The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Giannis Antetokounmpo playmaking, photography reminder Bucks are elite
The Milwaukee Bucks are title contenders.
I know, I know. After watching two years of playoff flameouts we tend to dismiss that, especially since their defense has not dominated the way it was the past couple of seasons (11th in the league in defensive ratings).
We can’t do that. This team is legit. The Bucks are 13-8, the two seed in the East and the fifth-best record in the NBA, but they have been unlucky — Milwaukee has the largest average margin of victory in the NBA (+8.71) and statistically should be 16-5, second-best in the NBA. They have the best net rating in the NBA at +8.6 (remove garbage time, as Cleaning the Glass does with its stats, and they are still second in the league at +9.5). The Bucks have the best offense in the NBA.
And they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP and unstoppable offensive force. Wednesday night, in just 31 minutes, he had 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 14 rebounds, plus 10 leading the Bucks to a rout of the Pacers 130-110.
Antetokounmpo even served as the game photographer.
— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) February 4, 2021
Ultimately, it does not matter in our minds what the Bucks do for the first 72 games — we know they are an elite regular season team. We’ve seen that for a couple of years running. What matters is what happens in the second round of the playoffs and beyond. What happens to the Bucks’ offense when Antetokounmpo is walled off by a good defense and can’t get to the rim as often? Will their three-point shooting be there in the playoffs? Will their defense? Will Mike Budenholzer adapt his style, and can the Bucks be more than one dimensional in the playoffs (they have shown signs of that this season)? Will the Bucks defense be there when it matters?
All of those are legitimate questions, ones that can’t be answered until May and June.
Just remember that the Bucks are one of the NBA’s best teams and must be mentioned with Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and any other contenders out of the East. They are playing that well.
2) LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges are a highlight factory
Charlotte fell to East-leading Philadelphia on Wednesday night, 118-111, but it authored another gritty performance. As Charlotte has done all season. The Hornets are in a surprise group of teams — with the Knicks and Cavaliers — who are better than expected and are in the mix for one of the East’s play-in spots.
Charlotte also has LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges, and those two are a walking highlight factory.
There’s a lot of season left, and we’ll see if the Hornets can find a little more offense, hold off teams like the Heat and Raptors that started slow but are better than their records, we’ll see if Charlotte really is a play-in quality team.
What we know is they are one of the must-watch League Pass teams this season. Ball and Bridges are putting on a show.
3) New Orleans upset Phoenix behind 28 from Zion Williamson
Monty Williams hit the nail on the head.
"Doesn't matter who guards him, you've gotta show some resistance. I don't think we showed much resistance, especially early." – Monty on Zion Williamson's night
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) February 4, 2021
The Suns showed little resistance and let a struggling Pelicans team get into the paint and dominate on offense, and the result was a 123-101 New Orleans win and 28 points for Zion Williamson.
Phoenix is better than this, but had one of those games where a rough offensive night got in their heads on defense, they softened up in the second half, and New Orleans went right through them. For the Pelicans, this is the kind of win they need to start to right the ship.
For the Suns, if they want to have the six seed and avoid the play-in games, this is the kind of night that can’t happen too often. The West is too deep and unforgiving.