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The Rundown v121920 – The Sage Worked + Zion, KD and AD Throw Their Names into the MVP Conversation

It's only pre-season, but players like Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, and Kevin Durant are taking this seriously, and just may steal the 2020-21 Most Valuable Player Awards from Luka Doncic before he has a chance to win it.

The Phoenix Suns gave it their best effort, but still finished the 2020-21 pre-season winless after coming thisclose to the Los Angeles Lakers last night. Chicago topped Oklahoma City for the second time this week, and the Philadelphia 76ers-Indiana Pacers game was a close one, as well.

But the other five games last night were blowout as the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets, and Denver Nuggets all won handily and some new players emerged looking to steal Luka Doncic’s 2020-21 Most Valuable Player Award.

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Philadelphia 76ers  113
Indiana Pacers  107

The Indiana Pacers are having some team identity issues. As in, you don’t even need a scouting report or game film to know who they’re going to run their offense through, and you use the old theory of letting the big dog eat while shutting down the rest of the pack.

I’m not so sure that the Philadelphia 76ers so much shut the Indiana Pacers down last night as the Pacers just shot themselves out of the game with 37 percent from their own court, while the 76ers hit 53 percent. 

Indiana was much better than Philadelphia in other crucial categories, leading the offensive rebounding battle, 20-9, and only having a dozen turnovers to Philadelphia’s 26. Domantas Sabonis led all scorers with 26 points and 11 rebounds, an otherwise impressive evening. But when you’re the only Pacer shooting above .500, it’s going to be a long night.

Malcolm Brogdon finished with 21 points, but was an ugly 31.8 percent from the field. Victor Oladipo (20 points) and Aaron Holiday (seven points) were right at .500, but every other Indiana player was under 50 percent, and it doomed the Pacers. Rookie Cassius Stanley finished the evening with 12 and seven.

SIXERSPACERS
Shake Milton
15 points – three rebounds – five assists
Domantas Sabonis
26 points – 11 rebounds – two steals
Furkan Korkmaz
14 points – four rebounds – two assists – one steal
Malcolm Brogdon
21 points – six rebounds – four assists – one steal
Dwight Howard
14 points – four rebounds
Victor Oladipo
20 points – two rebounds – two assists – two steals

For the Sixers, it was Shake Milton leading the team once again, and though his 15 points pale in comparison to Sabonis, his 76ers had five players in double digits and they did win the game. 

Dwight Howard and Furkan Korkmaz scored 14 points apiece, with both collecting four rebounds as well. Howard was the only starter in double digits. Danny Green and Ben Simmons each had nine points, Seth Curry had eight, and #VFL Tobias Harris was a soft six point night. Mike Scott added 12 points and Garland, Texas rookie and No. 21 pick Tyrese Maxey came off the bench for 11. 

NEXT UP
New York at Indiana – Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST
Washington at Philadelphia – Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST

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Miami Heat  117
Toronto Raptors  105

The Miami Heat still have Toronto’s number, and showed no love for the Raptors last night, despite the Raptors temporarily relocating to Tampa due to COVID restrictions in Toronto, and being the league’s third team in Florida. 

2019 No. 32 draft pick K.Z. Okpala, who spent a good amount of last season with the G League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce and had five games with the Heat, stole the show last night for Miami, dropping 24 points on 60 percent shooting to lead the Heat to the double digit win.

Max Strus wasn’t far behind with 22 points, and this years’ draft pick – Precious Achiuwa, from Nigeria, by way of the University of Memphis – had a 13 point, 15 rebound night in the Miami win. The Heat shot 53 percent as a team while the Raptors only hit 35 of their 92 shots. Led by Achiuwa, the Heat outrebounded Toronto, 51-37, and won running away, despite 26 turnovers.

HEATRAPTORS
K.Z. Okpala
24 points – five rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
Kyle Lowry
25 points – three assists – two steals
Max Strus
22 points – two rebounds – one assist – one steal
Pascal Siakam
14 points – nine rebounds – three assists – one steal
Precious Achiuwa
13 points – 15 rebounds – two assists
Chris Boucher
12 points – one assist – one steal – one block

Toronto has some ground to make up after losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt. Achiuwa’s performance and Toronto’s lack of performance in the paint was an understatement. Pascal Siakam may have some good night, but nine rebounds a night isn’t going to do it for Toronto. 

Their saving grace was Kyle Lowry showing he is healthy and ready for the season with a 25 point night. But again, he can’t do that night in and night out, either. Siakam and Chris Boucher are going to need some beef in the frontcourt if they Raptors even want to sniff the top of the Eastern Conference again. Aron Baynes and Alex Len aren’t the answer(s).

NEXT UP
Miami at Orlando – Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST
New Orleans at Toronto – Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST

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Cleveland Cavaliers  83
New York Knicks  119

The young, new backcourt in New York is Quickley becoming a hit with New York Knick fans. After message boards repeatedly called out for Immanuel Quickley to start alongside R.J. Barrett, they showed they know a little about basketball, or at least their players.

And if New York Knicks fans aren’t ecstatic about this team that’s been assembled, then there’s no satisfying them. 72-35 in the first half. 103-53 after three. 51 percent shooting to Cleveland’s 39. Fifty-one percent from downtown. A 41-35 rebounding edge. They out-assist the Cavaliers, 27-20. Fifteen steals to Cleveland’s five, and only 12 turnovers. And they forced Cleveland into 31 fouls.

Ladies and gentleman, this was an ass-whoopin’ of epic proportions, the shot in the arm that Knicks fans needed to start believing in their team.

The rookie from the University of Kentucky, by way of the Oklahoma City Thunder, led all scorers last night with 22 points. But just as impressive were Quickley’s five assists and five steals. Kevin Knox added 20 points and Reggie Bullock shook off the moth balls for 17 and five. Barrett added 15 points, Julius Randle had 11 points and eight assists, while undrafted Jared Harper, who spent some time in the Knicks’ and Phoenix Suns’ G League organizations, came off the bench with 10 points.

CAVALIERSKNICKS
Cedi Osman
19 points – two rebounds – one assist – one steal
Immanuel Quickley
22 points – one rebound – five assists – five steals
Dean Wade
14 points – two rebounds – one steal
Kevin Knox
20 points – one rebound – one assist
Darius Garland
Eight points – two rebounds – one assist
Reggie Bullock
17 points – five rebounds – one steal – one block

The score looks like the same old Cleveland ‘Mistake by the Lake’ Cavaliers. But this is a team that started the 2020-21 pre-season stronger than they finished. Last night, it was honestly just Cedi Osman and former K-State product Dean Wade, who was on the G League’s Canton Charge roster last season.

No one else stepped up to the plate for the Cavaliers, which seems to be a recurrent theme no matter who the coach is. For J.B. Bickerstaff, it has to be frustrating that names like Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Damyean Dotson, and JaVale McGee aren’t giving you more than single digits and a collective 23 points between them.

To be fair, it was the last pre-season game, and players like Kevin Love, Kevin Porter, Andre Drummond, Dante Exum, Matthew Dellavedova, and Larry Nance, Jr. didn’t get a lick of playing time. I get resting your guys … but pride has to be in there somewhere, or it’s going to be the same ol’ same ol’ for the Cavaliers this season. 

NEXT UP
Charlotte at Cleveland – Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST
New York at Indiana – Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST

********************

Milwaukee Bucks  113
New Orleans Pelicans  127

After the pre-game hugs and handshakes, it was down to business for the New Orleans Pelicans, even if that meant making their former point guard a little uncomfortable in his return to the Big Easy.

While one would presume that Dallas’ Luka Doncic has the 2020-21 Most Valuable Player Award locked up, Zion Williamson’s play is making a case for the former No. 1 draft pick and the NBA world is saying, “not so fast.”

Williamson has dropped some weight since last season and it shows, with the kid jumping on the Milwaukee Bucks with a game high 31 points last night to go along with nine rebounds as the Pelicans became the latest team to embarrass the team with the NBA’s best record the past two seasons. 

Both teams played hard through the first half, with each team boasting a high scoring quarter to end up at just 59-57 at the half. But a 68-56 second half from the Pelicans was the death knell for Milwaukee, who went just 10 of 40 from downtown.

BUCKSPELICANS
Khris Middleton
29 points – four rebounds – four assists
Zion Williamson
31 points – nine rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
Jrue Holiday
15 points – four rebounds – five assists – one block
Lonzo Ball
19 points – five rebounds – eight assists – two steals – one block
Donte DiVincenzo
14 points – eight rebounds – two assists – one steal
J.J. Redick
18 points – one rebound – one steal

Lonzo Ball had one of his best nights in a long time as well, taking the departed Jrue Holiday’s place in the New Orleans starting lineup. Ball showed why he was the highest draft pick in the family with a 19 point, five rebound, eight assist, two steal, one block stat line. J.J. Redick shot 66.7 percent for 18 points, Eric Bledsoe added 14 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in a solid performance against his former team, and Brandon Ingram had 11 points.

