The Southwest Division was fully represented last night, where the Houston Rockets took the outright lead and the Spurs slid back to .500 as all five teams had games and only Memphis and Houston won.
Not Even the Return of Blake Griffin …
|Minnesota Timberwolves (6-4)||120|
|Detroit Pistons (4-7)||114|
Last night marked the return of Blake Griffin. Andre Drummond was on social media all day getting people revved up for Game Day against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. Too bad under the hood, the Detroit Pistons were all polish with a bad motor again last night in the latest game of their sputtering season.
- Andrew Wiggins: 33 points – six rebounds – five assists
- Karl-Anthony Towns: 25 points – eight rebounds – six assists
- Jake Layman: 16 points – two rebounds – one assist
- Luke Kennard: 25 points – seven rebounds – two assists
- Blake Griffin: 19 points – seven rebounds – six assists
- Langston Galloway: 18 points – one rebound – two assists
While the Pistons are trying to do everything but roll the odometer back to the 2002-05, or even better, the ‘Bad Boys’ days, Andrew Wiggins is finding himself and – dare I say it – leading the Wolves along with Karl-Anthony Towns, both at 25.5 points per game 10 games into the season.
This season, Wiggins’ highest scoring output was against Golden State, two games ago, with 40 points. His lowest output was 16 against the Charlotte Hornets in the second game of the season. He’s had performances of 21 against Brooklyn, 25 against Miami and Denver and Milwaukee, 19 against Philadelphia, 21 versus Washington, 30 against Memphis and 33 last night.
The Wolves also outshot the Pistons 50 percent to 44, outrebounded them by six, and had one more blocked shot. Treveon Graham added 13 and six, and Robert Covington went for 10 and four.
Tony Snell added 16 and one for the Pistons, Andre Drummond was at about 50 percent of his norm with 11 and 12, while Markieff Morris rounded out the double digit scoring with 10 and six.
- The win snapped an eight game losing streak to the Pistons.
- Derrick Rose also returned, finishing with 6-3-5 in 20 minutes of action.
- Former Blazer Jake Layman hit four three pointers for Minnesota, which Langston Galloway matched for Detroit.
Pistons at Heat – Tonight
Spurs at Timberwolves – Wednesday
Where We Separate the Men from the Boys
|Dallas Mavericks (6-4)||106|
|Boston Celtics (8-1)||116|
The Boston Celtics are separating themselves from the rest of the NBA like the bones in Gordon Hayward’s hand. One wonders who will step up and replace Hayward as he heals from surgery on his fractured hand, and Marcus Smart wasted no time in answering that question last night.
- Luka Doncic: 34 points – six rebounds – nine assists
- Maxi Kleber: 15 points – eight rebounds – two assists
- Jalen Brunson: 12 points – seven rebounds – two assists
- Kemba Walker: 29 points – five rebounds – five assists
- Jaylen Brown: 25 points – 11 rebounds – three assists
- Marcus Smart: 17 points – one rebound – six assists
The NBA’s best record going into the night got a little better behind 29 from Kemba Walker, 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Smart, 11 from Daniel Thies, and 10 from Brad Wanamaker.
Meanwhile, the team absorbed the news that Hayward will be out up to six weeks while recovering from surgery on the hand, injured in setting a pick on San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. Hayward was hitting 43.3 percent of his shots and averaging 18.9 points a game, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
The stepped up night from Smart meant the onus wasn’t on Jayson Tatum, but the next game very well could be and the team is ready to fill in by committee if need be.
It’s what the Dallas Mavericks need to do if they want to remain in the hunt in their division and conference. Last night’s loss slipped them one game back of the Houston Rockets, who handily beat New Orleans.
- Kristaps Porzingis was just 1 of 11 for four points on the night; he returns to Madison Square Garden in his next game.
- Jayson Tatum was just 1 of 18 for five points on the night.
- Enes Kanter returned after a seven game respite; he got two points and three rebounds in six minutes
Wizards at Celtics – Wednesday
Mavericks at Knicks – Thursday
Grizzlies Turn Spurs Into a .500 Team
|Memphis Grizzlies (3-7)||113|
|San Antonio Spurs (5-5)||109|
Things got a little tougher for the San Antonio Spurs last night. After running out to a 4-0 start and being the second to last team in the league to suffer their first defeat, the Spurs are 1-5 since and ran into another branch of the Spurs’ coaching tree in Taylor Jenkins and his Memphis Grizzlies, a team looking for scraps this time of year.
