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NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets back on top, Celtics, Pacers climbing fast

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For the second time this season, Denver moves to the top of the power rankings, holding off the healthy and improving Warriors. At the other end of the scale, the Bulls are the new occupants of the cellar.

 
Nuggets small icon 1. Nuggets (21-9, last week No. 6).. Mention Denver as a potential Western Conference Finalist and the question is quickly thrown back: “Is this team for real?” If you’re looking for a sign how about this: The Nuggets are 12-3 against teams over .500, best record in the NBA. Think a contender needs a star? Nikola Jokic is pushing his way into the fringe MVP conversation. Denver has won four in a row (on a homestand) but now have 7-of-11 on the road, where it is just 8-6 this season. Too bad no Nuggets on Christmas, just so we could see Jokic do more things like this.

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (21-10, LW 4). The Warriors are still coasting through the regular season, as evidenced by their disinterested loss to the Raptors a week ago (when Toronto was on a back-to-back and without Kawhi Leonard). Have your doubts about the depth and everything else if you want, but when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green are on the court together they are +12.8 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors will flip the switch when it matters. Like Christmas Day against LeBron James and the Lakers.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (20-9, LW 1). The Bucks have won 4-of-5, but the one loss was a blowout to the Pacers and it raised some concerns. At the top of the list right now is Khris Middleton, who is shooting 31.5 percent overall and 26.7 percent from three over those last five games. The Bucks need him to get right because Giannis Antetokounmpo and friends got the Christmas Day game they wanted, at noon in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (23-9, LW 3). Toronto has some of the most impressive wins of the NBA season… and just as many baffling losses. Recently, the Raptors won back-to-back games on the road against the Clippers and Warriors without their best player — Toronto is 7-1 without Leonard this season — then dropped games at Portland and Denver. Both of those losses were without Kyle Lowry (thigh contusion) and it speaks to how crucial he is for this team to thrive. Overall the Raptors have dropped 4-of-6 and have an interesting test against the red-hot Pacers Wednesday night.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (18-11, LW 8). Boston’s offense was on fire — even with Marcus Smart in the starting lineup — during their eight-game win streak (which ended in Detroit last weekend). This was a bottom five offense for much of the start of the season but in the last nine games (including the Detroit loss) the Celtics had a 120.6 offensive rating and shot 40.4 percent from three. With Gordon Hayward moved to the bench and Al Horford surprisingly looking a step slower, much of the offensive load has fallen on Kyrie Irving, and he has been up to the task.

 
Pacers small icon 6. Pacers (20-11, LW 9). Indiana had won seven in a row and turned heads, at least before a surprising home loss to Cleveland Tuesday. While much of the Pacers’ run has come against a soft spot in the schedule, they knocked off the Bucks and Sixers in this stretch, and they have outscored opponents by 9.7 per 100 possessions in their last eight (including Tuesday’s loss), second best in the NBA. December win streaks are not harbingers of playoff success, but ignore the Pacers at your own peril. This team can play.

 
Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (19-10, LW 2). Who leads OKC in scoring, three point shooting percentage, PER, and has been the team’s MVP this season? Paul George. Not that guy with the MVP trophy at home, the other star. George is averaging 24.9 points per game and his play has got him in the early All-NBA team discussion. The Thunder have 7-of-9 coming up on the road (where they are 7-7 this season) and that includes a Christmas Day game at Houston.

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (20-12, LW 5). A couple of rough losses last week (Pacers and Nets) with Jimmy Butler on the sidelines. That is less about Butler and more about how this team lacks quality depth, they are not getting consistent quality play out of guys like Furkan Korkmaz and Wilson Chandler (Philly misses the guys it traded to get Butler – still a good trade, but there were sacrifices). Fun prime-time Christmas Day showdown with the Celtics.

 
Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (17-13, LW 14). Two quality wins last week (Toronto and the LA Clippers) stopped the bleeding of a 3-8 stretch. Part of the reason for the Blazers’ fast start (12-5) was the play of the Evan Turner and the bench, but that has fallen off so hard that coach Terry Stotts has gone back to keeping one of Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum on the court at all times. You can watch those rotations in the Christmas Day nightcap, where Portland travels to Salt Lake City (the Jazz are playing better than their record indicates, that will be an interesting game).

