About Last Night

About Last Night: Oladipo, Pacers make statement

It’s easy to forget that a different team in gold nearly ended the Cleveland-LeBron era. It’s a gift that Victor Oladipo and the Pacers have — to be forgotten, only to provide a startling reminder of just how good they can be.

Entering this season, talk of the Eastern Conference centered around the deep Celtics, the up-and-coming Sixers and Kawhi-led Raptors. Indiana was a footnote, albeit a fond one. Everyone respected and applauded last year’s 48-win campaign and feisty first-round showing. Not many thought 2018-19 could be even better.

Fast forward to Saturday night, when it seemed Kyrie Irving had seized the spotlight and the win with a pair of 3-pointers over the final 68 seconds.

Each time, Oladipo answered. His final rebuttal was the stuff of NBA stardom: a pull-up 3-pointer to give the Pacers the lead with just 3.4 seconds left. Then, just to make sure Irving didn’t have the last word, Oladipo stole the inbounds pass intended for Irving to seal the game.

Just like that, the Pacers beat the team many consider the favorite to win the East. For now, they have wedged themselves at the big boys’ table, ahead of both Boston and Philadelphia.

It was fitting that Oladipo grabbed and pointed at his Pacers jersey after the game-winning 3. He and Indiana lacked a lasting identity until the latter traded for the former. Statistically, the Pacers are now a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. Oladipo is the engine behind those numbers, maintaining the production that saw him earn All-Star and All-NBA honors last season.

Don’t forget about them.

L.A. Relief

For roughly eight minutes in the fourth quarter, alarm bells were sounding in Los Angeles. A 20-6 Blazers run axed what had been a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. What would a complete collapse have meant for the underachieving Lakers and their reportedly reprimanded head coach?

We never found out, thanks in large part to L.A.’s three oldest players propelling them to a 114-110 win. LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee excelled on a night the Lakers desperately needed a victory. Pile up enough early losses, and it’s possible LeBron is fighting both a bottom-10 record and a coaching change en route to a Western Conference playoff spot.

Instead, the Lakers are just a game under .500, though they’ll need more to make up ground. Six teams ahead of them are on winning streaks of three games or more (including the Kings!). The Jazz (losers of three straight) probably won’t flounder for long. Houston is gathering steam and coming up fast.

Don’t worry. It’s not like they have to play the best team in the East on a second night of a back-to-back tomorrow

Legendary Nostalgia

The first time Dwyane Wade and Vince Carter faced off, George Bush was in his first term as President, “Baby Boy” by Beyonce was No. 1 on BillBoard’s Hot 100, and the Star Wars universe was hovering between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Some stuff has changed since then, so it’s pretty cool to still hear “The step-back by Dwyane Wade over Vince Carter” in 2018.

Also still cool: seeing Carter dunk a basketball at age 41.

Also, props to Wade for his throwback shout-out to NBA TV’s Steve Smith.

Serving Trae

Don’t look now, but Trae Young is playing some pretty efficient offense lately. The fifth overall pick is shooting 24-for-45 (53.3 FG%) over his last three games. More importantly, he led the Hawks to a 123-118 win over Miami.

The scoring is nice. The turnovers (16 in the last three games) aren’t. What overshadows both is Young’s passing, which produced a whopping 15 assists on Saturday, including this one-handed gem:

It’s heresy in Dallas and Atlanta, but maybe both Luka Doncic and Trae Young are good?

Speaking Of Passing …

Shout-out to Nikola Jokic for his Rondo-like performance in Denver’s 103-88 win over Utah: seven points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists. This is a 7-footer throwing no-look skip passes:

The Nuggets are 8-1 — just half a game back of Golden State — with Jokic at the wheel. At this rate, it’s hard to not see the former 41st pick break through for his first All-Star appearance.

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