Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers

The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Indiana Pacers 108-104, behind strong performances from Evan Mobley, Kevin Love, and Jarrett Allen. After finding themselves down 84-73 in the third quarter, the Cavaliers went on a 17-0 run to take the lead and never gave it up. Mobley led the Cavaliers in scoring with 24 points (11-16 FG, 0-2 3PT) and added nine rebounds and four assists. Love tallied 20 points (6-13 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Love has scored 20 points or more in five straight games. He’s played well with increased minutes as the Cavaliers have seen a number of players go down with injury or Covid absences. Allen notched 18 points (6-12 FG, 0-1 3PT), 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and three blocks. Lamar Steven added 15 points (6-13 FG, 0-4 3PT), three assists, two assists, and one steal. Lauri Markkanen finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, and one block. Isaac Okoro played just 12 minutes and had to leave the game due to an elbow injury. He finished the game with 2 points, one rebound, one assist, one steal, and one block. He was one made three, one free-throw, one turnover, and one personal foul away from a really exciting stat line. The Cavaliers were without Darius Garland and Cedi Osman as both entered the league’s health and safety protocols) while Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio are out due to season-ending knee injuries.

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Pacers Notes

The Pacers put up a valiant effort with seven players in health and safety protocols, but fell just short of victory in this one. Domantas Sabonis, formerly of the rebuilding trade block, led the charge for the Pacers and finished the game with 32 (10-16 FG, 3-4 3PT), points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and one block. Rookie Duane Washington Jr. tallied 20 points (8-17 FG, 4-9 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Justin Holiday added 18 points (6-10 FG, 6-9 3PT), three rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block. Myles Turner notched 12 points (4-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and three blocks. 28-year old rookie Keifer Sykes also added 10 points, three rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block after recently being signed to a non-guaranteed contract. It was Sykes’ third game with the Pacers and he started and played 35 minutes. The Pacers were without Caris LeVert, Goga Bitadze, Malcolm, Brogdon, Chris Duarte, Jeremy Lamb, Kelan Martin, Isaiah Jackson, T. J. Warren, and T.J. McConnell.

Toronto Raptors vs New York Knicks

The Toronto Raptors defeated the shorthanded New York Knicks 120-105 in their largely empty home gym—no tickets were sold and only friends and family were allowed in the arena after Ontario limited Scotiabank Arena and other large venues to just 1,000 people. In this Sunday’s sleepy matinee, the Raptors methodically dismantled the Knicks behind a third-quarter outburst from Fred VanVleet and a near mess around by Pascal Siakam. VanVleet finished the game with 35 points (11-17 FG, 7-13 3PT), five rebounds, five assists, one steal, and zero turnovers. He scored 19 of his 35 points in the third quarter when he shot 5-7 from three-point range and 6-8 overall in the quarter. This will surely help his All-Star case, which the Raptors broadcast could not go two minutes without mentioning. Even going so far as to refer to VanVleet as “Fred All-Star” for most of the game. Pascal Siakam was also sharp in this contest, finishing the game with 20 points (7-15 FG, 0-1 3PT), 14 rebounds, seven assists, and two steals—though he did turn the ball over six times. OG Anunoby added 14 points (4-11 FG, 1-5 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and three steals. Anunoby had some nice moments bullying RJ Barrett, but it wasn’t always fluid. I’d expect Anunoby to continue improving as he regains his rhythm after missing about a month with a hip injury—this was just his third game back. Rookie sensation Scottie Barnes also had a solid game, showing off his improved shooting stroke and defensive playmaking. He finished the contest with 13 points (4-9 FG, 2-5 3PT), four rebounds, one steal, and one block.

