Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Vintage Kyrie Irving gives Brooklyn offense much-needed spark. The Brooklyn Nets offense has been as grey as their court in recent weeks. The Nets are just coming off a recent seven-game losing streak where their offense scored less than a point per possession (95.1 points per 100 possessions through those seven) and the team had a net rating of -12.
Enter Kyrie Irving and his handles and sharpshooting on Sunday night.
Back on the court after missing 26 games, Irving had 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting (in 20 minutes of action), he fit in well next to Spencer Dinwiddie at guard, and the Nets rolled the Hawks 108-86.
Irving looked sharp, essentially getting wherever he wanted on the court and taking whatever shot he wanted — not looking like a player who had just missed two months due to right shoulder bursitis (Irving admitted as much), an injury that required a cortisone shot to get him back on the court (just a week ago Irving would not rule out season-ending surgery). To be fair, the Nets gave Irving a soft landing spot to return, at home against the Hawks and their 27th ranked defense (and Atlanta was without Trae Young for the night).
The tests get tougher for Irving with Brooklyn’s next games being a back-to-back against red-hot Utah (skip ahead to No. 2 of our three things) then Philadelphia. Two outstanding defensive teams.
Brooklyn needs Irving’s spark, and to get used to playing with a more ball-dominant player. The Nets had fallen three games below .500, which is still good enough for the seven seed in the East, but they didn’t look at all like a threat. It may be difficult for the Nets to climb any higher than seventh — they are 5.5 games back of a good six-seed Indiana team that will get Victor Oladipo back — but with Irving having the ball in his hands, the Nets become a much more dangerous team, especially in a seven-game playoff series.
Also, well done by the Brooklyn fans giving former Net Vince Carter a standing ovation in his final game against his former team. Maybe one day Carter’s number will be retired and hanging in the rafters over Nets games.
2) Jazz win ninth in a row, Nuggets beat Clippers, and seeds 2-5 in the West are insanely tight. Sunday morning, the Los Angeles Clippers woke up in second place in the Western Conference, trailing only that team down the hall. They went to bed Sunday night fifth in the West, opening the playoffs on the road if they started today.
The two through five seeds in the West — four teams — are separated by just half a game right now. With a little more than half a season to go, the race for seeding at the top of the West is going to be must-watch television.
The Jazz are on a nine-game win streak after knocking off the Wizards 127-116 Sunday. Over the course of those nine games, the Jazz have the best offense in the NBA, averaging a ridiculous 121.9 points per 100 possessions (against a decidedly soft schedule, but still). On Sunday, it was Bojan Bogdanovic’s 31 points leading the way, but it should be noted the Jazz are undefeated since adding Jordan Clarkson to their bench.
Combine that with a balanced Nuggets attack — seven players in double figures — knocking off the Clippers (without an injured Paul George) and you have the Nuggets jumping up to the two seed and the Jazz are third. At least for today.
The battle for seeding at the top of the West is going to be intense through the second half of the NBA season.
The Spurs went on to win that game 105-104 behind 25 from DeRozan.