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Three Things to Know: Is it time to be worried about the Utah Jazz?

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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) After an ugly 1-4 road trip, is it time to be worried about the Utah Jazz? Coming into the season, a number of pundits and prognosticators picked Utah to have a chance to compete with the big boys in the West for a title (*sheepishly raises hand*). With a lock-down defense anchored by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the continued growth of Donovan Mitchel, and the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, this team all the pieces to compete.

Except…

•  That feared defense is actually 11th in the league for the season, and in the last 10 games they have fallen to 16th in the league giving up 4.9 more points per 100 possessions than they averaged last season. To be fair, Gobert was out for some of those games (and without him, the Greek Freak got to the rim at will and dropped 50 on Utah).

• The offense has never clicked and is currently ranked 23rd in the league.

• Mike Conley is shooting 37 percent on the season.

• The team just suffered ugly road losses, being down 40 at half to Toronto, then on Monday night losing to Philadelphia 103-94 in a game that wasn’t that close, the 76ers led by as many as 26.

After those ugly road losses to close out their road trip it feels like it’s time to ask:

Should we be worried about the Jazz?

Worried is a relative term, this is still a 12-9 team that sits as the six seed in the West and seems destined for the playoffs. Gobert is once again playing fantastic defense and has to be in the DPOY conversation (the Jazz got worse around him, but he is still playing brilliantly). Donovan Mitchell has stepped up after his summer with Team USA and is averaging 24.5 points per game with increased efficiency, and he looks like an All-Star player this season. The Jazz have not been bad.

They also haven’t looked anything like potential contenders, either.

Which is the concern. The Jazz always needed a lot of things to go right to be a big threat in the West, and so far it seems few of those things have gone according to plan, particularly on offense. This is a team that has the highest percentage in the league of offense that comes in the halfcourt (via Cleaning the Glass), meaning they just don’t get many easy buckets.

The struggling offense could have GM Dennis Lindsey looking to make a trade at the deadline to get a power forward this team needs (Danilo Gallinari would make sense with the Jazz). Utah may need a shake-up to contend.

Jazz fans shouldn’t be freaking out, but this team has not lived up to the hype or its potential yet. There’s a lot of season to go, but more than 20 games in it’s time to be a little bit worried.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo, brother Thanasis power Bucks past Knicks to 12th straight win. This game was never in doubt — Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 29 points and 15 rebounds and didn’t even have to play 22 minutes on the night. He just overpowered the Knicks. Literally. Look what he did to Julius Randle.

That’s not fair.

The Bucks won 132-88 to extend their win streak to a dozen.

Last summer, the Bucks signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, in a clear attempt to suck up to the superstar and keep him happy (remember, Giannis will have a supermax offer from the Bucks on the table next summer and the franchise is doing everything it can to keep him).

This is the kind of game where Thanasis gets run, he had 10 points in 12 minutes of play. That brings us the stat of the night:

The Antetokounmpo brothers outscored the Knicks starters 39-37.

3) Carmelo Anthony was named the NBA Player of the Week. The narrative of Carmelo Anthony’s triumphant return to the NBA continues to morph into legend (and as with most legends, the facts start to get blurred a little to fit the narrative).

After a three-game week where he averaged 22.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, a week where the Trail Blazers went 3-0, Anthony was named the NBA’s Player of the Week.

It is validation for ‘Melo and makes a great story (even if nobody cares about this award most weeks). Don’t mind the fact that those three wins came because Damian Lillard returned to the lineup and he’s Portland’s best player (plus the Blazers played the struggling Bulls twice). We’re telling a story, so the fact that last week Karl-Anthony Towns, Luka Doncic and Anthony Davis all averaged more points, rebounds and assists per game than ‘Melo doesn’t matter, it doesn’t fit the narrative (the Player of the Week award has always been more about story than numbers).

To be fair, Anthony has played well in his return, giving a shorthanded Portland team a boost. It’s a small sample size (100 minutes), but Portland is +15.4 per 100 possessions when Anthony and Lillard share the court together. Six games in, picking up Anthony has worked for the Trail Blazers.

So make Anthony Player of the Week. It’s a good story. For my money, it will be interesting to watch how Anthony and Portland fare this week against the two Los Angeles teams — those are real tests.

Kemba Walker stops personal losing streak to LeBron James at 28, Celtics top Lakers

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BOSTON (AP) — Kemba Walker finally beat LeBron James, and he did it by helping the Boston Celtics send the Los Angeles Lakers to their biggest loss of the season.

Walker ended a career-long losing streak against James, scoring 20 points to beat him for the first time in 29 tries and lead the Celtics past the rival Lakers 139-107 on Monday night.

“I’m happy I got one at least, before he goes,” Walker said with a laugh after the Celtics snapped their three-game losing streak. “Who knows how long he can play, because he’s just incredible. But you know, it’s only one. One and 28.”

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, drawing a taunting technical after dunking over James, and Enes Kanter had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Boston.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said. “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

James said there was no shame in getting beaten — this time.

“Why would I take it personally? It’s part of basketball,” he said. “It’s not the first time I got dunked on. It might not be the last time I get dunked on. But Jaylen’s been playing exceptionally well this year. It was a good play.”

The Celtics gave up the first eight points of the game but turned things around when Anthony Davis, playing for the first time in almost two weeks, went to the bench with a pair of fouls 49 seconds apart early in the first quarter.