 
Lakers small icon 10. Lakers (18-13, LW 7). For those of you tracking how well LeBron James is meshing with the young Lakers, know that L.A. is +1.9 per 100 when LeBron and Lonzo Ball share the court. When LeBron and Brandon Ingram share the court it’s just +0.5. (The best is LeBron and Josh Hart, +8.3.) Los Angeles just went 1-3 on a road trip, including ugly losses to the Wizards and Nets. The Lakers are 8-3 vs. teams over .500 and 10-10 against teams under that mark. Does that mean it’s good news they get the over .500 Warriors on Christmas Day?

 
Rockets small icon 11. Rockets (15-14, LW 21). Eric Gordon has moved into the starting lineup, James Ennis is coming off the bench, and in spite of that — Gordon has struggled and Ennis got injured — the Rockets have won four in a row, all against good teams in the West. What changed? Their defense has moved from bottom-five abysmal to league average in those wins, and in two of those games James Harden went off like a guy who wants to keep his MVP trophy. He had 50 points against the Lakers and 47 against the Pacers. Yes, he traveled on that setback everyone saw vs. Indy. Yes, he’s frustrating to play against. But Harden is an elite scorer and when he is on opponents are helpless.

 
Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (16-15, LW 19). San Antonio won 5-of-6 during its recent homestand, and we’re just going to ignore that baffling loss to Chicago (blowing a 21-point lead). The Spurs have been dominant during this stretch (best offense in the NBA, second best defense over that stretch) and they have done it with balance. That said, the loss to the Bulls was a reminder of the inconsistencies of this team. Starting Friday in Minnesota the Spurs have five games in a row against other teams fighting for playoff slots in the West.

 
Kings small icon 13. Kings (16-14, LW 18). No Marvin Bagley III for at least another week due to a bone bruise in his left knee. The rookie made headlines anyway this week when coach Dave Joerger praised Luka Doncic and some interpreted that as a shot at Bagley (when in reality it was a shot at the front office). Joerger then tried to make up for it comparing De’Aaron Fox and Bagley to Westbrook and Durant. Even when the franchise is playing well — much better than expected — and in the playoff mix, they can’t stop the petty, distracting sniping.

 
Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (15-14, LW 12). It’s good to see Dirk Nowitzki back on the court, but he is playing a very limited role through three games — 7.3 minutes a night, scoring 2.7 points per game and shooting a very un-Dirk like 37.5 percent. He’ll get better, but he’s not the focal point of this team any longer. Dallas has lost three straight, that despite getting J.J. Barea back from a sprained ankle. Tuesday’s loss in Denver was the start of 9-of-11 on the road, much of that against other teams in the West battle. The next few weeks could make or break their season.

 
Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (16-14, LW 11). Joakim Noah is giving Memphis between 14 and 15 minutes a night off the bench, and the defense remains solid when he is on the court (1.2 points per 100 better than when he’s off). The problem is the offense nosedives with him out there, more than 10 points per 100 worse (which is not all about Noah, the Grizzlies weak bench is all to blame). The Grizzlies have lost 5-of-6 and have three games remaining on a tough road trip through the West.

 
Clippers small icon 16. Clippers (17-13, LW 10). Losers of four in a row, all without Lou Williams, but the Clippers problems go farther back than that, they have dropped 6-of-7, the lone win in that stretch came in overtime against the Suns team without Devin Booker. While Tobias Harris is in a slump and the offense without Sweet Lou is struggling, the bigger problem is on defense where the Clippers are allowing 121 points per 100 in the last four games and 115.9 in the last 10 (both worst in the NBA). Things don’t get easier for the Clippers with their next six against teams in the playoff hunt in the West.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (14-15, LW 16). Charlotte goes as Kemba Walker goes, and in the last 10 games that has not been good. Walker is shooting 33.7 percent in those 10 and 24.7 percent from three, is scoring six fewer points per game and the Hornets are getting outscored by 4.7 per game with him on the court. That said, the Hornets are 5-5 in that last 10 including wins over the Nuggets and Bucks, but they are not going to be able to sustain that level of winning — or make the playoffs — if Walker does not get his mojo back soon.

Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (14-14, 13). Detroit pulled off one of the most improbable wins of the season last Saturday: The Pistons had lost six in a row, the Celtics had won eight in a row, and yet it was Detroit’s night. That, however, is the Pistons lone win in their last eight games. The good news is the schedule eases up a little: Minnesota, Charlotte, Atlanta, an Washington are the next four. That should help Detroit get its footing back.

