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) Carmelo Anthony is not the root of Rockets’ issues… and not worth the disruption anymore. There’s an easy narrative out of Sunday: Carmelo Anthony was out and the Houston Rockets looked better, picking up a 115-103 win against a quality Pacers team.
That narrative also would be wrong.
The reality is that the Rockets won because, for at least a night, they corrected one of the issues that has plagued them — they shot well, including 20 threes (on 47 attempts). Also, James Harden dropped 40 and looked like an MVP.
The Rockets’ problems this season start with a defense that was sixth in the NBA last season and has “improved” in recent games to get to 19th in the league this season — Anthony certainly doesn’t solve that problem, but he’s not the sole cause of it, either. The next issue has been the Rockets’ shooting: Houston was taking a league-leading 41.8 threes per game heading into Sunday, but were hitting just 31.7 percent of them (28th in the league). Chris Paul came into Sunday shooting 38.5 percent overall and 29.4 percent from three, well off his career numbers. Again, Anthony is not the cause of the Rockets’ shooting woes, but he doesn’t help them solve it either.
That’s the theme with ‘Melo, he isn’t the root problem of the Rockets 5-7 start to the season, but he’s not solving any of their problems, either. And he’s not happy at all.
Which brings us to the recent issue of Anthony and the Rockets “negotiating” his role with the team. With everything going on around the Rockets, ‘Melo is a distraction the team doesn’t need from it’s sixth or seventh best player.
To be honest, I’m not comfortable writing about the fall of Anthony because too often lost in that is the simple fact he is a future Hall of Famer, for many years as good a pure scorer as there was in the league, a scoring champ, a six-time All-NBA selection, and a 10-time All-Star.
But right now he is, at best, the fifth best player on the Rockets. I would argue it’s more like sixth or seventh best. Maybe eighth. When a team’s elite players are a disruption it’s tolerated around the NBA because talent like that is in short supply. Anthony used to be that guy. He still expects that level of deference, but that’s not his place, his role anymore.
Would any team want to be in negotiations about the role of the sixth best player on the roster?
It looks like both sides are ready to move on.
Whatever happens, the Rockets need the ‘Melo distraction to go away so they can focus on solving their other, bigger problems.
2) Sure it was a one-point win over the struggling Hawks, the Lakers are over .500 and will take it thank you very much. In contrast to the ‘Melodrama above, Vince Carter and Tyson Chandler showed how veterans can adapt, accept playing a role, and thrive in the NBA longer than anyone expected.
Vince Carter is a legend, a high-flying dunker who was an eight-time All-Star and former All-NBA player. He’s playing in Atlanta now, where he is providing a veteran presence for a young team — oh, and he’s still making plays, too. He was guarding LeBron James at points down the stretch, and throwing down dunks in the final 1:30 of a close game.
“Vince is very bit of half-man, half amazing…” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Who knew he’d be playing at 41 years old? Who knew he’d still be dunking? Who knew he’d be able to impact games at 41 years old?”
But it was another veteran and the newest Laker, Tyson Chandler, who saved the day for Los Angeles. On the final play of the game, Trae Young made a nice move, threatening to pull up from three and drawing Brandon Ingram out enough that Young could drive past him into the lane, put up the floater and…
(Yes, that may well have been a goaltend. It’s close. That, however, was not the worst call in the final minutes against the Hawks — a minute and a half earlier there was a clear kicked ball by LeBron, unintentional or not, and it didn’t get called. The kick led to a Laker fast break bucket, and when Kent Bazemore rightly complained, he got a technical. I know the league is focusing on “respect the game” technicals, but in the final two minutes of a close game you have to give the players some room to be emotional. It was a terrible decision that impacted the result.)
The Lakers care about none of that last paragraph — they are getting wins. We knew they would take a while to gel, we knew there would be some ugly early season losses, we knew there would be an overreaction to that, and we knew the team eventually would figure it out and find their level. Exactly what that level is remains to be seen, but with Sunday’s win the Lakers are the eighth seed in the West.
3) Portland knocks off Boston; after game Celtics’ Marcus Smart calls team out, says “no more excuses.” Getting out of Boston turned out not to be how the Celtics would figure everything out — after a loss to Portland Sunday the Celtics went 1-4 on a road swing. That was enough for Marcus Smart to call the team out.
Smart is the emotional leader and longest-tenured Celtics player, he’s the right guy to step up and call out a team. It’s better than what Kyrie Irving said.
Nice shade at Al Horford there.
Boston’s defense was impressive to start the season, while the offense stumbled trying to integrate Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward again. Now, the offense is improving (although Hayward has a long way to go) but the defense has not been as consistent.
Losing to the Trail Blazers in Portland has no shame — the Blazers have won 7-of-8 for a reason. It was more the way it happened. Portland wants opponents to shoot from the midrange, focusing on protecting the rim and the arc, and Boston happily played right into that. And struggled to score consistently when they did (76 offensive rating in the first half, for example). Then there was Al-Farouq Aminu hitting a couple of key threes, and Damian Lillard doing this.
It’s early, there’s plenty of time for Boston, but they need to get down to the work of figuring this out sooner rather than later. The Celtics are already five games back of the Raptors and that is not going to be easy ground to make up.