Every Monday we will tell you what you need to know heading into a new week of NBA action.
1. Welcome back? Simmons returns to Philly
When the schedule is released during the offseason, there are matchups that are immediately circled as must-see games. It can be a playoff rematch, a classic rivalry, or the homecoming game for a star returning to their previous city for the first time since leaving via trade or free agency.
Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons playing in his first game back in Philadelphia on Tuesday is definitely one of those games (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Simmons spent his first four NBA seasons in Philadelphia after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft.
His four years in the City of Brotherly Love were bookended by seasons in which he did not play a game: he missed the 2016-17 season due to injury (but won Kia Rookie of the Year honors the following season) and his tumultuous final season in Philly included a mix of physical injury and mental health struggles that culminated with him being traded to Brooklyn at the trade deadline for James Harden.
Simmons did not suit up for the Nets last season and made his return to the court during the 2022-23 season opener on Oct. 19. It was his first action in 487 days as Simmons last played on June 20, 2021 in Philadelphia’s loss to Atlanta in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — a performance that was widely criticized and seen by many as the fracture point of the Sixers/Simmons relationship.
While Simmons got off to a slow start this season in Brooklyn as he shook off more than 16 months of rust, he has begun to return to form in recent games. Simmons posted 22 points on 11-for-13 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in Brooklyn’s win against Memphis on Sunday. Over the past three games, Simmons has scored in double figures each game and is shooting a combined 22-for-26 as he enters Tuesday’s matchup.
Of course, following the win, plenty of the talk during the postgame press conference surrounded Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia, and this exchange between a reporter and Simmons sums things up perfectly.
In case you still need to fill out your calendars, here are a few other marquee homecomings coming up in the weeks ahead (all of which are currently set to be seen only on NBA League Pass).
- Wednesday, Nov. 30: Indiana at Sacramento (Tyrese Haliburton returns to Sacramento for first time since last season’s trade deadline deal)
- Friday, Dec. 9: Minnesota at Utah (Rudy Gobert returns to Utah for first time since blockbuster offseason trade)
- Tuesday, Dec. 27: New York at Dallas (Jalen Brunson returns to Dallas for first time since signing with Knicks as a free agent)
- Tuesday, Jan. 10: Cleveland at Utah (Donovan Mitchell returns to Utah for the first time since the Jazz’s second blockbuster offseason trade)
- Wednesday, March 1: Philadelphia at Miami (PJ Tucker returns to Miami for the first time since signing with Sixers as a free agent; also a rematch last year’s East Semifinals, which was won by Miami in six games)
- Sunday, March 19: Atlanta at San Antonio (Dejounte Murray returns to San Antonio for the first time since offseason trade to the Hawks)
2. Potential showdown of streaking teams
In last week’s edition of The Five’s Heat Check, we featured the teams with the longest active win streaks in each conference: the Boston Celtics in the East (six games) and the Sacramento Kings in the West (three games).
A week later and neither team has lost a game. The Celtics still own the longest active win streak in the league, now at nine games in a row, while the Kings have kept the beam shining with their first six-game win streak since January 2005.
Another week of wins only ✅✅✅ pic.twitter.com/XPOfiF8EXW
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 20, 2022
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) November 21, 2022
With Sacramento looking to end the longest playoff drought in NBA history at 16 years, it’s a good sign that they are posting win streaks not seen in nearly 18 years when the Kings were a perennial playoff team (eight straight playoff berths from 1999 to 2006).
The Kings and Celtics are set to meet for the first time this season in Boston on Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass). Can both teams keep their respective streaks intact leading into that clash of the top two offenses in the league?
- Kings upcoming schedule: Tuesday at Memphis (no Ja Morant or Desmond Bane), Wednesday at Atlanta (K-Von back in the ATL), Friday at Boston
- Celtics upcoming schedule: Monday at Chicago, Wednesday vs. Dallas (ESPN), Friday vs. Sacramento
The Kings enter Week 6 with the highest scoring average (121.4 ppg) and shooting percentage (50.2%) in the NBA. The Celtics are right behind them as they rank second in scoring (120.2 ppg) and third in shooting (48.7%).
The advanced metrics favor the Celtics as their offensive efficiency (119.1) edges out the Kings (118.6) for the top mark in the league. The Kings hold the slight shooting edges in effective field goal percentage (58.5%) and true shooting percentage (62.1%).
The Celtics own a distinct advantage on defense as they rank 14th in defensive efficiency (111.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), while the Kings rank 27th (114.9). A key factor in Sacramento’s hopes to return to the postseason is to improve on their defense, which has consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league for the past decade.
3. National TV spotlight: 3 must-see matchups
In addition to the Nets vs. Sixers game on Tuesday, here are three more must-see matchups this week.
This is a matchup of the current Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz (12-6) and the team tabbed as the preseason favorites in the West, the LA Clippers (10-7). Utah’s amazing 10-3 start to the season was briefly sidetracked by a three-game losing streak, but they have bounced back with consecutive wins to climb back to the top of the standings entering Week 6. LA also enters the week with two straight wins, coinciding with the return of Kawhi Leonard after he missed a dozen games due to knee stiffness.
