All the need-to-know info from Tuesday’s slate.
Love the Way It’s Supposed to Be
The empty space created when the Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to Boston was never going to be filled perfectly. Even Isaiah Thomas, who looks set to return sooner rather than later, can be only a serviceable square peg trying to fit in a round hole. But to be the cream of the Eastern crop, Cleveland doesn’t need to find someone to fully replicate what Kyrie did. The team merely needs to find a sufficient patchwork solution: a second go-to scorer besides LeBron James, who has been forced to do everything else.
On Tuesday night against Miami, Kevin Love’s incendiary shoulder took on the load and unloaded for 38 points (a season high) in just 25 minutes (fourth fewest this season!) to help the Cavs beat LeBron’s old team, 108-97. Had the game remained close, Love’s streakiness would have likely resulted in him putting up 50.
Kevin. Love!— CS Nation (@_CSNation_) November 29, 2017
22 points, 1 quarter!
From the start, Love was hitting on shots like a ruthless shopper hits on deals during Black Friday (preferably at Banana Republic, of course). Love had 22 points in the first quarter (on just nine shots) and 32 in the first half. At one point, he nearly injured himself acting out what appeared to be a burning hand to show how hot he was.
Kevin Love has the hot hand. Seemingly too hot pic.twitter.com/HAAYCO1jhk— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) November 29, 2017
Good one, Kevin.
The Cavaliers have now won nine straight and look like the team we all thought they were. In those games, Love has had more than 20 points four times, becoming one of the cogs adding enough to combine with James’s usual performances. Without Derrick Rose, the offense is humming, the defense is doing its part, and the Cavs are reminding us all why they still have the talent to flip on the switch and turn on the bright lights on the rest of the East.
Can the Jazz Survive a Season-Long Grind?
The Utah Jazz shouldn’t make the playoffs. Not after they lost Gordon Hayward to free agency and not after they lost Rudy Gobert for four to six weeks to a knee injury and other players including Rodney Hood (day-to-day) and Dante Exum (likely out for the season).
But yet, here we are, with the Jazz in the eighth spot of the loaded West, grinding out games like Tuesday night’s, where they welcomed a more talented Denver team—the seventh-best offense in the league—and limited them to a season-low for points in a 106-77 win. The Nuggets scored as many points in the second half as Utah did in the third quarter alone.
The Jazz are oozing with role players and not much more, but the cohesion of all of them is working well enough under Quin Snyder’s direction to keep them in the picture. Whether it’s Joe Ingles’s play-making, Ricky Rubio scoring more than he is used to, or Derrick Favors tallying 24 points as he did on Tuesday, Utah is getting through in a way it only can. The team has won four of its last five and is 9-4 this season at home.
Both Denver and Utah need every one of these games (the eighth and ninth seed were separated by a game last season). On Tuesday, the Jazz pulled out all the stops to ensure they got this one.
NBA Stranger Things: LeBron Gets Tossed
It took 1,082 games for LeBron to finally check this one off his list. After a missed jumper where he vehemently argued that he was fouled and—surprisingly—failed to get the call, LeBron was ejected for the first time in his career.
LeBron ejected for the first time in his career pic.twitter.com/0Omp5Uymem— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 29, 2017
2017 has been a strange year.
Sure, LeBron finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and five steals in 28 minutes on the night and probably was on his way to having more, but straight from the #wellactually department, Cleveland should thank referee Kane Fitzgerald. The 28 minutes are the second-fewest LeBron has played in a game this season, and at 32, it feels like every minute he gets to rest in the regular season is a minute more he can play in the postseason.
Andrew “Whirlpool” Wiggins
Trust the Highlights (and the Tweets)
Following Sacramento's win over the Kevin Durant–and–Steph Curry-less Warriors, the Kings’ high was taken down a notch on Tuesday when the team was blown out by the Bucks, 112-87. It was a trip back to reality, but one that was not complete without some bright flashes of optimism.
First, there was De’Aaron Fox turning the baseline into his launching pad and the rim into his personal pull-up bar:
De'Aaron Fox goes baseline for the dunk pic.twitter.com/eCKNZcBr0c— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) November 29, 2017
Then there was Bogdan Bogdanovic with a near-sky-hook, parabolic alley-oop pass right to Willie Cauley-Stein that you’ll need to watch more than once.
And finally, if all hope is truly lost and the highlights, much like the Kings’ offense, aren’t cutting it, Aaron Rodgers has got you:
Whose Bench Is It, Anyway?
By nearly every metric last season, the Washington Wizards had the worst bench-to-starters disparity in the NBA. It’s one of the chief reasons they were never a serious contender to take down the Cavs—or even the Celtics—in the East. The talented starting lineup was their be all and end all.
But on Tuesday night against the Timberwolves, whose starting lineup is also remarkably better than their bench, a bizarre thing occurred: Every member of the Wizards bench was a double-digit-plus in the box score, while every starter was in the minus. Without John Wall, Washington’s bench scored 49 of the team’s 92 points, helping the Wiz earn a momentous road win over the Wolves, 92-89.
While Washington’s bench shined, the Wolves’ bench withered and couldn’t do enough to help its starters. Every Minnesota bench player was in the minus, and as a unit, they scored just 11 of the team’s 89 points, squandering double-doubles from Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Taj Gibson.
Both of these squads depend on more than their efficient starting lineups. For the Wizards, every win without Wall is like finding free money on the street. For the Wolves, every close loss stings in the wake of their hopeful playoff run as a Tom Thibodeau superteam experiment.
Booker Can Block, Too
Dunn had a chance to be the hero, big block by Booker to seal this one. pic.twitter.com/g2bQmSRu8P— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) November 29, 2017
The Mitchell-in Man
When it counts:
And even when it doesn’t: