LOS ANGELES — 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.
Laker coach Frank Vogel admitted Sunday night he didn’t expect this out of the gate. Nobody did. There has been almost no adjustment period. LeBron James and Anthony Davis had not played together before, yet, they have been dominating together since the season tipped off 24 games ago — the Lakers are +12.1 per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together. And they are on the court together a lot.
Sunday the duo reached new heights, combining for 82 points against Minnesota, becoming the first Lakers’ pair since Shaq and Kobe to combine for more than 70 points in a game. Davis had 50 on the night, his best outing since coming to the Lakers — and he did it without hitting one three. Vogel called it an “old-school, smash-mouth” 50.
LeBron and Davis’ fast chemistry is the reason the Lakers are 21-3 to start the season and on top of the West.
“I think their games fit,” Vogel said after a 142-125 Lakers win Sunday. “When you’re a general manager and you’re putting together a team, it’s not just a collection of talent. It’s putting together pieces that fit… [LeBron and Davis] are both guys that will make the right play, they are willing passers.”
Willing passers is nice, but the Lakers put the right roster around them to pass to — a combination of shooters and rim-running lob threats. Its guys willingly playing their roles and it makes the Lakers difficult to slow down.
“For me and AD, it starts with us,” LeBron said. “If we’re on the same page it makes it a lot easier for the rest of the ballclub.” He added the two stars hold each other accountable, and that trickles down to the rest of the team.
Before the season started, most pundits projected the Lakers to be floating around, or just above, 50 wins. Sure, the Lakers had two top-seven (maybe top five) players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and on paper it seemed like their games would mesh beautifully. But chemistry takes time. It was expected the Lakers would struggle early and find their footing closer to Christmas and beyond, becoming a much more dangerous team by the time the playoffs rolled around.
There has been no break-in period.
“I think [the chemistry] was there, it’s just a little missed timing,” Davis said of a few early struggles.
“I don’t know if it’s moreso lately, to me those two hit the ground running right from the start of training camp,” Vogel said. “Both on and off the basketball court their chemistry has been seamless.”
Davis hit the ground running on Sunday against Minnesota, starting 6-of-6 from the floor for a fast 13 points, and all of those buckets in the paint (a couple of them because he ran to the rim in transition and finished lobs).
“I think all of us are just more comfortable with our play,” LeBron said. “We know what we want to run, we know how we want to play, we know how we want to defend, we know what we want to be on offense. It makes it a lot easier when we are in a good rhythm… Every day [team chemistry] is going to get better and better, not just for AD and myself but for the rest of the group.”
“I think we’re just recognizing each other’s strengths, we’re getting comfortable with each other within the offense,” Vogel added.
Davis had 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half, with only one of those buckets from outside paint. It carried the Lakers while LeBron battled foul trouble.
“I just feel like I’m in a rhythm,” Davis said. “As a team, we are in a rhythm right now. Obviously, our defense has been really good for us, and it’s led to a lot of open shots for us.”
LeBron finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds, and it’s him as playmaker that puts the Laker offense on another level. On Sunday, LeBron was draining deep threes or finding guys in transition with pin-point look ahead passes. Whatever he did worked, and with Davis as a potential target, the Timberwolves had no answers.
So far, nobody around the NBA has had any answers. So much for the slow start, the West right now is a lot of teams chasing the Lakers, and that could continue all season long.
And into the playoffs.
2) With 105-102 loss to Brooklyn, Denver has suddenly dropped 4-of-5. For the past week and a half, the Denver Nuggets have struggled, and it’s mostly been about what is happening in the paint. On both ends of the court.
Brooklyn won the paint battle 66-22 on Sunday. It was ugly. In the third quarter alone, Brooklyn scored 26 points on 13-of-19 shooting in the paint. The Nets scored all their points in the paint or at the free throw line. After the game, a frustrated coach Mike Malone called his team’s effort in the third “a joke.”
The problems are on both ends of the court: The Nuggets are scoring 9.1 points fewer in the paint per game in the last five games than they have for the season as a whole. For a team led by big man Nikola Jokic and the penetration of Jamal Murray, this is a serious red flag.
Denver’s overall efficiency numbers in the last five games look okay because their 37-point, get-the-coach-fired win over the Knicks skews the numbers. But Denver has been stumbling, they have fallen to 14-7, and things are not going to get easier at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
3) Another day, another Miami Heat young star steps up. Sunday it was Tyler Herro’s turn. The Miami Heat have been getting phenominal play and unexpected contributions from their first-and-second year players all season. Kendrick Nunn is at the top of that list, playing like someone who will end up on a lot of Rookie of the Year ballots this season. Duncan Robinson, in just his second season, has started 18 games for Miami and has provided much-needed shooting (42.5 percent from three).
Sunday it was Tyler Herro’s turn. The rookie out of Kentucky scored 16 points through the fourth quarter and overtime against Chicago. That includes draining the game-winning three off an assist from Jimmy Butler.
That bucket held up as the final score, 108-105 Miami.
With Herro’s bucket, Miami improves to 17-6 on the season. This is Jimmy Butler’s team, but rather than terrorizing and running off the team’s young stars, in Miami Butler is lifting them up. And the entire organization with them.