All the need-to-know info from Monday’s nine-game slate.
Alive Garden: When You’re Here, You’re Family
When people say the NBA is better when the Knicks are good, this is what they mean. At Madison Square Garden, stars become galactic; tension pressurizes into diamonds; subtext is magnified to metanarrative. Boys become men. This is the story of Frank Ntilikina reaching NBA puberty, 12 games into his rookie season.
LeBron James had inadvertently stirred the pot in NYC over the weekend when he claimed that Dennis Smith Jr., whom he faced over the weekend in Dallas, should’ve been drafted by the Knicks with the no. 8 pick. What was meant to be a jab at Phil Jackson was construed by many as a knock on Frank Ntilikina, Gotham’s second-born adult son. Enes Kanter tweeted, then later spoke in defense of his rook—no one messes with family. James rolled his eyes and shook his head. It set the stage for the night’s action.
The tensions would soon be 3-D printed onto the hardwood. With just a minute remaining in the first quarter of Cavs-Knicks, Ntilikina shoved LeBron, who was welcoming the youngest player in the league by serving as a literal obstruction to his inbounding. Kanter, as he does, got directly in James’s face. Frankie splayed his condor wings out wide along the baseline, telling the greatest player in the world he wasn’t afraid. A shove, a double technical on James and Kanter. Ntilikina skated away a folk hero for the night, unscathed. The Knicks would lose, 104-101—it’s tough to embarrass James and get away with it—but Frankie Smokes had himself a defining moment early in his career.
“We’re together,” Ntilikina said during his halftime interview about the incident, as cool and calm as his game suggests of his personality. “That’s it. We’re together. And if a team wants to go at us, we’ll fight together.”
This is King shit, pure and simple. Clyde Frazier called the play—an isolated LeBron James 3 from the left wing—about 10 seconds before it happened because he’s seen it so many times before. LeBron James is an inevitability as certain as Father Time for all Eastern Conference teams. Kristaps Porzingis may be ascendant, but LeBron still serves as judge, jury, and executioner.
Nightly Reminder That Giannis Antetokounmpo Is a Miracle of Nature
With Utah trailing Minnesota 103-91 with about four minutes remaining in the game, climbing back from a 26-point deficit, Jazz announcer Craig Bolerjack said, “I’ve seen 10-0 runs scored in a hurry.” He’s been the voice of the Jazz for over a decade; I’m sure he has. But we’re also talking about this Jazz team. There was no way that was happening. Every lead-cutting attempt put Bolerjack and color analyst Matt Harpring on the verge of eruption, every miss had them heaving sighs and frustrated come ons. The Jazz would lose, 109-98. It was their fifth loss in the past six, and the eighth time in 14 games this season the team failed to log at least 100 points.
The team appears to have officially punted on the idea of Ricky Rubio as a viable leading scorer; he has averaged seven field goal attempts over the past three games. Rookie Donovan Mitchell has been thrust into the starting lineup, and as has often been the case so far this season, he was a rare bright spot for the Jazz: 24 points (on 10-of-19 shooting), four rebounds, four assists, and four steals. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Mitchell takes the reins completely as the lead ball handler. We know who Rubio is; we’re only scratching the surface of what Mitchell can be.
The World Is Joel Embiid’s Playground
It’s a treasure watching Embiid perform—that really is the best word—on the court. Players take exception to guys like Steven Adams because he’s a stone wall with a sense of humor. Embiid takes it several steps further: He’s a stone wall with a sense of humor, animated by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Watch him flip the script on a very serious Willie Reed:
Embiid trolling Willie Reed into oblivion right now my lawd pic.twitter.com/zq1xe5ko0u— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) November 14, 2017
Then watch him do the damn thing on DeAndre Jordan:
Clippers getting straight up embarrassed by Embiid. Joel clowns DeAndre, stares down Blake. pic.twitter.com/5FFGNCqV8l— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) November 14, 2017
I wonder if Jordan’s obliteration of Brandon Knight flashed before his eyes when he caught the Holy Ghost trying to guard Embiid one-on-one.
The Warriors Are Too Good for a Clever Pun
Golden State won its seventh consecutive game Monday at home against Orlando, 110-100. The Warriors had won their previous six games by an average of 21.5 points; this W over the Magic might as well have been a five-point victory. As has often been the case over the past three seasons, the start to many Warriors games functions a bit like caffeine novice taking a shot of espresso—the jolt of energy creates a divide between the mind and body, the two operating at different speeds. Opposing teams come in playing their asses off against the defending champions, and are often successful at keeping the game within striking distance. But soon enough, everything levels off, the opposition’s focus begins to wane, and the Warriors go clinical:
The Warriors were tied with the Magic at the half on Monday; they were up one at the half in the previous game against the Sixers; they were up by one after two quarters against the Wolves. They won those three games by an average margin of 18.3 points. It’s a cruel, ego-stroking bait-and-switch. It’s a process that effectively nullifies an entire 24 minutes of play. It’s Warriors basketball.
Anything You Can Do, I Can Do—I Think
In Knicks-adjacent news, Willie Cauley-Stein thinks he can do everything Porzingis can. “I have the same body size, the same skill level,” Cauley-Stein told the New York Post. “Just [have to] transfer it over to a game now.” He got his chance at the end of the first half of Kings-Wizards. In the final Kings possession of the second quarter, Sacramento ran a play to get WCS a wide-open look from the left corner. He missed it.
Cauley-Stein finished with six points on 3-for-12 shooting in a 110-92 blowout loss in D.C. I dunno, Willie. Averaging 30 points on 50-42-82 splits might be harder than Porzingis makes it look.
Appreciating the Little Things in Phoenix
The Suns appear destined to be one of the three worst teams in the West for yet another year. Point guard is inarguably the deepest position in the entire league, and yet the Suns find themselves without a single 1-man even remotely close to league average. The longer Phoenix wades in this mire, the easier the big-stats-bad-team stigma will stick to Devin Booker. But the Suns are the youngest team in the league. No matter how ugly these games get, there will always be some positives to come away with.
Dragan Bender is a net-rating catastrophe but has shown some serious signs of game recently. He gave Suns fans exactly what they’d been longing for in Monday night’s 100-93 loss, scoring a career-high 15 points in 20 minutes, including this beautiful turnaround jumper:
Plus, between Josh Jackson’s “I’m fucking guarding Blake Griffin and I’m barely 200 pounds” quote and his nice gesture to Booker postgame … the Suns rookie might be really funny: