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) Serge Ibaka, James Johnson exchange blows and are ejected, later Wayne Ellington hits game-winner for Heat. Most NBA “fights” are an exchange of shoves, a lot of posturing, and the combatants pausing for teammates to jump in and “hold them back” so everybody looks tough without actual punches being thrown.
Serge Ibaka and James Johnson actually threw punches in the Heat/Raptors game Tuesday night.
Hey, Serge, pick your battles — Johnson is a second-degree black belt who had his first MMA fight at age 18. Not the guy to mess with. Also, you can bet suspensions, not just fines, are coming down for this one.
Toronto has leaned heavily on a resurgent Ibaka this season and they could have used him in the final seconds, when a blown defensive assignment opened the door and let Wayne Ellington push his way to the rim for the game-winner. First, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby miscommunicated on a switch leaving Ellington open in the corner, then on the closeout Siakam was supposed to foul (Toronto had one to give) but was late and missed. Ellington drove all the way to the rim, finished and the Heat got the win, 90-89.
2) This Lonzo Ball to Julius Randle off-the-backboard alley-oop wasn’t how they drew it up. Lonzo Ball made the steal against the Kings, got out in transition and decided to go a little playground with his pass to Julius Randle Tuesday night and… well it went in. But that’s not pretty.
The Lakers got the win over the Kings, giving them a couple in a row over the bottom feeders of the NBA (they beat the Hawks the game before). Now the Spurs come to town Thursday.
3) About that turned corner… Trail Blazers beat Thunder in OKC. Oklahoma City has finally found it’s offense — over the last 10 games the Thunder have the best offense in the NBA, scoring 116.8 points per 100 possessions. Russell Westbrook is back to being the alpha, Paul George has found his spot as the two-way player in the No. 2 slot, and Carmelo Anthony has accepted his role.
But the defense that was so impressive early this season has gone away — 15th in the league over those 10 games. The Thunder miss Andre Roberson — in the five games Roberson has been out with a sore knee the OKC defense has been 24th in the league allowing 111.5 points per 100.
All that was evident Tuesday night as the Trail Blazers — without Damian Lillard — beat the Thunder 117-106. C.J. McCollum went off for 27 points, and the Blazers had 46 points in the paint total for the night.
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook grew frustrated with teammates not being in the right spots, and not moving the ball — Westbrook had four more assists than the rest of the Thunder team combined. It was a low energy night from OKC.
Oklahoma City continues to look like a team that has turned the corner on offense, a team that has figured it out (most nights). Roberson will come back mid-January and the team will find a groove. The problem is the slow starts and nights like Tuesday have dug the Thunder a hole — they likely start the playoffs in a tough 4/5 matchup with the Timberwolves, and the reward for winning that series is the Warriors. That’s one tough road through the West.