Giannis Antetokuonmpo and D.J. Augustin sat this one out for Milwaukee, and despite the loss, the Bucks honestly played a little better without the reigning MVP. Khris Middleton led the way with a 29 point night, while Holiday added 15 points and Donte DiVincenzo chipped in 14 and eight on the night. No other Bucks player contributed anything more than single digit scoring – Thanasis Antetokounmpo’s nine and six was about as close as anyone got to helping the cause.

NEXT UP
Milwaukee at Boston – Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
New Orleans at Toronto – Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

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Chicago Bulls  105
Oklahoma City Thunder  103

Those losses for high seeding draft picks are finally coming for general manager Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both have been at the nads of former head coach Billy Donovan and his new team, the Chicago Bulls.

This one was a lot closer than Wednesday night’s 124-103 affair, though the Thunder ironically capped themselves at 103 again last night. The Thunder had a nice 35-22 run in the second quarter, but it was another 34-13 running of the Bulls again in the fourth. Sad for OKC as they were better from three-point land, as well as the free throw line.

However, it shows that veteran (smallish) center Al Horford is not a team leader on this team any more than he was with Philadelphia, Boston, or Atlanta. Serviceable, yes. But so was Kevin Duckworth. Last night and in Wednesday’s game, Horford just scored the most points for Oklahoma City.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 14, Mike Muscala finished with 13, and Alexsev Pokusevski, Hamidou Diallo, and Darius Bazley finished right down the line with 12, 11, and 10 respectively. Pokusevski and Bazley also finished with 13 and 11 rebounds in the effort.

BULLSTHUNDER
Lauri Markkanen
22 points – five rebounds – one assist – one block
Al Horford
17 points – eight rebounds
Zach LaVine
20 points – four rebounds – four assists – two steals
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
14 points – one rebound – five assists – one steal – one block
Simi Shittu
13 points – six rebounds – one assist – one steal
Mike Muscala
13 points – three rebounds – four blocks

It’s been a while, but Lauri Markkanen led Chicago in its scoring with 22 points. Markkanen has struggled through much of the last calendar year with injury and rehabilitation and just hasn’t seemed his old self. Last night was a step in the right direction. 

Zach LaVine, the team’s most consistent athlete, added 20 points while Simi Shittu, a member of the Windy City and Chicago Bulls by way of Vanderbilt, finished with 13 and six, shooting 75 percent on the Thunder’s hardwood last night. Chandler Hutchison finished with 11 and eight. Coby White shot just 10 percent for four points.

NEXT UP
Oklahoma City at Houston – Wednesday, 8 p.m. EST
Atlanta at Chicago – Wednesday, 8 p.m. EST

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Brooklyn Nets  113
Boston Celtics  89

The sage worked. 

There was no bad juju for Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in Irving’s return to Boston last night.

The Nets put on the hurt, going 92-60 through three quarters and forcing Boston to shoot just 34 percent on their own floor, and a putrid 17 percent from downtown.

Kevin Durant entered his name into the MVP conversation on the last night of Brooklyn’s brief pre-season, dropping a game high 25 points and six boards on the parquet. Caris LeVert came back from injury to add 18 and Irving popped for 17, seven, and five. Joe Harris added 14 and five, while Jarrett Allen came off the bench for nine points and 11 rebounds.

NETSCELTICS
Kevin Durant
25 points – six rebounds – two assists – one steal – three blocks
Jayson Tatum
19 points – eight rebounds – three assists – one steal – one block
Caris LeVert
18 points – two rebounds – one assist – one steal
Jaylen Brown
16 points – four rebounds – four assists – one steal
Kyrie Irving
17 points – seven rebounds – five assists – two steals – one block
Aaron Nesmith
Nine points – five rebounds – one steal

For Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were about it. With Kemba Walker out until at least January and Gordon Hayward now in Charlotte, the Celtics’ next highest hope was No. 14 pick Aaron Nesmith from Vanderbilt, who must be allergic to sage, as he only dropped nine and five in 19 minutes. 

No one else did much better. Tristan Thompson has yet to play, while Payton Pritchard and Jeff Teague each only had five points. Rough night for the green. Rough pre-season. I’m sure they welcome having winless Milwaukee on their Opening Night schedule next week.

NEXT UP
Golden State at Brooklyn – Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST
Milwaukee at Boston – Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST

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Portland Trailblazers  96
Denver Nuggets 129

After an impressive first pre-season game, the Portland Trailblazers are left with question marks after another embarrassing loss. 

