Fred VanVleet

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Is James Harden’s phantom dunk enough to get game replayed?

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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) Is James Harden’s phantom dunk enough to get the final minutes of the Rockets’ loss replayed? In the end, I expect the Rockets will end up disappointed — and when they do they will have nobody but themselves to blame. This Rockets’ double-overtime loss is not going to get replayed.

Still, Houston has a unique argument, and it starts here: The referees blew the call on this dunk by James Harden with 7:50 left the fourth quarter.

This is why the NBA has replay and a coach’s challenge… except the officials on the court would not let D’Antoni make a challenge.

Goaltending and out of bounds plays can be challenged, but the explanation by the lead official James Capers after the game is D’Antoni took too long to make his challenge.

I’m not buying that, even though the timing issue is likely what the league falls back on to retain the game’s outcome. Capers mentions basket interference, but that was never the call on the court, it was ruled a missed basket. This sounds like Capers trying to cover for his guys. It clearly took time for the referees to figure out what happened and explain their call to D’Antoni, which is when the coach said he made the challenge. The 30-second rule is being used as a cover.

This gets to the interesting questions: What happens if the Rockets protest the game? Will they even have to?

The bad news for the Rockets is we have seen how the league handles blown calls through the Last Two Minute Report: They admit the mistake but change nothing.

There is zero chance the league just puts the points back on the board and gives the Rockets a regulation win. How the game played out late (in terms of strategy and more) would have been different if the Rockets were ahead by two. The league could order the end of the game replayed, but in the past have chosen not to do so even after owning up to a missed call. This is different in that it’s a clear missed call on a basket that took two points off the board, but still this is not how the league has handled situations in the past.

If this goes down as a loss — 135-133 in double overtime — the Rockets shouldn’t blame the officials, they need to blame themselves. And only themselves.

Houston was up 20 with 3:23 left in the third and by 10 with 3:53 left in the fourth but, as has followed a pattern with this team, could not hold the lead. They lost defensive focus. James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 26.5 percent (18-of-68). Whether or not they let the lousy call get in their heads, the Rockets played terribly down the stretch.

Lonnie Walker IV played well and had his best NBA game, keying that Houston comeback. Walker finished with a career-high 28 points and scored 18 of those points in the fourth quarter — including eight straight to close the game and force overtime. DeMar DeRozan added 23 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

2) Anthony Davis plays through flu, scores 25, but it’s his defense late that gets Lakers win in Denver. After the Lakers got their heads handed to them by Luka Doncic and the Mavericks on Sunday, the theme in the L.A. locker room postgame was that the Lakers needed to play a full 48 minutes — not flip the switch in the third quarter — against the better teams. Like the Denver game coming up.

Anthony Davis did just that. Battling the flu that had him in bed all day before the game — then taking IV fluids at halftime just to keep going — Davis had 25 points. However, it was his defensive plays late that earned the Lakers the win: There was a stuff block of Nikola Jokic, but more impressive was when Davis twice got switched onto point guard Jamal Murray late and was able to stay in front of the speedy guard and force him into bad shots.

Jokic has been up-and-down this season and Tuesday night was a down, with Davis (along with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard) holding the Denver big man to 13 points on 12 shots.

LeBron James also added 25 points.

The Nuggets have been one of the best clutch teams in the NBA this season (8-4 in games within five points in the final five minutes), but the Lakers were better and outdueled them down the stretch in this one (L.A. is now 9-1 in those five-in-five clutch games).

For those who doubt the Nuggets as a real threat to the Los Angeles teams in the playoffs, Tuesday was more fuel for the fire.

3) Jimmy Butler’s triple-double leads upstart Heat past Raptors in overtime. In a number of fundamental ways, when Miami plays Toronto it’s like looking in a mirror.

These are two franchises that emphasize culture first. They each have stars that have worked their way up — Jimmy Butler for Miami and Pascal Siakam for Toronto — and were not just anointed top picks. These are two franchises that find guys other teams overlook and turn them into valuable contributors — three undrafted players started in this game, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson for Miami, and Fred VanVleet for Toronto.

