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) East shakeout: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston; Cavaliers remind 76ers who is the power right now. There are no statement games in November. Not really. We are four-and-a-half months away from the playoffs even starting, teams will evolve and grow between now and mid-April. Any “statements” made now are long forgotten by the time the second season starts.
What we did see Wednesday was some shakeout in the East: Detroit’s start is no fluke and they proved that in Boston behind a monster game from Andre Drummond; and Cleveland reminded upstart Philadelphia who is the team to beat in the East.
Drummond has saved some big games for the Celtics in the past, but Tuesday night he looked like the best traditional center in the game (which he might just be the way he’s played this season): 26 points on 83.3 percent shooting, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He was a beast, quieting the Boston faithful when he his 6-of-8 free throws, and the Celtics had no answers.
Drummond had a lot of help. Tobias Harris continued his impressive season with 31 points on 68.8 percent shooting (including 5-of-6 from three) and eight rebounds. Avery Bradley reminded the Celtics he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the game and pushed Kyrie Irving into a 6-of-16 shooting night. It was an all-around game from Detroit that said they belong in the top half of the East, and that this 13-6 start to the season is no fluke.
Down the Eastern seaboard a little in Philadelphia, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town as a measuring stick for the upstart 76ers… and the Sixers were reminded they are still a young and developing team.
Ben Simmons was assigned LeBron James to start the game, and LeBron put up 15 points in his first 10-minute run of the game as he attacked aggressively from the start. Simmons was overwhelmed, and so were the Sixers as a whole. LeBron finished the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and he got to rest the end of the fourth because the game was out of reach.
Cleveland has won eight in a row and that has been sparked by better defensive play, something Philly saw first hand. Of course, the Sixers helped out going 0-of-11 from three in the first half (that wasn’t all Cavs’ defense). Cleveland’s bench was dominant (Dwyane Wade had 15 points, Jeff Green 14), and the Sixers’ Simmons finished the night with 10 points on 11 shots. Joel Embiid was the lone bright spot, he had a monster third quarter on his way to 30 points and 11 boards on the night.
2) Grizzlies shock NBA world, fire coach David Fizdale. There had been long-simmering tensions between coach David Fizdale and his star center Marc Gasol in Memphis, and those bubbled to the surface Sunday when Fizdale benched Gasol during the fourth quarter of an ugly loss to a shorthanded Brooklyn team — Gasol made it clear he was not at all happy watching the end of the game.
Less than 24 hours later, Fizdale was fired.
Gasol isn’t the kind of player who goes to management and says “him or me,” but Grizzlies management took the opportunity to show who it backed. The Grizzlies have lost eight in a row and are fading from the playoff picture, even in a West where a lot of teams are stumbling, and management was sending a message that they still want to win. Memphis management thinks this thing can be turned around, that they put together a playoff team (one that has been beset by injuries). From the outside, there are a lot of “do the Grizzlies trade Gasol and/or Mike Conley?” questions, looking ahead to a rebuild. Internally, this move says Memphis isn’t there yet.
Around the league there was a lot of support for Fizdale, who is well-respected by players and coaches. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Damian Lillard and others expressed surprise at the firing. Gregg Popovich said Fizdale “did a helluva job, and I don’t think he’s going to have any problem landing someplace.” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said “It’s not right. He’s done a great job, take that team to the playoffs last year and was in a dogfight with San Antonio. Did an unbelievable job, especially when no one expected them to even make the playoffs.”
Apparently, Memphis management did — and they expect to make the playoffs again. Realistic or not. Fizdale is out because the Grizzlies were losing — even though that falls more on management and the roster he was given, which was thin and can’t handle being without the injured Conley — and combine that with he didn’t have a great relationship with the team’s best player and you have a recipe for a firing. That’s happened to a lot of coaches in the NBA.
The questions about the future and what kind of team Grizzlies management is trying to build remain. Their rebuild-on-the-fly thing hasn’t impressed so far, and that wasn’t about the coach. But management has sent its statement.
3) Warriors without Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, Kings have Bogdan Bogdanovic so they get win. Sacramento isn’t a better team than Golden State (not by a long shot), but they took Monday night’s meeting more seriously. Golden State was short handed without its two former MVPs due to injury — Curry and Durant — and that opened the door.
Bogdan Bogdanovic walked through it when, with the game on the line, he isolated against Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and got the bucket.
There’s no big-picture takeaway from this game, but the Kings are a feisty team and the Warriors are not invincible. At least when not at full strength.