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) Paul George, Kawhi Leonard already have Clippers’ defense on lockdown. Just ask Dallas. The Dallas Mavericks entered Tuesday night with the best offense in the NBA, one so hot that their offensive rating (117.4) was higher than any of the Golden State teams of the last five years. Luka Doncic was leading an offense carving teams up off the pick-and-roll, one that scored at least 137 points in each of the previous three games.
The Mavericks scored less than a point per possession against the Clippers. They didn’t even get to triple digits on the scoreboard.
On paper, the Clippers looked to be a formidable defense with long, defensive-minded wings Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, not to mention other quality defenders such as Maurice Harkless and the pesky Patrick Beverley around them. That potential has quickly become a reality, with a team defensive rating of just 101.7 in the four games Los Angeles’ two superstars have played together.
Los Angeles beat Dallas 114-99 on Tuesday, improving to 4-0 since it got George and Leonard both in the lineup. These haven’t been soft wins, either, they have beaten red-hot Boston and Houston, and now Dallas.
Tuesday night was the first time George (26, 17 points in the first quarter) and Leonard (28) both broke the 20-point barrier.
Remember, George is still doing all this on a minutes limit as he recovers from off-season surgery to both shoulders. When he is on the court, however, he looks every bit the guy who finished third in the MVP voting a season ago.
While the Clippers offense has been good over the past four games — 112.8 offensive rating, which would be second-best in the league for the season — it is still clearly a work in progress. George, Leonard, and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams seem to take turns watching each other run the offense, there isn’t a natural flow between all of them. Yet. This is to be expected considering George missed training camp and Leonard has missed games as well dealing with right knee issues.
The defense, however, already looks stellar. The Clippers set their sights on Doncic and frustrated the 20-year-old phenom, who shot 4-of-14 from the field and didn’t hit a three all night. The Clippers said postgame they hoped to be physical on both ends and wear Doncic down (and they were physical, Doncic was clearly frustrated with the officials). Other Mavericks were unable to step up and make the Clippers pay for their Doncic focus, for example Kristaps Porzingis was 4-of-13 from the floor in this game. Part of Dallas’ struggles were Doncic and his teammates missed somewhat open looks they usually knock down, but that’s what happens against a long and quick defensive team when shooters know they have a little less time to get off their shot, so they rush the motion.
This Clippers team is going to evolve a lot over the course of the season, and that will have rough patches in part because Doc Rivers and Clipper management are going to rest guys. That may frustrate some fans, but this team is not thinking about wins in November and December. They are thinking about wins in May and June.
The Clippers already look like a team that defends well enough to get those wins.
2) Denver has won six in a row and is now 10-1 in November after beating the Wizards. The two teams in Los Angeles — not to mention the Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks — have been hot and that has stolen the headlines lately, but the Denver Nuggets are playing as well as any of them.
Denver beat Washington 117-104 Tuesday night to cap off a perfect four-game homestand and extend their win streak to six. It was a game where star center Nikola Jokic only had 8 points, but he contributed a lot with his 20 rebounds and five assists. Jeramie Grant had 20 points off the bench to lead the Nuggets, Will Barton also chipped in 17.
That 10-1 November has been fueled by the Nuggets surprising defense, which has allowed less than a point per possession in those games. If the Nuggets can keep defending like this, they will be a much more dangerous playoff threat.
3) James Harden, how do you feel about an in-season NBA Tournament? “Are we in college?” A couple of Commissioner Adam Silver’s proposed sweeping changes to the NBA schedule seem to have support from teams. The idea of play-in games for the final couple of playoff spots has some backing (teams and players see how that can be sold to a sponsor to have that make money). There is support for the idea of re-seeding the Conference Finals (the final four teams left in the playoffs) regardless of conference. That could create interesting matchups.
However, the idea of an in-season NBA Tournament? It’s not getting the love. The reactions of James Harden and P.J. Tucker seem pretty much in line with those of every team source I have spoken to about the idea.
These kinds of in-season tournaments are baked into the culture of European (and worldwide) soccer, but it’s not part of the American sports DNA. Silver knows this and has said it will take years for this tournament — scheduled to take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas — to gain traction with fans and players.
Even then, will it really have any more prestige than winning the Maui Invitational in college?
It’s not hard to see Silver’s thinking: Early season ratings are down, this gives a boost to the importance of some of those games (the round-robin part of the tournament would be regular season division games taking place after Thanksgiving, providing a doubled importance to those games). Then the eight-team knockout tournament of the teams that win those division games (plus two wild cards) could be sold as a separate television package, generating more revenue (to make up for the four regular season games Silver wants to cut out to make this happen and shorten the season).
Still, the reaction from teams is just a shrug. Players seem even less thrilled.
That doesn’t mean owners will shoot the proposal down next April (with plans to start it for the 2021-22 season), Silver may be able to wrangle the votes. Just don’t expect a lot of enthusiasm from players and coaches. Nobody is playing for a “we won the mid-season tournament” banner.