Also, both teams are now 15-5 on the season after Miami held on to beat Toronto in overtime, 121-110. The difference was Jimmy Butler, who scored 8 of his 22 points in overtime on his way to a triple-double.

This is what Miami needs from Butler. Some are calling for Butler to score more and lift up the Heat offense that way, but this kind of game — where he distributes and gets others involved, then takes over when he needs to — is exactly what the Heat need out of him. More games like this will mean more wins.

Jimmy Butler’s triple-double helps Heat snap Raptors’ seven-game win streak

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TORONTO (AP) — Jimmy Butler had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, Duncan Robinson scored 22 points and the Miami Heat spoiled Kyle Lowry’s return to Toronto’s lineup by beating the Raptors 121-110 in overtime Tuesday.

Butler scored eight consecutive points in 55 seconds to begin the extra session as the Heat recovered after blowing a seven-point lead in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Bam Adebayo scored 18 points, Justise Winslow had 17 and Kelly Olynyk 16 as the Heat snapped the Raptors’ season-high winning streak at seven games, and became the first visitor to win north of the border this season.

Pascal Siakam had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Norman Powell scored 23 points and Fred VanVleet had 19 for Toronto, which had won a franchise-record nine straight home games to begin the season.

The Raptors missed all nine of their field goal attempts in overtime.

Philadelphia (10-0), Miami (8-0) and Boston (7-0) are the only NBA teams yet to lose at home this season.

Miami also won at Milwaukee on Oct. 26, a 131-126 overtime victory. The Heat are the only road team to beat the Bucks this season.

Lowry returned after missing 11 games because of a fractured left thumb. The five-time All-Star missed his first 11 shot attempts, including seven from 3-point range, before making a layup with 8:40 to go in the fourth. He finished 2 for 18, including 0 for 11 from 3-point range. Lowry had 12 points and 11 assists in 41 minutes.

Toronto trailed 107-100 after Winslow’s layup with 1:59 to go in the fourth. Powell hit a 3, Lowry made a pair at the line and, after a missed jumper by Winslow, Powell connected from the corner to give the Raptors a 108-107 lead, their first of the final quarter.

Butler tied it by splitting a pair of free throws and Siakam had his shot blocked at the other end, giving the Heat the ball with just under 20 seconds remaining. Miami advanced the ball before coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout with 9.3 seconds to go. Butler pulled up for a 3 over Powell, but his shot bounced off the rim, sending it to overtime.

UP NEXT

Heat: At Boston on Wednesday.

Raptors: Host Houston on Thursday.

Three Things to Know: Warning about Lakers’ future arrives in the form of Luka Doncic

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — 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) Warning about Lakers’ tough road ahead arrives in the form of Luka Doncic. Dallas entered Sunday with the best offense in the NBA — not just this season, but in NBA history. The Mavericks had an offensive rating of 116.1 (which would best even the recent Warriors offenses, if Dallas can sustain it).

LeBron James seemed to take that as a personal affront.

He has picked his spots on defense in recent seasons, and those spots were never 20 games into the season. Sunday was going to be his spot — he was active, physical, all over the court and disrupting Luka Doncic at every turn. He had three early steals and got into the body of Kristaps Porzingis to force one of them.

However, the Lakers couldn’t sustain it — and that spotty effort has been a thing the past week plus. While Los Angeles had won 10 in a row, they had faced a softer schedule of late and that allowed them to get away with flipping the switch. Los Angeles trailed Memphis by 15 and New Orleans by 16 recently but were able to come back against those overmatched teams.

The Lakers could not do that against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.

“We’ve dug ourselves into a couple of holes the past week or so,” guard Danny Green said. “Eventually, it’ll catch up to us. It did.”

By halftime, the Mavericks bench had changed the tone of the game — and the Lakers were struggling enough for LeBron to call a huddle on the court to cuss at his teammates.

This time there would be no L.A. comeback and the reason was Doncic — 16 points, four rebounds, and five assists in the third quarter alone. Dallas made an adjustment that worked beautifully: When the Lakers blitzed Doncic off the pick-and-roll he quickly gave up the ball but then got it right back and attacked again before the defense could reset. Give the young star that kind of space and he will carve a team up.

