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.
Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.
That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.
“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”
Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?
“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”
One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.
The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.
Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.