Victor Oladipo underwent an MRI Thursday that revealed he has a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, sustained with 4:05 to play in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game against Toronto. He will undergo surgery at a date to be determined and will be out for the season.
This is devastating. The Pacers lose their top player in a season they appeared capable of beating anyone in the Eastern Conference. And Oladipo must recover from a major setback that threatens his explosiveness long-term.
Third-place Indiana still has a seven-game buffer over sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers should still make the playoffs and get at least a first-round matchup with whatever of the Raptors, Bucks, Celtics and 76ers finishes with the worst record.
Indiana has played slightly better without Oladipo this season, but that’s with Oladipo being their go-to player in the highest-leverage situations. Make no mistake: The Pacers are far worse without Oladipo.
Now, Indiana must assess its roster before the trade deadline. Look for reinforcement to remain as competitive as possible without Oladipo? Stand pat and let Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph assume larger roles? Accept reduced expectations and sell (especially players on expiring contracts like Thaddeus Young, Bogdanovic, Collison, Joseph and Evans)? There are no easy answers.
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) D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold-hearted against Lakers. Do you remember what Magic Johnson said after the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets?
“We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader.”
Russell remembers. And Tuesday night against the Lakers he played with all the swagger Magic and the Lakers thought he lacked (and we haven’t seen all that consistently in Brooklyn). Russell was every bit a leader. And a scorer. And an assist man. Russell had 22 points, 13 dimes and the Nets got the win, 115-110.
There are two takeaways from this game.
First, the Nets are scrappy and have some talent — they have won six in a row for a reason (with wins over the Raptors, Sixers, and Lakers in there). The streak has revived the question “could the Nets make the playoffs?” They are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed out East. The Nets have done that with an elite offense (117.6 points per 100 possessions in the streak, third best in the NBA) covering up for a still bottom 10 defense. More than that, the Nets are a walking life lesson: Grit and effort will beat out unmotivated talent. Brooklyn is beating teams that look better than them on paper because they want it more and execute better — and that speaks to what coach Kenny Atkinson has built. It speaks to the right culture, one that will thrive as the talent increases.
The second takeaway? The Lakers need JaVale McGee. Which is a weird thing to type, especially considering Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo both missed the game as well. But the reality is the Lakers are thin up front — remember the start of the season when JaVale looked like a defensive force and the Lakers fell apart when he had to sit, meaning Kyle Kuzma or LeBron James had to play center? Then Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler and suddenly the Laker defense looked top 10 in the league. McGee has missed the last two games, Laker losses to Washington and Brooklyn, with flu-like symptoms. That moved Chandler into the starting lineup, but when he sits the Lakers are thin again. The Lakers may be 18-13 but they are built on thin margins — LeBron needs to play like an MVP and the Laker depth has to be good enough to support him to win. LeBron had 36 in this game, but in the 6:48 he sat in this game the Lakers were -9 and lost. The depth was not there.
Plus, Jarrett Allen did this to LeBron and became the hero of NBA Twitter for a night.
That’s cold. Just the way Russell wanted to serve it up.
2) Larry Nance Jr. tips in the game-winner and Cleveland stops Indiana’s win streak. The Indiana Pacers had won 7 in a row and came into Tuesday night as hot as any team in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers were scuffling without Kevin Love, Jordan Clarkson and Tristan Thompson.
So what happens? The Pacers seemed to be looking ahead to a showdown with the Raptors Wednesday and came out lifeless. The ball movement and offensive spark that was at the heart of the win streak came to a screeching halt — Indiana shot 39.8 overall and a dreadful 18.2 percent from three. Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans combined to shoot 9-of-36 on the night.
That let the Cavaliers hang around, and then this happened — Larry Nance tipping in the game winner.
Cleveland hasn’t had a lot to celebrate this season, so they did.
If you’re one of the Pacers fans complaining that in wrestling for position to get off the game-winning tip that Nance fouled Oladipo… come on. First, you’re never going to get that call in that situation, the refs are going to let them play. Also, THAT’S NOT WHY THE PACERS LOST. Go rewatch the first 47 minutes of the game. Or, just go re-read the second paragraph of No. 2 of our three things to know. That’s why the Pacers lost.
