Three things to know: Trey Murphy is perfect, Pelicans make statement
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1) Trey Murphy is perfect, he and Pelicans make statement in West
The real problem for teams with playoff aspirations off to slow starts in the Western Conference — we’re looking at you, every franchise in Los Angeles — is that the West is deep with impressive teams. What seems like a little stumble out of the gate the first couple weeks of the season could put a team far enough back it becomes tough to catch up mid-season.
One of those impressive teams made a huge statement Tuesday night:
No Zion Williamson (right posterior hip contusion), no Brandon Ingram (concussion protocols), no Herbert Jones (right knee hyperextension), and yet the Pelicans still went out and beat Luka Doncic and the Mavericks 113-111. Trey Murphy, scoring 22 on perfect 8-of-8 shooting, led a balanced Pelicans attack that saw eight players score in double digits.
What told the tale in this game was defensive execution, particularly in the clutch — while neither team had a great night on that end, the Pelicans were making smarter plays late.
The Pelicans had the depth to throw a couple of long defenders at Doncic in the form of Naji Marshall and rookie Dyson Daniels, although they got a lot of help. Luka was Luka and had 33 points after 3 quarters, but his legs were not there in the fourth as he shot 2-of-6 overall and 0-of-4 from 3, including an attempted game-winner (which looked to be on target but bounced off the front of the rim).
Meanwhile in crunch time, Dallas made poor rotations — at one point doubling CJ McCollum and leaving Devonte’ Graham wide open, at other points there was a lack of effort to close out or contest strongly at the rim (Doncic was part of that). It was just an undisciplined defensive night for the Mavericks all around, the kind that will drive Jason Kidd mad.
Doncic finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Spencer Dinwiddie had 24 points for the Cavs, Christian Wood continued to play well off the bench with 23. Dallas falls to 1-2 with the loss.
It was a gritty win for the Pelicans, one where Jose Alvarado was setting the tone early and McCollum was as much a distributor as a scorer (he finished with 14 points on 20 shots but dished out 11 assists). Good teams find ways to win when their best players are out — the 3-1 Pelicans made a statement that they are among those good teams.
Add the Pelicans and the 4-0 Trail Blazers to the list of good teams in the crowded West. Teams stumbling out of the gate should be concerned, those teams don’t look like they are going anywhere.
2) Klay Thompson ejected, Warriors fall to impressive Suns
If there was any doubt the Suns belong in the mix of top teams in the West, it should be put to rest as Phoenix pulled away late to beat the Golden State Warriors 134-105.
Stephen Curry was pedestrian (by his standards) in this one, with 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting. The bigger problem remains the Warriors’ defense to start the season — their 114.8 defensive rating so far is 22nd in the league. This is not the defense that won them the rings handed out on opening night.
Devin Booker exploited that defense and continued his red-hot start to the season with 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting.
Plus, Booker was the guy who got under Klay Thompson’s skin and got him ejected for the first time in his career.
Thomson and Booker were going back and forth all game (they were guarding each other for stretches, Booker got a lot of his buckets on Klay). Midway through the third when the game was still in doubt, all the words became a chest-to-chest mini-confrontation, but the referee stepped in and gave the standard double technical to attempt to calm things. Booker just walked away.
Thompson didn’t. The usually easy-going Thompson lost his cool, he kept barking at Suns, and then referee Ed Malloy, which earned a second T and an ejection.
The underlying cause of Thompson’s frustration: He shot 1-of-8, missing all five of his 3-pointers. He couldn’t get rolling and he couldn’t stop Booker.
After Thompson was ejected the Suns went on a 20-5 run and that’s your ballgame.
It’s a long regular season that the Warriors aren’t going to take overly seriously, there is plenty of time to get the defense right. The Warriors have a long track record, they get the benefit of the doubt just a week into the season. Eventually they will need to build good habits at that end, but right now the Warriors’’ defense is getting exposed.
3) The Wizards are 3-1 and turning some heads out East
The conventional wisdom on the Wizards coming into this season was it was a pretty good roster if Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis could stay healthy.
They are healthy right now and the Wizards are off to a 3-1 start after a 120-99 win over the Pistons.
Beal was limited in this game with back tightness (although he did play some in the second half), but it was Kyle Kuzma (25 points, 6 rebounds) and Kristaps Porzingis (20 points) who carried the load for the Wizards. With Beal limited, Will Barton got more run and stepped up with 16 points.
We’re reserving judgment on the Wizards, whose three wins have come against the Pacers, Bulls, and Pistons (the best team they played, the Cavaliers, beat them in overtime). Things get tougher starting Sunday when the Wizards face the Celtics, followed by a couple of games against Joel Embiid and the 76ers. Those games will tell us much more about how good the Wizards are.