 
19. Timberwolves (14-16, LW 15). Since the Jimmy Butler trade, the Timberwolves are 8-3 at home but 2-4 on the road, and that includes a recent four-game losing streak. In that losing streak their defense, particularly chasing teams off the arc, came undone. That’s nothing new, the Timberwolves have a defensive rating that is 9 points worse per 100 — or, to go old school, they have given up 9.5 more per game — away from Target Center. The concern about that is starting Friday in San Antonio the Timberwolves are back on the road for 6-of-7, they can’t afford to slide farther down the standings in the West.

 
Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (15-16, LW 17). Despite Anthony Davis playing like an MVP and Julius Randle beasting on everyone, the Pelicans are treading water — their last 10 games have gone win, loss, win, loss, etc. The Pelicans offense has been a little better than average, their defense about average, during that stretch, but the Pelicans just can’t string together wins and they remain 12th in the West (1.5 games back of the eight seed). No team is being more active and aggressive heading into the trade deadline, management wants to impress Davis and prove he can win in the Big Easy before what will be a big summer for him.

 
Jazz small icon 21. Jazz (14-17, LW 20). This feels to low for how the Jazz look on paper and with their point differential, but then again they have lost 4-of-5. Utah has been the unluckiest team in the NBA this season, they have the point differential of a 17-14 team (according to Cleaning the Glass, which means stats without garbage time included). Utah has played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far and it shows. It doesn’t get easier this week with the Warriors, Thunder, and the Trail Blazers twice, once on Christmas Day.

 
Nets small icon 22. Nets (14-18, LW 24). The scrappy, never-say-die Nets are winners of six in a row (with wins over the Raptors, Sixers, and Lakers in there). They’ve done it 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. Great move signing Spencer Dinwiddie to an extension, he’s the kind of tough, smart player that epitomizes the Nets.

 
Magic small icon 23. Magic (14-15, LW 23). No team gets to the free throw line less than Orlando, their free throw rate of 15.3 is worst in the league. Which is interesting in that the team drives the lane 41.3 times per game, right about the middle of the pack (18th in the league), the Magic just don’t draw contact. That was some ugly basketball played in Mexico City last week, but the Magic won both games there so it looked pretty to them.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (13-16, LW 22). Miami has hung on without Goran Dragic, who missed 12-of-14 with knee soreness (the Heat went 6-6) but can they sustain that over the next couple of months now that he is out with knee surgery? The Heat are -5.8 per 100 without Dragic, almost all of that drop coming on the offensive end. Also, now Pat Riley and the Heat will become the target of other teams thinking the Heat will be sellers at the deadline.

 
Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (12-19, LW 25). Washington went out and got Trevor Ariza, the kind of solid wing presence on the court and professional off of it that management hopes can turn the season around, but it feels like they could have gotten more than that for Kelly Oubre. Nothing sums up the Wizards’ season better than an impressive win at home against LeBron and the Lakers where John Wall is engaged and dropping 40, then turning around and losing to the Hawks. Ariza is not going to fix that.

 
Suns small icon 26. Suns (7-24, LW 30). Winners of three in a row, and they “won” the trade with the Wizards, too (although there were no real winners in that deal, except maybe for Memphis for not being a part of it). Kelly Oubre will be more engaged and play hard in a contract year for the Suns, plus he can still be traded before the deadline (just not in a package with other players, has to be alone). Phoenix could have held on to Austin Rivers and tried to find a trade for him as well, but they decided to let the guard walk and save some money on the buyout.

 
Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (8-23, LW 28). Kevin Love is out until January, Tristan Thompson remains in street clothes, and the most interesting thing around the Cavaliers right now is J.R. Smith trade watch. There has not been a lot to celebrate in Cleveland this season, so they joy of the Cavaliers after Larry Nance’s tip-in to beat the Pacers was fun to see. Plus, what a great play.

 
Knicks small icon 28. Knicks (9-23, LW 27). In his last five games, four of them starts, Kevin Knox has averaged 19.4 points per game, is shooting 41.7 percent from three, and is grabbing 6.8 rebounds per game. His confidence is growing. The Knicks have lost 7-of-8 but because they’re the Knicks can see them Christmas Day as they try to slow down Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Good luck with that.

