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’ Kawhi recruiting pitch unimpressive as Raptors rout Lakers without him. Whatever Kawhi Leonard decides to do next summer, it will not be based on the outcome of one game in November.
However, this one game in November was a microcosm of why sources around league front offices believe the Lakers are an increasingly longer shot to land Leonard — way more think the Clippers are a likely destination — and the Raptors have a chance to keep him. One of the teams playing in Staples Center Sunday night was complete and ready to compete for a ring now. And it’s not the one from the land of palm trees.
Leonard sat out Sunday night in Los Angeles after jamming his toe at the end of Friday night’s win in Phoenix — Laker fans did not get to make their “we love you, come here” pitch during the game. Even without him, Toronto raced out to a 41-10 lead in the first quarter, Serge Ibaka made his first 14 shots scoring 20 in the opening frame (and a career-high 34 points for the game), and the Raptors routed the Lakers 121-107 (and it wasn’t that close).
There were two keys to this blowout. One, the 9-1 Raptors are very good. Ibaka couldn’t miss, but Kyle Lowry is what makes the Raptors’ offense work — he had 21 points and 15 assists, continuing his red-hot start to the season. Lowry is averaging a league-best 11.6 assists per game, which is way up from his previous career high of 7.4. With the shift in the Raptors offense — new coach in Nick Nurse, no DeMar DeRozan — Lowry has thrived as a playmaker, one who had nine assists in the first quarter Sunday.
The Raptors raced out to that big first quarter exploiting two things: Brandon Ingram could not keep up with Danny Green as he came off multiple picks, and the Raptors would run a pick-and-pop with JaVale McGee’s man setting the pick because he could/would not come out and contest.
Which brings us to the second part of this blowout: The Lakers’ defense is terrible.
The Lakers have the 23rd ranked defense in the league, allowing 111.6 points per 100 possessions, but when you combine that with their fast pace (106.2 possessions per game, third in the league, via NBA.com) you end up in a situation where the Lakers have given up at least 110 points in every game. (Jack in the Box is safe — they give out two free tacos to Lakers fans if L.A. wins and holds the other team under 100 points, that’s not happening this season.) The Lakers were going to be a work in progress this season, a team that would have to learn to win, but the defense has been the slow part of that process.
Los Angeles’ wins this season have come in shootouts, and while their point differential is better than their record early (the Lakers should be a .500 team by that metric), Los Angeles has a long way to go to reach the NBA’s elite. Luke Walton had a young, scrappy Lakers team playing solid defense last season (12th in the league) but right now, despite athleticism and some length on the roster, the communication, recognition, and flat-out effort are not there.
Unless those things start to show up, the playoffs will not be there for the Lakers, either.
2) Greek on Greek crime: Giannis Antetokounmpo with a dunk of the year candidate. This is just filthy, the Greek Freak dunking on countryman Kosta Kufos.
Antetokounmpo was almost apologetic afterward. Almost.
3) Suns Devin Booker owns the fourth quarter, drains game-winner against Grizzlies. Devin Booker played the entire fourth quarter Sunday with five fouls, but they needed him on the court to spark a 21-7 fourth-quarter run to make it a game again. Booker had 14 points in the final frame.
And they needed him to hit clutch jumpers down the stretch, including a 17 footer with 1.7 seconds left to secure the 102-100 Phoenix win against Memphis.
Booker has bounced back this season. He missed all of the preseason due to a broken hand, then missed the start of the season with a left hamstring injury. Still, he has found his form averaging 25.7 points per game with an impressive True Shooting Percentage of 60.5. It’s impressive. The Suns and Booker really want him to be an All-Star guard this season, and if he were in the East I’d say “done deal,” but in the West — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell — it’s tough to crack the club.