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) The Lakers, Jazz are in very different places right now
Anybody following the league closely — including smart and level-headed Lakers fans — saw this result coming. The Jazz are playing as well as anyone in the league right now. Without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, the Lakers had lost three in a row and 4-of-5 coming in, and more than that have just looked tired —mentally and physically — for weeks. Like a team in desperate need of the All-Star break (four more away).
The Lakers and Jazz are just in very different places right now, so of course Utah blew the doors off L.A. in a 114-89 win Wednesday.
Where these teams are in February doesn’t matter much. What does matter? Where they are in June. The Lakers get it (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).
LeBron James: “You know this won’t define who we will be for the rest of the season and for the long haul. That’s for sure.”
Markieff Morris: “We see the Jazz, we know they beat our ass tonight. But in the playoffs it’s a different story.”
Utah has been the best team in the NBA — top five in both offense and defense — but the questions are can they maintain both their health and this level of ensemble play come the postseason? The challenges that await them were evident in the loss to the Clippers last weekend, when a long and active defense threw off those system baskets, and the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George pairing were able to find spaces in the defense and get buckets (those two thrive in the midrange). Utah can compete with anyone, but everyone understands playoff basketball is different and it looks a lot more like that Clipper game than the Laker one.
The Lakers have work to do to get back to being contenders. Obviously, they have to get and stay healthy (hence the concern about LeBron being third in the league in minutes played, he’s an ironman but still human). More than that, the Lakers still have to develop the level of trust and chemistry we saw in last year’s title team. The Lakers that started the season won a lot of games on the combination of talent and some smart role players, but the process of building good habits is ongoing with this team. Los Angeles has work to do to become the unit that moved as one we saw in the bubble.
The Lakers will get healthy and likely get back to that level. What we see now is some of the adversity any good team has to endure to reach its goals.
The Lakers will look different in June. Utah will be there waiting for them. Then it gets interesting.
2) Oklahoma City has a night, capped off by a Lou Dort game-winner
There was a big shot at the end (we’ll get to that), but what happened earlier is worth noting.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an All-Star level for the Thunder. He didn’t make the cut — the West is deep with elite guards, and Gilgeous-Alexander is going to pay the price for OKC’s record — but he’s playing at that level. Ask the Spurs, SGA dropped 42 on them.
All of that was needed to set up the final play. The Thunder also got a little help from Patty Mills, who wanted to drive in the final seconds but found himself cut off by Al Horford, and in looking to make a play inside ended up double dribbling.
That left Oklahoma City with 3.9 seconds left and a chance to win. Horford got the ball, spun, and drove the lane, Mills made the right rotation cutting off Horford’s drive to an easy game-winner, but that meant Dort got a wide-open, in rhythm three. Ballgame.
That’s a good win for a Thunder team that could use one.
3) NBA schedule is out, and the NBA is packing in games
The NBA dropped its second-half schedule on Wednesday, and if there is one takeaway, it’s this:
They are going to try their best to get to 72 games. For every team. And end the season on May 16 (followed by the play-in games starting May 18).
This means if you’re one of the teams hit hard by COVID-19 in the first half and had a lot of games postponed, well, be ready for the back-to-backs. For example, the Spurs will play 40 games in 68 days during the second half… and you thought the first half of the schedule was compacted.
The second half of the season resumes after the All-Star break on March 10, and not surprisingly with games between the four teams hit hardest by COVID-19 postponements: Washington at Memphis, and San Antonio at Dallas.
We’re not going to break down the full schedule, but know that there will be many more New York Knicks on your television, and the Jazz are landing some marquee games on the big networks.