 
Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (7-23, LW 26). No team in the NBA is playing faster than the Hawks, who averaged 106.6 possessions per game (a full possession faster than the second place Kings). Play fast, play poor defense, turn the ball over too much and things happen like giving up 144 points to the Nets. Three point line, imaginary four point line, it doesn’t matter — Trae Young continues to struggle with his shot from beyond the arc.

 
Bulls small icon 30. Bulls (7-24, LW 29). The Bulls have lost 11-of-13 with an offense in that stretch scoring less than a point per possession (worst in the league by far in that time). Now Jabari Parker has been benched and Zach LaVine is out injured, that’s not going to help the Bulls offense (it could be good for their defense, however. With Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis healthy and playing well, Parker moves onto the trade block but it will be interesting to see what Chicago can get for him (Parker has a team option for $20 million, making him valuable for a team looking to clear cap space and willing to send Chicago picks/young players).

Three Things to Know: D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold hearted against Lakers

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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) 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.

In the end, Russell made sure he got his revenge, sinking the dagger over Kyle Kuzma — the guy taken with the pick the Lakers received when they sent Russell East.

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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo matches career high with 44 against Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND — Giannis Antetokounmpo played as if he had a point to prove.

The Milwaukee star rebounded from his worst game of the season to match his career high with 44 points and the Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-102 on Friday night despite missing two starters.

Two nights after being held to a season-low 12 points in a loss to Indiana, he was 14 of 19 from the field, made 16 of 21 foul shots, and had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

“You’ve got to put that game in the past,” Antetokounmpo said. “You put it in the past and move forward.”

Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ second leading scorer, was out with a sprained right finger. Malcolm Brogdon, fourth on the team in scoring, didn’t play because of a sore left hamstring.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t surprised Antetokounmpo took over with his team short-handed.

“Obviously, a monster game for Giannis,” he said. “We kind of rode him pretty hard tonight. He was ultra-aggressive. He’s a competitor. He wants to be great.”

Asked what a team can do to slow down Antetokounmpo, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said, “There’s not an answer to that. He’s a terrific player. He’s elevated his game over the years. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”

Not only was Antetokounmpo coming off a subpar game, Wednesday’s 113-97 loss was Milwaukee’s largest margin of the season.

Antetokounmpo made an instant impression after Milwaukee won the opening tip when he dunked on Osman on a set play in the halfcourt offense. He ended the half by finding Pat Connaughton for a 3-pointer.

Antetokounmpo, who had his 20th double-double of the season, admitted he was aware of his numbers.

“At some point in the game, you realize you’re scored a lot, so you look up at the scoreboard, but usually I don’t even look at it,” he said.

The Bucks never trailed and held off a late Cleveland spurt. The Cavaliers cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter on Cedi Osman‘s 3-pointer, but Antetokounmpo had a three-point play and an assist on Brook Lopez‘s basket that beat the shot clock, pushing the lead to 111-99.

Lopez scored 19 points and Eric Bledsoe had 16 for the Bucks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 for Cleveland. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton had five points after scoring in double figures in 18 straight games.

Cleveland played its second game without Tristan Thompson, who could be out for a month with a sprained left foot.

Larry Nance Jr. gives meme-worthy response to call

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The Cavaliers lost to the Timberwolves last night, but Larry Nance Jr. stole the show while disagreeing with a call.

Three Things to Know: 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think

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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) The 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think. Watch the Wizards play and what is wrong grows more and more obvious. It’s not the defense — although it’s terrible, the Wizards are allowing 114.5 points per 100 possessions this season (26th in the NBA and 6.9 worse than they gave up last season). It’s not their three-point shooting, although the Wizards are hitting just 31 percent from three as a team. It wasn’t even that the Wizards got blown out by the Clippers 136-104 Sunday night.

It’s not the statistics at all.

Watch Washington in person and the team’s lack of chemistry is painfully obvious:

• When Bradley Beal slipped and went to the floor in the second half, it was Clipper Tobias Harris who helped him up because no Wizard teammate came over to. There were two other similar instances I noticed Sunday night where the Clipper player helped a Wizards player off the floor because teammates did not rush over to do so.

• When the Wizards took the court to start the game there was almost no interaction among players — Otto Porter was talking to the referee because that was the only person willing to talk to him.

• Clippers players seemed to be more concerned when Markieff Morris went down with an elbow to the face than the Wizards (Morris left the game with a concussion).

