So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
(All GIFs by Jason Gallagher unless otherwise noted.)
Fun Facts: Timberwolves-Rockets Edition
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Jason Concepcion: The NBA returned to Mexico City as part of its Global Games initiative with a matchup between the Rockets and the Timberwolves. The evening was nothing short of a rousing success, considering that this time the arena didn’t catch fire. The only thing that got smoked was the Timberwolves.
It was also the second coaching battle between former college pals and former Timberwolves colleagues Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders. Fun Fact! After Wolves owner Glen Taylor promoted McHale from assistant general manager and television color analyst (this doesn’t get talked about enough; McHale was their assistant GM, and DID COLOR COMMENTARY FOR THEIR GAMES) in 1995, one of McHale’s first moves was to hire his former college roommate Flip Saunders, who was then toiling in the coal mines of the Continental Basketball Association. They made eight straight playoff appearances (including seven straight first-round exits) together from 1996 to 2004. Then the Wolves opened the 2004-05 season 25-26 and McHale, in what must have been a painful move, fired Flip.
More fun facts! The Rockets are the no. 1 defensive team in the NBA by defensive rating. They went into last night’s game holding teams to 96.2 points per 100 possessions and had the best margin of victory (11) in the league. (Yes, their early schedule has been easy.) Their Moreyball efficiency philosophy — which I would describe as “if card counting were a spectator sport” — has them leading the league in made and attempted 3s (104 and 258, respectively) and in percentage of total shots that are 3-pointers (43 percent!!!), and they’re third in the league in free throw attempts and free throw rate (234 free throws and a .408 free throw rate). No team in the league takes fewer long 2s; just 7 percent of Houston’s shots are in the range between 16 feet and the 3-point line. They are the Sloan Conference in shorts and sneakers.
No one Rockets player embodies the Morey ethos more than James Harden. Harden went into last night’s game shooting 39 percent from the floor, yet his true shooting percentage stands at a hale and hearty .584 because he’s getting to the line nearly 11 times per game and shooting 90 percent when he gets there.
Harden’s line from Mexico City: 23 points, 10 assists, 8 of 23 from the field, 5 of 5 from the line, +/- 13. Rockets 113, Timberwolves 101.
Do You Like Watching Houston Take Free Throws, Swift One?
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Jason Gallagher: Quick question. How did the Thunder lose the reigning MVP and the Point Godzilla and STILL find a way to be the most interesting team in the NBA? This is a team that is seriously counting on the play of Sebastian Telfair. I thought I’d be out until December at least. Yet there I was, last night — watching the Thunder play the Boston Celtics, not because I had to but because I cared to. What was it that could possibly make this team so intriguing?
Then I saw a play that appeared to be run for Kendrick Perkins and it hit me.
Bad basketball with everything on the line is the best basketball. Period.
That’s what’s taking place in OKC, and it’s astounding to watch. Bad basketball with a purpose. Most of the time, I only pay attention to bad basketball, like the Lakers, for entertainment purposes. This bad basketball is different. There’s a championship at stake. The play of Lance Thomas and Andre Roberson will determine the fate of a serious contender.
This group needs to win as many games as physically possible to make a realistic climb back into the playoff race. Scott Brooks is rewriting his playbook, calling for things like LOTS of Kendrick Perkins, and allowing Reggie Jackson to go iso for 22 seconds per possession. They’re also running plays for 3-point specialists like Anthony Morrow (28 points last night!) and Nick Collison, who has already hit more 3s this season than in all other seasons of his 10-year career … combined. MY GOD, I LOVE THIS TEAM.
After last night’s game, the Thunder sit 2.5 games out of the playoff hunt. That number has to stay as low as possible if OKC wants to contend. Let’s do it. Let’s go bad Thunder.
Taylor! Tony Morrow Back!
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Bird of Wonder
Danny Chau: Seven games into the season, the Hawks are 4-3, but they may as well be 0-0. The team is a blank slate full of unanswered questions, and you don’t have to look much further than its record to notice. Before last night, the team had won close games against two of the worst teams in the East, lost two close games against potential Finals contenders (Spurs, Raptors), and was beaten by a buzzer-beater from Lance Stephenson. Including last night’s 100-97 victory over the Jazz, Hawks games have been decided by an average of 5.4 points. At some point in the final two minutes of all seven of their games, the Hawks were either ahead or behind by four points or fewer. Again, these games have been tight. Who knows, at this point, how good or bad these Hawks are?
Last night, they won, despite having to keep DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott on the sideline due to injury and star incognito Al Horford playing one of the worst games of his career. It was yet another strange night for a strange team.
Paul Millsap (“MILSAP” for the night) went Love-in-Minnesota on the Jazz, logging 30 points and 17 rebounds (six offensive), shooting 13-for-23 from the field and 4-for-8 from 3. And yet, even that offensive explosion wasn’t enough to usurp Kyle Korver for most points on the team. Korver, of course, scored 17 points last night, which just happens to give him a total of 117, one point more than Millsap has on the season. Like I said: strange.
Strictly looking at results, a likely scenario for these new-era Hawks might look something like the Hawks we’d grown bored of in the last decade — a midcard stuck in limbo somewhere between great and atrocious. Unlike those Hawks of the late ‘00s, though, their fate isn’t obvious. There’s still a lot to discover about the team; there’s still an element of surprise. For now, that’ll be enough to keep them interesting.
Teach Them Well and Let Them Lead the Way
Jared Dubin: This Orlando Magic team has a weird mix of talent. In Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, and Aaron Gordon, they’ve spent their last three first-rounders on players who project as elite athletes and defenders, but either can’t or won’t shoot. In an age where nearly every other team is going all in on shooting, it’s a bit odd. Then there’s Nikola Vucevic, a monster rebounder and improving post-scorer who isn’t all that great at the whole defense thing. They’ve also still got Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, and Moe Harkless hanging around, and their notable offseason acquisitions were a much-needed stretch big (Channing Frye) … and Luke Ridnour, Willie Green, and Ben Gordon.
Needless to say, the season did not get off to a great start. The Magic were 2-5 entering this week, with their only wins coming against the hapless 76ers and the Timberwolves, a team that was on the first night of a back-to-back on the road in Orlando and Miami.
Then, on Tuesday, the Magic lost a close game to the Raptors in Toronto. They held the lead for a decent part of the fourth quarter, but ultimately couldn’t close it out. It was a valiant effort on the road against a team that had looked like one of the East’s best to that point, and they almost won. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, we’re close to winning,’ but that’s still fuckin’ losing,” Frye said after the Raptors game.
Fast forward to last night’s game against the Knicks, where the Magic finally did not fuckin’ lose. They got solid contributions from Frye himself and Ridnour as well, but for the most part, that eclectic crew of youngsters carried the day.
With Oladipo still out and Elf still refusing to shoot unless absolutely necessary, it was Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Evan Fournier’s hair doing the heavy lifting. (There was also a second-quarter stretch when Harris went on a personal 10-4 run in a minute and 18 seconds.) Vucci Mane feasted on post-ups early and late, and Fournier became the latest in a long line of players to take advantage of FARTDOG’s1 generosity. For one night, the Magic figured a bunch of things out. It was pretty fun.
Get [Insert Denver Nuggets Personnel] a Drink
That’s the Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards.
Kirk Goldsberry: What the heck is going on in Denver? The team looks terrible and Rocky’s taken to the drink. Juliet Litman says the Nuggets are “the most depressing team in the league.” Man. I don’t know. There’s always the Sixers. Anyway, it’s not that bad; if a couple of bounces had gone their way last night, the Nuggets could’ve easily held the Blazers under 80 in the first half. For example, if the team knew how to run a basic pick-and-roll play.
Or, if they didn’t tackle players on the other team.
Alas, it wasn’t to be, and the Blazers scored 84 points in the first 24 minutes. Eighty-four. Now the Nugs have lost six straight, and the Western Conference isn’t getting any more forgiving anytime soon.
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THE. BUTLER. DID. IT.
Andrew Sharp: You’re not really an NBA fan until you’re getting hyped for Rasual Butler on a weeknight in November. But that’s where I was last night. That’s where all Wizards fans were.
You might remember Rasual Butler from opening night, when he reportedly had his life ended against the Miami Heat. He went to take a charge, and James Ennis dunked right through his heart. It was one of those plays that makes the entire Internet break out in a fit of “R.I.P.s” and crying emojis. But you know what? He had 18 points last night, and 11 in the fourth quarter, and it was all too much for the Pistons to handle. You can’t kill Rasual Butler. He will only come back stronger.
Does this mean we should start calling him Ra’s-A-Sul?
But still. If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them and stab them in the heart. That’s what Rasual Butler did to the Pistons in the fourth quarter.
This is what the Wizards have been doing all year. Someone always steps up. One night it’s Otto Porter, the next night it’s Garrett Temple, then maybe it’s Paul Pierce, and last night it was Butler. This is why they’ve avoided their storied tradition of sub-.500 Novembers.
Before this year, the ‘Zards had started 0-2 for four straight years. Last year they started 2-7. It’s probably not a great sign that this year’s Wizards are playing close games with teams like the Pacers and Pistons, but it’s definitely a good thing that they’re winning them before December. This is progress. And it’s all happening without Bradley Beal.
One last thing: John Wall. He’s had two games with at least 30 and 10 assists, and last night he had 27 and 11. He’s averaging 20 and 9 for the year, and he’s carrying the Wizards through life without Beal. While the world’s loudest fart noise wonders about his value, he’s doing everything you could ever want from a franchise player.
There’s a different hero for the Wizards every night, but only because Wall gives them a chance at all. After last night, NBATV told him about the last time the Wizards started 6-2.
“I wasn’t even born then,” he said.
Me neither. But we’re here now. It feels so good to be alive.
Wizards Party, Tay?
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