Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

NBA Power Rankings: Jazz climbing fast, still chasing Bucks, Lakers

Leave a comment

The top two spots remain locked in, as they have for weeks now, but under that there remains a lot of movement in these NBA power rankings, with the red-hot Jazz climbing up to third.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (36-6, Last Week No. 1). Milwaukee is on a 70-win pace, and while we rightfully credit Giannis Antetokounmpo for much of that (right now he’d get my MVP vote, again), it is the Bucks’ defense that sets them apart. Milwaukee’s 101.6 defensive rating (using NBA.com’s numbers) is the best in the league by more than two full points. Their system protects the paint first, last, and always, and with that gives up the most three-point attempts in the league per game. However, their length and athleticism can contest some of those, and the Bucks take away all of an opponent’s easy buckets at the rim. It works.

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (33-7, LW No. 2). Winners of nine in a row, and that includes beating OKC when LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Danny Green were all out. Kyle Kuzma lit up the Thunder with 36 in that game, but was very pedestrian (5-of-13 shooting, 11 points) two nights later against the Cavaliers, missing all his threes. Kuzma tends to be up-and-down, which concerns teams that see him as a No. 3 option or a sixth man and might want to trade for him (it also should concern the Lakers, somewhat, although he’s given them what they need this season).

Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (28-12, LW 4). Utah has won 10 in a row and they continue to tear it up on offense — a league-best 122 offensive rating over those 10 games. Donovan Mitchell has played like an All-Star, Joe Ingles has thrived as a starter, Bojan Bogdanovic is having big games, and the Jazz are undefeated since adding Jordan Clarkson to their bench. All of this is without Mike Conley in the mix (still out with a hamstring issue), but it leads to questions about how to fit him in upon his return.

Rockets small icon 4. Rockets (26-13, LW 5). At the midway point of the season, James Harden is on pace to average 37.8 points per game for the season, the most by any player not named Wilt Chamberlain. What’s amazing is he has taken on that increased offensive load and been even more efficient this season, with a ridiculous 63.6 true shooting percentage. Those numbers have slipped a little in recent weeks as teams are throwing ridiculous double-teams at Harden to force the ball out of his hands, but how he is making teams adjust is another reason is in the middle of the MVP mix this season.

Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (27-11, LW 3). Boston’s offense looked clumsy during a three-game losing streak, that was until Jayson Tatum exploded for 41 against a shorthanded Pelicans team on Saturday. It was an All-Star level performance from Tatum, but will the coaches pick him as a reserve in the East? Probably. My money is on the player/media vote bumping Kemba Walker into a starting role, but either way he will be in Chicago as well. Thursday night the Celtics get a good measuring stick game against the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Nuggets small icon 6. Nuggets (27-12, LW 7). In the last 15 games, Denver has looked like the team we expected going into the season: Winning games (11-4) thanks to an elite offense led by Nikola Jokic (second best in the NBA in the last 15), but that masks a troubling defense (28th in the NBA over that same stretch). The impressive Nuggets defense from the first part of the season is gone, and if it doesn’t make a return — or the Nuggets don’t make a trade to boost it — that end of the floor could have them fishing in Cabo earlier than they expected this postseason.

Clippers small icon 7. Clippers (28-13, LW 6). Some nights, the Clippers look like the team the rest of the West feared — they can take apart anybody. Just ask the Lakers. But there are other nights they look disjointed and uninterested, and they do not impress, such as recent losses to Memphis and Denver. Doc Rivers, what do you think of the inconsistency? “I think we’ve been inconsistent on both ends. It is what it is. I’m not that frightened by it.” Should he be?

Heat small icon 8. Heat (27-12, LW 8). Miami keeps winning games — 9-6 in its last 15 — but that’s become in spite of their defense and not because of it. The Heat have been a bottom 10 defensive team over those 15 games (and the team has a net rating of -0.1, basically even). Last weekend’s losses to the Nets and Knicks are the kind of off games teams with poor defenses have. The Heat need to turn this around to keep home court through the first round of the playoffs.

