Three things to know: Jazz are 8-3, swept Los Angeles, and are… good?
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1) Jazz are 8-3, swept Los Angeles, and are… good?
One simple but usually effective tool for deciding who is and is not a contender is does it have a top-10 offense and defense. For example, in the West the 7-2 Phoenix Suns meet the criteria.
So do the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz are 8-3 — a 59-win pace — and just swept through Los Angles after they out-executed the Clippers down the stretch for a 110-102 win. The Jazz have a +5 net rating (+3.7 if you remove garbage time, still eighth best in the league and a better than 50-win pace).
Nobody expected this outside the Jazz locker room. While the franchise would tell anyone that would listen they planned to win games, that was greeted with eye rolls. The Jazz traded both their biggest stars (plus shipped out Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale) last summer and were expected to struggle with a mismatched roster and an expectation of more trades and tanking to come.
Lauri Markkanen has found health, a home, and a comfort level in the offense scoring 21.8 points per night. Jordan Clarkson can thrive as a starter averaging 17.9 a game. Collin Sexton is finally healthy and getting buckets at 14.4 a game. Mike Conley is still a quality point guard, Kelly Olynyk and Malik Beasley can shoot, and rookie coach Will Hardy has pulled the whole thing together. The Jazz are a true team, with six players averaging double-figures in points.
Can the Jazz sustain this? Probably not at a +50-win pace, but yes they can. The Jazz have been lucky with a softer start to the schedule and catching teams with injuries, plus their bench is playing over its head, and opposing teams will shoot better than 32.3% on 3-pointers against them over the course of the season.
But the Jazz can hang at playoff/play-in level — Markkanen can play at this level when healthy, Olynyk and Conley will remain solid vets, and Clarkson can be a playmaker, not just a scorer. If Danny Ainge doesn’t blow this roster up at the trade deadline, Utah looks more like a playoff team than a lottery team.
As for the Clippers — who lost because they missed all 11 3-pointers in the fourth quarter — they remain hard to read and still lack Kawhi Leonard, who has played just two games and 41 minutes this season.
“We knew coming off an ACL it wasn’t going to be a straight line,” Clippers coach Tyronne Lue said pregame of Leonard. “We talked about it before the season. The biggest thing is he’s progressing well. We’re just going to follow the lead of our medical staff. We got to be smart about the situation.”
The Clippers feel disjointed and like a team still figuring out some basic things about itself, but they have hung in at 5-5 through the early-season issues.
2) LeBron’s comments sum up red-hot Cavaliers, slowed Lakers after Cavs win.
LeBron James was at crypto.com Arena Sunday, but Donovan Mitchell was the best player in the building. Mitchell dropped 33 points on Los Angeles, his backcourt running mate Darius Garland added 24, and the Cavaliers got a comfortable 114-100 win over the Lakers.
After the game, LeBron Jamepraisedon the Cavaliers and their offseason move to land Mitchell.
“I got in trouble last time when I was just giving an honest opinion…" about the Cavs, referencing the last All-Star break, LeBron joked postgame, via the AP. “They did a great job in the offseason of picking up a big-time player. They have a really good team and a great coach. A well-balanced team and a bunch of players [who] seem like they just really want to play ball.”
The Lakers have looked better with Russell Westbrook coming off the bench — and he has looked better, including 19 points and 10 assists Sunday. But the Lakers are now 2-7 on the season, and while Darvin Ham is getting everything possible out of this roster, there are limitations. A day ago, Anthony Davis said the Lakers are “not the team our record shows.”
LeBron was more honest, via Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.
The Lakers put in the work on defense (seventh in the league) and the overall effort is there most nights, but this team lacks shooters and overall offensive punch — dead last in the league in offensive rating — and it costs them games. A lot of games so far. And there is no easy fix for Darvin Ham. This is a front-office mess.
3) Pascal Siakam out indefinitely with adductor strain; Raptors beat Bulls anyway
Pascal Siakam has been tearing it up this season — 24.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game (all would be career-highs). He is a key reason the Raptors are over .500, with wins over Miami, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Now the Raptors will be without him for a while.
Siakam has a right adductor strain and is out indefinitely, will be reevaluated in two weeks.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 6, 2022
This is more commonly called a groin strain and those take more than a couple of weeks to heal, most of the time.
No Siakam will put more pressure on Scottie Barnes to step up, but on Sunday Fred VanVleet was the one taking over as he put up a 30-spot and the shorthanded Raptors beat the (also shorthanded) Bulls 113-104.
When we talk about contenders with top 10 offenses and defenses? That’s the Raptors too, so far this season. This is a better team than fans realize.