Three thoughts on a wild night in the NBA, starting with Donovan Mitchell going off for 71 points in an overtime win over the Bulls â¦
1. The Cavs Look Like Geniuses
O.K., I guess you could say I look like a genius, too, because I was a huge fan of the Donovan Mitchell trade for Cleveland. Itâs not only that the Cavaliers acquired one of the gameâs great scorers and a top-25 player before heâs even entered his prime. Itâs that Mitchell solves the exact problem that plagued Cleveland down the stretch of last season. When the Cavs didnât make it out of the play-in last season, it was glaring how desperately the team lacked a creator and scorer next toÂDarius Garland. Obviously every team could use a scorer of Mitchellâs talent, but the Cavsâas an already capable teamâwere particularly desperate for more scoring punch. Garland struggled last year when he was called upon to create for himself over and over again late in games, especially as defenses loaded up on him. It would be a Herculean task for anyone, and itâs not Garlandâs strength to play that style of basketball.
Enter Mitchell. Heâs a one-man offense, dominating in the pick-and-roll, pulling up for threes whenever it suits him while also keeping his teammates involved. I donât want to be the guy who is like âDid you see the assists?â after someone scores 71 â¦ but did you see the assists? Mitchell still dished out 11 helpers in addition to his scoring binge. (Garland did not play in this game, by the way.) Iâm still not sure if Cleveland is a true contender because of its youth, relative inexperience and slightly wonky roster construction. Yet itâs not in doubt Mitchell gives the Cavs a dimension they lacked last season. Itâs difficult to fill a need more perfectly than the franchise did without jeopardizing the mix of its team. Donât be surprised if a big Mitchell scoring night swings a playoff series come the spring.
2. The Warriors Keep Finding a Way
Improbably, with bothÂStephen CurryÂ andÂAndrew WigginsÂ sidelined, theÂWarriorsÂ are on their longest winning streak of the season. After a thrilling win over the Hawks, the Dubs have won five in a row and are two games over .500 for the first time all season. On Monday,ÂKlay ThompsonÂ was the hero, scoring 54 points, thanks in large part to his 10-of-20 shooting from three. The competition hasnât been great, and all the wins have come at home, but this is a fantastic stretch from Golden State. The Dubs have been inept without Curry on the floor this season, and during this streak theyâve beaten theÂGrizzlies,ÂBlazers,ÂJazz,ÂHornetsÂ andÂHawksâfour of those being impressive wins.
While itâs tempting to say Klay is back after the 54-point outburst, that may or may not be true. Consistency is the true hallmark of greatness, and Thompson still needs time to approach the player he used to be. Whatâs more important is this team finding ways to win without Steph, a huge boost to the confidence of the rotation, and more promising should the team need to survive without him in the postseason, even if thatâs only a few minutes as opposed to a few games. The Warriors were primed for a tailspin once Steph got hurt, losing three of their next four games. Now theyâve won five in a row with three more winnable games on this homestand. Itâs the kind of January stretch that can pay big dividends down the line.
3. LeBron Keeps the Pressure on the Lakers
LeBron JamesÂ is playing MVP-caliber basketball right now. Against Charlotte on Monday, James scored 43 points to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists. LeBron shot 16-of-21 inside the three-point line. It was a fantastic performance considering every other Lakers starter was a player either a) their old team found expendable or b) available for basically anyone to sign this summer. Seriously, go down the list of Lakers players who played last night, and outside of maybe Juan Toscano-Anderson and Austin Reaves, would any playoff teams put LeBronâs teammates on the floor?
This isnât meant to insult those players, who maybe can have a solid impact in the right role. Itâs an indictment of a front office thatâs put together one of the least enviable rosters in the league. Every win LeBron drags this team to without Anthony Davis is a reminder the longer the front office stands pat, the more right James has to find a better situation for himself when the opportunity presents itself. It doesnât matter if itâs only a January win in Charlotte in the middle of the season. The Lakers canât ignore their own incompetence.Â