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) New stars, new lineup doesn’t change fact Boston is a problem for Philadelphia. The Celtics came into Tuesday night off two big blown leads and ugly losses to the teams from Los Angeles. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was riding high, the addition of Tobias Harris into the starting lineup had led to wins showing off crisp ball movement and offensive versatility. The Sixers were talked about as a Finals threat, while people wondered if Boston was now the fourth best team in the East.
Then they played a game that looked a lot like last season’s 4-1 Boston playoff win.
Al Horford bothered Joel Embiid much of the night, and the Celtics’ big man scored 23 to match Embiid. There was no Kyrie Irving, but Jayson Tatum stepped up with 20 and was a shot creator all night. Plus, the man can finish around the rim.
Boston hunted out and exploited mismatches all night, and the result was a 112-109 Boston win on the road that reminded everyone the Celtics are going to be a force to deal with in the playoffs.
For the 76ers, there are concerning signs out of this loss. Once again, when slowed down and easy transition buckets are taken away, the Sixer offense can bog down in the half court against a good defense. Embiid was 2-of-8 from three, and more than the percentage the problem is that’s more attempts than a guy who is a beast inside should have in a game. Also, Embiid will be writing a check to the league for his postgame comments that “the referees f****** suck” (he was frustrated about being in foul trouble most of the night and not getting a late foul call on Horford).
Ben Simmons had 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was attacking, but he was 2-of-7 from the free throw line and in the playoffs teams will exploit that by fouling him (he’s shooting 58.7 percent for the season). Harris struggled, shooting 4-of-14 overall and 0-of-6 from three for Philly. When T.J. McConnell was on the floor the Celtics went at him to expose his defense — and it worked.
On the bright side for Philly, their star-studded starting lineup was +4 in 22.7 minutes on the night. Looking ahead to a potential playoff matchup, the Philly may need more Jimmy Butler in this matchup, he had 22 points on 7-for-12 and was the most consistent shot creator the team had.
A pre-All-Star game will have little meaning if these teams meet up in the East playoffs again. Both teams will continue to evolve, the Celtics will get Irving back, and the 76ers should figure out how to make their new-look roster flow more smoothly.
Mostly, this game was a preview of how intense and close the East playoffs are going to be.
2) Lakers look like a team that needs the All-Star break, fall below .500 with an ugly loss to Hawks. Remember how LeBron James was going to come back from his groin injury and the Lakers were going to surge back up the standings and into the postseason? Yea… not so much. They are now 2-3 since his return.
Tuesday night, Los Angeles looked like a team that needed a vacation. With Magic Johnson looking on in person, the Lakers ended their Grammys road trip with a 117-113 loss to an Atlanta team that has shown growth and potential of late (they got 22 points each from Trae Young and John Collins).
If the Lakers don’t come back from their nine days off now for the All-Star break looking rested and refreshed, they are going to get a much earlier, much longer vacation than they planned on this summer. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Lakers a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs right now — it likely will take 45 wins or more to get a playoff spot in the West, the Lakers would need to go at least 17-8 down the stretch to hit that number.
Tuesday, the Lakers looked disinterested on the defensive end and their rotations were late, while on offense there was a lot of standing and ball watching. The Lakers didn’t act like a team that needs to make a playoff push, they acted like you do at work the day before your vacation starts.
Tuesday’s problems started at the top. LeBron James had a triple-double with 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds (and he played a lot more of this game at center than we’ve seen), but he also had some rough moments when it mattered. For example, there was when Trae Young blew past him for a key and-one bucket late.
Young missed the ensuing free throw, but LeBron’s man outworked him to get the offensive rebound and the Hawks got another shot. Earlier in the night, Young even nutmegged LeBron.
Plus, the Hawks fans heckled LeBron with “Kobe’s better” chants.
And LeBron was the best Laker on the floor. The Lakers miss Lonzo Ball (especially on defense), and the rest of the young core had one foot out the door on Tuesday.
The Lakers have the talent and could — even should — be able to make a run and get in front of the Kings and Clippers for a playoff spot in the West. But it’s not going to be handed to them, the Lakers need to earn it. Tuesday night they did not, they were not the hungry team on the court.
3) Klay Thompson dislocates a finger, pops it back in place, comes back in red hot and Warriors beat Jazz. It looked ugly. Midway through the first quarter, Klay Thompson dislocated his left ring finger, it was pointing a way fingers simply should not.
Thompson had hit popped back in place, taped up, then shot 8-of-11 the rest of the way in the Warriors win over the Jazz, 115-108.
The Jazz, with Rudy Gobert in the paint (he should have been an All-Star) have been a tough matchup for the Warriors, and that was the case again. What the Warriors got was a strong defensive game from Draymond Green, enough from Kevin Durant, and the Warriors got the win because they got 74 points out of their big three.