Separating The Men from the Boys
With the NBA season about a third of the way completed, four teams have put themselves a cut above the other 26 when it comes not only to wins and losses, but overall competitiveness and cutthroat execution:
- Los Angeles Lakers 24-3 .889
- Milwaukee Bucks 24-4 .857
- Los Angeles Clippers 20-8 .714
- Philadelphia 76ers 20-8 .714
The rest of the East falls in that 12-17 win range and has an eighth seed that is sub-.500 while the West is showing out a little weaker, with 7-8-9 under .500 at this point in the season.
Dallas has surprised a lot of people, especially with their ability to keep stampeding without likely 2020 MVP Luka Doncic in the lineup. Boston has been the feel-good story of the East now that Kyrie Irving has taken his dysfunction elsewhere.
The remaining questions as we head through the next third of the season and toward All Star, are:
- Who can stop the Lakers? So far, seemingly no one, though they do travel to Milwaukee on Thursday night.
- Can the reigning MVP get his teammates involved for the tough games? They certainly weren’t last night in the Don Nelson Classic.
- How many more games (wins) will load management cost the Clippers?
- Why is Kawhi Leonard the only one utilizing load management?
- Will Joel Embiid mature into the leader that can take Philadelphia all the way? I think we’re seeing that materialize before our very eyes.
- Where will Kevin Love land? As I’ve said all season long, bring him home to our hometown – Portland, Oregon. He and Carmelo Anthony can give Portland what Cleveland never got by missing out on ‘Melo.
- And, finally, where is J.R. Smith? Isn’t there a team that could utilize his skills?
Washington Wizards 133
Detroit Pistons 119
The Washington Wizards opened and closed with big runs that put last night’s game with the Detroit Pistons away shortly after it tipped off. The Wizards outscored Detroit 43-31 in the first quarter and then sealed the deal by outscoring the Pistons in the fourth quarter, 37-28, to take the 14 point victory home with them.
|WASHINGTON (8-17)||DETROIT (11-16)|
35 points – three rebounds – 10 assists – one steal
22 points – six rebounds – eight assists – one block
23 points – one rebound – six assists – one block
22 points – five rebounds – three assists – one steal
17 points – four rebounds – three assists – one block
|Bruce Brown, Jr.|
20 points – six rebounds – three assists – one steal – two blocks
Bulls at Wizards – Wednesday
Raptors at Pistons – Wednesday
Cleveland Cavaliers 113
Toronto Raptors 133
The Cleveland Cavaliers have allowed 130+ points at least four times this season, and they’ve been unable to keep any opponent under 100 points since losing to Orlando on December 6th. That doesn’t bode well when you’re going up against the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors. The Raptors tore off a 37-29 first quarter and then capped it with a 38-30 third quarter to ensure themselves a 20 point win in front of 19,800 faithful up North.
|CLEVELAND (6-21)||TORONTO (18-8)|
25 points – five rebounds – four assists
33 points – four rebounds – four assists
20 points – two rebounds – five assists – two steals
26 points – six rebounds – five assists – four steals – one block
18 points – eight rebounds – three assists
20 points – four rebounds – 11 assists
Cavaliers at Hornets – Wednesday
Raptors at Pistons – Wednesday
San Antonio Spurs 107
Houston Rockets 109
No contested dunks or shots here. San Antonio simply dropped the ball on this one. After setting a franchise record 72 points in the first half, (the Spurs were up 72-53), San Antonio couldn’t even get halfway there in the second half, only scoring 35 over the final two periods. That allowed the Houston Rockets to set their own franchise record by overcoming a 25 point deficit to take the win that was San Antonio’s from jump street.
|SAN ANTONIO (10-16)||HOUSTON (18-9)|
19 points – 13 rebounds – four assists – one steal – two blocks
31 points – 10 rebounds – four assists – one steal – one block
18 points – two rebounds – one steal
28 points – eight rebounds – seven assists – one steal – one block
16 points – six rebounds – three assists
17 points – three rebounds – one assist – one steal
Nets at Spurs – Thursday
Rockets at Clippers – Thursday
Dallas Mavericks 120
Milwaukee Bucks 116
The streak is over. And Luka Doncic was not responsible at all. While Giannis Antetokuonmpo certainly did his part, his supporting cast – especially the rest of the starting lineup – ran out of gas on their home floor. In fact, never really got started, as they combined for not even half of Antetokuonmpo’s points, with a meager 23 between the four of them. Meanwhile, Kristaps Porzingis pulled his best game out of the hat as the Mavericks halted Milwaukee’s 18 game win streak last night.
