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) Dwyane Wade jumps in the hot tub time machine and puts on a show, drops 35 on Raptors. This was so much fun to watch. It wasn’t enough — Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and the Raptors are the far superior team, so they won 125-115 — but for one night we got to watch vintage Dwyane Wade, Hall of Fame Dwyane Wade, again.
Wade was driving and dishing. He was knocking down step-back mid-range jumpers. He was 4-of-7 from three. He was posting up and showing spectacular footwork. It was just a joy to watch.
Those 35 points were the most scored by a Heat player off the bench in franchise history. It’s also the most points scored by a bench player this season in the NBA.
Wade can’t do this nightly, and it’s not enough for the team to get wins (they miss Goran Dragic badly), but it sure is fun to watch.
2) Jimmy Butler drains another game-winner, 76ers keep on winning since the trade. In the seven games since the Jimmy Butler trade, Philadelphia is 5-2. That despite a Net Rating in those seven games of +0.1 — basically that of a .500 team. The Sixers have a top five offense but a bottom five defense since they made the big trade.
How they keep winning is Jimmy Butler makes plays at the end of games. He was 7-of-7 in the fourth quarter Sunday against Brooklyn and drained another game winner.
That felt just like the OT win against Charlotte.
This was one of the reasons Philly went all-in on Butler. Ben Simmons can drive the lane with the best of them but his lack of a jump shot can limit him in crunch time. Joel Embiid, for all his brilliance this season, is not a guy who will create his own shot at the buzzer. Butler wants the ball and thrives in that situation.
Those shots have covered up play that is not as good as the team’s record since the trade. Butler should improve the Sixers defense, they will get things figured out on that end eventually (and they miss the depth traded away). Until then, they just need Butler to keep making shots.
3) Nikola Vucevic exposes problems in the Lakers’ defense, scores 35, Magic sweep season series. With the game on the line, tied 104-104 in the final minute at Staples Center Sunday afternoon, Orlando’s Terrence Ross got the ball on the wing, drove the lane… and nobody was there to stop his dunk. It proved to be the game-winner (although the Magic scored again).
Why? Where was the contest at the rim? All season long the Lakers have dropped their bigs deep, playing back off the pick-and-roll and prioritizing rim protection.
But when they have done that against Orlando, they have paid — Nikola Vucevic had 31 points Sunday (plus 15 boards and 7 assists). He was knocking down threes and forced JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler to come out high, away from the bucket, to guard him. When they didn’t he drained a three from the top of the arc (he was 2-of-5 on straight on threes in the game).
“That’s the advantage of having Vuc out there,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “Normally, if you don’t have a range shooting center, they’re going to have somebody in the paint there. He’s so involved, especially [late] in the game, there’s a lot of room to drive the ball.”
The problem is, when the Lakers did come out, he just drove around them. Vucevic was the key to Orlando’s 108-104 win Sunday.
This is the second game in a row where the Lakers struggled to stop Vucevic, he had 36 points against them in Orlando last week (another Magic win).
The Orlando offensive strategy Sunday was to have Vucevic set a screen, then pop out. If either McGee or Chandler sagged back (the Lakers preferred defense), then Vucevic got a clean look at a three. If the Laker big stuck with Vucevic the ball handler would attack the rim and bet the help would be too slow to arrive (and it almost always was late). Switch the pick-and-roll and the Magic posted Vucevic up, he was 6-of-8 shooting in the paint in the game. The Lakers tried going small for a stretch, with LeBron guarding Vucevic, but that didn’t work either (he had a nice baseline spin move and drive for a dunk on LeBron).
“When he’s in the game, it’s hard for [the other team to go small] because he’s good at posting and our guys are good at finding him…” Clifford said. “Every team that’s downsized when he’s on the floor, we’re good. We struggled when he wasn’t out there.”
Orlando won this game in the second and third quarters when they outscored the Lakers 67-42. While the Lakers had gotten off to a fast start they were down 16 late in the third, and while they got all the way back to a late game tie, it was not enough as the defensive execution issues caught up with them late. That and matchups that pulled their bigs away from the rim.