In the third, the Lakers made a run to get the lead down to 10, but then Doncic found a cutting Delon Wright for a layup, drained a three, hit another layup when Doncic himself drove the lane, and by that point the lead was 17 again. Doncic was feeling it, and it showed with a step-back three over his idol LeBron in the fourth.

The Lakers are 17-3 this season, but the thing is they are 14-0 against teams below .500 when they faced them and 3-3 against everyone else (beating the bad teams is a sign of a good one, the dynasty Spurs were the kings of that). December is filled with a lot of everyone else — the Lakers have the toughest schedule in the league in December. That starts with a Denver/Utah road back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday, kicking off 8-of-9 away from Staples Center.

The Lakers have been able to get away with some stretches of sloppy play the past few weeks because of their talent level and how much better that was than everyone they faced. When LeBron is playing at an MVP level — which he absolutely is — he can overwhelm weaker and even average teams. The good teams, like Dallas, can weather the storm and make a comeback. The Lakers have to be sharper, have to clean up their play on both ends, get back to playing at an elite level, or it’s going to be a long, cold December.

2) Concern about Marcus Smart injury overshadows another Boston win. Jayson Tatum scored 30 points and Boston did what good teams do on Sunday: They found a way to win on a day they weren’t as sharp as normal, rallying to beat the Knicks. Jaylen Brown added 28 in a win that improves the Celtics to 14-5 and keeps them as the three seed in the East.

That’s not the big story out of this game.

Marcus Smart went down with an oblique injury after a collision with Kevin Knox. Smart left the game not to return, but the real concern is this is the same injury — and Smart said the same spot — that caused him to miss about a month last season.

The Celtics have the sixth-best defense in the NBA this season and Smart is at the heart of that. He has been tenacious on that end, in a way that has to get him Defensive Player of the Year votes (although it’s too early to have that discussion just 20 games into the season). Smart has refused to take time off to heal a variety of smaller injuries this season, something that just comes with his all-out style of play, so a couple of games missed that gives his body time to get right is not the end of the world. However, Boston will miss him a lot if he has to miss any extended time. We should learn more on Monday.

3) Toronto is the best team you’re not watching, now with seven wins in a row. It’s considered the statistical sign of a title contender: Having a top-10 offensive and defensive rating. As you might expect, the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks all have that this season.

So do the Toronto Raptors — they actually have a top-five offensive and defensive rating.

While most fans have focused on the drama in Los Angeles or how Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken a step forward this season with the Bucks, the Toronto Raptors have quietly looked like a team ready to defend their title. Kawhi Leonard bolted for those bright lights in L.A., but north of the border Pascal Siakam has emerged as a true superstar, Fred VanVleet has stepped up and is scoring 18.6 points a game, Kyle Lowry is still the heart of the team and Marc Gasol is making plays on defense. The Raptors are a legit threat.

Just ask the Utah Jazz — Toronto blitzed the feared Utah defense for 77 first-half points (that was with Rudy Gobert back in the lineup) and led by a franchise-record 40 at the half. From there, the Raptors cruised to a 130-110 win, their seventh in a row to improve to 15-4 on the season. Siakam led the way with 35 points.

Toronto has been one of the great stories of the NBA season, and one not getting enough attention. The Raptors’ ability to develop players — like Siakam and VanVleet, and now rookie Terrence Davis — has not just kept them afloat this season but turned them into a genuine threat to the powers of the East.

Toronto is not going to just celebrate their title and quietly fade away this season. This is an outstanding team that is set on defending its crown. The league underestimated them, but no longer. The Toronto Raptors are turning heads. And winning games. A lot of games.

Raptors up by 40 at halftime, go on to rout Jazz 130-110

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TORONTO — Fred VanVleet and the Toronto Raptors hardly anticipated an easy night against the Utah Jazz.

“I don’t think any of us expected to be up 40 against that team,” VanVleet said.

Pascal Siakam scored 35 points, VanVleet had 21 points and 11 assists, and the Raptors used a record-setting first half to rout the Jazz 130-110 Sunday.

