Wednesday NBA Roundup: Anthony Davis Wins Battle, but War with KAT Will ComeNovember 24, 2016
Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns can both still have shares of the NBA's future, but the present clearly belongs to just one.
Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans buried Towns' Minnesota Timberwolves, winning 117-96 in a game that highlighted the yawning chasm between tremendous potential and fully realized stardom.
Taking a 21-2 first-quarter scoring edge over Towns and never looking back, Davis finished with 45 points, 10 rebounds and three assists on 17-of-27 shooting. It was the fourth time AD pumped in at least that many points in a game, and he's now the proud owner of three of the season's six highest-scoring outputs.
He had it all working, according to Justin Verrier of ESPN.com:
And it was almost as though Davis was trying to send a message—or perhaps respond to one delivered by the league's general managers before the season began:
Towns managed nine points and 11 rebounds, though his night wasn't without its highlights:
Plays like that made it a little strange to hear Towns, interviewed on the ESPN broadcast, saying he wished he had "the ability to play a little faster as (Davis) does...He's a little more athletic than I am, and I wish I was as athletic as he was."
And though Davis soundly outplayed Towns, encouraging signs remain that the Timberwolves young star will one day equal or surpass the Pelicans' stud. For example, a quick scan of Basketball-Reference.com's shot tendencies for both players shows Davis relying increasingly on those tricky in-between looks, getting a larger and larger portion of his field-goal attempts from outside the restricted area and inside the arc.
Towns, meanwhile, is condensing his attempts to everyone's favorite high-percentage zones: point-blank and three-point range.
|Shot Distributions for Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns|
|%FGA 0-3 Feet||%FGA 3-10 Feet||%FGA 3P|
Those are trends that'll warrant monitoring in the future. More immediately, Towns' Timberwolves must deal with their predictable collapses. New Orleans roared to a 36-18 third-quarter advantage that swung this game, and the post-halftime implosion was all too familiar for the Wolves, as this graphic from NBA on ESPN illustrates:
Minnesota has been outscored in 12 of the 14 third quarters it's played this season.
Flaws and all, you'd still take Towns' surrounding cast over Davis' because nobody on New Orleans' support staff has the promise of Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine, and nobody is out there doing things like this:
But oddly, you can tie some of Minnesota's failures to its glut of talented kids. Part of the Wolves' problems in dealing with adversity (and third-quarter slumps) is that—in addition to lapses in focus and commitment—these young players who rightfully believe they'll be stars someday try to fix everything on their own, as NBA analyst Britt Robson pointed out with respect to Wiggins:
What's more, the coexistence of a handful of potential alphas—even if Towns is clearly the real top dog—complicates things for Towns in a way Davis has never seen. AD has it tougher, sure, but he's been forged by his circumstances, forced to develop into his team's be-all, end-all precisely because the Pelicans have never had anyone else to challenge him for the role.
Or get in his way.
So while Towns has to develop in concert with others, Davis, by necessity, turned into the godly force he is today:
The idea of adversity spurring development isn't a new one.
Ultimately, anyone in their right mind should still buy as much stock in Davis and Towns as possible. Both are going nowhere but up. If Wednesday taught us anything, though, Davis' stock is already booming, while Towns' remains more of a speculative play.
The Sixers Have Some Learning to Do
The Memphis Grizzlies outlasted the feisty Philadelphia 76ers in double overtime, prevailing 104-99 behind Mike Conley's 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Memphis earned its sixth consecutive win, though it's worth wondering what would have happened if Joel Embiid's minutes limit hadn't sidelined him for the second overtime period.
Maybe in addition to the 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks we'd seen to that point, we would have also witnessed another eye-opening sequence like this:
Per Derek Bodner of Philadelphia Magazine, Embiid is as eager as everyone else to get past the kid-gloves stage:
In addition to Embiid sitting out the decisive final stanza, Nik Stauskas also made sure the Sixers' lottery odds didn't get too slim. He passed up a clean look at a triple, dribbled in and missed a two when Philly was down three in the closing seconds.
If this game taught us nothing else, it was that it takes time to learn how to win. I sure hope some established and universally respected pro takes the time to school Embiid on what it takes.
The Spurs Are Not Pathetic
The San Antonio Spurs heard Gregg Popovich's transmission, but the Charlotte Hornets did their best to interfere.
"I thought we showed a lack of humility, a lack of respect for the opponent," Popovich told reporters after the 96-91 win over a Dallas Mavericks team that started four undrafted players. "A very pathetic performance on both ends of the court, in execution and in grunt, in fiber, in desire."
Bouncing back from those negative reviews, the Spurs handed the Charlotte Hornets a 119-114 loss, the third straight defeat for the struggling bugs. Though beaten, Charlotte gave the Spurs all they could handle, as Kemba Walker continued his brilliant season and nearly decided a tight game with 15 points in the fourth quarter.
And while San Antonio may have been galvanized by Pop's well-timed and delightfully expressive curmudgeonry, it probably helped that LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker were back in the lineup after resting against the Mavs. Having Kawhi Leonard set a career high for made field goals (14) on the way to 30 points didn't hurt, either.
He earned raves from Mike Prada of SB Nation and Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News:
Fighting hard on the road against a game Hornets club, the Spurs proved they don't stay pathetic for long.
