About Last Night

About Last Night: Jackson Jr. steals show

Big moments, good and bad, for some of the league's top rookies

Matt Petersen, NBA.com

On a night when eight of 2018’s top 10 picks were in action, the youngest rookie of them all seized the spotlight.

This is not to say Jaren Jackson Jr. came out of nowhere on Friday night. The fourth overall pick has been better than expected as a key cog in Memphis’ grit and grind machine.

But what Jackson did against the Nets was (or should be) a wake-up call. A Spencer Dinwiddie bucket had put Brooklyn up 111-104 with just 33 seconds remaining.

Then Jackson tapped into his inner Larry Johnson and bagged a 4-point play.

A Nets turnover gave the ball right back to Memphis. The Nets defended Memphis’ initial options well, utlimately leaving Marc Gasol on an island.

Gasol didn’t hesitate to swing the ball to Jackson, because why wouldn’t you trust a 19-year-old big man with the ball beyond the 3-point arc in crunch time?

The rushed shot hit bottom and sent the game to overtime, where Memphis clawed back for a 131-125 overtime win on the road. Jackson Jr. finished with 36 points and eight rebounds.

The Grizzlies are now 13-8, in the thick of the Western Conference’s upper crust. Jackson Jr. is a big reason why. His versatility (2.1 blocks per game and 34.9 percent from 3) has been at least as impressive as Deandre Ayton’s offensive efficiency or Wendell Carter Jr.’s defensive presence.

Most importantly for him, Jackson Jr.’s game is growing in a healthy atmosphere. Of June’s top 10 picks, only he and Mohamed Bamba (Orlando) play for teams currently in playoff position.

The experience is invaluable to Jackson — just as he is proving invaluable to the Grizzlies.

Luka vs. LeBron, Part I

The Mavs rookie is probably more concerned about his 2-for-13 shooting performance than a rapid-fire highlight. Still, who saw this double order of LeBron denials being served by the 19-year-old Slovenian?

Luka vs. LeBron, Part II

Doncic also appeared to get the better of James when he drew an offensive foul on the four-time Kia MVP later in the same quarter.

Lebron made it clear in postgame interviews that the collision was very much intentional on his part.

CP3 relief

The Rockets were far from perfect before Chris Paul missed three games with a strained hamstring.

The time without him was brutal. Houston olé-d its way to a 128.8 defensive rating in that stretch. The worst team in the league (Cleveland) is 14 points better than that.

With their second point guard, the Rockets looked a whole lot better in their 136-105 romp over San Antonio. Paul clocked in for 14 points and 10 assists, allowing Harden to carry just a little bit less of the mammoth load he has shouldered. Clint Capela (27 points, 12 rebounds) benefitted from their joint presence. Eric Gordon and Gerald Green combined for half of the Rockets’ season-high 22 3-pointers.

Houston still faces challenges. The Spurs are a mid-range slog that exacts little defensive elasticity. The Rockets face six West teams ahead of them in the standings over the first half of December. With or without Paul, that stretch could define the first half of their season.

With him would probably be better.

San Antonio sorrows

It’s weird times for the Spurs. The old guard is gone. They’re sitting next to Phoenix in the standings (visually, if not record-wise). Most alarming of all, Friday’s setback to Houston saw them lose by 31 or more in consecutive games for the first time since 1987.

That was the same year San Antonio drafted David Robinson.

Remember me?

Kyrie Irving was the Cavs’ point guard for six years. Cleveland’s new guy, Collin Sexton, found out first-hand just how big those shoes are.

NBA remembers Craig Sager

Clothes speak louder than words, and none were louder than those worn in honor of the late Craig Sager roughly two years after his passing. Coaches, players and even NBA officials continue to pay their flamboyant respects.

Leftover links

  • Chicago’s top rookie didn’t have a bad night, either
  • Denver is now the hottest team in the West
  • One night after Magic Johnson talked about L.A. not needing LeBron to dominate the ball, four different Lakers registered at least four assists
  • Russell Westbrook nearly passed Jason Kidd on the all-time triple-double list