|DALLAS (18-8)||MILWAUKEE (24-4)|
26 points – 12 rebounds – four assists – two blocks
48 points – 14 rebounds – four assists – one steal – one block
26 points – five rebounds – four assists
17 points – two rebounds – one assist – one block
15 points – eight rebounds – one assist – one block
11 points – six rebounds – two assists
Celtics at Mavericks – Wednesday
Lakers at Bucks – Thursday
Chicago Bulls 106
Oklahoma City Thunder 109
The captain of the Banana Boat Crew still has a lot left in the tank. Chris Paul guided the Oklahoma City Thunder to their 12th win of the season, and while that may not sound impressive at first, understand the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t supposed to be anywhere near playoff consideration after gutting the roster and playing the NBA version of Flip or Flop. Oklahoma City is sitting at eighth place in the Western Conference and are two games shy of the .500 mark with Memphis on the horizon.
|CHICAGO (10-19)||OKLAHOMA CITY (12-14)|
39 points – two rebounds – three assists – two steals
30 points – 10 rebounds – eight assists – two steals
13 points – three rebounds – one assist – two steals – two blocks
22 points – six rebounds – four assists – two steals
|Wendell Carter, Jr.|
12 points – nine rebounds – two assists – one steal – two blocks
18 points – four rebounds – five assists – one steal – two blocks
Bulls at Wizards – Wednesday
Grizzlies at Thunder – Wednesday
Miami Heat 111
Memphis Grizzlies 118
The Memphis Grizzlies avenged their Opening Night loss to the Miami Heat to split the season series 1-1 last night off Beale Street. Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson, Jr. led the charge as the Grizzlies devoured the Heat, 73-58, in the first half. Then Ja Morant took over in the second half to keep the Heat at bay, as the Grizzlies won their 10th game of the season.
|MIAMI (19-8)||MEMPHIS (10-17)|
25 points – four rebounds – eight assists – one steal
21 points – 10 rebounds – one assist – two blocks
22 points – five rebounds – two assists – one steal
20 points – one rebound – 10 assists
18 points – two rebounds – three assists
15 points – one rebound – four steals – two blocks
Heat at Sixers – Wednesday
Grizzlies at Thunder – Wednesday
Portland Trailblazers 111
Phoenix Suns 110
The Phoenix Suns are sorely missing Devin Booker. Last night, they had to rely on Aron Baynes to stop Damian Lillard, up two points with 26 seconds remaining in the game. Lillard scored on a layup and got the and-one to give the Trailblazers the win in the desert last night, a much-needed win to try and catch the Suns in the Western Conference standings. The win helped them gain ground, as they remain a half game behind Phoenix as they try and reverse their early season misfortunes.
|PORTLAND (11-16)||PHOENIX (11-15)|
30 points – seven rebounds – six assists – one steal – one block
|Kelly Oubre, Jr.|
24 points – two assists – three steals – one block
27 points – one rebound – five assists
17 points – seven rebounds – one assist – one steal
23 points – eight rebounds – one assist – two steals – three blocks
17 points – five rebounds – five assists – one steal
Suns at Clippers – Tonight
Warriors at Blazers – Wednesday
TUESDAY’S LINEUP / MY PICK ‘EMS
Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers – 7 p.m. EST – NBATV
Sacramento Kings at Charlotte Hornets – 7 p.m. EST – NBC Sports California
Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks – 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Southeast
Brooklyn Nets at New Orleans Pelicans – 8 p.m. EST – YES
Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz – 9 p.m. EST – AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers – 10:30 p.m. EST – NBATV
Tracy Graven is a Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA for the last two decades for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, and HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show and NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in Orlando, Boise (G League), San Antonio, Phoenix, and Oklahoma City.
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia
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