Knicks Notes

The Knicks played this game without Kemba Walker (left knee soreness), Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims, and Wayne Seldon (health and safety protocols). Absences to the Knicks’ usual starters meant that Obi Toppin and Miles McBride filled in as spot-starters, although McBride played just over 15 minutes. Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Alec Burks, and Quentin Grimes all scored in double figures. Fournier led the Knicks in scoring with 20 points (6-14 FG, 4-10 3PT), but besides a turnover, recorded no other stats. Toppin took full advantage of the extra opportunities in this game and finished the contest with 19 points (7-12 FG, 1-4 3PT), six rebounds, six assists, one steal, and two blocks in 45 minutes. Barrett also scored 19 points (6-14 FG, 2-5 3PT) and added four rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Burks played 26 minutes off the bench and tallied 11 points (4-10 FG, 0-1 3PT), four rebounds, two assists, five steals, and one block. Grimes added 13 points.

Sacramento Kings vs. Miami Heat

The Sacramento Kings secured an unlikely victory over one of the Eastern Conference’s upper crust teams, the Miami Heat, by a score of 115-113. Of course, the usual Covid absence caveats still apply. The Kings were led in scoring by Buddy Hield (26 points), but it was De’Aaron Fox‘s aggressive downhill attacking and playmaking that made all the difference. Fox finished the game with 24 points (5-12 FG, 0-4 3PT, 14-15 FTA), six rebounds, six assists, two steals, and just two turnovers. Both the 15 free-throw attempts and the 14 makes are season-highs. This game might not be peak De’Aaron Fox, but I imagine it’s much more in line with what folks inside and outside the organization expected from Fox this season. If Fox can continue to get to the free-throw line and knock them down consistently, as he did in this game, the Kings could hold on to their 10th place play-in spot. Hield finished the game with 26 points (9-18 FG, 7-14 3PT), six rebounds, and three assists. Tyrese Haliburton had a quiet scoring night, finishing the game with just nine points (3-6 FG, 1-1 3PT), but he did add three rebounds, and 12 assists. The effervescent Damian Jones continued his breakout season, finishing the game with 18 points (7-10 FG, 0-2 3PT), 10 rebounds, and three assists. His battle with the Heat’s Omer Yurtseven was a fun duel between two unheralded young centers. Jones’ stiff, elongated three-point shot still needs a lot of work, but I suppose it’s encouraging that he’s taking them and trying to make himself a threat from distance. Harrison Barnes has cooled off quite a bit after his incredibly hot start to the season and now his counting stats are pretty similar to last season—regression to the mean and all that. He finished this game with 10 points (4-7 FG, 2-4 3PT), two rebounds, one steal, and two blocks. Davion Mitchell added 12 points.

Heat Notes

This loss won’t sit well with the boys from the 305. While it’s true that the Heat competed against the Kings without Bam Adebayo, Dewayne Dedmon, P.J. Tucker, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Udonis Haslem, Marcus Garrett, P.J. Tucker, KZ Okpala, Markieff Morris, and Victor Oladipo, this is an organization that prides themself on finding a way to win. So what went wrong? Jimmy Butler missed a game-tying floater just outside the restricted area as the clock ticked down to zero. But more importantly, as has been the case in most of the Heat’s losses this season, they didn’t shoot the ball well or generate enough good looks. They were almost doubled up in points at the free-throw line as the Heat were 12-12 from the line, while the Kings were 22-27. No player for the Heat shot more than three free throws (Chris Silva). Tyler Herro led the team in scoring with 22 points (8-23 FG, 4-11 3PT),  and added five rebounds, two assists, and one block. None of the Heat’s top-six players shot better than 45% from the field. Jimmy Butler finished the game with 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists, but he was just 9-22 from the field and 1-6 from three-point range. Kyle Lowry shot the ball better than Herro and Butler, but on a much lower volume—which is itself a problem. Lowry finished the game with 14 points (5-11 FG, 2-6 3PT), five rebounds, 12 assists, and one steal. Caleb Martin added 15 points (6-13 FG, 1-5 3PT), six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. He continues to be a reliable energy piece for the Heat. He can defend multiple positions and his athleticism helps juice their transition game. He could be an X-factor come playoff time if the team can ever get healthy. Speaking of X-factors, Omer Yurtseven continues to play well and should be the team’s primary backup center once Bam Adebayo returns. It’s now eight straight games that Yurtseven has tallied double-digit rebounds, and his touch and skill around the basket are undeniable. He finished this game with 22 points (11-18 FG), 16 rebounds, and one steal.