Toronto led 77-37 at the intermission, the biggest halftime lead in franchise history, the biggest in the NBA this season, and tied for the eighth largest in league history. It also marked the biggest halftime deficit in Jazz history.

“We were awful,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

Siakam (26 points) and Gasol (11) combined for as many first-half points as the entire Jazz roster, helping Toronto win its franchise-record ninth straight home game to open the season.

The Jazz rallied in the second half but still suffered their biggest defeat of the season. Utah lost by 19 at Indiana last Wednesday.

“Obviously, our focus to begin the game has to be better,” Snyder said.

Siakam shot 4 for 22 and scored a season-low 10 points in Friday’s win at Orlando but bounced back against by making eight of his first 10 field goal attempts. He shot 14 for 22 overall, matching his career high with five 3-pointers. He also had five against New York last Wednesday.

“He’s got a lot of pride in his game,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “When he has an off game, I just think he comes out mentally ready to roll. You could just see him with aggressiveness and confidence.”

Serge Ibaka returned after missing 10 games because of a sprained right ankle and scored 13 points in 21 minutes as Toronto won its seventh straight overall and improved to 5-2 against Western Conference opponents.

Mike Conley scored 20 points and Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Jazz lost for the third time in four games on their five-game trip, which ends at Philadelphia on Monday night.

“We didn’t match their energy at all,” Conley said. “We knew it was going to be physical, we didn’t handle the ball well. We didn’t get back on defense, we didn’t do little things that good teams do.”

Utah’s Jeff Green scored a season-high 19 points and Donovan Mitchell added 16.

Utah took an early lead before Siakam scored 10 points and Gasol added eight during a 23-2 run, giving Toronto a 28-11 lead with 3:24 left in the opening quarter.

Mitchell stopped the Raptors surge with a 3, but Siakam scored 19 points in the first as Toronto led 37-20 after one.

After making just 5 of 27 field goals in the second quarter, the Jazz connected on 16 of their first 19 attempts in the third. Conley scored 13 points in the third and Mitchell had 11 as the Jazz outscored the Raptors 49-30 to cut the gap to 107-86.

NBA Power Rankings: Lakers on top of ‘things to be thankful for’ edition

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With Thanksgiving on Thursday, this week’s edition of NBC’s NBA Power Rankings, we go around the table and talk about what each team should be thankful for this holiday.

Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (15-2, Last week No. 1). Lakers fans should be thankful for how quickly the LeBron James and Anthony Davis pairing has come together, the team is +13 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together. Wednesday night, Davis is going to get booed mercilessly by the New Orleans fans who feel betrayed by him, but those fans are going to see why he wanted to partner with LeBron. The combo works brilliantly. Los Angeles has won 8 in a row through the soft part of the schedule — as good teams do — but when the calendar flips to December things get much harder.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (14-3, LW 4). Milwaukee fans should be thankful they get to see Giannis Antetokounmpo play — he is the reigning MVP and he has been better this season than last. The Greek Freak is averaging 31.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists a game this season — all numbers that are up from his MVP season. Plus he remains an elite defensive player — it is that end of the floor that won him the MVP over James Harden last season — who happens to have a ridiculous 61.5 true shooting percentage. Players don’t come along like this often, we need to savor watching him play while we can.

Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (13-5, LW 8). Clippers fans are thankful they are finally getting to see Paul George and Kawhi Leonard play together: In 94 minutes together on the court this season the Clippers are +6.9 per 100 possessions, with an elite defense allowing less than a point per possession. The Clippers are 4-0 with both superstars in the lineup, and that includes shutting down the league’s best offense in Dallas on Tuesday, plus hard-fought victories over hot teams in Boston (a playoff-level intensity game) and Houston. Leonard even had the game-winner against the Rockets.

Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (13-3, LW 5). Nuggets fans should be thankful their front office has built a team that can beat opponents a variety of ways, including going 10-1 in November because of a league-best defense (a genuine surprise this season). The Nuggets also are one of the best clutch teams in the NBA. Denver is 8-2 this season in games that are within five points in the final five minutes, the second best winning percentage in the league. Denver is outscoring teams by 13.2 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. Change it to look at games within 3 points in the final 3 minutes and the Nuggets are 7-1.

Mavericks small icon 5. Mavericks (11-6, LW 10). What Dallas is thankful for is obvious: The play of Luka Doncic and the Dallas offense — at 116 points per 100 possessions it is on pace for the best offensive rating ever. Not just Mavericks fans should be thankful, but all fans of the game. The Mavericks are just fun to watch. That said Tuesday night vs. Clippers that powerful offense was held to less than a point per possession, and on Sunday they face the Lakers in another test to that offense.

Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (12-4, LW 6). North of the border they should be thankful for Fred VanVleet, who has taken on a much higher percentage of the offense (his 22 usage rate is the highest of his career) but has been more efficient because of his improved shot selection. VanVleet just isn’t taking midrange shots, he’s either getting to the rim or shooting threes. VanVleet has taken 239 shots this season and only 11 of those were between the paint and the three-point line. He’s also getting to the free throw line more, which is upping his efficiency. The man is a free agent next summer, and he is going to see offers with a lot of zeros at the end with the way he is playing.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (12-4, LW 3). Celtics fans should be thankful Kemba Walker’s scary-looking head/neck injury only cost him one game, Walker is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday night. Walker is averaging 22.9 points per game this season and the Boston offense is 11.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. And all that doesn’t get into the improved chemistry issues on this season’s squad, which is the other thing Boston fans should be incredibly thankful for this season.

Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (11-6, LW 12). Heat fans should be thankful Ben Simmons has made his first three in an NBA game, against the Knicks one week ago. It is something to build upon… except he hasn’t. In the week since, he has attempted only one other three-pointer, and that was a desperation turn-around shot. Hitting one three is not going to make teams respect him in space, he’s got to take a couple a game (or more) or defenses will continue to sag off of him, creating spacing issues. Since starting the season 3-0 on the road, the Sixers have gone 1-6 since away from home (they have the Knicks on the road Friday, which should be a win).

Heat small icon 9. Heat (12-4, LW 7). Heat fans should be thankful for their young stars, who have made the Heat a winning and playoff team this season. Sure, this is Jimmy Butler’s team, but around him is a collection of players under 25 getting the job done: Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Justise Winslow (he’s still just 23). It’s a credit to the Heat scouting and player development teams that they keep finding and helping build up these players in a way few other franchises ever have. Those young stars have a good test against the Rockets tonight.

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (11-6, LW 9). These last two games without Rudy Gobert (sprained ankle) has reminded Jazz fans why they are thankful for the big Frenchman — Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the lane at will and put up 50 on Utah with him out. It’s going to take a lot to grab the Defensive Player of the Year trophy out of Gobert’s hands. That loss to the Bucks was the start of a five-game road trip for the Jazz, who are 3-5 outside Salt Lake City to start the season. With Gobert out, Utah needs Joe Ingles to break out of his shooting slump (30.3% from three and a dreadful 48 true shooting percentage).

Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (10-6, LW 11). In Indiana they are thankful for Malcolm Brogdon, who has kept the Pacers offense afloat with Victor Oladipo out. Thanks to Brogdon the Pacers are one of the six teams that look like playoff locks in the East. Brogdon is playing at an All-Star level averaging 18.8 points and 8.2 assets a game. The other thing that has helped Indy this season is a top-10 defense anchored by Myles Turner in the paint (the Pacers defense this season has been as good as the Sixers).

Rockets small icon 12. Rockets (11-6, LW 2). Give thanks for The Beard in Houston. It’s been that way for years, whether it was Dwight Howard or Chris Paul or now Russell Westbrook next to him. James Harden is one of the great scorers the game has ever seen and he’s having a monster season, averaging 37.9 points and 8 assists a game. Teams are being far more aggressive defending him with double teams high up the court now, trying to force the ball out of his hands and daring any other Rocket to beat them. For top teams it has worked so far, as evidenced by three straight losses (Nuggets, Clippers, Mavericks). The schedule softens up some after Thanksgiving, at least for a few weeks (that marquee Christmas Day game against Golden State doesn’t look as threatening now).