Raptors small icon 9. Raptors (25-14, LW 10). Toronto went a respectable 6-5 without Pascal Siakam, but now he’s back in the rotation (as is Norman Powell; Marc Gasol is still out but is expected to return soon) and the wins need to flow again. Nick Nurse is hoping the return of his likely All-Star in Siakam sparks an offense that was top 10 in the league in November but, with all the injuries, has fallen back to middle-of-the pack in the last 10 games (which, considering the missing players, is not that bad).

Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (25-15, LW 12). With Domantas Sabonis sidelined on Friday, Myles Turner broke out with a 27 point, 14 rebound night. It’s the kind of game that will have other teams calling and checking on Turner’s availability at the trade deadline, but reports are those calls are getting shot down. The Pacers are +6.3 per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together, and the Indy brass wants to see how that looks with Victor Oladipo back.

Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (23-17, LW 11). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to improve during his second season (and the tutelage of Chris Paul can’t hurt), this week becoming the youngest player in NBA history with a 20-20-10 triple-double. Trade rumors continue to swirl around Danilo Gallinari and the Thunder, and OKC is looking for players on SGA’s timeline to build for the future.

Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (25-15, LW 9). Dallas has gone 4-4 with Kristaps Prozingis sidelined, but he is expected back Wednesday night from his knee/illness issues. Dallas elite offense remained top six with KP out, but the defense fell from middle of the pack to bottom 10 without his length and rim protection inside. Luka Doncic seems destined to start in the All-Star game this season, as he should, but he will be the only Maverick playing on Sunday.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (25-16, LW 13). Sixers fans are calling for Brett Brown’s head with Philadelphia having lost 6-of-8 and not looking like a threat to the Bucks right now (despite what happened on Christmas Day). The offense is clunky, but the problems start here: Ben Simmons has taken 18 shots outside the paint all season, and two of those were end-of-half heaves that don’t really count. Simmons has to get into the paint to be effective, that’s also where Joel Embiid is at his best, and that allows teams to pack the paint and defend Philly’s strengths. Changing coaches will not change the flaws in the roster construction, that’s an Elton Brand thing.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (19-22, LW 19). The NBA world is falling in love with Ja Morant right now, but the Grizzlies have two quality rookies — Brandon Clarke has been solid for them. Here’s Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins on Clarke: “The great thing about Brandon is he doesn’t try to do too much, he plays to his strengths. We knew that when he was coming out of Gonzaga, he’s a guy who plays great team basketball on both ends of the floor. Obviously a super-efficient player on the offensive end, kind of takes what the defense gives him, picks his spots whether it’s the roller game or the floater game, we’re seeing him shoot the three ball a little bit more. Defensively, being in the right place, getting his hands on some defections, he doesn’t get a lot of blocks but he comes over in his rotations… he does it in a team capacity.”

Magic small icon 15. Magic (19-21, LW 14). It seems fitting the Magic are in the middle of these power rankings: Orlando has a net offensive rating of 105.1 and a net defensive rating of 105.1 — exactly neutral. Cleaning the Glass projects the Magic to go 41-41. Orlando seems destined to get the seven or eight seed in the East, which puts it in the hands of management what direction to go at the trade deadline, stay this middle of the road course or think about a retooling effort by moving Evan Fournier or other quality players (except Jonathan Isaac).

Nets small icon 16. Nets (18-21, LW 17). Kyrie Irving is back, Caris LeVert is back, and now we can finally start to see what this Nets roster looks like healthy. The offense looked good against the Hawks “defense” but, more importantly, was respectable against the Jazz defense on Monday. Brooklyn just lost that game because their defense couldn’t slow the red-hot Jazz. It doesn’t get easier for the Nets, their next four games are the 76ers, Bucks, 76ers (again), and Lakers. That’s a gauntlet.

Spurs small icon 17. Spurs (17-21, LW 16). The Spurs 22-year playoff streak is not dead yet, despite the record San Antonio is just half a game out of the final playoff spot in the West (one game back in the loss column). What has to keep Gregg Popovich up at night (at least until the third glass of Pinot) is the bottom 10 defense from this team. It’s very un-Popovich, and there is no simple answer with this roster as constructed.

Kings small icon 18. Kings (15-25, LW 18). Marvin Bagley is back after missing eight games with a sore foot and looked pretty good against the Magic with 18 points and six boards. Combine that with the faster pace of late — which has helped De’Aaron Fox — and maybe Luke Walton’s roster can start to look like the on-the-rise team everyone expected before the season tipped off.

Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (17-24, LW 15). What held Carmelo Anthony back from an NBA job for so long was concerns about his defense. In their past 10 games, the Trail Blazers have gone 3-7 and have the worst defense in the NBA over that stretch. That’s not all ‘Melo, but he’s not solving problems on that end. Three tough games on the road for Portland this week: Houston, Dallas, and OKC.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (15-26, LW 24). Zion Williamson will be back in a week — Jan. 22 against the Spurs is the target date — but the Pelicans have won 3-of-4 without him. If David Griffin doesn’t like the trade offers for Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors, does he just keep the band together, add Zion, and see if they can make up the four games to get in the playoffs?

Suns small icon 21. Suns (16-24, LW 22). Deandre Ayton is back to coming off the bench — with Dario Saric starting next to Aron Baynes — and that seems to be working for Phoenix. It allows Monty Williams to still pair Devin Booker and Ayton, they show some real chemistry, while keeping his best lineups on the floor. As a side note: There is no way this should lead to a technical and ejection in the NBA, there are some young refs with quick triggers (and some older ones, too) who are sucking the emotion out of the game.

22. Timberwolves (15-24, LW 20). There are positive rumblings that Karl-Anthony Towns could return to soon. He has missed 14 games and the Timberwolves are 5-9 without him, with the offense 14.8 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the bench. The only thing that has kept Minnesota afloat with him out is the third-ranked defense in the NBA for that stretch.

Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (14-27, LW 21). Wendell Carter Jr. being out weeks with a sprained ankle will be a real blow to Chicago, the offense flows better with him on the court and coach Jim Boylen described him as the Bulls best defensive player. When Carter has been on the court this season the Bulls outscore opponents by 1.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits they get outscored by 6.1. The Bulls have lost 7-of-8.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (13-26, LW 26). John Wall is practicing with the team and taking on contact, fueling speculation he could play this season after all. Wall isn’t the only Wizard getting healthy: Davis Bertans, Bradley Beal, and Thomas Bryant all returned to the rotation over the weekend. Washington has six of its next eight on the road.

Pistons small icon 25. Pistons (14-27, LW 25). Just how good are Sekou Doumbouya and Thon Maker? That’s the question the Pistons should try to answer the rest of the season, with Blake Griffin done until next fall and Andre Drummond on the trade block (what team is going to be the buyer for him, and will they offer much?). Doumbouya has a lot of promise and Detroit should give him the room to show it the rest of the season.

Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (11-30, LW 27). Mitchell Robinson has looked steadier under new coach Mike Miller, if you’re looking for the silver lining in the dark cloud of this season. R.J. Barrett is putting up numbers but has a lot of work to do to become efficient at the NBA level. After that… it gets thin when quality young players for the Knicks. Kevin Knox has not caught up to the game after showing some early promise.

Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (12-29, LW 28). Collin Sexton could have his shot blocked more times this season than he has assists (hat tip to @Cavsanada for this stat). Sexton has had his shot blocked 76 times this season (1.9 times per game) and he has 91 assists, a difference of just 15. It’s probably not going to happen, but it’s something to watch if you have to watch Cavs games.

Hornets small icon 28. Hornets (15-28, LW 23). There was a point earlier in the season where Charlotte was the luckiest team in the league, the team most outperforming its point differential. That has regressed to the mean in recent weeks, including the current five-game losing streak (and losing 11-of-13). Devonte’ Graham may still be the frontrunner for Most Improved Player but he has had some rough outings and been inconsistent of late.

Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (9-32, LW 29). Fans want Trae Young in the All-Star Game — he leads East guards in the fan vote — and it’s easy to understand why, Young is fun to watch averaging 28.9 points and 8.4 assists per game. His team, however, is terrible and Young’s defense contributes to that. Should the media/fan voters put Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and other East guards who are a little more two way higher on their ballots?

Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (9-33 LW 30). Stephen Curry is taking shots again. Klay Thompson says he is itching to get back on the court. Both of them will be re-evaluated next month but how much do the Warriors really want to push them to return (and potentially hurt their lottery odds in the process)? The Warriors have lost nine in a row and seem to be banking losses for the potential return of their stars.

Three Things to Know: LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning

Leave a comment

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) LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning. LeBron James showed no mercy to his friends and former teammates Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson Monday night as the Lakers easily rolled past the Cavaliers to their ninth consecutive win, 128-99. The Lakers scored 81 points in the second half, LeBron had 31 on the night, Dwight Howard had 21 and 15 rebounds (plus drained a three).

The game itself was also the least interesting news out of Staples Center on Monday night.

When you’ve played the game as well and at as high a level as LeBron has for going on 17 seasons now, you’re walking history. Seemingly every time he steps on the court LeBron sets a new record or moves up some all-time list. On Tuesday night, that bit of history was LeBron passing Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for eighth on the NBA’s all-time assist list (LeBron now has 9,067).

The other bit of news is the Lakers will be without Rajon Rondo for four to five days after an MRI found he suffered a “nondisplaced volar plate avulsion fracture” to his right ring finger. Those of us who are not doctors would call that a “jammed finger,” one where the hyperextension of the ring finger pulled the ligament and a little piece of bone broke off. It’s not serious, but Rondo joined Anthony Davis — who officially has a “ gluteus maximus contusion” — in street clothes for this game.

The Lakers are at home Wednesday night vs. Orlando before the Grammys force them (and the Clippers) out of the building for a couple of weeks.

2) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes history with a 20 point, 20 rebound, triple-double at age 21. The Clippers didn’t like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — of course they did it to make the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George pairing come together, you make that deal every time. That doesn’t mean trading SGA didn’t sting; the Clippers knew he was going to be special.

Now everyone in Oklahoma City sees just how special. Gilgeous-Alexander had his first triple-double on Monday night, with 20 points, a career-best 20 rebounds, and 10 assists as the Thunder beat the Timberwolves on the road.

That was a little bit of history.

Gilgeous-Alexander is just starting to tap his potential, and having a season (or more) next to Chris Paul will only help that development. SGA has the raw tools to be one of the best point guards in the game, and now we see the mental aspects coming along as well. Oklahoma City has its point guard of the future in place.

3) Watch Arron Gordon’s game-winner to beat Sacramento. If you didn’t watch the Orlando at Sacramento game Monday night because you were checking out some football game, or watching “Manifest,” we’ll forgive you.

Just know you missed a heck of an ending.

The Kings were down two late when De'Aaron Fox made seemingly made every Magic defender lose him on the way to an and-one that put Sacramento up one.

That might have been the game-winner until Evan Fournier found a surprised Aaron Gordon, who got his shot to fall.

Orlando got the 116-115 win thanks to 26 points and 15 boards from Nikola Vucevic on the night.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s first triple-double leads Thunder past Timberwolves

Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 20 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 10 assists in his first triple-double, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 117-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.

Gilgeous-Alexander came in averaging 23.7 points in his previous 13 games but did much more than score in this one, also matching his career best in assists.

Danilo Gallinari scored 30 points for the Thunder, who have won 12 of their past 15 games and six of seven on the road. He was 11 for 12 from the free throw line.

Naz Reid scored 20 off the bench for Minnesota, which was still without Karl-Anthony Towns. Reid has scored in double figures in six of the last eight games. Robert Covington scored 18 points.

The Thunder held a 63-60 lead at halftime. They went on an 11-2 run early in the third quarter and then a 10-3 burst midway through the third to push their lead into double figures. Oklahoma City led by as many as 18.

Steven Adams had 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Thunder.

Lakers beat Thunder without LeBron James, Anthony Davis behind 36 from Kyle Kuzma

1 Comment

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma scored a season-high 36 points and the Los Angeles Lakers rolled past the Oklahoma City Thunder 125-110 on Saturday night without stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James had a chest cold. James is averaging 25.4 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists and 8.7 rebounds and has helped the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference.

Davis, who leads the Lakers with 27.1 points per game, missed his second straight game with a gluteus maximus contusion.

It didn’t matter. Kuzma, in just his third start of the season, made 15 of 24 shots.

Rajon Rondo added 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers. Los Angeles shot 51.5% to win its eighth in a row.

James played on Friday night and had 35 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in a win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Without him, the Lakers raced to a 73-49 halftime lead over the Thunder behind 58% shooting. Kuzma scored 23 points before the break. It was Oklahoma City’s largest halftime deficit of the season.

The Lakers extended the lead to 32 in the third quarter before Oklahoma City rallied and trimmed its deficit to 102-82 at the end of the period, but the Thunder never really got close.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari each scored 24 points for the Thunder, who had won 11 of their previous 13 games.

 

Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis out at least two games after nasty fall

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

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) Anthony Davis out at least two games after nasty fall, back injury. Anthony Davis left Staples Center Tuesday night laying down, stretched out in the back of motor carrier, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Davis said he was fine, because players always say that and think they’ll bounce back quickly, but he’s going to be out for a while.

Anthony Davis is not joining the Lakers on their upcoming two-game road trip — Dallas and Oklahoma City — and could miss more time after he injured his back on a nasty fall in the third quarter of the Lakers blowing out the Knicks. Davis went up to block a Julius Randle driving shot, the two had contact while in the air, and that spun Davis, who fell flat on his back.

Davis left the game, gingerly went back to the locker room for evaluation, and did not return. An MRI is set for Wednesday. The X-rays were negative and initial diagnosis is a sacral contusion. The sacral region is the fused bones at the bottom of the spine, what most of us consider the tailbone (doctors would say its the area just above the tailbone, to be technical).

This is something that will take time to heal, and it could be more than two games.

Davis is the Lakers’ leading scorer and rebounder, at 27.1 points and 9.4 rebounds a night. He’s also having the kind of season on the defensive end of the court that will get him consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. Which is to say he’ll be missed. The good news is: 1)The Lakers will still be a good team without Davis, they still have LeBron James; 2) the Lakers’ hot start to the season has built them a 4.5 game cushion for the top seed in the West, so a loss or two will not hurt them.

The Lakers just hope Davis is not going to be out a lot more than two games.

2) Chris Paul has been clutch for Oklahoma City this season. Chris Paul has 103 points in clutch minutes this season — the final five minutes of a game within five points — which is clear and away the most in the league. More importantly, he’s shooting an efficient 54.5 percent in those minutes and has dished out 11 assists as well. CP3 has been the best clutch player in the NBA this season.

He did it again on Tuesday night. Paul scored 20 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, lifting the Thunder to a 111-103 win against Brooklyn. This game was tied at 103-103 and CP3 broke that with consecutive jumpers (and the Thunder defense locked the Nets down the rest of the way.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 22 points for the Thunder and is the impressive young guard of the future for OKC. But Chris Paul is right now.

3) Carmelo Anthony caps 28-point night with game-winner in Toronto. Portland has continued to struggle since the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, going just 10-13 overall and in the last 10 games having a net rating of -2.1.

Then you watch him score a season-high 28 against Toronto, sparking a comeback from double-digits down in the fourth, then draining the game-winner, and you wonder how much worse it would have been if they didn’t pick him up.

Anthony has been what the Trail Blazers needed, a solid NBA player at the four, a position of need for them due to injuries. Still, Portland remains one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season at 16-22 — they had lost six-of-seven coming into this game — but in a soft bottom of the West that still has them just 1.5 games out of the playoffs. The question is, can Portland hang in the playoff race as they go through a brutal January schedule.