Charlotte Hornets vs. Phoenix Suns

Every time the Suns play the Hornets they remind them there is a gulf between the two teams. The Suns once again demolished the Charlotte Hornets 133-99. The Suns are an almost perfectly constructed, championship-contending team, and they sit a game behind the Warriors for the best record in the league. They made appropriately light work of the Hornets behind a masterclass team performance. Seven Suns’ players scored in double figures, led by Devin Booker‘s 24 points. Booker finished the game with 24 points (9-19 FG, 3-9 3PT), seven rebounds, and three assists. Chris Paul scored just seven points (3-6 FG, 1-3 3PT), but he did his #pointgawd thing by dishing out 16 assists, grabbing six rebounds, and nabbing one steal. Jalen Smith had 19 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks with both JaVale McGee and Deandre Ayton sidelined due to health and safety protocols. Mikal Bridges finished the game with 15 points (6-12 FG, 3-5 3PT), five rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Landry Shamet scored 17 points, Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson added 14, and hardship signee and former Charlotte Hornet, Bismack Biyombo tallied 11.

Hornets Notes

TRADE GORDON HAYWARD! TRADE MASON PLUMLEE! I’ve had my fill of these creaky veteran players harshing the Hornets’ otherwise immaculate vibes. It’s true that these trades will likely never materialize. You could argue both players are overpaid and with Hayward, it’s inarguable. As a result, the Hornets may not be able to acquire anything of value for those two players. Furthermore, the Hornets, whether they know it or not, are in the early stages of a rebuild. They should not be giving away first-round picks and young players unless they are getting immense value in return. Hence the dilemma, they are just good enough where an outright tank seems gauche and disrespectful to the fans, but they aren’t good enough to be pure buyers at the trade deadline. The treadmill of mediocrity looms over this team’s future. They should compete for the majority of the season and if they can secure a REAL playoff spot, above the play-in, then by all means go for it. If the play-in tournament is their big reward for the season, they need to execute a swift and ruthless late-season tank. (At least, think about what you could get for Terry Rozier and PJ Washington.)

Back to the game in question—the Hornets’ poor performance is reflected in the numbers. LaMelo Ball led the way with 17 points (5-12 FG, 3-6 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and one block. Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 15 points (6-10 FG, 3-7 3PT) off the bench and added three rebounds and one block. Ish Smith tallied 13 points (5-8 FG, 1-2 3PT), two rebounds, eight assists, and one steal. Miles Bridges tallied 10 points (4-9 FG, 0-3 3PT), three rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block in his first game out of the league’s health and safety protocols. Terry Rozier added 9 points (4-14 FG, 1-6 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and one block. Gordon Hayward notched eight points (3-6 FG, 1-4 3PT), seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal.

Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

The Boston Celtics beat the Orlando Magic 116-111 in an overtime thriller that saw Jaylen Brown score a career-high 50 points. Brown led the Celtics back from a 14 point deficit in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 50 points (19-29 FG, 5-10 3PT), 11 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and two blocks. Marcus Smart made a number of timely, clutch plays in the fourth quarter, as he is wont to do. He finished the game with 17 points (3-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal, and two blocks. It is a great tragedy of our time that Marcus Smart was drafted by the Celtics. Dennis Schroder added 21 points (7-14 FG, 2-5 3PT), three rebounds, seven assists, and one steal. No other Celtics’ player scored in double figures, but Al Horford and Josh Richardson each tallied nine points. The Celtics confuse me to no end. For example, after Jaylen Brown scored twice at the basket late in the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder walked the ball up and seemed reluctant to pass it to Brown on the game’s final possession of regulation. He did eventually move it to Brown after a few seconds had ticked off the clock, but the damage was done. Brown got into his move around the eight-second mark, never got downhill, and dribbled into a rhythmless fadeaway midrange jumper over Franz Wagner that fell short. My guess is Schroder wanted to make sure the Celtics got the last shot, and Brown, after carrying the Celtics on his back for 40 minutes, was fatigued. But it’s this kind of “settling” that seems to plague Brown and the team’s best player, Jayson Tatum. To say nothing of their lack of potency as playmakers. I’m not sure either player can be the number one option on a championship-caliber team and they each play at a pace that makes it hard to fluidly keep their teammates involved. They’ll be an interesting team to watch at the trade deadline and in the years ahead.

