Three Things to Know: Raptors are still Kyle Lowry’s team, Grizzlies learn that in loss

Associated Press
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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) The Toronto Raptors are still Kyle Lowry’s team, just ask the Memphis Grizzlies. Kawhi Leonard is the Toronto Raptors best player — and the Memphis Grizzlies knew it, they targeted their defense toward slowing him Tuesday night. Kyle Anderson did a good job staying with Leonard, and Marc Gasol is in the early Defensive Player of the Year conversation for a reason, he was fantastic much of the night cutting off lanes and directing traffic. Leonard, to his credit, recognized this and, while he still scored 17, did a great job setting up teammates and becoming the decoy.

Leonard may be the Raptors’ best player, but Kyle Lowry is still the heart and soul of this team, and the Grizzlies learned that the hard way.

Lowry had 24 points on the night and was 5-of-7 shooting in the second half to spark a comeback from 17 down in the third to get the Raptors a 122-114 win on the road, racking up big numbers against a quality defense.

There was one other good sign for the Raptors in the win — Fred VanVleet was back. The super-sub was 7-of-7 on the night and 3-of-3 in the fourth quarter, when he also played good defense on Mike Conley. VanVleet has struggled this season, and with that so has the Raptors bench — best in the NBA last season. The second unit has not been the same strength this campaign. That was different in Memphis, we’ll see if this game a turning point for VanVleet’s season. If so, the best team in the NBA so far this season (wait for our power rankings later today) just got better.

The big test — and a possible Finals preview, if you ask Klay Thompson — comes Thursday night when the Raptors host the Warriors.

2) Nuggets look elite, LeBron James and the Lakers look flat, the result is one massive blowout. We should not take anything away from Denver here: This is a 14-7 team with the best net rating of any team in the Western Conference (+7.8 points per 100 possessions). They are legit. Tuesday night they had balance with three players — Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley — scoring 20 points, Nikola Jokic knocking down threes and being the kind of stretch big that gives the Lakers problems, and Juancho Hernangomez doing this.

The result was a 117-85 thrashing. The Nuggets earned every bit of this 32-point blowout win, the most the Nuggets have ever beaten the Lakers by.

That said… that was one of the Lakers’ worst efforts of the season. The Lakers shot 3-of-35 from three. They let the Nuggets grab the offensive rebound on 36 percent of their missed shots (16), and the Lakers were generally outworked on the boards all night. LeBron James had 14 points on 15 shots in his worst scoring night as a Laker.

Every NBA team has some clunkers over the course of 82 games, if Lakers’ fans want to throw this game into that category and flush it, go ahead. It wasn’t pretty. But consistency is an issue with this team and if LeBron is not dominating and playing like the best player on the planet the flaws in this roster get exposed fast.

3) Darren Collison drops Deandre Ayton with a crossover. Literally. Welcome to the NBA, Deandre Ayton.

The Suns’ rookie is filling up the box score on the offensive end — 17 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, shooting 62.1 percent — but his defense is a work in progress. Wednesday night he got switched onto the veteran Darren Collison and…. it’s going down, we’re yelling timber.