Bojan Bogdanovic

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Three Things to Know: Lakers make defensive statement in back-to-back road wins

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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) Lakers make a defensive statement in back-to-back road wins in Denver, Utah. After winning 10 games in a row against the softest part of their schedule, the calendar flipping to December was supposed to start a real test for the Lakers. No more playing hard for 24 minutes and getting a victory, no more sloppy quarters leading to a comeback win — the Dallas Mavericks made that clear on Sunday.

Los Angeles answered that with back-to-back road wins where their defense — led by Anthony Davis — shut down the Nuggets and Jazz. Through the two games, the Lakers allowed less than a point per possession (96.5 defensive net rating total), including holding Donovan Mitchell and Utah to 96 points (and a 97 net rating) on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz shot just 41 percent as a team for the game.

Mitchell, who has played at an All-Star level this season, scored 29 but on 11-of-24 shooting — the Laker defense made him work for his buckets. (Bojan Bogdanovic had another strong game for the Jazz with six threes, he has been the Utah summer signing that has worked out well.)

Los Angeles led struggling Utah by 18 at the half and cruised to a 121-96 win. In what looked like a scheduled loss before the season — the second night of a back-to-back at altitude against a good team — never felt in doubt as Davis had 26 points and LeBron James 20 and 12 assists.

The only drama was that LeBron got away with a blatant and hilarious travel and double dribble in the first quarter, one the officials somehow missed.

After the game LeBron owned it, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It was the worst thing, probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my career,” James said after the game… “I didn’t realize I did it until halftime. One of my coaches showed me.”

Coming into the season there were questions about how good the Lakers’ defense was going to be, with coach Frank Vogel wanting to play two bigs and more of a drop-back style of defense. That’s the style Vogel used with success back in Indiana (with peak Roy Hibbert protecting the paint) and has become in vogue again in the NBA. That includes in Utah, where Rudy Gobert has won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards because he owns the paint but also because of his length and mobility tp contest and cause problems out on the perimeter.

Davis has done exactly that for the Lakers this season.

It was most evident late in the game against Denver Tuesday. On one fourth quarter play big man Nikola Jokic tried to back down Davis, put on a move and score in the post and AD just stuff blocked him. A couple of possessions later, Davis got switched onto quick guard Jamal Murray on consecutive plays and forced him into a couple of bad shots that missed.

Stretches like that are the reason the Lakers’ have the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA this season — and it is their defense that has them looking like legit title contenders. Davis is at the heart of it, although both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have used their mobility to be surprisingly good defenders who can contest at the arc and get back to protect the rim.

Davis’ performance has the Lakers already campaigning for him to win Defensive Player of the Year (and some in the Lakers’ media core seem eager to promote that idea). We’re just a quarter of the way into the season, and this award is one that has to be earned over a much longer stretch of ground. There are no actual frontrunners yet, and players like Gobert, the Bucks’ Greek Freak, and Boston’s Marcus Smart — among others — will be in the middle of any conversation down the line.

But make no mistake, the Lakers defense and Davis are for real. They made a statement about that the past couple of nights — and showed why their defense could carry them to a parade in June.

2) Blake Griffin steps over Giannis Antetokounmpo and tempers flare. There wasn’t much drama in the game itself between the Bucks and Pistons on Wednesday — Milwaukee blew the doors off Detroit and never looked back.

Any drama came in the third quarter when Antetokounmpo tried to back down Griffin on the left block, Detroits Bruce Brown came over to double and fouled the Greek Freak, who fell to the floor. Then Griffin stepped over him.

Khris Middleton ran over to get in Griffin’s face about the disrespect and then… well, a lot of words were exchanged. Nothing else. The officials reviewed the play, and both Brown and Middleton ended up getting technical fouls.

That’s the most drama there was in Detroit Wednesday. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points and the Bucks won by 24, extending their win streak to 13.

3) Houston “leaning toward” protesting loss to Spurs over missed James Harden dunk call. That will fail, too. Let’s start with the obvious: The referees missed the call on James Harden’s fourth-quarter dunk against the Spurs Tuesday night. The basket should have counted, and after the game the officials admitted they missed the call.

