Every Monday we will tell you what you need to know heading into a new week of NBA action.
1. LeBron returns to Cleveland with Lakers streaking
The Lakers started the season 2-10, but have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games to improve to 10-12 and are one game back in the Play-In chase in the Western Conference. Can they keep up this momentum in Week 8 as they hit the road with games in Cleveland (15-9), Toronto (12-11), Philadelphia (12-11) and Detroit (6-19)?
If Anthony Davis keeps putting up ridiculous stat lines like he did over the weekend — he combined for 99 points on 40-57 (70.2%) shooting, 27 rebounds, six blocks and five assists in wins at Milwaukee and at Washington — they’ll have a good shot.
Davis has been on fire throughout this 10-game run, but “on fire” is not adequate to describe how hot AD has been over the past 10 games. All that aside, here are his numbers from during that run: 34.2 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 2.9 bpg, 2.7 apg and 1.3 spg. He’s also shooting 63.3% on just under 20 shots per game and 86.4% from the line on over 10 free throw attempts per game.
In addition to Davis, the Lakers also have LeBron James back and playing against his former team. The Lakers are 5-1 since LeBron returned to the lineup on Nov. 25 and he enters Tuesday’s game in Cleveland (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) with a 29.4 ppg career scoring average against his former team — his highest mark against any opponent.
Milestone watch: James enters Week 8 needing two 30+ point games to pass Wilt Chamberlain (515) for the second-most in NBA history. Michael Jordan sits in first place with 562. Russell Westbrook needs three steals to pass Metta World Peace (1,721) for 23rd place all-time.
2. Gobert returns to Utah
In a blockbuster trade that shocked the NBA universe in July, the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired All-Star center and three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz in exchange for five players, four future first-round Draft picks and a pick swap. It was a steep price to pay for Minnesota’s all-in move to build off last season’s 46-36 season and look to join the elite teams of the Western Conference.
Now, five months after that trade was completed, Gobert and the Timberwolves head to Utah for the first time this season on Friday night (9 ET, NBA League Pass). The two teams met in Minnesota on Oct. 21 with the Jazz rallying from a 17-point first-half deficit to win the game in overtime. Gobert finished with nine points, 23 rebounds and two blocks, but a pair of missed free throws with 34 seconds left in overtime helped seal Minnesota’s fate.
The Jazz enter Week 8 at 14-12 and are No. 9 spot in West, while the Wolves are close by, ranking No. 11 at 11-12. Utah has been one of the surprise teams to open the season. Not only did the Jazz trade Gobert, but they also moved fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell (to Cleveland) as well as starters Royce O’Neale (to Brooklyn) and Bojan Bogdanovic (to Detroit).
Meanwhile, Minnesota is still working to find its chemistry with their new big man in the middle, and are currently without All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns (calf strain) who is expected to be out at least another month.
3. Finals rematch tips off ABC coverage
When the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors meet in San Francisco on Saturday night (8:30 ET, ABC), it will have been 178 days since the Warriors clinched their fourth title in eight years with a Game 6 win in Boston.
Let’s rewind back to June for a moment. The Celtics held a 2-1 series lead and a six-point halftime lead at home in Game 4 before Stephen Curry and the Warriors rallied in the second half and never looked back. Curry scored 43 points in Game 4 to even the series, Andrew Wiggins was stellar on both ends of the court to lead Golden State to a Game 5 win. Curry delivered the knock-out blow (and night-night celebration) in Game 6 with a 34-point performance as he earned his first Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award.
Nearly six months after that clinching game, the Warriors and Celtics will meet for the first time on Saturday in the opening game of ABC’s NBA coverage this season. Boston enters Week 8 with an NBA-best 19-5 record, while the Warriors have won five of their last six games to improve to 13-11 after their title defense got off to a shaky 3-7 start.
Milestone watch: Klay Thompson enters Week 8 needing just one 3-pointer to break a tie with Dirk Nowitzki for sole possession of 14th place all-time. He needs seven to pass Jason Kidd for 13th place and 18 to become the 14th player to reach 2,000 career 3-pointers.
4. National TV Spotlight: Three more games to watch
We’ve already covered LeBron’s latest return game to Cleveland (Tuesday, TNT) and the first Finals rematch between Boston and Golden State (Saturday, ABC), but those aren’t the only must-see TV matchups this week. (Note: All times Eastern.)
This is the second meeting of the season between the Suns and Mavericks, following up their seven-game series in last year’s Western Conference semifinals. Phoenix exacted a bit of revenge by rallying back from 22 points down to win the first meeting of the season back on Oct. 19 in the season opener for both teams, but that probably didn’t exorcise the demons of that tough exit in Game 7. Let’s see what Booker and Co. have in store against Doncic and the Mavs in this matchup.
In the latest Kia Race to the MVP, reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic of Denver and Luka Doncic of Dallas were tied at the No. 2 spot behind Boston’s Jayson Tatum. There’s no better way to break a tie than with a head-to-head matchup. These two international superstars have met 11 times in the NBA with Doncic holding a 6-5 edge in head-to-head matchups with both players averaging double-doubles: Doncic with 24.4 ppg, 10.5 apg, 7.5 rpg and Jokic with 23.4 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 6.6 apg.
It’s not just Atlanta at New York, it’s Trae Young at Madison Square Garden. The 2021 first-round series between the Knicks and Hawks made Young a player Knicks fans love to hate. They’ll get their final chance to boo him this regular season when the Hawks head to New York City as the final two games of the season series will be played in Atlanta. The Hawks won the first meeting of the season, 112-99, on Nov. 2 behind a career-best 36 points from Dejounte Murray, while Young scored 17 points in 28 minutes as he missed time getting treated for an eye contusion.
5. League Pass Games to Watch
In addition to the Gobert return game to Utah, here are four more games to catch this week, exclusively on NBA League Pass. (Note: All times Eastern.)
Entering Week 8, there is a virtual four-way tie for the No. 6 to No. 9 spots in the Western Conference, currently bookended by Golden State (13-11) in sixth and Utah (14-12) in ninth. These two teams have had polarized results over the first quarter of the season. Golden State entered the season with high expectations as the defending champs and got off to a tough 3-7 start, but have begun to right the ship. Utah entered the season with low expectations and were one of the early surprises of the season as they sat atop the West at 10-3. However, they have gone just 4-9 since and have dropped to the Play-In field.
Trivia Time. Which teams does Kevin Durant have the highest scoring average against for his career? Hint: There’s a strong similarity to LeBron James here.
Durant’s highest scoring averages have come against Oklahoma City (32 ppg in 11 games) and Golden State (29.9 ppg in 33 games) — the two teams he’s played with during his career. The third team on that list is the Atlanta Hawks at 29.7 ppg over 26 games. Durant’s career high of 55 points came last season against the Hawks. What does he have in store this time around?
Milestone watch: Durant enters Week 8 needing 123 points to pass John Havlicek for 17th place on the all-time scoring list and 125 points to pass Paul Pierce for 16th place. With Brooklyn only having three games on the schedule this week, Durant would not threaten either mark by hitting his current average (29.9 ppg). But as mentioned above, he scored a career-best 55 against Atlanta last season, and is capable of stringing together some big games that could get him close.
This is a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference entering Week 8: Phoenix (16-7) and New Orleans (15-8, on a four-game win streak). It is the first of two games over a three-day span in New Orleans. Both teams have been missing an All-Star with Brandon Ingram missing the past four games with a toe injury, while Chris Paul has missed the past 13 games with a heel injury. We will get the guard matchup of Devin Booker and CJ McCollum, and of course Zion Williamson wreaking havoc inside for the Pelicans.
Can the “Beam Team” outshine the lights of New York City when the Kings take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden? After an 0-4 start to the season, the Kings have gone 13-5 since and enter Week 8 in fifth place in the West and riding a three-game win streak. Meanwhile, the Knicks currently hold the No. 10 spot in the East at 11-13 on the season and have gone 3-6 in their last nine games.