At least they shouldn’t be tired against Toronto on Wednesday.
3) Denver has won four in a row, leads the West, and Nikola Jokic is getting MVP mentions. What a world. In a West where the Warriors have gotten healthy, it is Denver that is still sitting atop the West and riding a four-game win streak — over Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and now Dallas — despite a rash of injuries robbing them of their depth.
After Tuesday night’s win over Dallas, Denver has won four in a row and is 21-9 on the season. How? At the heart of the matter is the big man playing at an All-NBA level who is getting some fringe MVP buzz — Nikola Jokic. He had 32.
Denver is legit people. In a West where we have no idea which team will come out of the pack and take on the Warriors next May in the conference finals, Denver has a real shot at it. They have the star player in Jokic, a good supporting cast, the fourth best defense and the seventh best offense in the league. It will come down to health and matchups in the West in the end, but Denver has as good a shot as anyone to dance with the Warriors in May.
Report: Suns’ top point-guard target is Clippers’ Patrick Beverley
I’m told they’re targeting Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. He’s been at the top of their list.
The issue is price, asking price. Phoenix has only been willing to give up second-round picks in all their discussions for a veteran point guard, which they’re trying to acquire. And the Clippers, just like every other team that knows Phoenix needs a point guard, wants a first-round pick.
First things first, these are the teams internally that the Suns would like to target, that’s very different from having an actual trade conversation with a team that goes anywhere. This is a wish list for Phoenix (and if I were with the Suns I would leak something like this to show the fans how hard we’re working, even if it wasn’t likely to come to pass).
All three of those guys are players in the final year of their contracts who maybe become available around Christmas or after if their teams struggle to start the season, or other players on their teams make them more expendable. However, all three also would extract a pretty big price to get, then the Suns would have to re-sign them in free agency.
Beverley is in the final year of his $5 million contract (which is not fully guaranteed, but the Clippers aren’t cutting him), and he is coming off microfracture and meniscus surgery on his knee that sidelined him most of last season. He is a guy other teams are watching because if he is healthy, and if the Clippers fall back in the West, they could decide to move more into a rebuild mode and make guys available (that is not a sure thing. However, owner Steve Ballmer is trying to get a new arena constructed in Los Angeles and may not want to lose a lot while going through an approval process with plenty of opposition).
Joseph is in the final year of his $8 million contract, and the Pacers have high hopes of not only making the playoffs but doing some damage there, taking a step forward off last season. With that, they have Darren Collison and rookie Aaron Holiday at the point as well — if Collison can stay healthy and if Holiday can show he is ready to contribute at a backup level now then maybe the Pacers will listen to offers. But those are two big “ifs.”
Dinwiddie is in the final year of a steal of a contract at $1.7 million. The Nets like Dinwiddie a lot and have some real decisions to make about the future of their point guard spot this season, primarily how much do they like D'Angelo Russell and how much are they willing to pay him a year from now as a restricted free agent. Even if the Nets decide they want to spend to keep Russell, they love Dinwiddie and it’s hard to imagine them moving him without a lot coming back their way in the trade.
None of these trades are likely, but it’s something to watch as we slide into the season.
Report: Pacers signing Tyreke Evans to one-year, $12 million contract
Victor Oladipo‘s takeoff season hit turbulence when the Cavaliers double-teamed the Pacers star in their first-round series. Oladipo shot 7-for-35 in Game 4 and Game 5 losses. Though Oladipo wasn’t used to being trapped to that degree, Indiana also lacked a reliable secondary playmaker to exploit the advantage situation if Oladipo passed ahead.
In the meantime, Evans can play all three perimeter positions, though he’s probably primarily a wing on this team. He might start at small forward, though I suspect Bogdanovic or McDermott will. The Pacers struggled whenever Oladipo sat, and Evans fits as a spark off the bench.