“The less he plays, the better for everybody else,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

James had 15 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who had won 10 of their previous 11 games. But the Celtics made 13 of their first 22 3-point attempts to open a 103-75 lead in the third quarter — the biggest against Los Angeles all season until Boston made it a 34-point game in the fourth.

“We were fortunate to put the ball in the basket quite a bit,” said Stevens, whose team shot 56% overall. “The ball going in masks some things.”

Walker’s 28 games without a win against James was second in NBA history only to Sherman Douglas’ 0-30 head-to-head record against Michael Jordan.

“If anybody: him. The guy I couldn’t beat, it’d be him. He’s such a great player, he’s done so much in this league,” said Walker, who spent the first eight years of his career in Charlotte. “He’s beaten a lot of guys. I bet you there’s a lot of people who don’t have a winning record against LeBron James.”

 

Lakers, 76ers reportedly interested in trade for Derrick Rose

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Derrick Rose‘s renaissance has come to the point this season he is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 18.3 points, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game (before Monday’s game against the Wizards).

The Pistons are in the mix for a playoff spot in the East — three games back of the eighth-seed Nets, who are finally getting healthy — but with Blake Griffin out for the season they are expected to be sellers at the deadline. That means Rose, a guy who could help a number of contending teams.

The Lakers and 76ers are among those interested, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and multiple teams with championship aspirations have expressed interest in trading for Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

The Lakers and Sixers are in search of point guard assistance for the stretch run, sources said.

The Lakers need a second playmaker as their offense falls by 9.8 points per 100 possessions when LeBron James is off the court. To make the deal work, the Lakers would have to dangle Kyle Kuzma plus someone to fill the salary (Avery Bradley would work but that would cost Los Angeles another starter; DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook works, too, but why would the Pistons want them?). The Lakers are limited in picks they can send out after the haul they sent to New Orleans in the Anthony Davis deal.

The 76ers need a playmaking point guard to go next to Ben Simmons at points, ideally one who can stretch the floor (Rose is shooting just 31.8 percent from three). The Sixers would likely dangle Zhaire Smith and maybe Mike Scott to make the salaries work.

Expect the Pistons to listen to offers up to the deadline, playing teams off each other to get the best possible deal. But Rose may well be on the move before Feb. 6.

Chris Paul scores 28, leads Thunder rally to hand Rockets fourth straight loss

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HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 28 points and Danilo Gallinari added 25 as the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat cold-shooting James Harden and the Houston Rockets 112-107 on Monday.

Paul scored 27 of his 28 points in the first half against his former team. Gallinari and Dennis Schroder, who scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime, carried the Thunder after the break.

Former Thunder player Russell Westbrook had 32 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for Houston. Harden had 29 points but was astonishingly inefficient, making 1 of 17 3-point attempts, as the Rockets’ losing streak stretched to a season-high four games.

Oklahoma City used a 6-0 run, highlighted by a dunk from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after he stole the ball from Harden, to put the Thunder up 108-105 with about a minute left.

Harden made a layup for Houston to cut the lead to one, but Schroder made a jump shot with 28 seconds remaining to make it 110-107. Russell Westbrook missed a 3-pointer on the other end and Gilgeous-Alexander added two free throws to secure the victory.

Houston had a 15-point lead before the Thunder scored 13 straight points to get within 100-98 with 4 1/2 minutes to go. Gallinari led the way for Oklahoma City in that stretch, making two 3-pointers and adding three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Harden made one of two free throws after that but Gallinari struck again seconds later with another 3 that tied it at 101-all. Gilgeous-Alexander then made one of two free throws to give the Thunder their first lead since the first quarter.

Westbrook made Houston’s first field goal in more than four minutes with a layup with just more than three minutes left. He then added another layup after a steal seconds later to give the Rockets a 105-102 lead with about two minutes to go.

The Thunder trailed by 16 points after three quarters, but a 9-2 run, with five points from Schroder, got them within 91-82 with about 9 1/2 minutes left.

Houston trailed by as many as 10 in the first half but led by seven at halftime and used a 9-3 run to open the third quarter and push it to 73-60. P.J. Tucker had a 3-pointer in that stretch and Westbrook added four points.

Houston scored the last four points in a third quarter where Oklahoma City scored just 14 points to make it 87-71 entering the fourth.

 

J.J. Redick: Players more concerned with Instagram than winning

J.J. Redick
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J.J. Redick transformed himself from bust to NBA success.

He changed his habits and outlook. He worked hard and learned how to optimize his fit. That partially explains why the Pelicans signed the veteran last summer.

Why aren’t more players so diligent in their work?

Redick on “The JJ Redick Podcast With Tommy Alter“:

There’s just too much stuff going on. There’s too many people in your ear. There’s not enough time in the day, probably, for some guys. They’ve got Fortnite to go to. They’ve got to worry about getting a fit off for pregame. This is an issue. I really believe this. I think there’s more guys concerned with getting a pregame fit on Instagram than they are worrying about the win and loss of a basketball game. I stand by that statement.

Maybe some players are more concerned with Instagram than winning. That’s tough to evaluate from afar. I’m not sure Redick – who’s obviously not in anyone’s mind but his own – is close enough to make that evaluation, though he obviously has more access to see how NBA players act.

But players have always held interests outside basketball. They always will. Redick doesn’t need to look far to consider that. This quote comes from his podcast.

That Redick gripes about this modern technology – Fortnite, Instagram – makes him sound like an old grump. Why not rail against players who party too much? There are surely players who indulge in that classic distraction.

Not every player is obsessed primarily with winning. Yet, I’m unconvinced that’s any more or less true now than with a prior generation.