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) James Harden’s 42 not enough, Milwaukee make a statement with win in Houston. Can you say you did a good job defending a guy who scored 42 points on 30 shots?
Milwaukee can make a good case. Or, at least the Bucks can say they enough to keep the superhuman James Harden from beating them on Wednesday night. Harden got his points, but he also had 9 turnovers to 6 assists, plus after Harden led the charge to get a 15-point Buck lead down to three late, Harden went 0-of-4 in the clutch. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo was making plays like this to seal the win.
This was billed as an MVP showdown between Harden and Antetokounmpo, although one January game is not going to decide the award. Harden got his with that 42 and was making plays. But the Greek Freak had 27 points and a career-high 21 boards, playing a more physical and well-rounded game, including strong defense. Antetokounmpo also had five assists, although this is the pass that had everyone talking.
While the Greek Freak gets the headlines, the key to snapping Houston’s 10-game home win streak was Brook Lopez.
Lopez only had 7 points, but he was vital on the defensive end. Bucks defenders — Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, others — slid alongside Harden on his left side when the Beard drove, those defenders trying to funnel him to Lopez, who cut off the drives and used his size to block (4) and alter shots. Harden had 9 turnovers, and Lopez was able to recover well enough to force the normally efficient Clint Capela into a 4-of-16 shooting night (he had help there).
The MVP race was not decided Wednesday (not that it was ever going to be), but the Bucks made a “you better take us seriously” statement on national television.
2) Is Kyle Kuzma the Lakers’ second best player? He drops career-high 41 on Pistons. This season for the Lakers was about seeing who was their second best player and who could step up in big moments. More accurately, the goal was to see which of the young Lakers was ready to be on the big stage and could adapt to playing next to LeBron James.
It hasn’t been Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram, not consistently. With LeBron still sidelined with a groin strain, the two guys the Lakers drafted No. 2 and expected to step up were off again, combining to score 15 points on 16 shots.
Kyle Kuzma — a decisive, attacking scorer — has emerged as the second best Laker and the guy who has thrived next to LeBron (at least on offense). Wednesday night he attacked Blake Griffin off the dribble to get to the rim and finish (8-of-8 in the restricted area), knocked down threes from the left wing, and had 41 points to lead the Lakers to a 113-100 win over the Pistons.
Kuzma’s 41 was the most points by a Laker who played fewer than 30 minutes in the shot clock era. Kuzma did all his work in three quarters.
The Lakers have some roster issues to address this offseason, but they know that Kuzma fits as part of their short-term future with LeBron.
3) Celtics rout tired Pacers team and impress doing it. Sometimes the NBA schedule maker provides you a win — five of the six NBA teams on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday lost by double digits. Count the Pacers among that group.
Indiana is one of the better defensive teams in the league, but on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday night in Boston they were flat and could not slow an attacking, aggressive Celtics team. “It just looked like we were gassed tonight,” is how Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan put it after the game.
Boston took full advantage scoring a season-high 135 points. It was a balanced attack with seven players in double digits, and the Celtics had their most well-rounded game of the season. Jayson Tatum was putting up the highlights.
It’s a quality win for Boston against one of the other top teams in the East. They should just give an assist to the schedule maker.