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) Tyson Chandler was exactly what Lakers needed. At least for a night. Magic Johnson’s hypocritical wake-up call meeting with Luke Walton came the day after a loss last week in Minnesota. It was a game where the Lakers defense was a mess that let the Timberwolves have clean looks from three, nor did they have an answer for Jimmy Butler (32 points) or Karl-Anthony Towns (25).
Wednesday night in Los Angeles the Timberwolves set a franchise record for threes (20-of-40) led by Derrick Rose (31 points, 7-of-9 from three) and Jimmy Butler (5-of-8 on his way to 24 points). This time, however, the Lakers were the team that made the plays down the stretch and came out on top, 114-110.
The difference? Tyson Chandler.
Karl-Anthony Towns had a rough night (5-of-16 shooting) and while there are multiple big-picture reasons for that — Tom Thibodeau does not draw up plays that highlight Towns’ immense gifts, nor does Towns just demand the ball and take over games — part of it was Chandler. Towns was 1-of-7 when Chandler was the primary defender, according to the NBA’s Second Spectrum tracking stats.
Chandler was playing so well Walton went to the veteran — in his first game as a Laker, having just driven six-hours from Phoenix to Los Angeles — to close the game. After a couple of Rose threes made it a one-point game in the final minute, Chandler got two of his five offensive rebounds in the next sequence for the Lakers, extending the play until Kyle Kuzma could draw a foul and pad the lead. That proved to be enough (although Rose got a clean look at a game-winning three and just could not knock it down).
For Minnesota, this loss continued to expose the team’s identity crisis — a year ago this team knew who it was, and while it was a bit old-school to pound teams inside and with two-pointers (a system exposed in the playoffs) it worked to give them an efficient offense. This season the Timberwolves have no idea who they are or what they want to do on that end, they try to run and shoot threes, they still don’t get Towns enough touches in places he can do damage, at least Rose has (capably) filled in the gaps. But it’s not enough. Jimmy Butler has thrived in the chaos created by his trade demand, but the team as a whole seems off-balance, especially when he asserts himself. It’s a hot mess.
Meanwhile, Lakers have won 3-of-4 since Magic’s sit down with Walton. Part of what came of that meeting was the crystallization that this flawed roster needed another defensive big man. The Lakers got one in Tyson Chandler — thanks to LeBron James‘ friend and former teammate James Jones, now the Suns’ GM, who bought out Chandler far earlier than he had to. We’ll see if the 36-year-old Chandler can sustain this, but for a night he was exactly what the Lakers needed. And unlike the Timberwolves, the Lakers seem to be settling into their identity.
2) Dunks. Dunks. And more Dunks. Wednesday night was the night of the huge dunk around the league.
The dunk of the night, and maybe the new early leader for Dunk of the Year, is Domantis Sabonis skying up and throwing it down all over Joel Enbiid.
Sixers fans will tell you that was an offensive foul because Sabonis uses his off-arm to clear Embiid out. Yes. So what? Doesn’t change the fact it was an amazing dunk (and Sixers fans really don’t want the refs calling every offensive foul on Embiid when he goes to the rim).
Sabonis was not alone with the massive throwdowns Wednesday, however. Donovan Mitchell was reminding us why he won the Slam Dunk Contest last year.
And again for Mitchell.
Then Orlando’s Aaron Gordon went Karl Malone with his big dunk.
3) Hassan Whiteside was just one block short of a triple-double. The San Antonio Spurs are the perfect matchup for Hassan Whiteside: They don’t play at a fast pace, they would rather grind it out; and they don’t space the floor with their bigs like some teams, preferring instead to go inside or shoot from the midrange.
Whiteside took advantage: 29 points, 20 rebounds (the Spurs were a shocking 6-of-30 from the midrange, creating plenty of rebound opportunities) and nine blocks.
Whiteside and his backers will use this to say “this is why Whiteside needs more minutes, Eric Spoelstra just doesn’t use him right.” However, until Whiteside can perform like he did Wednesday against a team that always pushes the pace and has bigs who launch threes (which is a growing number of teams) Spoelstra will continue to lean on Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. As he should.