13. Timberwolves (9-8, LW 13). Timberwolves fans should be thankful for Ryan Saunders, the young coach who has both connected with Karl-Anthony Towns — pushing the big man to his best NBA season so far — and opened up the Minnesota offense. The Timberwolves have taken the fourth most three pointers in the league this season. The problem is they have hit just 31.7 percent of them (third worst in the NBA). Towns is not the problem, he is attempting 9 threes a game and hitting 44.4% of them, but the front office ultimately needs to find other shooters to put on this roster.

Nets small icon 14. Nets (9-8, LW 17). In Brooklyn, be thankful for Spencer Dinwiddie. Since Kyrie Irving was sidelined by his shoulder six games ago, Dinwiddie is averaging 24.7 points and 6.7 assists a game with a 58 true shooting percentage — and the Nets are 5-1. The offense just flows more smoothly with Dinwiddie — who has fully bought into coach Kenny Atkinson’s selfless style of play — running the show, as opposed to Irving, who will always lean towards isolation because he is so good at it.

Suns small icon 15. Suns (8-8, LW 14). Suns fans should be thankful for Aron Baynes, a guy brought in to back up Deandre Ayton who thrived when forced into a larger role, becoming the stretch five that has made their offense click (and provided a big body to protect the paint on the other end). The fact the Suns are 1-3 without him (hip) and Ricky Rubio (back issue, but expected to return tonight) shows how much the veteran additions have helped this young team.

Kings small icon 16. Kings (7-9, LW 16). Sacramento faithful need to be thankful for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has helped the Kings get back on the right track in November despite Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox missing time with injuries. In his last five games, Bogdanovic has averaged 19 points and 6.8 assists per game, and shot 39.5 percent from three. You can see why the Kings made a $51.4 million contract extension offer to him (the max they can offer) and also why he didn’t take it, thinking there is a bigger payday out there for him next summer. It’s also clear why Bogdanovic wants a bigger role than sixth man.

Pistons small icon 17. Pistons (6-11, LW 22). In Detroit, be thankful you are still in the playoff mix. Despite losing 6-of-7 earlier this month, and the first three games with Blake Griffin back in the lineup, the win against Orlando this week has the Pistons in the nine-seed still and just half a game back of those Magic. Detroit has been playing better of late and has a +0.9 net rating the past two weeks (via Cleaning the Glass), and they have been unlucky so far (according to net rating) and should have 7 or 8 wins, which would have them in the postseason right now.

Wizards small icon 18. Wizards (5-10, LW 28). Wizards fans should be thankful for newcomers Davis Bertans and Moritz Wagner, who have played well for a team desperate for guys not named Beal to do that nightly. Bertans is averaging 13.1 points a game, shooting a ridiculous 43.9% from three, and doing the little things right on the court you expect from a guy out of the Spurs system. Wagner is providing depth and shooting up front, scoring 12.4 points per game and shooting 47.4% on the 2.5 threes he takes a game.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (6-10, LW 15). Orlando, be thankful for the emergence of Jonathan Isaac as a legitimate foundational player for this franchise going forward — whatever they build, he needs to be a part of it. The Magic defense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, but that doesn’t speak to what a fantastic, switchable defender he is already, able to guard on the perimeter and protect the rim. His 25 points against Indiana are a sign his offense is starting to come along. He’s a keeper.

Thunder small icon 20. Thunder (6-10, LW 18). Oklahoma City fans are not getting to watch the star power they have seen since, well, ever (ever since the move this team has been stacked). What they should be thankful for is a gritty team that plays hard — 13 of their 16 games have been within five points in the final five minutes. Without the stars it’s harder to close those games, out, the Thunder of 5-8 in those clutch games (2-7 in games within three points in the final three minutes). I’ve seen the Thunder in person a few times now and they are hard to play against, and as the schedule softens up and they catch a few breaks this team’s record will improve).

Blazers small icon 21. Trail Blazers (6-12, LW 19). Portland fans, be thankful Damian Lillard is back in the lineup, because this roster needs him. Desperately. The Trail Blazers have not been a team that relies on passing to create open looks a lot in recent years (they were bottom five in the league in passes made a season ago). However, this season they are making 39.5 fewer passes per game than last season (second lowest in the league), which leaves Portland relying even more on isolation, and pick-and-roll creation. Which is why they need Lillard back, he’s the best they have. Terry Stotts has leaned on Lillard for 37.4 minutes a game because he has to, you can decide if all those minutes helped lead to his injury.

Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (6-11, LW 23). New Orleans fans, be thankful for lottery ping-pong balls. More than just that, be thankful for a team that is playing the right way even before Zion Williamson suits up — New Orleans is second in the league in passes made per game at 315.9. Wednesday night, Pelicans fans get to boo Anthony Davis, a player they never felt really embraced their city and culture, then forced his way out the bright lights. Wednesday is also a chance for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to get a little revenge against a franchise they clearly were not comfortable with on several levels.

Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (6-12, LW 24). Bulls fans, be thankful that Zach LaVine’s reaction to being benched and the erratic coaching of Jim Boylen was to drop 49 points and hit the game winner against the Hornets. After hitting 13 three-pointers in that game LaVine, Boylen, and everyone around the Bulls was singing Kumbaya, but there is plenty of talk around the league about the fit of the coaching staff with this roster in Chicago, and how long until the next incident.

Spurs small icon 24. Spurs (6-12, LW 20). Be thankful for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the five titles and decades of elite play they brought you. At some point for every franchise there comes a time to rebuild, and while the Spurs have pushed that back for a few years it feels like the bill is coming due (losing Kawhi Leonard really made a rebuild ultimately inevitable). Expect to hear a lot of potential trade talk about DeMar DeRozan, and to a lesser degree LaMarcus Aldridge. The struggles of Dejounte Murray this season, which have now sent him to the bench and moved Derrick White into the starting lineup, are a concern because he is seen as a good young rebuilding piece.

Hornets small icon 25. Hornets (6-12, LW 21). Hornets fans, be thankful for the emergence of Devonte' Graham, who leads the team averaging 18.1 points a game, he and Cody Zeller have been critical to the Hornets getting this many wins this season. After that… be thankful there’s really elite college basketball to watch in North Carolina, because reality is catching up with the Hornets after their fast start and it’s not pretty (the loss to the Bulls in the Final seconds was particularly painful).

Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (4-13, LW 26). Be thankful for the play of Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett, young stars who provide hope for the future no matter how much it feels like ownership will just find a way to screw it up. (Unfortunately, I’m not as convinced Kevin Knox is a big part of that future anymore.) Knicks fans are some of the smartest and most loyal in the NBA and they deserve better than the product on the floor the past couple of decades.

Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (5-12, LW 25). Be thankful that the NBA is bringing the 2022 All-Star Game to Cleveland, because by then some of these young Cavaliers who are struggling now might be playing well enough to be in the game. The warm feeling of the 4-5 start to this season wore off during the recent six-game losing streak (by an average of 19.2 points), while the backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are learning hard lessons about life on an NBA court. Expect the Tristan Thompson trade rumors to start up soon, especially after his strong game against Portland.

Grizzlies small icon 28. Grizzlies (5-11, LW 27). Be thankful for rookie Ja Morant — and that his scary fall into a cameraman courtside this week wasn’t something worse. Morant is the early leader in the Rookie of the Year race and is averaging 19.1 points and 6.3 assists per game, is shooting better than 40% from three, and is just an amazingly fluid athlete. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are starting to show some chemistry, too, something the Grizzlies are banking on for their future.

Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (4-13, LW 29). Trae Young may be slumping a little of late, still Hawks fans should be thankful for him. While Atlanta is off to a slow start this season — their defense was expected to struggle some, but to also have a bottom five offense is a surprise — there are signs of hope. Like Young’s potential. Or De'Andre Hunter’s recent run of 18+ point games where he showed real potential as a catch-and-shoot wing.

Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (3-15, LW 30). Who should Warriors fans be thankful for? James Wiseman. Anthony Edwards. Cole Anthony. Tyrese Maxey. Deni Avdija. Eric Paschall (and they can watch him nightly). The Chase Center. Nico Mannion. Maybe even LaMelo Ball. The future for this team, next season and beyond, remains incredibly bright. This season, well, five straight trips to the Finals will catch up with a team.