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) Warriors try to flip the switch, Damian Lillard turns it back off. Coming off an embarrassing Christmas Day loss on their home court, the Golden State Warriors rolled out Thursday night at Oracle Arena and… played worse. Somehow. Even sloppier. Even more disinterested. It showed in how the Warriors shot 29.5 percent from three all night, but it was most evident in their 6-of-15 from the free throw line (40 percent).
But the Warriors tried to flip the switch like they have done so often the last couple of regular seasons.
Down 10 late the fourth quarter, the Warriors went on a 16-6 run fueled by Kevin Durant, who capped it off with a three to force overtime.
This is what the Warriors have done for a couple of seasons now — lose interest through much of the regular season, then play well enough for a half, a quarter, or just one run to get the win. They have enough talent to coast to a 23-12 record heading into Thursday night, despite all the time Stephen Curry and Draymond Green missed, despite the Durant/Green dust-up, despite the Klay Thompson shooting slump, despite everything.
Damian Lillard, however, is clutch and handed the Warriors their 13th loss. Despite going 2-of-7 from three on the night and almost fumbling away his last chance, Lillard got off a three over Curry in OT that proved to be a game winner.
There’s no big picture takeaway from this sloppy mid-season game. If you’re a Golden State fan looking for positives — “I love the way we competed in the second half,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward — you are really reaching. There was not much to like in this one. If you’re Portland, sitting in the middle of a crowded Western Conference (2.5 games out of first place but just 1.5 from falling out of the playoffs entirely) just take the win, don’t ask questions and move along.
2) Bogdan Bogdanovic hits game-winning three in a punch to the gut of LeBron-less Lakers. If the Lakers were going to face a good team without LeBron James, Sacramento was the best choice (and yes, right now the 19-16, in-the-playoff-hunt Kings are a good team, surprising as that is). Why? The Kings have found their identity in pace and play fast, and with LeBron out up-tempo was how the Lakers were going to thrive.
And they did, with Kyle Kuzma scoring 33 points and Lonzo Ball adding 20 points and 12 assists (outdueling rival De’Aaron Fox for a night). The Lakers led almost the entire second half, but a late push back from the Kings had it close late. After Brandon Ingram (22 points on 19 shots, too much isolation where he was not effective) missed a free throw, Sacramento got the rebound, called timeout, and coach Dave Joerger drew up this for Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Joerger was smart on this play in a couple of ways. First, Buddy Hield is the Kings best shooter, but he was cold Thursday night (2-of-8, 0-of-2 from three) so the coach turned to the hot hand in Bogdanovic, who already had nine fourth quarter points (not ever coach goes away from his star in this spot). Second, he had Bogdanovic come off a Willie Cauley-Stein screen that forced a switch, putting Tyson Chandler on Bogdanovic — Chandler is a 7-footer and an active defender, but he doesn’t like to be in the rarefied air beyond the arc. That got Bogdanovic enough room for the shot.
Bogdanovic has proven to be the best thing the Kings got in that draft night trade with Phoenix that sent Marquese Chriss to the Suns. Actually, he’s just flat-out the best player in the deal. Not something anyone saw coming.
For the Lakers, Bogdanovic’s shot was a punch to the gut.
Los Angeles is going to have to go a couple of weeks (give or take) without LeBron and they need to find a few wins. Not easy to do in a West where there are no gimmies, L.A.’s next three are the Clippers (Friday night on a back-to-back), these Kings again Sunday, then the Thunder.
3) James Harden drops eighth-straight 30-point game and Boston can do nothing to stop him. Two teams that expected to be in title contention this season, but then got off to ugly starts only to apparently right the ships recently, got together Thursday night when Houston hosted Boston.
The big takeaway? James Harden was the best player on the court and Boston had no answers for him. The Beard had 45 points on 26 shot attempts and got to the line 17 times in Houston’s 127-113 win.
Harden has averaged 40.5 points in the past eight games, and that has helped carry the Rockets back into the playoffs. But it’s more than just Harden taking over, the Rockets have hit threes around him (not so much Thursday, 9-of-27 from the supporting players), and with the shots falling you see hustle on defense and guys going after loose balls in ways they did not earlier in the season. More importantly, when the other team makes a run — and Boston made runs — you don’t see the shoulders drop, the body language sag, and a sense of resignation from the Rockets. Now, they are a team that fights back.
That fight shows Houston’s turnaround is legit.
Boston took another tough loss in this one. Not stopping Harden is one thing — there are 28 other teams trying to figure out how to do that and failing — but the Celtics were outworked on the glass and generally out-muscled all game long. Houston was the more physical team and that was the big difference.
On their “how real is the turnaround” stretch of games, the Celtics are 2-2 — losses to the Bucks and Rockets, wins over the Sixers and Hornets. Road games against Memphis (another physical team) and San Antonio await. It’s not panic button time in Boston by any means, but this is not the team Celtics fans thought they were going to be watching this season. Not even close. And there is no one, simple answer to turning it around.