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6 NBA things to know for Jan. 6

Some key storylines and NBA tidbits to know for the day ahead

1. Thunder, Sixers head in opposite directions

Barely a week into 2020 and the Thunder have won five in a row and are 4 1/2 games back of the No. 4-seeded LA Clippers. On the flip side, the Sixers are 1 1/2 games out of No. 4 in the East, falling into that spot because of their four-game skid. The teams meet tonight in Philly (7 ET, NBA TV) and, as usual, the (recent) numbers don’t lie about either team. Since Christmas Day, the Sixers are 19th in Defensive Rating and are struggling to make shots from just about everywhere. During that same span, the Thunder rank seventh in Defensive Rating and have been outstanding in clutch situations, piling up a 4-0 mark and 126.8 Offensive Rating.

2. Nets trying to end skid

Brooklyn got some tough news over the weekend as guard Kyrie Irving may need surgery on his troublesome right shoulder. Add to that a blowout home loss to the Raptors on Saturday and the Nets are in the midst of a five-game skid as they travel to Orlando (7 ET, League Pass). While Caris LeVert did play in Saturday’s game, he’s been ruled out vs. the Magic. As for Orlando, it is doing a little better of late (4-2 in its last six games) and is getting good play from Khem Birch and Terrence Ross of late.

3. Pelicans could test warming Jazz

In each of the past five seasons, Utah has won six games in a row at least one time. The Jazz are on the cusp of that again as they visit the Pelicans (8 ET, League Pass), who have improved of late themselves. New Orleans is 6-2 over its last eight games, ranking No. 4 in Defensive Rating since then while also finishing in the top 5 in Net Rating and Rebound Percentage as well. The Jazz may luck out tonight, though, as star guard Jrue Holiday (left elbow contustion) is questionable for the game. He’s averaging 20 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists over his last eight games.

4. Bucks falling in love with 3-pointers

To date, Milwaukee ranks third in the NBA in 3-pointers made (518) and attempted (1,440), 13th in 3-point percentage (36%) and third in 3-point frequency (42.8%). It’s clear the Bucks aren’t about to stop shooting from deep as they face the Spurs (8:30 ET, League Pass) in search of their sixth straight win. San Antonio isn’t the best at limiting opponents 3-pointers (they rank 20th in 3-pointers allowed per game) and allowed the Bucks to hoist 45 of them in Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee.

5. Kings are fading fast

Back on Dec. 15, the Kings dropped the Warriors and moved to 12-14 as they held the No. 7 spot in the West. Life hasn’t been the same since then and as the teams meet tonight (10 ET, NBA TV), the hopes Sacramento had of a playoff run are just about squelched. Since Dec. 15, the Kings have lost nine of 10 games, are struggling on offense and defense despite only losing one of those games (a 105-87 loss to the LA Clippers on Dec. 31) by more than 15 points.

6. Has it really been 25 years?

Back on Jan. 6, 1995, then-Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens passed Red Auerbach on the all-time wins list, collecting career win No. 939. Since then, nine other coaches — Bill Fitch, Rick Adelman, Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, George Karl, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Don Nelson — have surpassed Auerbach’s mark. But Wilkens was the first to do so and we pay a bit of homage to that in this space.