Not that DeMarcus Cousins’ overall line — he fouled out with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and he was +21, all in 15 minutes — was bad at all. In fact, it was pretty damn good. In his first game in nearly a year, Cousins looked like a slightly rusty version of himself. All the trademarks were there, from hitting threes to complaining about calls.
Cousins made the Warriors better from the moment he stepped on the court, and while the big things were obvious it was the little things should worry any challenger to the crown. For example:
• Cousins’ ability to not just score but to be a playmaker out of the midpost adds a new dimension to the Warriors offense.
• Cousins provides versatility to sets the Warriors already run regularly. For example, in the third quarter, he was the guy making the entry pass on the double-screen play the Warriors like, with Draymond Green in the post and Klay Thompson curing off the screens. Cousins set a hard screen that freed Thompson up for a clean look.
• He gives them another three-point shooter, one that creates matchup problems for defenses. The Clippers chose to chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over picks and play on top of them, but that means the big has to drop back and protect against backcuts and drives. Do that with Cousins off the ball and he’s wide open for threes.
“I want to know what the scouting report is on me,” Cousins joked about how open he was from deep.
• Cousins is strong on the offensive glass and that’s going to lead to more kick-out threes for Golden State’s shooters.
• Cousins also gives the Warriors some defense. He’s a big body in the paint who knows how to get in the way. At one point on back-to-back plays Cousins drew a charge on Tobias Harris, then on the next trip down stripped Harris when he drove.
“Like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said of how he felt on the night. “It’s been a long journey… this was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out on the floor again and playing the game that I love.”
Cousins was part of the Warriors picking up their seventh straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94. Curry led the way with 28 points.
Everything went Cousins’ way — he even got a standing ovation from the bench when he fouled out.
“Hopefully that’s the last time we give him a standing ovation when he fouls out, but it was great to see him out there,” Durant said.
“Probably all the fakest love I’ve received in my life,” Cousins joked.
The NBA world shook when Cousins signed with the Warriors last July. Everyone knew it was going to take him a long time to get healthy and right, but Golden State was a team that could be patient and wait for him, not rush him back, and when he did play it would be another weapon to punish switches or just use in their existing sets.
“I thought, good for him. It’s a good spot for him,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said of his reaction when he read about the Cousins signing. “And then I thought, wow, that’s not right.”
Cousins started the game with Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, which meant nobody could really double him.
“This is a first, like in my entire basketball career,” Cousins said of the lack of doubles thrown at him. “I definitely can get used to this.”
Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior was a thunderous dunk, one created because his man had to focus on Durant (and Danilo Gallinari was late with the rotation).
“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked.
Cousins said he was nervous before the game but his girlfriend sent him a picture of himself in the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair the day after his surgery. That helped put the journey in perspective.
“It’s been a year since his injury, he’s gone through a long rehab process…” Kerr said before the game. “This is not the end of the story, this is sort of the middle of the story and it’s a milestone but there is a long way to go.”
Cousins is going to get better at things big and small as that journey continues.
Which should scare the rest of the NBA.
LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo pulling ahead as captains for All-Star draft, which will be televised Feb. 7
Don’t expect it to be live. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in line to be captains, and LeBron’s Lakers play the Celtics at 8 p.m. that night. I doubt LeBron will interrupt his pre-game routine for this. He and Antetokounmpo will likely record the draft earlier in the day.
The most significant race is between Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in the Western Conference frontcourt.
LeBron is a lock to start. Luka Doncic probably won’t get enough support in other categories of the All-Star starter formula – 50% fans, 25% players, 25% media – to start despite ranking second in the fan vote. That leaves two starting spots for George, Durant and Davis.
George leads Durant by just 151,208 votes for third place in fan voting. I’m not sure how players and media will rank the two. George is having a better season. Durant is the better player. It could come down to which of the two squeaks by the other in the fan vote, which carries added importance of being the tiebreaker.
I doubt Davis – who trails Durant by 340,364 votes and George by 491,572 votes – will rise in the fan-vote rankings. He’ll have to make up ground with players and media. Which he could do.
At least George, Durant and Davis are all shoe-ins to make the All-Star game. In the long run, we won’t really care who started and who came off the bench.
Three Things to Know: Boston plays up to level of its competition, earns win over Toronto
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) Boston plays up to the level of its competition, which is enough to earn big win over Toronto. Speaking on behalf of basketball fans everywhere, after watching the last two meetings between these teams, I would like to order seven more of these games for late May. Please. This is a playoff matchup that has to happen.