Magic Notes

The Orlando Magic did what young teams do—cough up leads late in games and make errors of execution in the game’s tensest moments. Amid all of the energetic and talented young players on the Magic’s roster, it was the grizzled veterans that led the way for men from the Sunshine state. Terrence Ross—haunter of so many Eastern Conference teams—got busy in this game and finished with 33 points (11-19 FG, 4-8 3PT), five rebounds, and three assists. Gary Harris continued his bounce-back season with another strong performance: 23 points (9-16 FG, 1-5 3PT), three rebounds, one assist, and four steals. Wendell Carter Jr. finished the game with 15 points (5-15 FG, 1-4 3PT), 16 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, and one block. Franz Wagner had another solid game in what has been an impressive rookie season. He was even used as a primary playmaker late in this game when the Magic needed clutch baskets. He finished the game with 14 points (5-14 FG, 0-1 3PT), three rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block. The irrepressible Tim Frazier is back in the NBA and up to his old tricks again. He finished the game with 14 points (5-9 FG, 1-2 3PT), five rebounds, three assists, and one steal.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 95-86 in Luka Doncic‘s return to play after missing 23 days due to ankle soreness and then a stint in health and safety protocols. Doncic nearly notched a triple-double and finished the game with 14 points (6-14 FG, 2-6 3PT), nine rebounds, 10 assists, and one steal. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 15 points, three rebounds, and three assists. Marquese Chriss, on his second 10-day contract with the Mavericks, provided a massive spark off the bench and finished the game with 15 points ( 6-9 FG, 3-3 3PT) and seven rebounds. Old reliable, Jalen Brunson added 12 points (6-12 FG, 0-1 3PT) one rebound, seven assists, and one steal as a starter. Dorian Finney-Smith didn’t shoot the ball well, but had a nice all-around game nonetheless, finishing with 10 points (4-13 FG, 1-8 3PT), six rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Maxi Kleber tallied nine points (3-7 FG, 3-7 3PT), five rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. He also hit a dagger three late in the fourth quarter off a behind-the-back bounce pass from Luka Doncic in the paint, all the way out to Kleber at the three-point line. Magician stuff from Doncic and Kleber cashed it in.

Thunder Notes

The Thunder played this game without their best player and leader, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but it was their prized rookie, Josh Giddey who led the charge and kept them in this game. Every year it seems, a new young player in the NBA sets the record for the youngest player to record a triple-double. Last night, Giddey was the latest player to break the record. He finished the game with 17 points (7-16 FG, 3-5 3PT), 13 rebounds, 14 assists, and four steals, notching his first triple-double at 19 years, 2 months, 23 days young. He topped LaMelo Ball, who previously had the record at 19 years, 10 months, 17 days. Seems like poetic justice that Giddey would set the record against Luka Doncic, who is the best “big ballhandler” of the NBA’s new generation. Giddey no doubt, hopes to join the upper echelon of that group. Isaiah Roby added 12 points (5-5 FG, 1-1 3PT), four rebounds, and one assist. Aaron Wiggins finished the game with 10 points (4-10 FG, 2-3 3PT), six rebounds, and one steal. Aleksej Pokusevski tallied 9 points (4-12 FG, 1-5 3PT), five rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Ty Jerome added 12 points.

