Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Cavaliers, Thunder continue to stumble the out of the gate, both face deadlines to get it right. The only reason we are not talking more about how the Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling early and look like LeBron James’ 2010-11 Miami Heat — “you take a turn on offense, then I’ll take a turn,” guys playing next to each other but not with each other — is the Cleveland Cavaliers have stolen the spotlight with their terrible defense and ugly start.
It happened again Thursday night, but this time on the big TNT national games. The Thunder struggled late and lost to the Nuggets, but it was overshadowed by another Cavaliers loss.
Cleveland’s trend this year has been to show up and play much better against any team they perceive as a threat — notice they have wins against Boston, Washington, and twice against Milwaukee — but not against lesser squads. Houston is the kind of game the Cavaliers show up for, and they did, battling back from 18 down in the first half to make it a game late. But three things led the Rockets to a win. First was James Harden dropping a triple-double of 35 points (on 21 shots), 13 assists, and 11 rebounds.
The other two keys were free throws and offensive rebounds. The Rockets attacked the Cavaliers defense all night and got to the line 36 times (led by Harden’s 14), and that was 22 times more than the jump-shooting Cavs. The other key was offensive rebounds, the Rockets got the ball and a second chance or putback on 41.5 percent of their missed shots, and that’s too many opportunities for a good offense. Clint Capela had 6 offensive boards on the night, plus 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Even when they care right now, it’s a matter of Cleveland’s offense trying to cover up for a bad defense — the Rockets jacked up 46 threes and had an offensive rating of 119.6 (points per 100 possessions) in this game, which raised Cleveland’s league-worst defensive rating to 113 for the season. LeBron is right, the Cavs need Isaiah Thomas back, but he’s not getting them stops. The Cavs have to figure the defensive end out, because right now they look very vulnerable.
Oklahoma City built a quick 11-point lead in Denver on the back of Carmelo Anthony’s 10 first-quarter points, but the Nuggets took control of the game with a 12-1 run in the fourth quarter against the Thunder bench and held on for the win. When the pressure was on in the fourth, the Thunder shot 38 percent as a team to Denver’s 53 percent. Russell Westbrook was 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter, while Paul George got just one shot in the frame. Westbrook was 6-of-22 on the night, he struggled, but when it mattered he was taking difficult shots like it was last season, and George was nonexistent in the offense.
The Thunder make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league and run the most isolation. At the end of games, that makes them predictable. As noted by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, OKC now has just three assisted field goals in the final five minutes of a game within five points all season. Meanwhile their defense struggles in the clutch as well.
OKC’s challenge is this is a one-year shot with this roster. Paul George could leave as a free agent next summer, but even if he stays and Anthony opts in (as expected) it would leave the small-market Thunder with a massive tax bill (they are already paying more than $25 million this season, next season they would be a repeater). We’re talking a tax bill that would make the Knicks or Lakers freak out. OKC owner Clay Bennett says they will pay it and is all in, but nobody around the league believes he will pay the ridiculous amount that woudl be due. This is a one-year shot in OKC, and they have to figure things out sooner rather than later.
2) Rookie De'Aaron Fox drains game-winner, lifts Kings past Sixers. The Kings are not good, but go into their arena and not take them seriously and teams will pay the price. Sacramento’s young core plays hard. Philadelphia should have learned that lesson having watched Oklahoma City earlier in the week, but they did not and history repeated itself.
Philly had the lead in the fourth, but the Kings kept it close thanks to 11 fourth-quarter points from rookie forward Justin Jackson. Then Sacramento closed the game on a 7-0 run, capped off by this pull-up jumper by Fox.
One other note, the Kings defended the final shot by the Sixers well, Ben Simmons may need to take that one on the drive in the future, but his kick-out would normally get a bucket.
3) The NBA’s kind of town, Chicago is — for the 2020 All-Star Game. On Friday it will become official when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce it, but we already know it’s happening:
The 2020 NBA All-Star Game is coming to Chicago.
It was nearly 30 years ago in 1988 when the All-Star Game last came to Chicago — that was the year Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins had one of the (if not THE) greatest All-Star Dunk contest ever. Then in Sunday’s showcase game, Jordan dropped 40 points, led the East to the win, and was named MVP.
The NBA took in a lot of applications for the 2020 and 2021 All-Star Games, from Indiana through the Golden State (who will be in a new building by then). The 2021 location has yet to be decided. By the way, the 2018 All-Star Game will be in Los Angeles, then in 2019 the game heads to Charlotte.