Now, about last night…
“What is wrong with the Boston Celtics” has been a favorite parlor game around the NBA this season, and while the “too talented” theory and others exist, Wednesday night’s performance and win at home against the Toronto Raptors shed light on maybe the real issue:
These Celtics play to the level of their competition. That gets them in trouble against lesser teams, but when the big guns come to town Boston shows up.
One week ago, the Celtics dismantled a strong Indiana team by 27 points. Boston then turned around and lost to Miami, Orlando, and Brooklyn (the Heat and Nets are .500 teams, the Magic are trying to find their way into the playoffs).
Boston came out Wednesday night like none of those losses happened and played one of its best games of the season to beat Toronto, the team with the best record in the NBA. It was a huge effort led by Kyrie Irving, who had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists, and he outplayed Kawhi Leonard down the stretch of the game (the Kyrie vs. Kawhi duel is what the game became at the end). Irving hit all the big shots.
The Celtics have won 2-of-3 against the Raptors and now are 6-3 overall against Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Philadelphia this season. When the Celtics need to raise their game up, they can, they just don’t do it nightly. After the game, to a man, the Celtics said they need to play like this in their upcoming games (struggling Memphis, then at Atlanta, Miami, and Cleveland).
“We have to play all those teams that aren’t the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philly 76ers, we have to play those teams like they are,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “That only helps us, keeps us in a rhythm, a great rhythm and it holds us accountable for doing the right things.”
“It just comes with our maturity as a team,” Irving said. “I did a poor job of setting an example for these young guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates. You go and say something publicly and it ends up being received in so many different ways. You never know how fragile or what guys are going through if you say things like that. You’re expecting results but at the same time I should have kept it in-house. Going forward, I want … to get the best out of them but I won’t do it publicly like that.”
Was this win a turning point for Boston? It felt like it, not just in the fact that the had to fight back from behind twice in the game and showed real grit and will, but those postgame comments are a positive. Boston may be learning its lessons and growing into a contender.
Only time will tell. With some soft games on the schedule coming up, we may quickly see if Boston is learning its lessons.
2) Stephen Curry explodes for 23 points in third, Warriors storm back then hold off Pelicans for the win. For the second night in a row, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors put on a basketball fireworks show.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were playing maybe their best game of the season and were up 16 on Golden State at Oracle Arena, then Curry went on the kind of run they will show in his Hall of Fame career retrospective video — 23 points on 7 threes in the third.
Curry finished with 41 points on 22 shots, hitting 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant had 30 points, maybe scariest of all for coaches who have to game plan against the Warriors Draymond Green shot 4-of-7 from three on his way to 17 points (sagging off Green at the arc has been a thing this season, and for a while now).
The Warriors got the win 147-140 in a game with the most threes made in any game in NBA history (43).
It wasn’t a defensive masterpiece by anyone, but the game had amazing shot making all night long.
It was the second night in a row the Warriors looked like the Warriors, and why they are back as the No. 1 seed in the West.
All of that overshadowed a 30 point, 18 rebound game from Anthony Davis, who reminded everyone why he should be in the MVP conversation even if the Pelicans are three games below .500.
3) James Harden scores 58 but the Rockets still lose to Brooklyn in OT. We could be seeing variations of that headline a lot in the next month — James Harden continues to play at an MVP level, but it’s hard to underestimate just how much Houston is going to miss Clint Capela this season, both on defense and in the overall scheme of how they play. (Capela is out 4-6 weeks with ligament damage in the thumb of his right hand.)
Harden was spectacular again on Wednesday, scoring 58 points.
After a P.J. Tucker three, Brooklyn was down eight with 1:02 left in the game. But them Sixth Man of the Year Spencer Dinwiddie drained a key three. Then one more. Then a third — this one to send the game to OT. That’s where the Nets got the win.
Brooklyn is a .500 team with this win — an amazing season considering the roster, the expectations, and the fact this team lost Caris LeVert (their best scorer) for much of the season due to an ankle injury. They are building something in Brooklyn that in a few years could be very special.
Our Midseason NBA awards: MVP, Defensive Player of Year, Coach of Year, much more
The NBA has no chill — Most Valuable Player talk started the first week of the season. Now that we’re about halfway through the campaign we have seen enough games, we have enough data to start saying who is the frontrunner for the NBA’s end-of-season awards. Here is who we have at the halfway point of the season.
This is basically a coin flip for me between Harden — who has been good all season on offense and has surged of late carrying the Rockets back up the standings — and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been more consistent on both ends of the court this season (and is by far the better defender of the two). Can Harden sustain this level of play long enough to win the award? I have Anthony Davis a clear third and then a host of players going for the final couple spots on the ballot: LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, and others.
Anthony Davis nearly got the nod. James Harden is surging. LeBron James could get into the race if he gets healthy soon. But Antetokounmpo has been consistently excellent all season. The Bucks’ system is built for Antetokounmpo to shine, and he’s doing it.
If you use your head and check the statistics, you could come up with a couple other options outside of the Milwaukee Bucks superstar for MVP. James Harden immediately comes to mind. But if I am casting my vote here by who I think is going to win MVP, then Antetokounmpo is the clear-cut favorite. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player is as much about narrative as it is about on-court play, and Antetokounmpo is the man with the story and the stats to back it up. His per 100 rebounds, assists, and scoring are all on the rise, and he leads the league in defensive box plus/minus. I’m comfortable picking the guy from little ol’ Milwaukee any day.
We knew coming into the draft last June Doncic was the most decorated European player ever entering the draft — he was the MVP of the second best league in the world — but some still questioned his athleticism and if his game would translate. GMs would rather miss on a player from Duke or Kentucky than Europe (less backlash). Well, the Mavs are Doncic team already and they are in the playoff mix in the West. Doncic isn’t just a ROY, he could be an All-Star. I would have Jaren Jackson Jr. second ahead of Deandre Ayton (Jackson getting it done on both ends for a team that, at least until the last couple of weeks, was in the playoff mix).
The Rookie of the Year race seems like it will perpetually be a source of conflict between people who believe a rookie must be a first-year professional in the NBA alone. Folks got all riled up about Ben Simmons last season, and if I look into my crystal ball I can only assume people will be using Doncic’s prior experience as a professional in Europe as a means to disqualify him from the award stateside. While many other rookies are fun to watch, it’s clear that the Mavericks are already Doncic’s team. That sets him apart in and of itself, and I don’t see another choice.
This race is still wide open (I have a feeling Rudy Gobert will win it again in the end, he and the Jazz are starting to come on), but right now George had brought it nightly for the best defense in the NBA. He’s the best in the league at getting over picks and disrupting plays.
With the NBA’s scoring explosion, no pick here feels great. But George has been the NBA’s top perimeter defender, and his versatility has spearheaded the Thunder’s top-notch defense. I wouldn’t quibble with Rudy Gobert or Draymond Green selections, either. Even if both are below their previous defensive levels, they still might be better than everyone else.
The player who wins MVP doesn’t typically win Defensive Player of the Year. Not unless that player is named Michael Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon, the only two guys who have done both in the same season. But Antetokounmpo is leading the league in defensive box plus/minus, and his length and athleticism are some of the reasons Milwaukee has the second-best defensive rating in the league. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis could all be listed here instead, but with the expectations Antetokounmpo is carrying with him I’m going with the young Buck.
This is a crowded field — as it always is — but “Coach Bud” has put a modern system in place in Milwaukee (updating them from the Nirvana-era 1990s) and the team has thrived in it, the Bucks have the best net rating in the NBA. Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger, Mike Malone, Nick Nurse, Gregg Popovich, Billy Donovan, and a few others can stake a claim, too, but Budenholzer has had the most significant positive impact.
Mike Budenholzer came closest, but the Bucks’ front office positioned him for success (adding Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, stretch bigs who fit Budenholzer’s preferred scheme). Joerger has the Kings surprisingly competitive while overcoming Sacramento’s front office. That doesn’t reflect well on the Kings, but it makes Joerger’s coaching even more impressive.
As we have learned over the past couple of seasons, top NBA personalities don’t necessarily always love each other. In an era of infinite statistical analysis, the human side of basketball still remains a major factor. Yes, the Raptors were the best team in the Eastern Conference last season. And Nick Nurse was part of that success. But Nurse has had to incorporate Kawhi Leonard, who left the San Antonio Spurs under inauspicious circumstances, and a moody and oft-injured Kyle Lowry who doesn’t appear to be on good terms with the team’s GM. We just saw Jimmy Butler and Leonard become a major distraction for their respective former teams. That Nurse has been able to steer the Raptors’ ship atop the East yet again — and while replacing a player favorite coach in Dwane Casey, no less — is an impressive feat.
