Five Takeaways from an NBA Tuesday: Pacers figuring out small ball

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Tuesday night in the NBA was not exactly loaded with marquee matchups (wait until Wednesday for that), but it did have a couple unexpected outcomes and some things worth noting. In case you were designing a hypersonic jet rather than flipping around League Pass, here are five things you should take away from Tuesday in the NBA:

1) The Indiana Pacers are learning the finer points of small ball. The Pacers used their speed to swarm the perimeter defensively, generating 15 steals — second-most by any team this season — in a 94-84 win over the previously unbeaten Pistons. George Hill (four steals), Monta Ellis (three), Paul George (two) and C.J. Miles (two) led the swiping. Indiana (1-3) scored 30 points off turnovers, bolstering an offense that remains up and down. At least Miles and George combined to make a few 3-pointers after gaining separation from Detroit power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was stuck covering one of the Pacers’ two quick starting forwards. —Dan Feldman

2) Andre Drummond is playing in beast mode. The Pacers will take the win, but the Pistons’ Andre Drummond was the single best player on the floor in this game — Drummond finished the night with 25 points and 29 rebounds. This isn’t some one-off, he’s played four games and had two 20/20 nights already — the last guy to have two 20/20s in the first four was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (according to ESPN’s stats). Drummond has scored 81 points and grabbed 78 rebounds in those four games – the last guy to have more than 70 and 70 after four games was Charles Barkley. He is playing like a max contract guy. —Kurt Helin

3) The Lakers’ sad defense isn’t getting better under Byron Scott. The Lakers surrendered 117 points to the Denver Nuggets in a loss Tuesday night at Staples Center, and that’s just continuing the trend that has the team 0-4. The Lakers are giving up an average of 113 points per 100 possessions this young season, ranking them dead last in the NBA. Teams are shooting 48.6 percent overall against them (second worst in the NBA) and the Lakers are last in the league at creating turnovers (11.6 percent of opponent possessions end in a turnover). Roy Hibbert isn’t a defensive savior, the Laker defense is only two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (and is still allowing 112 points per 100 with him on the court).

After Tuesday’s loss, coach Byron Scott was again bemoaning the Laker defense and saying that what the guys are learning and doing in practice is just not translating to regular games yet. Scott talks a good game about defense, he can’t stress it enough mentioning it to the team or the media.

But here’s the reality — this will be Scott’s fifth straight team to finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency (all his teams in Cleveland, plus his Los Angeles squads). That’s not just about the talent on the roster — last season’s Sixers were 13th in the league in defensive efficiency; this year’s Timberwolves, Celtics, and Magic are all in the top 10 so far. Yes, I get the small sample size caveat, but this much is true — if you have a good system and can get players to buy in, you can be a decent defensive team. Scott isn’t getting that and hasn’t for a while. It’s not suddenly going to change; the Laker defense will struggle all season. —KH

4) How good is the Bulls’ defense? Through their first three games, the Bulls were allowing opponents to shoot just 39.6 percent, and it looked like they hadn’t lost their good habits from the Tom Thibodeau era. But Jimmy Butler thinks it was more luck than skill and said so after the Hornets dropped 130 in beating Chicago Tuesday.

The Bulls defense is what has carried this team through its first four games, if that has been a mirage then there is reason for concern. That said I expect the defense isn’t as bad as it looked Tuesday, and the offense will pick up. Things such as playing Nikola Mirotic more, and splitting Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, are smart, it’s just going to take time for the players to find a groove and the team to reap the benefits. There needs to be patience, and enough defense to carry them through this part of the season. —KH

5) Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the Raptors’ first game, and they celebrated with a win. On Nov. 3, 1995, the Toronto Raptors beat the New Jersey Nets 94-75 at the Sky Dome, opening a new era of basketball in Toronto. A lot of people south of the border don’t realize how big the Raptors’ fan base is (they were fifth in the NBA in attendance last year) and rabid they can be. Basketball in Toronto is a thing.

All those Raptor fans should be happy, their team is 4-0 and atop the Eastern Conference early after a 102-91 win in Dallas. The Raptors are defending well under new addition DeMarre Carroll and have the league’s fifth-best defense (in points allowed per possession). Meanwhile, the offense is eighth in the league behind an impressive and thinner Kyle Lowry (who dropped 27 on the Mavericks).

It’s early, but on their 20th anniversary the Raptors may have the best team the franchise has ever seen. —KH

NBA world reacts to Anthony Davis’ game-winner for Lakers

NBA reacts anthony davis
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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It might go down as the shot of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had battled back from 16 points down to take the lead behind a brilliant performance from Nikola Jokic, who had the team’s final 11 points. Throw in a Jamal Murray block and the Nuggets were up one with 2.1 seconds left.

Then Anthony Davis happened.

The Lakers won the game (going up 2-0 in the series) and the NBA world took to Twitter to react — including a lot of NBA players.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106 (Miami leads series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103 (Lakers lead series 2-0)
Game 3: Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)*
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Anthony Davis drains game-winner at buzzer to put Lakers up 2-0

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It looked like Nikola Jokic, the All-NBA Second Team center, was going to be the star of the game — he scored Denver’s last 11 points and had them up with 2.7 seconds to go.

Then Anthony Davis — the All-NBA First Team center — drained this game-winner, a three over Jokic at the buzzer to win the game.

This is why the Lakers got Anthony Davis (and gave up a lot to get him).

That shot gave the Lakers the 105-103 win to put them up 2-0 in the series. Game 3 is Tuesday night.

Davis carried the Lakers at the end of the game, hitting a couple of clutch threes, and finished with 31 points and nine rebounds. He has been the best Laker in this series, with 68 points and 19 rebounds through two games.

For the Lakers, it was a dramatic win in a game where they were sloppy with 23 turnovers, and where their defense came apart for stretches of the game. Good teams win ugly games, that’s how the Lakers have to view it.

Denver supporters may want to spin this as “look how much better we played” — and they did, slowing the pace down (97 possessions, via NBA.com) and getting inside more, taking advantage of switches — but the reality is the Lakers are only going to have bad outings once or twice a series and the Nuggets needed to take advantage. They didn’t, and this loss stings.

“This is the Western Conference Finals. No moral victories, no silver linings,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame.

Davis’ good look to win the game came on the kind of defensive breakdown Denver has at times that other teams have not exploited these playoffs. Mason Plumlee was inserted for his size and defense, and he was on Davis, who simply runs across the top of the arc. Plumlee doesn’t stick with him, instead running over by LeBron James, who is just hanging out at the elbow (but Denver fears), and acts like there should be a switch. Torrey Craig can’t switch, if he does that LeBron has a free lane to the rim and an easy two. If it was an X-out style switch then Plumlee needed to trail Davis all the way to Jokic, he didn’t, leaving Jokic a ridiculously long closeout. Jokic read the play and got there to contest, but Davis had gotten a clean look.

Jokic had 30 points and nine rebounds for Denver, taking over the game when it mattered most and looking like an elite playoff performer. Jamal Murray had 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting and (as The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted on Twitter) was +16 in 44:14 minutes, meaning Denver was -18 in the 3:46 he was on the bench getting some rest. Denver got 15 points from Michael Porter Jr. and good minutes out of P.J. Dozier (although his five missed free throws in six attempts came back to bite the team).

Los Angeles got 26 points and 11 boards from LeBron and 11 points each from Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Lakers came out flat in this game except for LeBron, who had the team’s first 12 points. It looked like a close game until the Lakers went on an 18-3 run in the second quarter, with 8-0 of that coming with LeBron on the bench. The highlight of that was an Alex Caruso dunk that had the Lakers bench up and yelling.

Los Angeles stretched the lead out to as many as 16, but the Nuggets never quit.

Anthony Davis had to shut the door on them.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.