The league’s response to this has been the same as when it says officials missed a call in the Last Two-Minute reports: be transparent about it but nothing changes. Missed calls are part of the game.

The Rockets are now leaning toward filing a protest of the game, according to multiple reports. We’ll see if they actually go through with it (this could be a lot of noise to make their star happy). If the Rockets do file a protest, it probably fails, too, but from the Rockets’ perspective it at least forces the league to rule on the issue.

First things first: The idea put forward that the league would step in and overturn the game outcome and just hand the Rockets a win was — to use the word of some around the league (not directly involved in the case) — “absurd.” The league would never do that. Let us never speak of that idiocy again.

The Rockets’ protest — if they actually file it — is a longshot. The bar is incredibly high. A successful protest requires proof of a  misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited Houston’s chance to win a game. Meaning, just saying the crew got the call wrong is not enough. Houston’s protest would hinge on the idea that coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t given a fair chance to protest the call because of how the referee crew handled the situation. The lead official said after the game D’Antoni didn’t call for a coach’s challenge within 30 seconds, as the rule demands, so there could be no challenge to the call.

The Rockets have a point here. We can be honest and say the referee crew should have handled this better.

However, remember the bar for a protest is the misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited Houston’s chance to win a game. Back in 2008, the league ordered the Hawks and Heat to replay the final 51.9 seconds of a game because the scorer’s table incorrectly said Shaq had fouled out of the game and forced him to sit when in reality he had just five fouls. That scorers’ table error could have changed the end of a game. In the Rockets case, the referees missed a call but proving the referees misapplied the challenge rule and that’s why the Rockets lost (in a game with nearly 8 minutes left) is a tough sell.

We’ll see if Houston goes through and files this, or if all the bluster is just a PR move to keep an angry Harden happy and show they have his back.

LeBron James blatantly, obviously travels, referees miss it and don’t make call

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Another day, another “how did they miss that?” call in the NBA. At least this one is not going to lead to a protest.

LeBron James blatantly traveled when bringing the ball up the court during the first quarter against the Jazz, and the officials completely missed it.

There was a double-dribble in there by LeBron, too, if we’re going to be sticklers for the rules. Which clearly we are not.

After the game LeBron owned it, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It was the worst thing, probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my career,” James said after the game… “I didn’t realize I did it until halftime. One of my coaches showed me.”

The reaction of Bojan Bogdanovic is maybe my favorite part, he’s incredulous.

This play did not impact the game, the Lakers ran away from Jazz early and went on to win 121-96 behind 26 points from Anthony Davis.

Al Horford chases-down, blocks Bojan Bogdanovic from in front (video)

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Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic is quietly having a superb season. He’s averaging 21 points per game by shooting 49% on 2-pointers, 45% on 3-pointers and 87% on free throws.

But he’s still slow.

In the 76ers’ 103-94 win over Utah yesterday, Bogdanovic broke ahead of everyone on the fastbreak. Yet, Al Horford “jetted” around Bogdanovic to block his shot.

That leads to one of the great questions of our time: Is it still a chase-down block if the defender gets in front of the shooter?

Three Things to Know: Is it time to be worried about the Utah Jazz?

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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) After an ugly 1-4 road trip, is it time to be worried about the Utah Jazz? Coming into the season, a number of pundits and prognosticators picked Utah to have a chance to compete with the big boys in the West for a title (*sheepishly raises hand*). With a lock-down defense anchored by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the continued growth of Donovan Mitchel, and the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, this team all the pieces to compete.

Except…

•  That feared defense is actually 11th in the league for the season, and in the last 10 games they have fallen to 16th in the league giving up 4.9 more points per 100 possessions than they averaged last season. To be fair, Gobert was out for some of those games (and without him, the Greek Freak got to the rim at will and dropped 50 on Utah).

• The offense has never clicked and is currently ranked 23rd in the league.

• Mike Conley is shooting 37 percent on the season.

• The team just suffered ugly road losses, being down 40 at half to Toronto, then on Monday night losing to Philadelphia 103-94 in a game that wasn’t that close, the 76ers led by as many as 26.

