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10 TAKEAWAYS: The first two days of NBA action have been filled with hotly contested games, playoff intensity all around and the league’s best players making statements. Below, our 10 biggest takeaways from the first two days of the NBA’s season resumption in the order in which they happened:
1. The Pelicans need to be more transparent with what they’re doing with Zion. The first-year forward was on a 15-minute limit for New Orleans, which is somewhat reasonable. Sort of. The issue is that the Pelicans weren’t allowed to play him late in the game when his team needed him most, partly causing New Orleans to drop a vital contest to the Jazz. And it’s unclear why Williamson wasn’t allowed to close the game. The Duke product said he isn’t injured and that it’s not conditioning-related so… what gives? Just an odd situation with the 20-year-old phenom, one that could very well cost the Pelicans a playoff spot.
2. LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain the best duo in the NBA. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard were their usual fantastic selves on Thursday night during the Clippers’ close defeat against the Lakers, but LeBron James and AD are on another level from anyone else. The tandem combined for 50 points, 19 rebounds, 11 assists and one game-winning putback.
3. The Nets could very well leave Orlando winless. And that might be true even if they make the playoffs, which they very well could thanks to their six-game cushion over the ninth-seeded Wizards. Brooklyn got absolutely smoked by the Magic in their first game back, using a late run to make the final score – a 128-118 defeat – look somewhat respectable.
4. Carmelo Anthony can still be counted on for huge buckets. Late in their crucial outing against the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, Carmelo Anthony sank two vital triples that helped force overtime, where the Blazers were able to pull away and pick up an important win over Memphis. With a clutch Melo out there, along with Jusuf Nurkic (who was great in his return from injury, dropping an 18/9/5 stat line), the Blazers could be scary good as they close out the season.
5. The race for the West’s No. 8 seed is going to go down to the wire. Unlike in the East, the race for the No. 8 seed in the West is going to be thrilling to watch unfold. The Blazers’ win over Memphis put them within 2.5 games of the Grizzlies, with the Spurs 3.0 games back and the Pelicans 3.5 back. It wouldn’t be surprising to see any of those teams get hot and force a play-in situation for the West’s final playoff spot.
6. Deandre Ayton looks fantastic in return. The former No. 1 pick missed Phoenix’s last few games prior to the season shutdown with a bone bruise in his ankle, and it’s clear he used the time off over the last few months to work on his shot and build up his confidence overall. In his first official game back, Ayton scored 24 points, secured 12 rebounds, dished out three assists, blocked two shots and, most importantly, hit two of his three attempts from the outside. If he can keep up that level of intensity, he’s going to develop into a fantastic modern-day big man.
7. Giannis is still Giannis. The drama about a late overturned foul call aside, Giannis Antetokounmpo reminded everyone why he’s this season’s frontrunner for MVP in his first game back, going off for 36 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in Milwaukee’s 119-112 win over the Celtics. Antetokounmpo was everywhere on both sides of the floor, uplifting the Bucks with a level of impact that few, if any, other players today can match.
8. Time to worry about Kemba? Even despite all the time off to rest and heal up, there’s still something going on with Kemba Walker’s knee that’s forcing the Celtics on a minutes restriction. Either way, for now, Walker won’t be allowed to play more than 20 minutes a night, which is pretty concerning for a Boston team that’s going to need his scoring and leadership come playoff time.
9. Don’t count out the Spurs. Even without LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs were able to handedly take down the Kings 129-120 behind 26 points and five assists from Derrick White. San Antonio has the Grizzlies next on their schedule, and a win there could really put them in a good position to force a play-in game for the West’s final playoff spot.
10. Harden is still spectacular but the Rockets small-ball is still a work in progress. The good news for Houston: James Harden is still playing like a legitimate MVP candidate, dropping 49 points on 14-of-20 shooting in the Rockets’ first game back, a 153-149 win for Houston over the Mavs. The bad news? That second number, the 149 points Dallas scored, even with Luka Doncic having a subpar game, is worrisome. Employing a lineup without a single true big man on the floor at all times is going to cause a lot of stress for Houston’s defense, and force the Rockets to score a whole lot of points if they want to make a deep playoff run.
RELATIONSHIP STRONG? Joel Embiid made waves this week by revealing that he’d “love” to spend the rest of his career playing alongside Ben Simmons.
THE NEXT LUKA? We speak to various sources who break down the European player many consider to be the next elite overseas draft prospect, Victor Wembanyama. Think a blend of Kristaps Porzingis and Rudy Gobert here. That’s exciting.
SUPER MARIO TO EUROPE? Barcelona are reportedly interested in bringing Mario Hezonja back next season.
NEW HEAD COACH: The Knicks made the worst-kept secret in the coaching world public finally, announcing that Tom Thibodeau will be their next head coach.
BIGGEST LOSERS: We rank the 25 players with the worst winning percentages in NBA history. Bad news for a couple of Suns and Bulls stars.
MAJOR SNUBS: We select the people who were the biggest snubs throughout their careers for each of the top individual NBA awards, including MVP, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
GAME NIGHT: It may sound easy, but do you think you can correctly answer whether these 15 players are over 30, under 30 or exactly 30? It’s harder than it sounds.