You don't get the Cup
Sparks of intrigue in the ramp-up of the NBA season are good, actually.
Good morning. Let’s basketball.
The Art of Painting; Johannes Vermeer; 1666-68
There remains a good bit cynicism, sarcasm and snobbery in discourse of the NBA Cup as the group stage comes to a close. The special courts are understandably divisive, the short group stage leads to necessarily complicated scenarios and of course there will be earned skepticism any time a corporation tries to convince its customer base that a new gimmick is worth attention.
Also, all of this is ripe for jokes.
I have no idea what Adam Silver’s key performance indicator chart looks like based on the first five nights of tournament action: whether the ratings are up on Cup games, whether the social media discourse has swelled, whether ticket sales boosted, what the betting action has been, how happy any or all of this has made the league’s partners, whether the media rights negotiations have jittered at all in response to the early returns on the Cup. And frankly, I don’t care about any of that. I’m a basketball fan who writes a newsletter sharing love of the sport and occasional critiques and even more occasional analysis. None of those metrics or movements matter to me beyond how they impact how I and others can enjoy the game in the future.
From my vantage point, though, as a fan and writer: the Cup has provided a nice jolt of intrigue to a portion of the season that is usually just an exercise in separating mirages from reality, a time to assess levels of panic and decide which good teams to pour cold water on, a period for premature trade talks and even more premature MVP chatter that is really just an excuse to relitigate past MVP debates.
Some of the leading players clearly care about the Cup. LeBron James — one of the most decorated players ever — was talking about home court scenarios ahead of the Lakers’ latest game. Stars are playing in these Cup games religiously, which certainly improves the overall experience: we all want to see the best players on the court. I’m not going to lie and say that players are trying harder to win, because players are always trying hard to win in this league. There are dozens of early regular season classics from years past out there. But there’s a little extra spark in these games. A little more intrigue thanks to the stakes created by the Cup.
You can quibble about all sorts of elements around it. You can turn your nose up anyone who needs more than the pure, unadultered game to get excited about a Tuesday night slate in November. You can roll your eyes at the financial stakes for players. (No, $500,000 doesn’t mean much to LeBron or Jayson Tatum or Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant. But it means a lot to some of their teammates, and if LeBron or Jayson Tatum or Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant can help win their teammates a half-million dollars before the holidays, that seems like a nice little extra bit of motivation.) You can definitely question the aesthetic choices of the courts.
But if you just dislike the Cup merely because it exists and you think it shouldn’t need to, well then you’re not the audience. If you don’t like the Cup, maybe the Cup just isn’t for you.
NBA Cup Day 5
If you just want some highlights, today’s NBA Top 10 is especially good, and not just because the GOATmentator is on it (though that is also nice). The Obi Toppin dunk! Sheesh!
Cavaliers 122, Sixers 119 (OT) — Cleveland’s superb defense kept Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey mostly in check. What offensive rebounds Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley let the Sixers get, they won back on the other end. (Well, J.A. did.)
The Sixers trailed by 18 but rallied back — it was clear all along that they had a long, strong rally in them — and then the end of the game and overtime were absolutely wild. The NBA even put together separate clips for the end of regulation and the end of overtime!
Pacers 157, Hawks 152 — An All-Star Game final score. Twenty players received minutes in this game. Four of them shot below .500. Only one was a starter. The Hawks had a 71% True Shooting percentage … and lost. The Hawks had a 140.7 offensive rating … and lost. They played exceptionally hard — no one was loafing out there. And there was some defense: 15 blocks and 15 steals total in the game. No one was missing, though. And Tyrese Haliburton was dropping some absurd dimes.
I don’t agree with the baby blue court for the Hawks, but that thing is magical.
With the win, Indiana clinches East A and has earned a berth in the quarterfinals. The Sixers and Hawks are basically eliminated with two losses. The Cavaliers at 2-1 have a shot as a wild card, but will need a better scoring margin than second place in East B and East C. The Cavs’ scoring margin right now +6. They play Atlanta on Tuesday to close out group play.
