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) Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant cover up another sloppy Warriors game in a win over Dallas. “Who cares? We know how to play good basketball. We end up winning 54 games or 60 games it doesn’t matter. As long as we go into the playoffs in a good rhythm with good habits and healthy it don’t matter.”
That was Durant speaking to ESPN about the regular season, summing up the Warriors attitude overall — and what has concerned Golden State fans this season. The Warriors have the NBA’s top-ranked offense, a middle of the pack defense (16th overall, 12th if you take out garbage time as Cleaning the Glass does) and this is a team on pace to win 55-58 games (depending on what measure you use). That will have them at or very near the top of the West. But that is not enough for some, because this is a team not living up to its own standards, not pushing 70 wins, and it leads to questions.
Sunday’s win against Dallas was a perfect example. The Warriors defense was unimpressive — Dallas had a 120 offensive rating, getting to the line 29 times against a late-rotating and reaching Golden State defense — and they had no answer for Luka Doncic, who had 26 points (there’s a growing club of teams without an answer for him).
But the Warriors won because Stephen Curry had 48 points and 11 made threes — one of those with 44 seconds to go put the Warriors up for good.
Kevin Durant pitched in 28 points. The Warriors as a team shot 42.2 percent from three (despite the return Klay Thompson’s slump, he was 2-of-11 from deep). It overwhelmed the Mavericks and got Golden State another win.
Only in Golden State are their questions about a 55-win team not being worthy. Durant is right, the regular season is long and for contenders is about building “a good rhythm with good habits.” It’s fair to ask, though, are the Warriors doing that on defense?
By the way, Doncic grew his rookie legend with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
2) Lakers lose to Cavaliers in a game that’s a reminder both of these teams stink without LeBron James. The Cavaliers came into Los Angeles having lost 12 in a row, with the league’s worse defense (and on pace for the worst defense in NBA history), a bottom 10 offense, and the worst net rating in the land. The Cavaliers are both terrible since LeBron left and in full Zion Williamson mode.
But they beat the LeBron-less Lakers 101-95 Sunday night.
The Lakers are now 3-7 without LeBron (and have fallen into a tie for the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West with the Jazz, who beat the Lakers on Friday). Their offense in the halfcourt has struggled without the gravity and ability to read the play of LeBron — Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka intentionally created a team of “playmakers” rather than shooters around LeBron, and the result is a team that can’t shoot. Shocking, I know. In the fourth quarter Sunday the Lakers shot 40 percent, were 2-of-9 from three, and were just 8-of-17 from the free throw line. On the night, the Laker offense scored less than a point per possession against the worst defense in the NBA, in part because the Cavaliers were able to slow the game down (the young Lakers are fine in transition but this game had 5 fewer possessions than the Lakers’ season average).
It was a rough night for Lakers fans dreaming of trading key parts of this young core for Anthony Davis. Actually, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for them.
The Lakers will get LeBron back at some point (he will be re-evaluated later this week, he is increasing his basketball activities according to the team) and with him they will be fine and will make the playoffs. But right now this team is exactly what Magic didn’t want: Cleveland 2.0, a team entirely dependent upon LeBron to win. And that’s not about Luke Walton, it’s about the roster he was handed.
As a side note, the return of Matthew Dellavedova has been big for Cleveland. He played less than 17 minutes off the bench in this game, but he’s a solid, smart veteran who knows how to run a team, make the right pass, and that helps their second unit immensely.
3) Nikola Jokic drops 40 points, 10 boards, 8 assists to lead Denver past Portland. Just a reminder that Nikola Jokic is very good at basketball — All-Star good (as a reserve). All-NBA good. He got his big contract extension and has lived up to it, improving this season and stepping up in big games.
Just ask the Trail Blazers. Denver beat them 116-113 Sunday night behind a 40 points, 10 rebound, 8 assist night from Jokic.
Denver may not be the best team in the West, but they are not a fluke either.