This is a tight two-man race at the top for me, with Domantis Sabonis neck-and-neck with Harrell — fascinating because this award rarely goes to big men, mostly guards (the last big to win it was Lamar Odom in 2011, and he had a unique skill set). If you just watch a little of Harrell you think he’s a classic energy big — comes in off the bench and just outworks everyone — but the more you watch him (especially in person) you see the high IQ plays, and how he gets it done on both ends. Sabonis has been efficient picking teams apart all season. After those two a few guys are in the mix: Derrick Rose, Spencer Dinwiddie, Lou Williams, and Dennis Schroder.
The Pacers big excels at making shots all over the court. He’s so efficient on both interior finishes and jumpers. I still expect some regression to the mean, but Sabonis’ production so far rates slightly ahead of Montrezl Harrell’s.
It’s hard not to pick the fledgling Brooklyn Nets point guard here. Dinwiddie is a crucial part of Brooklyn attack on offense, and provides in a bench role which doesn’t allow opposing defenses to let up. Teams need to gameplan for Dinwiddie by himself, which sort of points to why he is deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year award. Dinwiddie has made himself into a better 3-point shooter this season, and cut down on his mid-range jumpers. He’s still just 25 years old, so it’ll be interesting to see if he eventually forms into a more all-around type of player and full-time starter. For now, Dinwiddie is happy to tear up opposing secondary rotations on offense.
He has become a crucial player for the team with the best record in the NBA. Siakam has improved seemingly across the board: His defense was always good, but this season he’s been a force on that end; his handles have improved by leaps and bound; and with those dribbling skills has come much-improved playmaking. Beyond that, he has a confidence now that he can make big plays in big moments for this team. I wouldn’t be shocked if at the end of the season Derrick Rose wins this award because his return to his best basketball since his MVP years is one of the best stories of the season.
This is a tough one to call just because you could pick guys like Jamal Murray or one of several Brooklyn Nets and come out looking okay. But the reality is that Portland Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic has quickly made himself into one of the best centers in the Western Conference, and part of the reason the Blazers have steadied themselves against a difficult winter schedule. Nurkic has changed how he plays on offense considerably, adding feel to his game where I just didn’t think it was possible. He has all but eliminated most of his bad habits, and that’s to say nothing of how he plays on defense. Nurkic is a shot-alterer, a defensive anti-gravity machine whose importance largely shows up on film but not in the box score. Portland should be struggling this season, especially with CJ McCollum not playing up to snuff, but Nurkic’s emergence is a big reason why they’re a Top 4 team in the West.
Derrick Rose remains tight with Stephen Curry for top West guard in All-Star voting
The NBA’s new formula for picking All-Star starters – 50% fans, 25% current players, 25% selected media – has sucked the significance out of the fan vote. When solely the fan vote determined All-Star starters, atypical results in voting returns were huge. But now they’re only a small wrinkle and will likely get ironed out with player and media voting.
So, the biggest takeaway from fan voting should be leaders in each conference. Those players (as long they’re All-Stars) will captain each team. As with the first returns, that’s LeBron James (West) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (East).
But it can still be useful to view the full leaderboards in fan voting. The latest update:
Derrick Rose remains very close – just 107,318 votes – from Stephen Curry for first place among Western Conference guards. Curry has slightly expanded his lead from the first returns (95,025 votes), but Rose supporters could be invigorated his high rank wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
Could enough players also vote for Rose to make him an All-Star starter? He’s highly respected among his peers. Maybe he could sneak in with no media votes, which seems like the most likely outcome in that category.
Because votes are combined using rank within each contingent (fans, players, media) and players without votes are given a rank one below the last vote-getter, this could come down to how many Western Conference guards get media votes. For example, if media votes for only Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Rose would count as fourth place in the media category. If even one media member also each votes for Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan, that’d push Rose to counting as seventh in the media category. That could be the difference between him starting and not.
Overtaking Curry in the fan vote would give Rose more margin for error.
Luka Doncic remains second among Western Conference frontcourt players. But it’s difficult to see his peers or the media also voting for the rookie.
Dwyane Wade is also still second among Eastern Conference guards, and he might get some player votes as a sendoff. Still, it’s tough to see him getting enough media support.
If there’s going to be an unconventional All-Star starter this season, my money is on Rose. That said, he has a narrow needle to thread.