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No one played, but the close Cleveland-Philly game helps here. Currently, Miami and Milwaukee are tied at 2-0; the Bucks are +36 and the Heat are +13. The Knicks are 1-1 and +16. The second place finisher could be in good shape here. Cleveland likely wants the Bucks to beat the Heat next Tuesday — Milwaukee has the Wizards on Friday, so the margin is likely to go up even more.
Raptors 107, Magic 126 — Four straight wins for Orlando, which is essentially tied with Minnesota for the league’s best defense. Toronto actually shot the ball exceptionally well against the Magic (51% from the field, 50% from three) but Orlando forced a ton of turnovers (12 steals for the Magic, 23 turnovers for Toronto) and closed off the defensive glass (83% defensive rebound rate).
It would appear to be happening for Jalen Suggs. Also, while Anthony Black is not putting up crazy numbers or anything, Orlando is winning games with Anthony Black starting. And with Goga Bitadze starting for Wendell Carter Jr.
The Magic’s NBA Cup court:
Yes, great, we love it. Good synergy with the uniforms, too.
The Raptors are essentially eliminated from the tournament along with the Bulls, unless a lot of weird things happen. The Magic join the cadre of 2-1 teams in the East hoping for a wild card, albeit with just a +5 margin. But Orlando has a say in its own destiny here: the Magic face the 2-0 Celtics in Central Florida on Friday. A win there and a Raptors victory over the Nets would give Orlando the East C crown and a berth to the quarterfinals. A loss on Friday will hand the group to Boston. If the Magic and Nets both win, the Celtics vs. Bulls game next Tuesday becomes consequential.
More importantly, the Magic remain unbeaten in the League Pass Cup. Your regularly schedule Cupdate can be found below.
Kevin Durant is marching up the all-time scoring list. He’s played in all 14 Phoenix games this season, is second in the NBA in points per game and second in the NBA in minutes per game and fifth in the NBA in usage rate. He’s 35.
Jazz 99, Lakers 131 — L.A. locks up home court in the quarterfinals with the blowout win over Utah. Legendary former Lakers Jordan Clarkson (the coolest man on the planet) and Talen Horton-Tucker combined to shoot 4/19.
The Lakers will face whoever ends up being the wild card team in the West. It looks like that could very well by the Suns, unless there is a secret rule that you can’t face a team from your group in the quarters. The Suns are 2-1 and +13 with a game in Memphis to go. Phoenix should be hoping for the Clippers to beat the Pelicans and either a Denver loss to Houston or a narrow Nuggets win. Phoenix should also want a blow-out in either direction in Wolves vs. Kings. The Jazz are basically eliminated unless there is a series of odd events.
Really funny moment post-game when LeBron is informed he’s older than Jazz head coach Will Hardy. This is how I felt when I saw Carlos Boozer’s son is a top rising prospect!
No action, but the Suns winning a blowout isn’t great for any of the teams here.
No action, but same as above.
East: Pacers, ____, ____, ____
West: Lakers, ____, ____, ____
League Pass Cupdate
As mentioned above, Orlando has taken control of the 2023-24 League Pass Cup. Here are the updated standings.
Here’s what the schedule looks like. Lots of games over the next week, including three more for the Pacers and two for the Magic.
A week from now, Indiana will have one more home LP Cup game remaining and seven road games. Oof.
Fourteen games on the docket after the light Tuesday and before a zero-game Thanksgiving. And a lot of them are compelling. All times Eastern. National TV games in bold. League Pass Cup game has the 🏆.
Wizards at Hornets, 7
Nuggets at Magic, 7
Nets at Hawks, 7:30
Bucks at Celtics, 7:30, ESPN
Heat at Cavaliers, 7:30
Raptors at Pacers, 7:30 🏆
Grizzlies at Rockets, 8
Sixers at Timberwolves, 8
Kings at Pelicans, 8
Bulls at Thunder, 8
Clippers at Spurs, 8
Warriors at Suns, 10, ESPN
Jazz at Blazers, 10
Mavericks at Lakers, 10:30
Alright, we’ll be back for our dear paid subscribers on Thursday morning. No Friday newsletter, but we’ll look ahead to the weekend on Thursday. Until then: be excellent to each other.