NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn is a beast (when Kevin Durant plays)


The opening couple weeks of the season are always Power Rankings chaos: Are Atlanta/Cleveland/Orlando for real? What to make of Brooklyn’s losses? Or the Clippers getting blown out? I answer those questions as best I can in this week’s rankings — which means not punishing Brooklyn much — and know that things will settle down in a few weeks. Hopefully.

Nets small icon 1. Nets (2-2, Last Week No. 5). We are not punishing Brooklyn in these rankings for its two losses because both came with Kevin Durant on the bench — and he has been nothing short of spectacular in his return. It’s not just the 26.7 points a game with a ridiculous 69% true shooting percentage, it’s the way he is moving like the pre-Achilles version of himself. Just how well he’s moving is more evident on defense, where on Christmas Day Durant did a good job checking Jayson Tatum for stretches of the game. Brooklyn will miss the depth Spencer Dinwiddie brought to the table after the key backup point guard tore his ACL.

Clippers small icon2. Clippers (3-1, LW 3). After impressive wins over the Lakers and Nuggets to open the season, Paul George was asked what that meant considering the team’s struggles in the bubble. “Nothing, I kind of buried last year. I left last year in the bubble.” Then the Clippers proved how little those games meant with a historically ugly loss to Dallas (without Kawhi Leonard, but still). Nicolas Batum turned out to be a good roll of the dice by the Clippers; he is in much better shape and is giving them solid minutes as a starter. He looks like the Batum of five years ago, and I did not see that coming.

Lakers small icon 3. Lakers (2-2 LW 1). The Lakers have the third-best offense in the NBA, and that seems sustainable with this roster (stats via Cleaning the Glass), but the defense that carried L.A. to a title last season has been middle of the pack so far this young season. A lot of new players get used to each other and it shows at moments. Well, that and the Lakers have not seemed focused in half their games so far this season. The two early losses are not that concerning, especially with Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell combining for an average of 31.8 points per game through the first four. The Laker offense can carry them a long way while the defense comes around.

Hawks small icon 4. Hawks (3-0 LW 16). The Hawks have looked good against a soft opening schedule, the real test comes starting tonight with two games at Brooklyn. Trae Young‘s numbers to start the season are eye-popping — 34 points and 7.3 assists a game, shooting 42.1% from three — but he always dazzles. What’s more impressive is they have played good defense without centers Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu in the lineup (out with injuries, although Okongwu is close to a return). DeAndre Hunter has played great defense but, more importantly, is contributing on the other end of the court as well. Atlanta may have a steal in Nathan Knight if he can keep this up. The team will be without Kris Dunn and his defense for at least a few weeks after he had his ankle scoped this week.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (3-1 LW 9). How good is Philadelphia? When Joel Embiid is on the court, very — they are +25.9 points per 100 possessions better when he plays. Embiid anchors their defense — which gives up less than a point per possession when he is on the court — and takes advantage of the spacing created by Seth Curry and more shooting. Philly is 3-1, but they have some ugly wins, got blown out by Cleveland (without Embiid), and while the Sixers’ defense is top five, the offense is inconsistent and is bottom five in the league so far. The 76ers need to find some consistency when Embiid sits, but they are winning.

Bucks small icon 6. Bucks (2-2, LW 2). The Bucks’ two wins — Golden State on Christmas, Miami on Tuesday in a barrage of threes — have been blowouts, but behind that some questions linger. Milwaukee’s elite defense is off to a pedestrian start this season (18th in the league), particularly in the halfcourt. That could be small sample size theater, but it’s worth monitoring as the season moves along. Has Giannis Antetokounmpo taken a step forward? As always, he is getting to the rim, with 40% of his shots in the restricted area and hitting 82.6% of those, but outside three feet he is 8-of-36 shooting (22.2%) and is 4-of-18 from three. Again, it’s early, but those are numbers that are concerning.

Magic small icon 7. Magic (4-0 LW 22). I’m hesitant to praise the Orlando offense as having made major strides when two of their first three games were against Washington and its terrible defense. Let’s see how Orlando fares against better teams. What does seem real is Markelle Fultz playing well, he had 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, sparking a comeback against those Wizards. Fultz has taken a step forward this season. Orland has 5-of-7 at home before a six-game road trip hits them mid-January.

Suns small icon 8. Suns (3-1 LW 17). While everyone was waiting for Deandre Ayton to break out as the third star in Phoenix, Mikal Bridges has taken that title and ran with it this season. Bridges is averaging 15.5 points a game and shooting 45.5% from three on 5.5 attempts a game this season. Bridges has always played hard and had ridiculous length, but his handles look better this season, allowing him to get his shot. The Suns also have the third-best defense in the NBA to start the season; we will see if that is sustainable or small sample size theater.

Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (2-1, LW 12). This ranking may be too high, or at the least I’m not sold Portland can maintain it if it keeps playing this way. Give the Blazers their due, this team has beaten the Rockets and the Lakers, Damian Lillard has been MVP-level, and Jusuf Nurkic brings so much to this roster. But Terry Stotts switched up the Trail Blazers defensive system this season and they have not figured it out yet — this a bottom-five defense in the league so far, and their half-court defense has been dreadful. That will come back to bite them if it doesn’t improve. There are only so many CJ McCollum game-winners a team can count on.

Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (2-2, LW 7). Jayson Tatum started the season settling for jumpers, becoming the first player in league history to attempt 20 or more shots in consecutive games without drawing a free throw. Tatum got to the line 14 times over the next two games. Boston’s defense has not looked good to start the season, and you know that is gnawing away at Brad Stevens. On the bright side, Payton Pritchard has had a real impact on this team as a rookie. He played four years at Oregon and averaged 20.5 points a game his senior season, but I didn’t expect this kind of leap and impact in the NBA.

Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (3-1, LW 15). New coach Nate Bjorkgren has Indiana attacking the rim — 37.6% of their shot attempts this season have been in the restricted area (and that was pushing 50% before defenses adjusted). That has worked well for Domantas Sabonis, who is averaging 21.8 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.3 assists a game, all while playing strong defense and looking like a guy out to prove his All-Star selection was no fluke. Indiana also has a disruptive defense under Bjorkgren that Boston could not solve for seven quarters. This is a strong Pacers team, and they may prove this early-season ranking too low.

Jazz small icon 12. Jazz (2-1 LW 10). If you watched Utah tear apart Portland on opening night, you’d think this ranking is too low. If you watched Utah’s frustrating loss to Minnesota, you’d think this ranking is too high. Which of those versions of the Jazz will the team lean to during the season? Right now, it’s too early to tell. Sunday Utah heads to San Antonio to start a seven-game road trip that should give us a better idea of just how good this team can be — and maybe give us another Donovan Mitchell game-winner.

Cavaliers small icon 13. Cavaliers (3-1, LW 29). Cleveland had a soft schedule to start the season, but that doesn’t change the fact the Cavaliers have the second-best defense in the NBA this young season, allowing less than a point per possession. Andre Drummond may not be the greatest defender ever, but he is an upgrade over what the Cavs had (plus he is a beast on the boards). Collin Sexton is averaging 27 points a game, right in line with the 25.5 a night he averaged after the All-Star break last season — he has made a leap. Injuries have hit the Cavaliers hard: Kevin Love is out 3-4 weeks with a calf strain, while promising young rookie Dylan Windler out with a broken left hand.

Kings small icon 14. Kings (3-1, LW 23). In a backcourt with the streaky De’Aaron Fox, the offensive focused Buddy Hield, and the defense focused Cory Joseph, Tyrese Haliburton has been a smart and steady revelation that the Kings have needed. There are rookies putting up bigger counting stats (10.5 points, 5.3 assists a game) but none playing better than Haliburton. Sacramento has racked up two wins now against Denver, which is a good sign, and the first one came in dramatic fashion thanks to Buddy Hield.