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers

It seems like every time the Lakers play on Sunday (and I write about them), they manage to just barely eke out a win against some middling or lottery-bound Western Conference team. Well, here we are again. The Lakers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves for the first time this season by a score of 108-103. It was a tight back and forth affair—neither team had a lead larger than 10 points. I feel like a broken record talking about the Lakers. They have LeBron James and will eventually get back some version of Anthony Davis, but they continue to struggle to beat the most uninspiring teams and health will probably continue to be a question given the age and injury history of the core players on the roster. On the bright side, LeBron continues to play exceptionally well and seems to have found his “old man game.” Shockingly, it does not include a bunch of meandering post-ups and ground-bound turnarounds. Instead, he’s jacking up a career-high number of threes (7.9 a game) and shooting them well (37.4%). His season averages are now up to 28.5 points, seven-point-five rebounds, six assists, one-point-eight steals, and one-point-one blocks. Given how well James is playing, my concern isn’t whether or not LeBron is still good enough to lead a team to the promised land, but will he have enough left in the tank at the end of a taxing regular season with less help than is ideal for a 37-year-old superstar. Only time will tell, I suppose.

James finished this game with 26 points (7-15, 3-9 3PT), seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one block. Like James, Malik Monk has been playing well recently and he finished this game with 22 points (8-14, 4-9 3PT), one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Monk’s shooting and athleticism in transition pair well with James’ wonderful playmaking. The only question is whether or not Monk can defend well enough to avoid compromising the Lakers’ defense. Russell Westbrook added 20 points (7-16 FG, 0-5 FG), three rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block. Carmelo Anthony tallied 14 points (5-10 FG, 3-7 3PT), one rebound, two assists, one steal, and one block. Talen Horton-Tucker managed to score just six points (2-7 FG, 0-2 3PT) and added five rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Are we sure Horton-Tucker is all that?

Timberwolves Notes

Naz Reid led the Timberwolves in scoring with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell sidelined. Reid finished the game with 23 points (10-17 FG, 0-4 3PT), 11 rebounds, and two assists. Anthony Edwards added 18 points (7-19 FG, 0-6 3PT), seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block, and a rough eight turnovers. All seven of Edwards’ made shots came at the basket where he was 7-10. He was 0-9 on all other shots on the night (0-6 3PT, and 0-3 in the midrange). If Edwards can figure out how to bottle up and more frequently return to what worked on his seven makes at the rim, that would be a boon for the Timberwolves. It’s become apparent that despite his imposing size and athleticism, Edwards’ doesn’t love contact. He shoots just 3.7 free throws a game. His much less athletic teammate, D’Angelo Russell, shoots essentially the same number (3.6 free-throw attempts a game). His failure to embrace contact is worsened by his need to improve his footwork around the basket. Edwards is an explosive athlete, but he doesn’t always seem capable of calling on that explosiveness on his drives in the half-court. Smarter people than me have pointed out that if you need a massive runway to deploy your elite athleticism, you won’t have many chances to use it. Those long runways mostly come on breakaways in transition. You need to be able to power up off either leg and be able to jump explosively off one leg or two. Or you need to be able to decelerate at a moment’s notice—think Luka Doncic and James Harden. Edwards has yet to perfect the dark arts of foul growing or finishing (including the footwork), but if you watch the highlights of this game or just watch his seven drives and makes, it will be hard not to get excited about his future.

Jaylen Nowell provided a nice scoring punch off the bench with 17 points (7-10 FG, 1-4 3PT), four rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Malik Beasley notched 16 points (6-18 FG, 4-11 3PT), one rebound, and one assist as a fill-in starter. Patrick Beverley added 12 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, and one block. Jarred Vanderbilt do what Jarred Vanderbilt does: 3 points (1-2 FG, 1-2 FTA), 12 rebounds, two assists, and two steals.