All the need-to-know info from Monday’s NBA slate.
The Blake Effect
With three minutes left in the third quarter of Pistons-Blazers, Blake Griffin dribbled down the court and went into point guard mode, maneuvering around multiple Portland defenders before backing down Al-Farouq Aminu and dishing to Ish Smith. Griffin faked a screen for him, and Smith ripped toward the rim. The Blazers defense collapsed just enough to free up Luke Kennard on the perimeter, and Kennard drained a 3 that gave the Pistons an 18-point lead after a 14-2 run. Detroit won 111-91.
In his three games as a Piston so far—all wins—Griffin is a combined plus-43. On Monday, Griffin finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, and yet the biggest testament to his effect was Detroit’s 36 team assists, its highest total for the season by four.
Conexión entre los internos. Blake Griffin a Andre Drummond pic.twitter.com/syWAY3TYZl— The NBA Monster (@TheNBAMonster) February 6, 2018
Andre Drummond copiloted the Pistons with a cool 17 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists. While Drummond impacts the game as a screener at the top of the key and then as a scorer and rebounder below the rim, Griffin has fit in seamlessly by working mostly the perimeter and midrange as both a passer and scorer. As long as Stan Van Gundy has one of the two big men on the floor, the Pistons seem to be in good hands.
Here Comes the Bam
The Wizards Are Thriving (and Looking Around)
Call it the Ewing Theory, call it Bradley Beal’s team, call it luck, call it whatever you want: The Washington Wizards have five straight wins—the longest streak in the East—after beating the Pacers 111-102 on Monday. They’re now tied with the Cavs for the 3-seed just a week after being in peril of falling down the standings following John Wall’s knee surgery, which will sideline him for six to eight weeks. Washington’s come-up has been legit: The team is tops in the league in assist percentage since Wall exited. On Monday, the Wizards racked up 29 assists, and four of their past five games without their star point guard rank in the top 10 of the team’s highest assist totals for this season. Sometimes, though, all you need is Beal in the open floor:
Bradley Beal used some of his VC to unlock a new dribble package pic.twitter.com/Joh3W8kOZt— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) February 6, 2018
According to an ESPN report, the Wizards have been looking into what it would take to trade for the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, though the report indicates there hasn’t been much traction. Either way, with the Cavs reeling and no clear front-runner in the East, the Wizards may see that window that was previously closing begin to crack back open. What will (or what can) they do to make it through it?
The Magic Man
Mario Hezonja led the (pretty bad) Magic with 20 points to a 111-109 win over the (pretty good) Heat on Monday night. For devout Hezonja followers everywhere, this season has been a reawakening. I just have one request: Please, let’s get more mics in Mario’s face.
Mario, how did you get into such a good rhythm?— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) February 6, 2018
Answer: ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/sMoxwnGiDv
50,000 Minutes and They Still Can’t Spell Your Name Right
Umm ... that's not how you spell Nowitzki pic.twitter.com/vyNXqfJyhW— The Ringer (@ringer) February 6, 2018
Super Cuts, Fresh Clips
Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris scored a combined 47 points to lead the Clippers to a 104-101 win over the Mavericks. Imagine saying that sentence one year ago. The two are the newish faces in Los Angeles who will lead the post-trade-deadline Clippers, still hoping for a postseason berth. And after Monday night’s win, the Clippers are now just half a game behind the Pelicans for the 8-seed.
Buyers and Zellers
Milwaukee traded Rashad Vaughn and a second-round pick to Brooklyn in exchange for Tyler Zeller in the middle of your Monday afternoon siesta. It isn’t as much a blockbuster as it is a straight-to-TV Hallmark rom-com. This gives Milwaukee another big man, which the team needed, but more or less indicates the Bucks were not able to pull together a package for Jordan, whom they’d reportedly pursued.
Zeller’s contract for next season (a cheap $1.9 million) isn’t guaranteed, but he’s averaging only 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, and though he’s shooting a career-high 38.5 percent from 3, he’s shooting less than one of those shots per game. Vaughn, a former 17th overall pick, was playing only 7.9 minutes per game, but at the cost of him plus a future second-rounder, I’m not sure what needle Zeller is moving this season besides adding vague depth.
The Zach Attack Is Back
The Tankathon Is On
Few things in the NBA are better than a game between two floundering teams, both trying to win while their organizations know they should lose. It’s some of the most compelling, ironic theater, which is exactly what the Kings and the Bulls provided on Monday night in Sacramento when their matchup went down to the wire, with Sacramento edging Chicago 104-98.
In addition to posterizing JaKarr Sampson into oblivion, Zach LaVine led Chicago with a season-high 27 points. The Bulls led by 21 at one point, but the Kings outscored the Bulls 27-19 in the final period, giving them an inspiring win led by their young players.
Yet now, instead of being tied for the worst record in the league, the Hawks are a game up on the Kings for the top lottery spot, who are only half a game up on Dallas and Orlando. Meanwhile, the Bulls’ loss means they’re a half game behind Phoenix to crack the top five in lottery odds. A game like this one isn’t just bizarrely compelling, it’s increasingly important.
Pick and Destroy
Stock Going Up on a Monday
By now it’s no secret that the Utah Jazz have made Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors available for trade. Earlier Monday, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune indicated that the Bulls, Pistons, and Thunder were all interested in Hood.
On Monday night, Hood exploded for a game-high 30 points, while Favors was a game-high plus-33, and added 19 points and seven rebounds. The Jazz beat the Pelicans handily, 133-109, for their sixth win in a row, which put them only three games out of the eighth seed. But it seems like the winning streak may not deter the Jazz from acting as sellers, and in the bigger picture, their core is comprised of only two true untouchables: Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.