Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: DeMar DeRozan
Well, that makes 36.
The Raptors earned their first post–Kyle Lowry News win on Monday night, but it was against the Knicks and it didn’t come easy.
DeRozan shouldered the offensive load that he had been splitting with his backcourt mate, taking 25 shots and scoring 37 of the Raptors’ 92 points in their one-point win at Madison Square Garden.
The Raptors closed a 13-point halftime deficit to draw even in the game’s closing minutes, when DeRozan shot on each of the team’s last seven possessions. The guard’s style lends itself to hero ball, and New York certainly knew how Toronto intended to score — over his past three games, DeRozan has averaged 38 points and 23 shots per game; the Raptors aren’t looking anywhere else on offense. But it didn’t matter, none of DeRozan’s teammates cared to score in the last three minutes. That was a winning strategy for Toronto.
DeRozan’s last two shots, a go-ahead slash to the rim with 30 seconds remaining and a de facto game-winning jumper with a second to go, dragged the Raptors over the finish line. But Toronto also lucked out. Carmelo Anthony missed a wide-open look as the clock expired.
Raptors fans should be happy with wins like these; prettiness doesn’t affect playoff seeding. The concern is whether DeRozan has enough left in the tank come postseason. With a home-and-home against Washington and a game at Milwaukee coming on Saturday, Toronto won’t be getting many more gifts.
Runner-up: Seth Curry
The Curry brothers combined to shoot 5-of-18 from deep on Monday night. Luckily for Dallas, Seth outshined big brother, making all five of those and scoring 29 points in the Mavericks’ 96–89 win over a Heat team that had won 16 of its past 18 games.
Curry’s impression of his brother was capped by an uncannily Steph-like (Lonzo-like?) deep 3 with two minutes to go.
The Mavericks are only two games out of a playoff spot and seem to have no interest in tanking. The pick that they traded to Philly for the still-adjusting Nerlens Noel is top-18(!!!!) protected, so they have little to lose by going for the 8-seed. Last week, when I looked at the gaggle of teams fighting for the Western Conference’s final postseason spot, I thought that Dallas’s first-round matchup with the Warriors could be exciting because it would give the Mavs the opportunity to exact revenge on Golden State for the “We Believe” first-round upset 10 years ago. A bit of sibling rivalry could give the likely sweep some extra spice.
Also: The Favorites Are Still the Favorites
It’s always tough to see an athlete sidelined with injury, but Jabari Parker’s ACL tear only gets sadder as time goes on.
This Bucks team has fought valiantly, and role players have stepped up when Giannis Antetokounmpo has struggled. The last time Giannis failed to score in double digits, Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley stepped up to pull Milwaukee to victory. But what works against the Pistons doesn’t fly against the Cavaliers. The Bucks lost 102–95 in Cleveland despite rookie Malcolm Brogdon’s 20-point outing. Antetokounmpo shot 4-of-13 from the field and scored only nine points. It was hard not to notice the Jabari-shaped hole in the Bucks lineup.
Cleveland’s preordained Finals opposition was also playing a young team without a key player. Against the Embiid-less Sixers, the Warriors were ice-cold from deep and led by only three at the half in Philly. I had just started to prepare my snarkiest Process jokes when the Warriors began pulling away. Then things became familiar and sad again.