After those ugly road losses to close out their road trip it feels like it’s time to ask:

Should we be worried about the Jazz?

Worried is a relative term, this is still a 12-9 team that sits as the six seed in the West and seems destined for the playoffs. Gobert is once again playing fantastic defense and has to be in the DPOY conversation (the Jazz got worse around him, but he is still playing brilliantly). Donovan Mitchell has stepped up after his summer with Team USA and is averaging 24.5 points per game with increased efficiency, and he looks like an All-Star player this season. The Jazz have not been bad.

They also haven’t looked anything like potential contenders, either.

Which is the concern. The Jazz always needed a lot of things to go right to be a big threat in the West, and so far it seems few of those things have gone according to plan, particularly on offense. This is a team that has the highest percentage in the league of offense that comes in the halfcourt (via Cleaning the Glass), meaning they just don’t get many easy buckets.

The struggling offense could have GM Dennis Lindsey looking to make a trade at the deadline to get a power forward this team needs (Danilo Gallinari would make sense with the Jazz). Utah may need a shake-up to contend.

Jazz fans shouldn’t be freaking out, but this team has not lived up to the hype or its potential yet. There’s a lot of season to go, but more than 20 games in it’s time to be a little bit worried.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo, brother Thanasis power Bucks past Knicks to 12th straight win. This game was never in doubt — Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 29 points and 15 rebounds and didn’t even have to play 22 minutes on the night. He just overpowered the Knicks. Literally. Look what he did to Julius Randle.

That’s not fair.

The Bucks won 132-88 to extend their win streak to a dozen.

Last summer, the Bucks signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, in a clear attempt to suck up to the superstar and keep him happy (remember, Giannis will have a supermax offer from the Bucks on the table next summer and the franchise is doing everything it can to keep him).

This is the kind of game where Thanasis gets run, he had 10 points in 12 minutes of play. That brings us the stat of the night:

The Antetokounmpo brothers outscored the Knicks starters 39-37.

3) Carmelo Anthony was named the NBA Player of the Week. The narrative of Carmelo Anthony’s triumphant return to the NBA continues to morph into legend (and as with most legends, the facts start to get blurred a little to fit the narrative).

After a three-game week where he averaged 22.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, a week where the Trail Blazers went 3-0, Anthony was named the NBA’s Player of the Week.

It is validation for ‘Melo and makes a great story (even if nobody cares about this award most weeks). Don’t mind the fact that those three wins came because Damian Lillard returned to the lineup and he’s Portland’s best player (plus the Blazers played the struggling Bulls twice). We’re telling a story, so the fact that last week Karl-Anthony Towns, Luka Doncic and Anthony Davis all averaged more points, rebounds and assists per game than ‘Melo doesn’t matter, it doesn’t fit the narrative (the Player of the Week award has always been more about story than numbers).

To be fair, Anthony has played well in his return, giving a shorthanded Portland team a boost. It’s a small sample size (100 minutes), but Portland is +15.4 per 100 possessions when Anthony and Lillard share the court together. Six games in, picking up Anthony has worked for the Trail Blazers.

So make Anthony Player of the Week. It’s a good story. For my money, it will be interesting to watch how Anthony and Portland fare this week against the two Los Angeles teams — those are real tests.

Giannis Antetokounmpo carves up Utah defense for 50, leads Bucks to win (VIDEO)

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The Utah Jazz entered Monday’s game with the best defense in the NBA, a tough team to score against even without two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (sprained left ankle).

Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 50 on them anyway.

That led the Bucks to a 122-118 win against an outstanding Jazz team led by Bojan Bogdanovic‘s 24 points and four bench players scoring in double figures.

Antetokounmpo shot 17-of-31, including 3-of-8 from three, and most impressively hit 12-of-16 shot attempts at the rim against the Gobert-less Jazz.

While LeBron James, James Harden, and even Luka Doncic have been getting some early MVP love from fans and some media, do not forget about Antetokounmpo. He won the award last season and came back with even more wrinkles and an improved game.