The Wizards are clearly playing for themselves and not each other, not the team.

“That was the first thing Scotty [Brooks, Wizards’ coach] said after the game,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He said, ‘Man, your guys are just, watching them, you just feel the energy and you just feel them. They get along.”

Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal have spoken before about guys playing for themselves and their stats, not sacrificing for the team, and that theme — on the court and in the locker room — carried over into Sunday.

“Just gotta go out there and compete,” John Wall said. “We play like a team that’s 5-1 and people are just going to lay down, we got to play with a sense of urgency that we’re 1-5 now…. “When you play the game of basketball you can’t worry about how many points you got, how many steals you got, how many assists you got, it’s just competing.”

Beyond the chemistry, of all the on-court problems, nothing is going to change until the defense improves.

“Our defense is horrendous…” Austin Rivers said. “You’ve got to have personal pride. You’ve got to get mad when someone scores on you. We’re not the Warriors.”

“Just heart. Just heart and pride,” Wall said of what it will take to fix the defense. “Guard your man one-on-one, that’s really the main key. We gotta do a better job of switching — when we do do that, like we did in the first quarter, I think we played the best we have played for a while.”

The switching trend in the NBA is giving the Wizards problems on both ends.

“On offense when we get (a switch we like), we take a bad shot sometimes and bail those guys out,” Wall said. “When they put us in bad situations, we gamble too much or don’t stay on the play and get a stop… we do a good job of it in practice, but we have to bring the same competitive edge we have competing against each other in practice to playing someone else.”

Washington’s play is ugly and coach Scott Brooks could pay the price with his job if things don’t improve. He certainly is not faultless in all this.

However, the Wizards have changed coaches before. They have changed players around on the periphery then spun it as trying to fix chemistry issues (Marcin Gortat going to the Clippers is the latest along those lines). Everything changes except the core, and yet the same problem exists.

Which means maybe it’s getting to be time for the Wizards to take a fresh look at that core and if it works.

2) Does firing of Tyronn Lue mean Cavaliers realize it’s time to go all-in on the rebuild? Last July, when LeBron James decided to head west, the Cavaliers brain trust decided to pivot to… nobody is sure what exactly. They wanted to walk the very fine line of a rebuild on the fly — compete now while building for the future — and they fell off that tightrope.

This isn’t a team built to win now, not with Kevin Love leading an aging roster constructed to support LeBron — Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver. They are not a group built to create great looks and rack up wins on their own. There’s a reason Vegas set the under/over on wins for the Cavaliers this season at 31.5.

It’s also not a rebuild in Cleveland. How many players on the Cavaliers are younger than 25? Four. Just four — Collin Sexton, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Sam Dekker. Guys we think of as young — Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood — are all 26 and closer to their prime, and they all come with questions.

Sunday Lue paid the price for a 0-6 start and a sense among the front office in Cleveland they needed to go another direction, a coach better suited to a young team (even if the Cavs are not yet htat).

That start, however, was not about Lue. It’s about a team in limbo. The Cavaliers need to pick a path. Rebuilding would make the most sense.

Play Colin Sexton more and live with the at times painful learning process. He’s got real potential, but he’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA and settles for far too many long twos.

More importantly, it’s time to start working to trade the veterans and getting pieces for a rebuild back (picks and prospects). There will a market at the deadline for Kyle Korver — a shooter on a fair contract, $7.6 million this season and with a $3.4 million buyout for next season. George Hill is overpaid this season ($19 million) but he is a solid point guard when healthy and come the deadline there could be teams willing to take the hit this season knowing he has a $1 million buyout next season. J.R. Smith, at $14.7 million this season (with a $3.9 million buyout next season) will be harder to move because, without LeBron, teams are not sure how much he will help them.

Love is the big piece to move, but with his new contract it’s a lot harder. That is probably a next summer move — but it’s one they need to start moving toward.

3) Oklahoma City gets first win of the season. When you’re busting out of a slump, you don’t care where and how it happens. So what if the Phoenix Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back? Who cares if they didn’t have Devin Booker?

What matters is Paul George and Russell Westbrook scored 23 points a piece and the Thunder got their first win of the season, 117-110.

Westbrook was doing Westbrook things all night.

Also, don’t sleep on Nerlens Noel, who had 20 points and 15 boards.