Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while trying to explain how Tinder is not just for hooking up…
James Harden and the undefeated Houston Rockets. The Beard is putting up numbers — 35 on Monday night against the Sixers brings him to 27.8 per game, and with that the Houston Rockets are undefeated at 4-0. Look under the hood a little and none of it is that impressive. In Harden’s case he is shooting just 37.3 percent overall. In the case of the Rockets, their four wins are against the Lakers, Jazz, Celtics and Sixers. Still, they are undefeated beating the teams in front of them and Harden is putting up numbers. So far so good.
Jeff Green and the Boston Celtics. Sure, they lost to Dallas (118-113), but you had to love the fight out of this team. The Celtics were down 31 in the second quarter and 26 at the half, Chandler Parsons had poured in 16, Dirk Nowitzki had 16. A lot of young teams would have rolled over and accepted the loss. But the Celtics started the third quarter on a 23-8 run 8 points from Green — he had 35 on the night, Avery Bradley had 14 in the fourth quarter to get to 32 — and the Celtics made the Mavs work for it. Dallas would make a push, the Celtics would make a run. That included a late 9-0 run that almost tied the game late, until a Parsons three did Boston in. Nobody likes moral victories, but this was one.
Oklahoma City Thunder. They got Reggie Jackson back, it didn’t help — they scored 90.2 points per 100 points per possession pace, they let the Nets score at a 127 per 100 pace. All of that is worse than their season averages, and their season averages are 25th in defense and 25th on offense. They are getting outscored by 13.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s going to be a rough first month.
Sacramento Kings. The toughest back-to-back in the league is playing the second night in Denver, at altitude. The Kings beat the Clippers Sunday night, then went into Denver and beat the Nuggets. Throw in a quality win over the Trail Blazers and the Kings are off to a 3-1 start with three quality wins. Darren Collison had 21 points on 9 shots. Small sample size alert, but the Kings look good and have gotten our attention.
Fabulous. Brooklyn’s own hip hop star came out to introduce the Nets players at the home opener… and wore sunglasses and used cue cards. He was not impressive.
Raptors rookie Terence Davis arrives to game with hole in mask
Undrafted, Davis has a lot of confidence in himself. He earned that in basketball. If the cut were deliberate, he ought to give more credence to actual coronavirus experts.
Masks are highly important for the general population. We often don’t know whether we have coronavirus. Testing is insufficient, especially of asymptomatic cases. So, everyone in the outside world should wear a mask to reduce the spread.
On the other hand, NBA players – like Davis – can reasonably know they don’t have coronavirus. The NBA’s program of daily testing and no close contact with anyone outside the bubble is designed to ensure a coronavirus-free bubble. That’s why five-on-five basketball games – an otherwise dangerous activity – can be played safely.
However, masks between games are an extra layer of protection. What if a player – intentionally or not – comes into too close of contact with someone outside the bubble who has coronavirus? Masks would limit the spread of coronavirus within the bubble.
All coronavirus precautions should be measured through a cost-benefit lens. Wearing an intact mask can be unpleasant, and it’s somewhat superfluous for NBA players inside the bubble. But the health of everyone inside the bubble plus all the money at stake makes it an easy call.
Wear the mask, and wear it correctly.
NBA’s bubble works so far, allows “great stage” for dramatic games
The NBA’s bubble remains intact. The extraordinary health protocols put into place to try and save this season seem to be working. The mission shared by coaches and players to use their platform and continue the conversation about racial injustice is off to a strong start.
And don’t forget the symmetry: Rudy Gobert was the first player to test positive for coronavirus, so naturally, it made sense that the Utah center was the first player to score when the pandemic shutdown was officially over.
If that wasn’t enough, the quality of play is so good that it’s almost like the NBA hadn’t stopped playing for 4-1/2 months. Shooting percentages and scoring averages, through the first four days anyway, are basically right where they were when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. And there has been a ton of down-to-the-wire drama, with eight of the 19 games played through Sunday decided by five points or less.
“In all honestly, it’s better than I was expecting … talking about all the teams in general,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Everybody is much crisper. They look more in rhythm than I ever expected teams would be. Whether it’s the best team with the highest seed or other people like us who are just trying to get into the playoffs, everybody’s a lot sharper than I would have expected.”
If the season ended Sunday night, Popovich and the Spurs — whose playoff chances were in serious trouble when the season was stopped — would be in a play-in series for a chance at the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. And in the Eastern Conference, there would be a first-round rematch from a year ago with the Raptors taking on the Orlando Magic; they’re both on five-game winning streaks, and the Magic are on the best scoring roll in the history of their franchise.
For as much as has been made about the difficulties of being in a bubble and away from families, friends and freedom of movement, turns out, there might be some advantages to this thing.
“Seriously, it’s a great stage to play,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s the same court every night, so you get your shooting depth perception and all of that. It’s pure basketball. So, you see some of the talents these guys have are coming out.”
Portland’s Damian Lillard had 30 points and 16 assists in a loss to Boston on Sunday. Kyle Lowry had 33 points and 14 rebounds in Toronto’s win over the Lakers. Dallas’ Luka Doncic is averaging a triple-double in his two bubble games. The Rockets beat the Mavs 153-149 in overtime Friday and then tried 61 3-pointers to tie an NBA regulation-game record Sunday.