The Blazers Need to Level Up
The Portland Trail Blazers have talked a lot about fixing their defense, along with upping their effort and finding themselves lately. Jason Quick of CSNNW.com got a representative quote from Damian Lillard:
What happened Wednesday suggests something more than talk is in order.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and, more specifically, Kevin Love torched the Blazers' beleaguered D, pouring in 137 points, their season high, in a 12-point win. He set an NBA record with 34 first-quarter points, part of the Cavs' 46 in the period.
For Love, the 34 points (he finished with 40) represented a personal best since coming to Cleveland.
Lillard posted 40 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on 13-of-21 shooting, so he delivered on his pregame goal. It was Portland's D, now ranked dead last in the NBA, that wasn't ready to level up with him.
Losers in five of their last six, the Blazers desperately need Al-Farouq Aminu's calf to heal. The defensive collapse isn't entirely due to his absence, but redistributing his minutes to Ed Davis, Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard has played a major role in this slide.
Lillard can only do so much.
The Hawks Take a Deep Breath, Suffocate Opponents
The Atlanta Hawks badly needed a course correction coming off three straight losses to the Hornets, New York Knicks and Pelicans. They leaned on their defense to get one against the Indiana Pacers.
Dwight Howard contributed 23 points and 20 rebounds in the Hawks' skid-stopping 96-85 win, helping hold the Pacers to 40.5 percent shooting and leading a dominant 56-37 advantage on the glass.
Whenever Atlanta's finicky offense hit a dry spell, its pressure D did enough to keep Indy from getting its own attack going, as John Schuhmann of NBA.com observed:
Two weeks ago, the Hawks seemed ready to join the East's true upper class. Now, after stabilizing themselves with the defense that defined them in their best stretches of the young season, they can start working back to that status.
The Pistons Rebound...and Rebound
Theory: Knowing Andre Drummond is a human rebound vacuum, the rest of the Detroit Pistons have all decided they don't need to do anything on the glass.
Nobody's saying there's a placard on the wall of Detroit's home locker room that says "Screw it, 'Dre will handle the boards," but nobody's not saying that, either.
How else do you explain the Pistons ranking 23rd in rebound percentage?
Out-rebounded in 11 of the first 15 games they played this season, the Pistons got 15 pulls from Drummond and managed to outwork the Miami Heat on the boards by a margin of 49-37 overall. Result: a 107-84 win against a Heat team that, admittedly, couldn't get out of its own way.
If the Heat are ever going to get themselves right, they have to stop letting their woeful offense (they shot 36 percent from the field) drain the life of a generally strong defense, says Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
The Heat have the rest of a likely tank-focused season to sort themselves out. Detroit, a team with playoff aspirations, is just happy to grab a few boards and stop a four-game losing streak.
The Man Bun of Doom Destroyed the Nets
Coming off a historically bad defensive stretch that saw them give up at least 120 points in four straight games, the Brooklyn Nets did not need to see Kelly Olynyk's man bun. Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com explained why that mattered:
Somehow, the Nets held Boston to just 111 points during a 19-point loss, and Olynyk only managed 10 points. So...progress?
The Celtics are getting healthier, Olynyk's going with his optimal hairstyle and Isaiah Thomas keeps finishing games with ruthless scoring. After Brooklyn's surprising start and Boston's stumbles to begin the season, these two teams are headed in the directions we expected.
That's doubly good news for the Celtics, who own the Nets' first-round draft-pick rights for (give or take) the next 75 years.
DeMar DeRozan Is Efficient in His Own Way
To be clear, DeMar DeRozan still takes way too many shots from the inefficient mid-range area, and he's bound for regression eventually.
But in another way, he flashed some very cost-effective scoring in the Toronto Raptors' 115-102 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday, grabbing 21 of his 24 points during a decisive third quarter.
All points count the same, but when you pile them up in bunches, they can demoralize a struggling opponent.
"I’ve never been a person where you could sway me just because everybody is doing something, or something is changing," DeRozan told Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post earlier this week.
With results like he's had so far (DeRozan has scored at least 30 points in 10 of Toronto's 15 games), it's hard to argue with his methods.
DeAndre Jordan Is Clairvoyant
Any guesses as to what happened when the team with the league's best record met the one with the worst? The Los Angeles Clippers rolled, trouncing the Dallas Mavericks by a final of 124-104.
Dallas, at least, got Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut back in the lineup, which had to feel pretty good after starting four undrafted players against the Spurs earlier this week. But the Mavs got just 10 points from Nowitzki, and Bogut—though he grabbed a dozen boards and dished six assists—got himself into foul trouble that hampered his effectiveness during the second half.
Though the Mavs are getting healthier, it's hard to be confident about their chances of keeping vets on the floor—both because guys like Nowitzki and Bogut don't have the cleanest health records and because this is feeling increasingly like a lost season.
Things have never been worse for Dallas under current ownership, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Seeing these two teams rocketing toward opposite ends of the NBA hierarchy has to make DeAndre Jordan feel pretty good about his decision to ditch the Mavs two summers ago.
Never Ever Beat the Warriors by 20 Points
The Los Angeles Lakers knocked off the Golden State Warriors 117-97 on Nov. 4, and it is now safe to assume the Dubs didn't quickly forget it.
And while there are many, many things we could say to contextualize the Warriors' 149-106 victory—like how Golden State set a franchise record with 47 assists and scored the 10th-most points in a regulation game ever—I think it's best to just use this:
Hard to say, actually. Maybe seeing a team score 149 points makes me a little loopy.
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Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Accurate through games played Nov. 23.