While Americans focused on what Iowans thought about Donald Trump (this is where we are as a nation?), the NBA season kept on rolling along with some impressive breakout performances. Here is what you need to know from a Monday night around the Association:
1) Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic puts up 27, Raptors’ 11 game win streak ends in Denver. Toronto’s franchise record 11-game win streak was expected to end somewhere during their six-game road trip this week and next (making way for setting up the All-Star Game in Toronto on Valentine’s Day). Not sure we expected the Rocky Mountains to be where it ended, but Denver has been quietly playing better of late, and the Raptors learned that the hard way.
They also learned that Nikola Jokic is a beast — hulking, active, can score inside or knock down the three, and he can pass. The rookie out of Serbia (second round pick in 2014) scored Denver’s first 11 points on his way to a career-high 27 points and 14 boards, plus he dished out four assists. Jonas Valanciunas couldn’t handle his activity. Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay are starting to develop chemistry — brought along beautifully by coach Mike Malone (that is how you develop players Byron Scott) — that could be a foundation for the team for years. Toronto had a bit of an off night (Kyle Lowry‘s wrist, is it bothering him more than is being let on?), that happens. They are the better team. But for a night we got to see what Jokic and the Nuggets can do.
2) Myles Turner is turning heads in Indiana. Myles Turner was starting his third game for Indiana and had looked good in the first two (28 points, 15 boards, +8), but going against the Cavaliers puts everything on a bigger stage — and Turner was up to the task. He had his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, plus he did this to LeBron James:
Turner is still a rookie doing rookie things — with a tie game and less than 10 seconds to go, Turner was supposed to come across and set a screen for Paul George so Monta Ellis could pass to George for a last-second shot to win it. Instead, Turner stood wide-eyed on his side of the court and watched Ellis wave at him, so Ellis was forced to try to take his man one-on-one and got off a tough two that missed. The Pacers went on to lose in OT. It happens with rookies, and there are downs with the ups, but Turner is developing.
For Cleveland, it’s the kind of win good teams get — you need to grind out tough wins on the road sometimes. The Cavaliers are 5-1 under Tyronn Lue and continue to take steps in the right direction, toward more cohesive team play. It’s a process, but the Cavs are going a better direction now.
3) Earl Watson gets the interim job in Phoenix. After firing Jeff Hornacek as coach, the Suns first call was to much-beloved former point guard Steve Nash to come back and coach. That’s not what Nash wants — he’s got too many off-the-court interests, wants to spend too much time with his family, and has too bad a back to be an NBA coach. (Front office person, from consultant to person with actual power, that may be a better role for him.)
When Nash said no, Earl Watson got the interim job. He will make his debut Tuesday at home against the Raptors. Watson may be a good coach, but he’s not going to have much more success than Hornacek because of the roster — Eric Bledsoe is gone for the rest of the season, Brandon Knight has been banged up and may not be able to go (same with Ronnie Price and T.J. Warren), and the front court is leaning heavily on Jon Leuer. The Suns front office has the real work to do in this franchise. The coaching could have been better, and the coach is always the scapegoat because GMs won’t fire themselves, so Watson gets his chance.
5) Russell Westbrook had a triple-double against the Wizards as Thunder pick up an easy win. The Thunder are playing very well; the Washington Wizards are not. That’s a bit simplistic, but it sums up this game fairly well. The Wizards have fallen from a top-five defense last season to 20th this season, and that is the reason they can’t pick up wins. Although, they are far from the first team to struggle stopping Westbrook, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists on the night. This makes seven triple-doubles for Westbrook on the season — I think the triple-double stat can be vastly overrated, but if you’re racking up seven in a season you’re doing something right.