Jaren Jackson, Jr.: 24 points – six rebounds – five assists
Dillon Brooks: 21 points – two rebounds – three assists
Jonas Valanciunas: 18 points – 12 rebounds – one assist
LaMarcus Aldridge: 19 points – four rebounds – three assists
Rudy Gay: 18 poionts – eight rebounds – two assists
Derrick White: 15 points – three rebounds – five assists
Jenkins comes from the Spurs’ organization via the G League’s Austin Toros, where he led the Toros to a 27-23 season and into the first two rounds of the playoffs. He began as an intern in basketball ops back in the 2007-08 season, so he knows a little of the inner workings of the Spurs and head coach Gregg Popovich’s coaching philosophies.
Whether that knowledge or memory served him and the Grizzlies last night, or whether Memphis was just hungry for another win will remain as closely guarded a secret as Pop’s post-game quips and quotes.
Jenkins got the most of second year big man Jaren Jackson, Jr. last night, who should at least be a part of the face of this franchise as Ja Morant is set to be. Morant only shot 16.7 percent last night, but Jackson was there with 58.8 percent, Jonas Valanciunas muscled his way to a 75 percent night, and Brandon Clarke – off the bench – shot 85.7 percent to net a quiet 14 and eight night.
San Antonio never got off the mat after a 34-26 third quarter swipe from the paws of the Grizzlies. Both teams traded swings in the first half with Memphis jumping out to a 35-22 first quarter, only to be answered with a San Antonio 32-22 second quarter.
The Southwest Division looks to be as tough a battle this year as in any other, and there’s little room for error – especially if you’re the San Antonio Spurs and you want to maintain respectability.
This isn’t the way you want to go out.
- The Grizzlies scored 22 in the paint and shot 51 percent in their impressive first half.
- Memphis had lost two straight and five of their last six; they are 39-8 against the Spurs in San Antonio.
- San Antonio retired the No. 9 jersey of longtime point guard Tony Parker.
Grizzlies at Hornets – Wednesday
Spurs at Timberwolves – Wednesday
Rockets Guards Better Than Pelicans Guards
|Houston Rockets (7-3)||122|
|New Orleans Pelicans (2-8)||116|
If the New Orleans Pelicans thought they were going to shoot their way past James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets, they’ve got another thing comin’.
- James Harden: 39 points – four rebounds – nine assists
- Russell Westbrook: 26 points – five rebounds – four assists
- Eric Gordon: 17 points – three rebounds – one assist
- J.J. Redick: 24 points – 0 rebounds – three assists
- Josh Hart: 19 points – four rebounds – four assists
- Jrue Holiday: 18 points – nine rebounds – 11 assists
Houston shot 51 percent over the Pelicans last night at the Smoothie King Center; New Orleans only mustered 43 percent of their 95 shots. That’s right, the Houston Rockets won the ball game and shot fewer shots than their opponent at 85.
Does that mean the Rockets are getting better? Learning from their mistakes?
If you mean Harden shooting 52 percent infers improvement? If you mean Westbrook shooting 52.4 percent means they’re getting better? If you mean Clint Capela can continue at an 83.3 percent clip? Then ‘yes’ to all three.
Now, if they could just geet Russ to quit shooting threes (he was 1 of 8 last night) and control the turnovers (Russ and Harden combined for 12 of Houston’s 17), then we might start considering the Houston Rockets as a contender versus pretender this year.
Of course, they played a New Orleans team that was without Brandon Ingram (averaging 25.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists) due to a sore right knee; they were also without Lonzo Ball, Nicolo Melli, and of course, Zion Williamson … and the Pelicans only lost by six.
All the guards in the game played their hearts out on both sides – Houston’s were just a little bit better, but they lead the Southwest Division.
- Harden scored 13 points straight during a part of the Rockets’ 32 point fourth quarter to keep the Rockets in the game, and secure the win; he’s averaged 40.6 points per game in his last eight games.
- After allowing opponents 126.8 points per game and going 3-3 to start the season, the Rockets have won four straight and allowed just 105.5 points a night.
- Westbrook and Harden missed 14 of their first 16 attempts from downtown.
Clippers at Rockets – Wednesday
Clippers at Pelicans – Thursday
Jazz in Rhythm in Win over Golden State
|Utah Jazz (7-3)||122|
|Golden State Warriors (2-9)||108|
When a two-time Defensive Player of the Year is your leading scorer and rebounder, you know it’s going to end up being a good night; when the opponent is the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors, it better end up being a good night.
