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) Rings aren’t won in December, but Milwaukee is the best team in the NBA right now. The Lakers wanted this one. You could tell through their words — before the game coach Frank Vogel called the matchup of the two best records in the league a “measuring stick game” — but more through their actions. Specifically, letting Anthony Davis play despite still having pain in the ankle he tweaked on Sunday.
The Bucks were better.
Milwaukee held the Lakers to 17 points in the first quarter, forced turnovers on 19.6 percent of Laker possessions, led by as many as 21, held off every Laker run late, got 34 points from their MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (who also shot 5-of-8 from three, plus had 11 rebounds), and generally handled the game.
The final score was 111-104 Milwaukee, but that makes it seem much closer a game than it actually was.
The Larry O’Brien trophy is not handed out in December, and both these teams will evolve between now and June (if both get that far).
However, right now, the Bucks are the best team in the NBA. And they proved it.
There are mitigating factors for the Lakers, no doubt: This was the last game of a road trip, Los Angeles was playing its fifth game in 10 days on the road, Kyle Kuzma was out, and Davis had his sprained ankle.
Not that the ankle slowed Davis much — he had 36 points, had to guard Antetokounmpo much of the night, and was arguably the best player on the court. Plus, he did this to the Greek Freak late in the game.
ANTHONY DAVIS OVER GIANNIS. SHEESH pic.twitter.com/VcT2W3rXWl
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) December 20, 2019
Yet, the concerns about the Lakers going into the season showed up on Thursday night. There is the depth concern — the Lakers got four points from their bench on the night. There were the questions about having enough shooting — take Danny Green (21 points) out of the equation and the Lakers shot 21.7 percent from three (including Davis going 0-of-6).
Meanwhile, the Bucks were the better team, a roster well built to match its star and in tune with how to play off him. Milwaukee players understand the angles, space the floor, and when the Lakers would close out aggressively at the arc the Bucks make smart cuts to the rim. There was balance. George Hill had 21, Khris Middleton 15, and Wesley Matthews had 13 plus a couple of clutch steals.
It’s just December. This game only counts for one game in the standings. Nothing is decided.
Right now, however, Milwaukee is the best team in the NBA — and they proved it.
2) We need a Rockets vs. Clippers playoff series. These teams can’t stand each other. There’s not a lot of venom in today’s NBA. That’s not to say guys don’t go hard at each other — they do — but after the final buzzer there is a “we’re all part of one fraternity” mindset among most players.
Which makes the Clippers and Rockets so much fun — they can’t stand each other. Like when Patrick Beverley fouled out Thursday night, Russell taunted him, waved goodbye, and picked up a technical for it.
Patrick Beverley fouls out and Russell Westbrook waves him goodbye pic.twitter.com/4WgC5OJJ8A
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) December 20, 2019
Or, watch the normally-controlled Lou Williams lose it after a foul call and get tossed.
Lou Williams is unhappy about a foul call and subsequently gets ejected pic.twitter.com/wzrEoWdTrr
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) December 20, 2019
It was that kind of night and one where the Rockets were the better team. With the Clippers focused on making life difficult for James Harden — he still had 28 points, including nine in the final six minutes — Russell Westbrook went off for 40.
Russ (40 PTS & 10 REB) sets his season-high against the Clippers! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/esgUo0pTD5
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 20, 2019
The Rockets got the win 122-117, a quality road victory for a team trying to prove it should be counted among the West’s elite.
We just need to see more of this matchup come the playoffs.
3) Likely top-3 pick next June James Wiseman leaves Memphis to prepare for NBA draft. The NBA world did not see this coming, there was genuine surprise among scouts and front office people at the G-League showcase event in Las Vegas. The Memphis Wildcats did not see this coming, either.
James Wiseman, the best big man in the coming NBA Draft and likely top-three pick (certainly top five), is leaving Memphis to prepare for the Draft.
View this post on Instagram
Today I formally withdrew from the University of Memphis and I will be preparing for the next chapter of my life. Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been a dream of mine to play in the NBA. Throughout this process, I’ve asked God to ordain my steps and lead me in the right direction. God is my lord and salvation, and throughout this process he has comforted me. This was not how I expected my freshman season to be, but I’m thankful for everyone who has supported my family and me throughout this process. I want to thank the coaches and staff for all their support and my teammates for pushing me everyday at practice. I feel blessed for the opportunity to be a Tiger and for having the honor to play with these special group of guys. I can’t wait to see what all they accomplish this season. The friends and fans of Tiger Nation will always hold a place in my heart. #GoTigersGo 🐯🔵🐯
Wiseman had issues with the NCAA and was serving a 12-game suspension because Penny Hardaway — now the Memphis coach but at the time a local high school coach — gave $11,500 to Wiseman’s family so they could move from Nashville to Memphis. He was close to coming off that suspension when the surprise announcement came.
Wiseman is an elite prospect. He stands 7’1” with a 7’5” wingspan and has impressive athleticism. The potential is obvious. The biggest concern is that he wants to play like a modern, shot-creating big man — think Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant — but right now his skill set is that of a more traditional NBA center. He’s got some developing to do.
The first thing scouts in Vegas said: This will not change his draft status much, if at all. They have seen enough, despite just three college games, although he does lose out on having the kind of season that could climb him up draft boards.
The other thing people at the G-League Showcase wondered:
Is this a trend? LaMelo Ball could start to wind it down early in Australia. What if Cole Anthony or Anthony Edwards decide to follow suit and shut it down early (or choose not to play in the conference or NCAA Tournament)? Not that they will, but if it’s not going to impact draft status then more guys in the future could go Wiseman’s route.
At least until the NBA does away with the one-and-done rule, or the NCAA finds a way to compensate athletes financially.Follow @basketballtalk