Mavericks small icon 15. Mavericks (1-2, LW 8). Before their Sunday thrashing of the Clippers, Kristaps Porzingis was out on the court to get some run and some shots up pregame. He seemed to move well and the uncontested shots were falling, but these were not close to game conditions. Still, KP is making steps. Josh Richardson has looked fantastic next to Luka Doncic, averaging 16.7 points a game and shooting 40% from three. Was the 51-point win over the Clippers a turning point for a Mavs team that lost to the Suns and Lakers to open the season, or just a one-off great game? We should get a sense of that with some interesting games coming up, including Friday hosting Miami.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (1-2 LW 6). The ball was moving, Duncan Robinson couldn’t seem to miss, and Bubble Miami showed up on Christmas Day. The other games… not so much. A blowout loss to the Bucks is concerning (even if the loss was without Jimmy Butler, who will miss a little time with his sprained right ankle). The bright spot in Miami is they seem to have found another mid first-round pick they could develop into a stud in Precious Achiuwa, who was guarding Zion Williamson on one end and getting buckets on the other on Christmas Day.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (2-2, LW 18). Stan Van Gundy came in with a mandate to fix the New Orleans defense — and so far this young season they have been better (about league average, which is a step up, and that number may be skewed by the ugly first half against Miami on Christmas). The offense has been inconsistent, although Brandon Ingram is averaging 23.3 points and 6.6 assists a game, he appears to have taken a step forward with his playmaking skills.

Spurs small icon 18. Spurs (2-1, LW 24). DeMar DeRozan suddenly loves the three ball. Well, relative to seasons past. He averaged less than one three pointer attempted per game the past two seasons, but with Gregg Popovich trying to open the offense up DeRozan is putting up 2.7 a game this season, and hitting 37.5 of them. Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray are playing well, the Spurs have a top-10 defense again, and while it’s early maybe we should have put San Antonio in the playoff mix in the West. Time to start a new streak!

Warriors small icon 19. Warriors (2-2, LW 13). The Warriors have looked sort of what we expected them to be: They got beat by elite teams (Brooklyn, Milwaukee) and picked up wins against lesser foes (Chicago, Detroit). With Marquese Chriss out, it means more run for rookie James Wiseman — and that’s a good thing. His development should be a focus this season because with Klay Thompson back (*knocks on wood*) and a healthy roster next season, they need Wiseman to make a run. Wiseman is averaging 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, but his feel for the game is lacking. He looks like a guy who played just three games in college — Wiseman needs a lot of court time. Also, you have to love that with Stephen Curry on the court, Damion Lee called his own number for the game-winner.

Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (2-2, LW 27). This ranking feels too low and doesn’t do justice to just how much harder this team is playing and how much more disciplined they are under coach Tom Thibodeau — this is a team that beat the Bucks. Julius Randle is being asked to do a lot this season (including defensively), but he has been up to the task so far — and of course Thibodeau is going to lean on the guy most able to get him wins right now. Hopefully, Obi Toppin (strained calf) and Immanuel Quickley (hip pointer) can get healthy and back on the court soon, their development matters.

21. Timberwolves (2-2, LW 21). It’s unclear how long Karl-Anthony Towns dislocated wrist is going to keep him on the sidelines, but it was clear in the two losses since that injury how much he means to this team’s offense (the team was 18.7 points per 100 possessions better with him this season, and while that’s a small sample size it was 12 per 100 last season). D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards have to pick up the slack, and Naz Ried will start in place of Towns, but this is not the same team without him.

Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (1-2, LW 26). After all the preseason hype, coach James Borego is keeping LaMelo Ball‘s minutes in check to start the season (the most he played was 20 minutes against Brooklyn) — which is the right move to make. Ball may be a flashy and elite passer, both his decision making and shooting need work. While you can say Ball is hitting 40% of his threes, he’s shooting 27.3% on twos and just 38.1% finishing in the restricted area. It’s not like he’s making up for those numbers on defense. Best to bring him on a little slowly, let him find his way in the NBA game.

Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (1-3 LW 4). The biggest drop and the most surprisingly bad start to the season. Bubble Jamal Murray has only shown up in flashes this season after getting his contract extension. Michael Porter Jr. continues to get exposed on defense. Paul Millsap looks a year older. The lone bright spot for Denver is Nikola Jokic has played at an MVP level, averaging a triple-double — 24.5 points, 13.5 assists, and 11.8 rebounds a game — but even he has had a couple ugly turnovers at key moments. The Nuggets players around Jokic need to step up.

Thunder small icon 24. Thunder (1-2, LW 30). The Thunder are feisty. They are not going to win a lot of games this season, but with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, George Hill, Al Horford (kinda), and the emerging Luguentz Dort, this team is putting up a fight nightly. Gilgeous-Alexander’s maturity — and a year playing next to Chris Paul — is showing this year. Teams are blitzing him on the pick-and-roll get get the ball out of his hands, and he is showing patience and making the right decision.

Rockets small icon 25. Rockets (0-2 LW 14). CJ McCollum put it best after draining the game winner to beat Houston: “James Harden is really good man. Regardless what he does in his free time, He is really f****** good at basketball.” As Harden returns to putting up video game numbers on the league, there is zero reason for the Rockets to lower their asking price for him in a trade. Right now, no team is willing to pay that, but the Rockets are banking that the market will come back to them as some teams become disolusioned about their start.

Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (1-2, LW 209). Jaren Jackson Jr. was already out, and now Ja Morant is out 3-5 weeks with a Grade 2 ankle sprain. That’s not good, but watching it happen, it could have been so much worse. This is a setback for Memphis’ hopes of the playoffs/play-in games, but more importantly it’s a setback for the development of the cornerstone player of Memphis’ future. Plus, it just sucks for NBA fans because we don’t get to watch him for a few weeks.

Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (1-3, LW 25). Chicago bounced back and got its first win, but it came against a struggling Washington squad, so don’t read too much into it. This is still a team with a bottom-10 defense and a bottom-five offense to start the season. In a season that should be about player evaluation in Chicago, what does Arturas Karnisovas make of Wendell Carter Jr., Coby White and others have been up-and-down? Eight of Chicago’s next 10 games come on the road.

Raptors small icon 28. Raptors (0-3 LW 11). Another surprising start to the season. The defense may have taken a step back without their centers (Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka both left for Los Angeles), and the Raptors have struggled to defend the three. But the bigger issue is on offense, where the Raptors have been the second-worst team in the league in half-court offense to start the season. That despite Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and plenty of talent on the roster. This is likely just some small sample size issues to start the season, but it’s worth watching.

Wizards small icon 29. Wizards (0-4 LW 19). Russell Westbrook has a triple-double in all three games he’s played to start the season, Bradley Beal is averaging 32 points a game (but has struggled from three, shooing 24% so far), yet the Wizards can’t get a win. Washington’s defense has been as bad as expected, but the offense is bottom 10 in the league — the Wizards thought they could win shootouts, and they have not. Frustration is bubbling up in Washington D.C. Rookie Deni Avdija has played fairly well for Washington, all things considered, including getting starts.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (0-4 LW 28). While the Pistons have some solid veterans, they are trying to develop their young stars and have tried to turn the offensive keys over to rookie Killian Hayes and just signed Jerami Grant (who was always going to have to grow a lot to be the player on offense the Pistons paid him to be). That has not been pretty, as expected. Suddenly, when things get tight, it’s Blake Griffin, Delon Wright, and Derrick Rose with the big minutes and the ball in their hands, but that has not yet been enough. I’d ask “What’s the plan?” but we’ve been asking that about the Pistons since the start of the offseason.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.


Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Three things to Know: Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

We are officially nine days away from the NBA trade deadline, and the rumors and transactions tend to pick up speed when the calendar flips to February. Let’s round up the latest trade talk around the league, starting with the fact that this trade deadline may be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

• This is shaping up to be a dud trade deadline. Trade chatter has picked up in the past couple of weeks, but those talks do not seem to be gaining traction in most cases. Blame the play-in tournament and compact standings — teams that see a path to the postseason are less likely to be sellers. And, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Monday on NBA Countdown, “I also think there’s more of a reluctance than ever to put 1st round picks for players.”

• If you want an action-packed deadline, you are begging the Toronto Raptors to become sellers (if not, the best player traded could be Jae Crowder). The Raptors change that in an instant if they make a player such as Fred VanVleet, or especially someone like Pascal Siakam, available. However, right now when teams call they are being told Toronto is going to make its decision on how to approach the deadline — sell, stand pat or buy — closer to the Feb. 9 date. (The Raptor most likely to be traded, whatever they decide, is Gary Trent Jr.)

• If the Raptors do jump in and decide to trade multiple players, the Knicks will be at the front of the line for O.G. Anunoby (a very Thibodeau-style player). That said, there will be a lot of interest in the defensive wing, and the price to get him will start at a couple of first-round picks.

• Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was crystal clear Monday: Myles Turner is off the trade market. (His two-year contract extension made that kind of obvious, although technically he could be traded.)

• The Milwaukee Bucks may be the frontrunner in the Jae Crowder sweepstakes, they are the only team given permission by the Suns to talk to the disgruntled forward, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The sides are still working out the parameters of a deal, but it will not include Grayson Allen, Phoenix isn’t interested.

• The Sacramento Kings — who sit third in the West and look sure to break their 16-year playoff slump, but don’t have the defense to be a serious threat in the postseason — are monitoring to see if Philadelphia makes defensive wing Matisse Thybulle available in a trade, according to Marc Stein.

Dallas is all in on finding a second star to go with Luka Dončić. Good luck with that, as noted above there is not a star on the market. However, the Mavericks are open to throwing in Dorian Finney-Smith in the right package to get a star, something they rebuffed when teams called before.

• There is increasing buzz that neither the Hawks’ John Collins nor the Pistons’ Bojan Bogdanovic will be traded. The new front office in Atlanta led by Landry Fields is higher on Collins as a long-term fit in Atlanta (even if Collins doesn’t feel that way) and is more likely to keep him than trade him. The Pistons are keeping their price high on Bogdanovic — an unprotected first-round pick — because they would be happy to keep him for next season, and have told the player precisely that.

Denver is very open to trading second-year point guard Bones Hyland for some defensive help, to the point Stein said he’s one of the most likely players to be traded now (clashing with your coach over playing time will speed your trip out the door).

• There are a lot of teams watching the Timberwolves waiting to see if Jaden McDaniels becomes available. The Pacers, Spurs, Raptors and Jazz are among the interested teams.

2) Luka Dončić returns to court, drops 53 on Pistons in win

Don’t make Luka Dončić angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The Pistons bench, led by assistant coach Jerome Allen, started chirping at Dončić from the opening tip, Dončić chirped back and admitted after the game the trash talk got him going. The result was a 53-point night in his return after missing a game with a tweaked ankle.

The list of players who have had five or more 50+ point games in their first five seasons in the league now consists of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Luka Dončić (with four of Luka’s coming this season).

For Dallas, the win moves them up to sixth in the crowded West right now and out of the play-in (a place they expected to be all season). For Detroit, trade target Bogdanovic scored 29 points while Saddiq Bey added 18.

3) Kings’ De'Aaron Fox is clutch again, leads team to OT win

De’Aaron Fox is unquestionably one of the frontrunners to win the NBA’s new NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award (which the NBA league office not-so-helpfully defined as the player who “best comes through for his teammates in the clutch”). Fox leads the NBA in total clutch points scored (in the last five minutes of a game within five points) with 119, and is shooting an impressive 60% in those minutes. (If you’re curious, the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan is second in points scored in the clutch and Dončić is third.)

That was evident on Monday night when Fox took control of the Kings’ offense late, started getting to the rim and creating out of that, scoring 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, leading the Kings to an overtime win on the road against the Timberwolves.

In the overtime it was a lot of Trey Lyles for Sacramento, he scored eight of his 11 points in OT, playing because Domantas Sabonis had fouled out.

Anthony Edwards has been making a leap in recent weeks and scored 33 on Monday, the fifth time in the last six games he has scored 30+. However, he is still learning hard lessons and had six turnovers, mostly when facing double teams down the stretch.

“He’s drawing a big crowd,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, via the Associated Press. “For the most part, he’s trying to make the right play. Maybe he needs to see it a little earlier.”