The Lakers enter Week 6 riding a three-game win streak powered by three monster games from Anthony Davis. He’s gone for at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in each game and is averaging 35 points and 17.3 rebounds while shooting 61.7% from the field.
Anthony Davis is the third Laker in franchise history to record 30+ points and 15+ rebounds in 3 consecutive games, joining:
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) November 21, 2022
Davis is now one of only four active players with a streak of at least three games with 30+ points and 15+ rebounds, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo (five games in January/February 2020), Nikola Jokic (four games in April 2022) and Karl-Anthony Towns (three games in February 2019). Can Davis keep his streak alive, and the Lakers’ win streak alive, when they visit Phoenix on Tuesday?
It’s a matchup of the top two players in the latest Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Boston’s Jayson Tatum. While it may be super early to have serious MVP discussions just a month into the season, games like this could be important when it comes time to cast the ballots at the end of the regular season. Doncic and Tatum will only meet twice this season, so having the edge in head to head meetings is always a boost to any player’s MVP candidacy.
4. League Pass games to watch
In addition to the Celtics vs. Kings matchup discussed earlier, here are three more games to catch this week exclusively on NBA League Pass.
The Hawks and Cavaliers enter Week 6 with matching 10-6 records as they currently occupy the third and fourth seeds in the East, respectively. When it comes to young backcourt talent, it’s tough to find a matchup with more to showcase as the Cavs boast All-Stars Darius Garland (22) and Donovan Mitchell (26) and the Hawks counter with All-Stars Trae Young (24) and Dejounte Murray (26).
The Timberwolves and Pacers both enter Week 6 riding season-long win streaks. Minnesota has won three straight — all on the road — behind a trio of 20+ point scorers during this run: Karl-Anthony Towns (23.7 points), Anthony Edwards (23.3 points) and D’Angelo Russell (20.0 points). The Pacers have been one of the surprise stories of the first month of the season. After a 1-5 start, the Pacers have won eight of their last 10, including four in a row. Tyrese Haliburton leads the league in assists (10.5 assists) and Bennedict Mathurin ranks second among rookies in scoring (19.1 points).
The Jazz have climbed to the top of the West, but now the challenge is staying there. This week, Utah faces a trio of tough conference opponents: LA Clippers on Monday, Golden State on Friday and Phoenix on Saturday. The Jazz already have wins over the Suns and Clippers this season, but have yet to face the defending champion Warriors. Sunday saw two bright points for Golden State: they won their first road game in nine tries, and Klay Thompson had his best shooting performance of the season after being mired in an extended slump to start the year.
5. The top assist servers of the season
The NBA has a rare night off on Thursday as players, coaches and team staffs will be able to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. In the spirit of giving thanks, it feels right to highlight the statistic that leads to a variety of head nods, points and high fives from teammates as a way to say thanks for a great pass: the assist.
We take a look at the top five players in assists per game through games played on Sunday, Nov. 20.
Assist Leaders, 2022-23 Season
- 10.5: Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana)
- 9.5: Trae Young (Atlanta)
- 8.9: Nikola Jokic (Denver)
- 8.1: Luka Doncic (Dallas)
- 7.9: Mike Conley (Utah)
Tyrese Haliburton dropped a season-high 15 assists tonight.
he's now leading the league at 10.3 assists per game.🔥 pic.twitter.com/hQHUtKg9rK
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) November 13, 2022
Here’s a look at the players with the most assists in a single game so far this season, with Philadelphia’s James Harden leading the pack.
Single Game Assist Leaders, 2022-23 Season
- 17: James Harden (Philadelphia @ Washington, Oct. 31, 2022)
- 15: Stephen Curry (Golden State @ Houston, Nov. 20, 2022)
- 15: John Wall (LA Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs, Nov. 19, 2022)
- 15: Kyle Lowry (Miami @ Washington, Nov. 18, 2022)
- 15: Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana vs. Toronto, Nov. 12, 2022)
- 15: Chris Paul (Phoenix vs. Houston, Oct. 30, 2022)
Now let’s dig into the record books and take a look at the all-time leaders in career assists per game, highest assists average in a single season and most assists in a single game.
Highest average, assists per game, career (min. 400 games)
- 11.2: Magic Johnson (10,141/906)
- 10.5: John Stockton (15,806/1,504)
- 9.51: Oscar Robertson (9,887/1,040)
- 9.50: Chris Paul (11,071/1165)
- 9.3: Isiah Thomas (9,061/979)
Highest average, assists per game, season (qualifiers)
- 14.5: John Stockton, Utah, 1989-90 (1,134/78)
- 14.2: John Stockton, Utah, 1990-91 (1,164/82)
- 13.9: Isiah Thomas, Detroit, 1984-85 (1,123/81)
Most assists, single game
- 30: Scott Skiles (Orlando vs. Denver, Dec. 30, 1990)
- 29: Kevin Porter (New Jersey vs. Houston, Feb. 24, 1978)
- 28: Bob Cousy (Boston vs. Minneapolis, Feb. 27, 1959)
- 28: Guy Rodgers (San Francisco vs. St. Louis, March 14, 1963)
- 28: John Stockton (Utah vs. San Antonio, Jan. 15, 1991)