On top of all that, there’s the messaging — “Black Lives Matter” on the court, “Black Lives Matter” on the shirts that most players and coaches have worn as teams kneel together for the national anthems pregame, the way coaches like Popovich turn ordinary pregame questions into opportunities to educate about racism. He was asked Sunday if Marco Belinelli was playing; Popovich spent the next 3 minutes and 21 seconds to speak about how Black people in North Carolina were required to pass a literacy test to vote but white people were not.
And then he answered the question: “Marco Belinelli is out tonight,” Popovich said.
So far, so good.
On every level, pretty much, other than the news that arrived early Monday about Jonathan Isaac and how the Orlando forward tore the ACL in his left knee — an injury that would likely put all of next season, if it happens, into question for a big part of the Magic future.
The rust, whatever there was for most players, seems gone. Playoffs are just two weeks away, and momentum already seems to be building.
“I think it’s only going to get better,” D’Antoni said. “I think the playoffs are going to be terrific. And it’s a great setting.”
Three Things to Know: Haven’t we learned by now not to bet against the Spurs?
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.
1) As Pelicans and Trail Blazers stumble, shorthanded Spurs win again to become nine seed in West.
You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the San Antonio Spurs?
The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, a legendary run that was coming to an end this year (with Tim Duncan coaching from the bench rather than draining wing bank shots). The Spurs entered the bubble shorthanded and undersized. San Antonio was four games back of eighth-seed Memphis and having to leap both New Orleans and Portland, plus the Spurs were without LaMarcus Aldridge, their best big man.
Count them out at your own risk.
After beating Memphis Sunday behind 21 and 10 from Dejounte Murray, the Spurs are currently the ninth seed in the West — if the season ended today, San Antonio is in the playoffs and would face Memphis in a play-in series.
The Spurs have gone to a four-guard starting lineup — Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, with Jakob Poeltl as the big — and that lineup is messing with teams. On defense, they switch everything 1-4 and bank on Poeltl to protect the rim. On offense they run and play at pace — they have moved away from leading scorer DeRozan for a more balanced, egalitarian offense.
“We need to play with pace. We don’t have one-on-one players,” coach Gregg Popovich said after a recent win. “We don’t give the ball to a player and say, ‘beat your guy and go score.’ That’s not the kind of players we have on the team. We’ve got to do it as a group. We’ve got to have movement and pace goes along with that.”
The teams that were the favorites to earn the ninth seed are stumbling. New Orleans is 0-2 and has been a mess — Zion Williamson is playing 15 minutes a night, they struggle to defend the paint, and in the bubble their offense has been atrocious. Portland’s offense has been impressive with Jusuf Nurkic — even if Damian Lillard is passing up game-tying threes — but their defense has been as bad as the offense is good, and the result is a 1-1 record with a tough schedule ahead. (The Kings are 0-2 and shorthanded, and while the Suns are 2-0 they were so far back to start they were never in this race.)
Like every year, here come the Spurs, putting a makeshift lineup out there and looking like a team that has a shot at making the postseason. Again.
You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the Spurs…
Jonathan Isaac had been having a breakout season — and looking like an All-Defensive Team player — until a left knee bone bruise sidelined him in January. The break in play caused by the coronavirus let him return for the restart, and now this?
Driving to the basket Sunday — late in a blowout game where he was still in to help build up his conditioning — Isaac tried to plant on that left knee and it buckled under him. It was a non-contact injury that looked bad when it happened. He was taken off the court in a wheelchair.
Later the word came from the Magic, Isaac had a torn left ACL. He’s obviously done for this restart and likely will miss all of next season as well.
This game was the ultimate clash of styles: The big and long Milwaukee Bucks who dare teams to take above-the-break threes, against the small-ball Houston Rockets.
This game was a reminder why Houston is going to be so much trouble in a playoff series — teams have yet figured out how to play against them. For the first couple of games of a playoff series the Rockets could surprise teams, and that may be enough.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points, had 18 rebounds and eight assists on the night, but it wasn’t enough. The Rockets took 61 threes (hitting 21, 34.4%), Russell Westbrook scored 31, and Houston got the win 120-116.
Milwaukee led by six in the final minutes and by one with 16.5 seconds left, but in the clutch all night Westbrook was able to drive and draw fouls. James Harden had 24 points, but it was Westbrook’s play at the end that was the difference. Well, that and some defense by Harden and P.J. Tucker that led to Danuel House stealing an Antetokounmpo and sealing the win with free throws.
The broadcast highlighted Harden's defense but it was really PJ Tucker walling up in transition. Normally Giannis is able to skate by the first defender and when he tried here he saw Tucker there and was caught with no where to go. pic.twitter.com/lXr46qxJq2
The Rockets are rested and fresh, and the small-ball game is still finding teams not exactly sure how to deal with them. Will that work in a seven-game series remains to be seen, but this is such a fun experiment to watch.
It’s a blow to the Magic, who believe Isaac is one of the cornerstones of their future. He was having a breakout season until he suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a bone bruise back in January. Now comes this. Teammate Aaron Gordonsaid he was in tears when the injury happened.
All those injuries came in a season Isaac was making a leap on the court. On offense, he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests. However, his bigger impact is on the defensive end, where he is a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He might have made the All-Defensive team if healthy.
Now, it will be a couple of years before we get to see Isaac on the court again.