The Denver Nuggets are not, having answered similar question marks after their embarrassing 2020-21 pre-season debut.

Last night, in Denver, the Nuggets laid nearly 80 points on the Trailblazers – in just the first half. They coasted on the merits of a 41-23 first quarter, and eventual 79-48 halftime lead to take the 33 point win.

Paul Millsap led the way for Denver with 24 points on 69.2 percent shooting to help the Nugs to a 47 percent to 37 percent shooting advantage, and of course, the victory. Michael Porter, Jr. (20 points, nine rebounds) and Bol Bol (16 points, eight rebounds) combined for 17 of the Nuggets’ rebounds, giving the home team a 53-42 rebounding edge, with 17 of those on the offensive glass for second chance points. The Nuggets had 30 assists and 1 steals in their domination, as well. 

TRAILBLAZERSNUGGETS
C.J. McCollum
26 points – one rebound – two assists
Paul Millsap
24 points – five rebounds – one assist – two steals – one block
Gary Trent, Jr.
18 points – one rebound
Michael Porter, Jr.
20 points – nine rebounds – three assists – one steal
Enes Kanter
10 points – nine rebounds – one assist – (FOULED OUT)
Gary Harris
12 points – three rebounds

Portland’s C.J. McCollum led all scorers with 26 on the night, but – no disrespect to Enes Kanter (10 and nine) – the Blazers are sorely missing Hassan Whiteside right now. Gary Trent, Jr. added 18 points, and that was about it for the Blazers, who sat Damian Lillard for their final pre-season outing. 

Carmelo Anthony had three points – all from the free throw line, while Jusuf Nurkic went for four, six, and four. The Blazers have four days off before they tip the regular season by welcoming the undefeated Utah Jazz.

NEXT UP
Sacramento at Denver – Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST
Utah at Portland – Wednesday, 10 p.m. EST

********************

Los Angeles Lakers  114
Phoenix Suns  113

Add yet name another into the 2020-21 MVP conversation, with Los Angeles’ Anthony Davis, who led all Lakers scorers last season in his first year alongside LeBron James.

The duo were on court together last night to close out a perfect preseason, playing for 29 minutes (Davis) and 24 minutes (James), respectively, to stave off a genuinely strong effort by the Phoenix Suns, who were looking for the upset as their first win of the pre-season and a springboard to the regular season.

It wasn’t meant to be as the Lakers led in shooting percentage, three-point percentage, and had seven fewer turnovers and 12 fewer fouls. Davis led the league in scoring last night with 35 points on 68.8 from the field, 70 percent from the line, and 85.7 percent from downtown. James added 20 and eight, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points. The trio were 1-2-3 last season en route to their championship, and led the Lakers to the close win last night.

That meant that – despite their pre-season successes – Talen Horton-Tucker (12 points), Kyle Kuzma (four points), and Montrezl Harell (eight points) were relegated to roles they’ll likely see in the regular season.

LAKERSSUNS
Anthony Davis
35 points – six rebounds – three assists – two steals – three blocks
Devin Booker
27 points – five rebounds – four assists – one steal
LeBron James
20 points – eight rebounds – four assists – one steal
DeAndre Ayton
12 points – six rebounds – two assists – one block
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
15 points – one rebound – one steal
Jevon Carter
12 points – four rebounds – six assists – four steals

For Phoenix, it’s status quo as it came down to Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton once again. Deja vu, at best. Booker carried the load with 27 points on the night, and Ayton had less than half of that at 12 points. Jevon Carter added his 12 to the mix, as did Jae Crowder, while Langston Galloway had 11 and Mikal Bridges finished with 10.

My question is, why are we talking more about Langston Galloway than Chris Paul

He did not play at all last night, on what would have been the biggest stage of the pre-season, against the Lakers. Did he just move to Phoenix because the warm sun feels good on his old bones? Hell, at this point, Galloway, Carter, and Cameron Payne are putting up better numbers and better effort.

If Phoenix is going to tank like this for Monty Williams, pack up Paul and Booker and send them to Milwaukee so Booker can play for a title, and Paul can start the Banana Boat Snow Tubing Crew, while Jrue Holiday can get things going for the Suns. 

Williams deserves better, and frankly so do the fans of the Phoenix Suns.

I’m one of them.

NEXT UP
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers – Tuesday, 10 p.m. EST
Dallas at Phoenix – Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. EST

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Tracy Graven is the Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, and done NBA radio, for the last two-plus 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
  • Denver
  • Oklahoma City
  • Atlanta 

A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia

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