The NBA season has returned, and so has the NBC Sports daily NBA roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed, every key moment from the night before in the Association in one place.
1) Frustration boiling up in Washington after another Westbrook triple-double in another loss
Russell Westbrook was doing his thing: 21 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists, his third triple-double in as many games — and against the Bulls Tuesday he was actually fairly efficient (9-of-17 shooting). Bradley Beal had 29 points on 20 shots and continues to show he’s an elite scorer. The Wizards Tuesday also had their best fourth quarter of the season, actually outscoring the Bulls by a bucket.
Washington lost again, it’s fourth straight, this time 115-107 to Chicago — they are 0-4 despite moves an off-season aimed at assembling a win-now team with an All-NBA level backcourt.
Washington wasn’t embarking on a patient rebuild this season. It re-signed Davis Bertans and brought in Westbrook to make the playoffs. It’s too early to say that cannot happen, but the eye test — or a glance at their advanced statistics — and the Wizards do not look like a playoff team.
Washington’s defense has been bad, it’s offense inefficient, which has combined into one of the worst teams in the NBA to open the season. They earned this 0-4 record, and while the first three losses were to playoff teams (Philadelphia in the opener, then two to Orlando), the Bulls are not of that level (they came in without a win on Tuesday). Frustration is boiling over in Washington, and not just on Capitol Hill.
Russell Westbrook took this loss hard. That’s assistant coach Robert Pack talking to him. pic.twitter.com/hAN9Ld67Y6
— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) December 30, 2020
Beal didn’t bother to speak to reporters after the game, a sign of his frustration.
Washington’s offense lacks cohesion; it’s individuals making plays so far. They are bottom 10 in both three-point shooting percentage and in getting to the free throw line. The Wizards pay no attention to the offensive glass. Washington players are putting up a lot of empty-calorie numbers but not moving the needle toward winning, which was the question and concern from many around the league when the Wizards traded for Westbrook and his massive contract. He has not been efficient, his 45.4 true shooting percentage so far this season is eight points below last season (and that was still just hovering around league average).
And a defense with Thomas Bryant protecting the rim is not going to bail the offense out.
Westbrook tried to set a “we can turn this around” tone on Instagram after the game.
But other GMs continue to circle the Wizards like vultures, waiting for the Bradley Beal trade sweepstakes to begin. Up to this point, Beal and the Wizards have shot all that talk down, but if the losing continues, how long before Beal decides he needs to be elsewhere?
That is when the frustration starting to bubble up in Washington will boil over.
2) Bucks set three-point record in blowout of Heat
Just a couple of days ago, Milwaukee had its worst three-point shooting outing in years, going 7-of-38 from deep in an ugly loss to New York.
Miami paid the price for that on Wednesday — Milwaukee bounced back by hitting an NBA record 29 threes in a blowout win against the Heat, 144-97.
Milwaukee shot 29-of-51 from beyond the arc, with 12 different players hitting at least one three. The guy who didn’t? Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak finished the game with nine points, ending his 132 game streak with at least 10 points.
For Miami, much like the Clippers against Dallas a few nights ago, just flush this game and move on. Consider it one bad night (LA bounced back with a solid win on Tuesday, for example).
These two teams meet again tonight in Miami for the second night of a back-to-back. We will see how the Heat respond. And if Milwaukee’s hot shooting will continue.
3) Julius Randle’s triple-double all the offense New York needed to hand Cavaliers first loss
The New York Knicks, under Tom Thibodeau, have become a top-10 defensive team in the league (so far, small sample size theater is at play here). They get stops, and if they can generate enough offense on a given night they have a chance to win.
Enter Julius Randle. In a game where both offenses stumbled — neither scored a full point per possession on the night — his 28 point, 12 rebound, 11 assist triple-double was enough to get the Knicks a 95-86 win.
Thibodeau wants to win, and he’s asked a lot of Randle on both ends of the court. On offense, he has to get buckets — Randle had 29 points and 14 rebounds against Milwaukee — and on defense, Randle has been asked to guard Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, and even Giannis Antetokounmpo at points this season. Randle has responded with the best play of his career — and the best decision making. He’s not pounding the ball and letting the defense load up on him. He’s making a move or passing but doing it quickly.
There is a lot to like in New York — a smart offseason with no stupid trades for expensive veterans, a more disciplined style of play, good defense, some young players with potential. It’s translating to wins. It’s a long season, and the numbers will shift some in New York, but this is a franchise headed in the right direction now, one building a core that can win long term. Randle can be a part of that.
Just don’t derail the train with a stupid win-now move.