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) Lakers’ star rookie — Kyle Kuzma, who did you think we were talking about? — drops 38, Lakers end Rockets win streak at 14. Houston had won 14 games in a row due to the lethal combination of James Harden, Chris Paul, and a surprisingly good defense. Those three things have Houston on top of the Western Conference.
Only one of those three was there at the end against the Lakers. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate, dropping 51 points on just 27 shots, plus dishing out nine assists. The Beard was brilliant.
However, Chris Paul left the game early in the fourth with what was later called a strained left adductor, which is part of the groin muscle family (this is not related to his former knee injury and he is day-to-day now, but expect him to miss at least a game or two, those can be easy to re-injure if not fully healed). The Rockets’ defense missed Clint Capela inside (he has a bruised calf, according to the team, or a sore heel, according to beat writers). Houston came into the game with the seventh-best defense in the league, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions this season, but the “D” took the night off, allowing Los Angeles to score 117.4 per 100.
A lot of that was Kyle Kuzma. The rookie dropped a career-high 38 on Houston, leading the Lakers to the 122-116 win.
Kuzma was 7-of-10 from three, leading a Lakers team that shot 32.8 percent from three before Wednesday (dead last in NBA) to hit 42.9 percent on the night. The Lakers also got a big game from Corey Brewer, as the veteran had 21 points off the bench and made big plays in the fourth.
The Lakers are playing hard — they took the Warriors to OT the other night, they were feisty against the Cavaliers the game before that, they took the Knicks to overtime the game before that. This time they held on to the lead. Lonzo Ball‘s decision making is improving, the game is clearly slowing down for him, and his shot is improving (slowly, but improving). Brandon Ingram is becoming a more aggressive scorer. The Lakers are defending better than expected (tied with the Rockets at 103 per 100 for the season). This team is showing improvement, which is what Lakers fans should have hoped to see this season.
For the Rockets, losses happen, they just need to get CP3 back soon.
2) The Kelly Olynyk revenge game — he drops career-high 32 on Celtics, leads Heat to win. Don’t make Kelly Olynyk angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
The usually reserved big man was chirping at the Boston bench on his way to dropping 32 on the best defense in the land, hitting 6-of-8 from three, and in a close game he scored the Heat’s final eight points, holding off a late charge from the Celtics (who were down 11 with 2:40 left) to get the 90-89 win.
Marcus Smart was blunt after the game, “Kelly kicked our ass.” Still, Boston fought back and almost pulled it off, Kyrie Irving got a clean look at a leaning game-winner near the elbow and just missed it. The Celtics are now 3-3 in their last six. Jayson Taytum dislocated his pinky in this game but said he expects to play Thursday.
Miami is in a fight for one of the final playoff slots in the East (they are currently the nine seed, half a game back of New York), and this is a quality win in that chase.
3) Thunder win handily, are over .500 for the first time since Halloween. The Utah Jazz, without Rudy Gobert (again) and on Thursday without standout rookie Donovan Mitchell, look like a demoralized team. They have lost three in a row (and 7-of-8 overall) as they go through the toughest stretch of their schedule this season shorthanded.
For a Thunder team trying to find an offensive groove, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Oklahoma City cruised to a 107-79 win over the Jazz behind 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists from Russell Westbrook. OKC was sharing the ball, making the extra pass to the open man, and basically playing like Billy Donovan has wanted the team to all season. We’ll see if it lasts as the schedule gets tougher (Houston on Christmas Day, for example), but this is what the Thunder needed.
Oklahoma City is 16-15, over .500 for the first time since Halloween, and if the playoffs started today they would be the six seed, 2.5 games clear of the nine-seed Jazz. The Thunder are on pace for a 49-win season (according to Ben Falk’s stat site Cleaning The Glass), which may have been a little short of lofty preseason expectations but likely would be the four seed in the West and having home court for the first round, and that’s better than the start of the season had this team looking.