NBA DAILY DRIBBLE: Welcome to the wild, unpredictable West

NBA results: December 4, 2018

OKC Thunder (110) – Detroit Pistons (83)

Golden State Warriors (128) – Atlanta Hawks (111)

Cleveland Cavaliers (99) – Brooklyn Nets (97)

Washington Wizards (110) – New York Knicks (107)

Denver Nuggets (106) – Toronto Raptors (103)

Houston Rockets (91) – Minnesota Timberwolves (103)

LA Clippers (129) – New Orleans Pelicans (126)

Three things that happened in the NBA today:

Let’s stick to the West where it’s been an unpredictable ride so far.

1. The Nuggets are for real

Early this season, the Nuggets took over the top spot in the West with a 9-1 record. The Nuggets were flying high with a clutch win over the Warriors, a big win over the Celtics and key wins over Playoff contenders like the Jazz. It was hard to believe but Denver started out the season looking like the best team in the West.

Then they crashed back down to earth.

After their win over the Celtics, they lost four straight games and had a stretch where they lost six of seven outings. Their lone win came at the expense of the rebuilding Hawks. They couldn’t close out wins over Playoff teams and even dropped a game to the Nets. It seemed like the law of averages caught up to Denver and they hit their peak too early.

But, after that rough stretch, Denver has gained momentum once again. They’re now the hottest team in the NBA with six straight wins. Their latest one might be their biggest so far this season. Denver travelled to Toronto and won against the best and deepest team in the league. The Nuggets eked out a close win on the road against the Raptors who only four other teams have beaten so far this season.

Much has been said about the Raptors’ depth this season. It’s been their biggest weapon. They have players they can plug into any situation and take advantage of the weaknesses of opposing teams. But in today’s game, the Raptors had no answer for Nikola Jokic.

The Serbian center did everything to power Denver to a win. He was the engine that made his team plow forward. He had a game-high 15 assists, finding his cutters with pinpoint drop passes and locating his shooters with ridiculous cross court passes. He even beat out assist leader Kyle Lowry who had 11 dimes.

When the Raptors played Jokic for the pass, he burned him with his herky-jerky offensive game. He led the Nuggets with 23 points and also had 11 boards.

Jokic’s all-around game, basically rendered the vaunted Raptors depth ineffective. Whatever the Raptors threw at Jokic didn’t slow the big man down. It’s that all-around game that’s gotten Denver to the top of the West.

The Nuggets don’t have the same kind of depth as the Raptors. But they have Jokic as the focal point of their offense and the rest of his teammates buzzing around him through cuts and off ball movement. So far that’s been a recipe for success in Denver.

2. The Clippers bounce back

The Clippers held on to the top spot in the West for the most part of the past two weeks. Even without a traditional “superstar” on the team , LA has risen up to the top of the upper echelon of the West because they have a system that’s been in place for several years and players willing to put in the effort on both ends of the floor.

The biggest reason for LA’s suprise run to the top has been the stellar play of their starting forwards. Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari lead a long, mean, hard working forward rotation that’s been leading the team in scoring, outside shooting and playmaking.

Harris bounced back from a rough outing against the Mavericks to post 27 points on 62% shooting against the Pelicans.

Gallinari backed up Harris with 24 points, two treys and four dimes.

The two were able to offset the output of the Pelicans’ best players. Julius Randle scored 37 while Jrue Holiday had 32.

The Clippers are virtually tied with the Nuggets at the top of the West with a 16-7 record. These two teams will flip-flop at the top of they can continue their winning runs as of late.

3. The Thunder are third

The Thunder are breathing down the necks of the Nuggets and Clippers. They’re only down half a game at third place.

The Thunder are on a three-game winning streak and have won five of their last six games. Their only loss came at the hands of the Nuggets a couple of weeks back.

OKC is getting their wins the same way they did last year, by playing a mean, blitzing brand of defense. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are ballhawks ready to pounce on any mistimed passes. Steven Adams is the anchor inside while Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schroder and Terrance Ferguson are all long, athletic, switch-y players.

They shut down the Pistons at home. They limited them to just 33% shooting and forced them to 15 turnovers.

In an era of booming offense, the Thunder are proving that defense still gets the Ws.

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