Rudy Gobert: 25 points – 14 rebounds – one assist
Donovan Mitchell: 23 points – eight rebounds – six assists
Mike Conley: 22 points – one rebound – seven assists
D’Angelo Russell: 33 points – two rebounds – eight assists
Marquese Chriss: 11 points – six rebounds – two assists
Jordan Poole: 11 points – six rebounds – two assists
Rudy Gobert took the pressure off the Utah Jazz’s Big Three last night by taking over the painted area and leading the Jazz to their seventh win of the season and handing Golden State its ninth loss.
Utah raced out to a 69-54 first half lead that Golden State could never match, since the Warriors matched their 54 in the second half while Utah scored 53.
Seven Jazz players scored in double digits in support of their top three, including Bojan Bogdanovic and Jeff Green hitting for a dozen each, and 11 apiece for Joe Ingles and Emmanuel Mudiay.
As per usual, it was D’Angelo Russell leading the Warriors, with Jordan Poole and Marquese Chriss coming up with 11 apiece, and a 10 piece from Alec Burks, who had come on of late and was averaging above his career numbers at 14.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.
- Utah entered last night’s game averaging 29.3 attempts per game from beyond the arc, fifth-fewest in the NBA; last night, they shot 15 of 27 through the first three quarters for a 56 percent success rate.
- Draymond Green returned to net back to back technical fouls and an ejection for arguing.
- Stephen Curry plans to return in the early spring and will travel with the team beginning in 2020.
Nets at Jazz – Tonight
Warriors at Lakers – Wednesday
It’s Almost as if They Took It Easy on Each Other
|Toronto Raptors (7-3)||88|
|Los Angeles Clippers (7-3)||98|
Please, allow me to apologize for yesterday’s column, in which I called this as my ‘Game of the Night.’ I should have said, if you need a cure for insomnia. I’ve seen YMCA pick up games with more vigor than last night’s reunion of the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard. I’ve seen lesser respects paid at a funeral.
Pascal Siakam: 16 points – 10 rebounds – six assists
Norman Powell: 15 points – four rebounds – two assists
Fred VanVleet: 14 points – two rebounds – eight assists
Lou Williams: 21 points – four rebounds – four assists
Montrezl Harrell: 14 points – 11 rebounds – two assists
Kawhi Leonard: 12 points – 11 rebounds – nine assists
Other than Lou Williams, it’s like no one took this game seriously.
Sure, the Clippers won to keep pace in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Lakers, and you kind of want that to happen for Leonard and (if he keeps his word) Paul George, who said he’d be returning this week on the 14th or 15th.
But part of me also wanted the Raptors to win just to prove they have what it takes without Leonard and Danny Green in the fold.
In the end, it was like watching a funeral procession of respect and a caution to make sure you don’t walk on the graves. Like there was a hushed, even unspoken respect that Leonard wouldn’t run it up on his former teammates and they wouldn’t try and go for Leonard’s jugular in his new crib.
Leonard was a far cry from his 30.1 and 9.5 as a Raptor with 12 and 11 last night. And Fred VanVleet was even further removed from his 23 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists he put up against the Lakers the night before.
Hey, as long as the Raptors brought Green’s and Leonard’s rings, I’m good.
These two teams meet again in Toronto on December 11th (why not Christmas Day, @NBA?).
- Toronto was already without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka when O.G. Anunoby got poked in the eye by Leonard and did not return.
- Paul George has his No. 24 jersey retired at Fresno State.
- Patrick Beverley and JaMychal Green each had 12 rebounds for the Clippers.
Raptors at Blazers – Wednesday
Clippers at Rockets – Wednesday
Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers – 7 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Midwest-Indiana
Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers – 7 p.m. EST – NBATV
Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat – 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Detroit
New York Knicks at Chicago Bulls – 8 p.m. EST – NBC Sports Chicago
Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets – 9 p.m. EST – Altitude 2
*** GAME OF THE NIGHT ***
Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns – 9 p.m. EST – Spectrum SportsNet
Brooklyn Nets at Utah Jazz – 9 p.m. EST – AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Portland Trailblazers at Sacramento Kings – 10 p.m. EST – NBATV
*** The Rundown w/T-Money is a daily column “all things NBA” that will run through the entirety of the season, and the playoffs through the NBA Finals ***
Tracy Graven is a Senior Analyst for BackSportsPage.com. He has written the NBA for the last two decades and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and 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. He currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife and five children.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia