Am I used to seeing Kevin Durant in a Phoenix Suns’ uniform? No. Will I be any time soon? Probably not. Is it exciting to watch? You bet it is, and I won’t tire of the NBA’s ever-evolving landscape any time soon.
The nine games that unfolded on Wednesday were glorious. Let’s start with the one that included the freshest face in the newest place.
Suns’ KD era starts off right with win over Hornets, 105-91
Whenever KD comes back from injury he looks like he hasn’t missed any time
— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) March 2, 2023
Sure, Devin Booker was the star of this particular show, scoring 37 points in the Suns big win over Charlotte. But Kevin Durant’s debut in purple and orange is and will continue to be the story. He scored 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting in his first game since being traded from Brooklyn to Phoenix on Feb. 9. He had been out for more than seven weeks with a sprained right knee. And, in accordance with Russillo’s observation, he didn’t look like he had missed even a lick of time.
Kelly Oubre Jr. (26 points) and Terry Rozier (20) led the way for the Hornets, who are now without LaMelo Ball for the remainder of the season due to a fractured right ankle. Deandre Ayton added 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Suns while Chris Paul led all players with 11 assists. The win for Phoenix marked their seventh in 10 games just as it snapped Charlotte’s five-game winning streak.
And, hold up a minute… is that… a smile from Durant?
Place your Finals bets now.
76ers rout Heat days after last-second stunner, 119-96
What Jimmy Butler pulled off against the Philadelphia 76ers a few days ago was majestic. What the Sixers did in response on Wednesday should be considered just as impressive, particularly given the absence of Joel Embiid. Led instead by Tyrese Maxey (27 points, four rebounds, and seven assists), James Harden (23-7-5), Tobias Harris (18-6-5), and Paul Reed (16 points and a whopping 14 rebounds), Philly was just fine. Bam Adebayo led Miami with 20 points, but the rest of the team struggled to create much offense whatsoever, and the Embiid-less Sixers cruised to its fifth win of its last eight.
Knicks wallop Nets, 142-118, still own New York
Your New York Knickerbockers have won seven in a row, all since acquiring Josh Hart. Coincidence? I think… well, yeah, probably. But there’s absolutely no denying that the Knicks are on a unique kind of tear, one that the team pulls off every now and again, but this feels different. First of all, Jalen Brunson has been on a special sort of run for months — on Wednesday, he dropped a game-high 39 points, also leading a total of six Knicks who finished in double-figures. Additionally, the Knicks are on an offensive run that rivals their best stretches of the season. In their 47-point first quarter on Wednesday, they made 78.3 percent of their shots. This isn’t normal. Particularly not for a notoriously inconsistent core.
But this core is evolving. Brunson is the offensively-gifted traffic guard; Julius Randle (21 points), Quentin Grimes (22), and both RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley (15 apiece) are incredible secondary offensive options. And most notably, these Knicks simply seem different from the Knicks of yesteryear, even of last year. They’ve matched their win total from 2021-22, when they finished the season 37-45 (they are 37-27). And though they won eight in a row earlier this season, followed by a five-game losing streak that saw them take a steep dive in production, this team appears to be ready for new heights. Heights higher than that of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s scary, really. Not for Knicks fans. Just for everyone else.
Bucks crush Magic, 139-117, win 16th straight
Only slightly terrifying.
How about this – there have been 31 winning streaks of 16 games or more in NBA history. The Milwaukee Bucks now have 5 of them.
— Dustin Godsey (@dgodz) March 2, 2023
The Bucks are probably our current title favorites.
Celtics survive Cavs, 117-113
Jayson Tatum might have finished with a whopping line of 41 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists, but the 18 points he scored in the third quarter may have been Boston’s true savior against Cleveland on Wednesday. The Celtics outscored the Cavs 41-26 in the third, helping them take a 96-78 lead as they headed into the final frame, a lead that ended up being large enough to survive a fourth-quarter comeback bid led by Donovan Mitchell (10 points in the fourth, 44 in the game) and Darius Garland (15; 29). No matter; Tatum and co. managed to hold a large enough lead to hang on for the win, keeping them half a game back from the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Bulls sneak past Pistons, 117-115
As close as this one was, it was decided with a pathetic whimper: with Detroit down by two with under 10 seconds to go in regulation, they called timeout… despite they fact that they didn’t have any more timeouts to call. Of course, that caused a technical foul, which gave Zach LaVine (who scored 41 total points to lead all scorers) a free throw to put Chicago ahead by three. The Bulls closed it out on the ensuing possession with two more free throws. It was over before bystanding viewers knew it was.
Also, color me curious.
Grizzlies roll over Rockets, 113-99
Desmond Bane scored 30 points to lead all scorers, while Ja Morant — dealing with a significant bit of controversy regarding his offseason activities — added 20, seven assists, and seven rebounds to push Memphis past Houston, which has now lost 11 games in a row. The Grizzlies have now won three games in a row, though this particularly win snapped an eight-game road skid for Memphis.
Shorthanded Lakers silence Thunder, 123-117
No LeBron, no Anthony Davis, no D’Angelo Russell — a sentence I’m still getting used to saying, again — no problem. As long as Dennis Schroder is scoring 26 points, and Troy Brown Jr. and Austin Reaves are adding 19 points apiece, apparently, they’ll keep winning. Though Jalen Williams (24 points), Josh Giddey (22-11-9), and Lu Dort (19 points) capably led OKC, they fall to 0-5 since returning from the All-Star break. The Lakers, meanwhile, have won four of their last five.
Pelicans blaze by Blazers, 121-110
That’s more like it, Nola. Entering the first on-court tilt between CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard since the former was traded from the Trail Blazers last season, the Pelicans had lost four in a row, falling all the way down to the 10th spot in the West. Thankfully, Brandon Ingram was hell-bent on snapping that streak, taking Portland to task for a season-high 40 points. Dame continues to light nets on fire — he had 41 with ease in this one — but it’s safe to say the Pelicans needed this one, perhaps more than ever. They cling to the 10th seed but one game over the Lakers, and as mentioned above, these Lakers don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
I’m sure that observation will age beautifully.