The league’s present is in extraordinary hands from LeBron James still playing up to his capabilities on his way to the all-time scoring title to Nikola Jokic masterfully tearing defenses apart on his way to a potential third straight MVP to physical forces like Giannis Antetokounmpo, there’s maybe never been more top-end talent in the NBA than now.
But the influx of young talent in the league right now is bonkers. To me, the Orlando Magic are the brightest signals of that right now with their volumes of promising prospects, and with me being an NBA draft nerd, that makes them one of my favorite teams to watch. Jonathan Isaac’s return — and apparent return to form — and the fashion it came in only make that more emphatically the case.
Houston got a rare win as well, and they’re another example of being loaded with young talent featuring star talent like Jalen Green alongside solid cornerstone potential in Alperen Sengun, similar to Portland’s Shaedon Sharpe. All of whom had solid Monday showings.
First, though, a winner more focused on the present over a loser more focused on the future:
Bucks throw early knockout punch in 150-130 win over Pistons
Giannis Antetokounmpo played just eight and a half first quarter minutes, but that was plenty of time for him to score 20 of his team-high 29 points on the night. Milwaukee as a whole outscored Detroit 49-24 in the first and scored 30+ in each following quarter. Both teams shot over 40% from three, but the Bucks shooting 23-52 (44.2%) is significantly more impactful than the Pistons shooting 13-32 (40.6%).
Bojan Bogdanovic was the game’s leading scorer with 33 points (11-15 FG, 6-7 3P) in the losing effort while rookie Jalen Duren added 23 points (9-13 FG) and 11 rebounds for his 10th double double of his young career. Jaden Ivey, who’s started at point guard for much of Cade Cunningham’s absence, flexed his facilitating prowess with a career-high 11 assists to four turnovers.
Orlando celebrates Jonathan Isaac’s long-awaited return with 113-98 win over Boston
Before Monday, Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac had logged just 33 minutes of NBA playing time this century — two minutes on New Year’s Day 2020 and 31 minutes during the bubble seeding games, also in 2020. That’s an absence spanning 903 days. He thrived in the 10 minutes he did play on Thursday, scoring 10 points in as many minutes while nabbing two steals as well.
Jonathan Isaac with a great sequence in his first game back:— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 24, 2023
-Hits a spot-up 3
-Strips Jaylen Brown
-Assist in transition
Looking a lot like his pre-injury self as a high upside two-way presence. pic.twitter.com/iGPUOMmy9Y
Still only 25 years old, Isaac is starting to seem like a senior citizen on this Orlando roster, but that youth stood out in this win as their young starting frontcourt gave the Magic three of their four leading scorers — Paolo Banchero (23 points), Wendell Carter Jr. (21), and Franz Wagner (15).
Boston came in on a nine-game winning streak but couldn’t sustain the success in the absences of Marcus Smart and Robert Williams while only getting average nights from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (26 points each). Thanks to the breathing room earned by the long win streak, their lead for the top spot in the East holds firm at 4.0 games ahead of the Sixers.
“Desperate” Bulls beat Hawks 111-100 after never trailing in the fourth
DeMar DeRozan, who finished with a game-high 26 points, talked after the game about how at this point in the season, you have to approach each game as “the desperate ones.” The desperate Chicago Bulls have now won three games in a row in an ongoing effort to get back above .500. Atlanta, meanwhile, sits right at .500, just 1.0 game ahead of Chicago while both are in the East’s play-in picture.
Rockets beat Wolves 119-114 behind Jalen Green’s big night
Jalen Green scored a career-high 42 points (15-25 FG) just after 41 points last Wednesday, both coming at a time when many were questioning his validity as a star-projected young stud. Alperen Sengun thrived again as well with 21 points (8-12 FG), seven rebounds, and seven assists all before gifting us with a fun moment from the locker room postgame:
Lauri Markkanen, Jazz use huge second quarter to beat Hornets 120-102
Markkanen has to be a lock for Most Improved Player at this point and should be a lock for the All-Star Game as well. On Monday, he scored 11 of his game-high 25 points and grab seven of his game-high 11 rebounds in the second quarter as Utah won the frame 37-21.
Blazers’ offense can’t be stopped in 147-127 win over Spurs
It seems like Damian Lillard has reached a very distinct point in his career where he just wants to be left alone in Portland, allowed to peacefully thrive in a city where he loves playing no matter the circumstances. Monday, he peacefully thrived, posting 37 points (12-19 FG, 7-11 3P) and 12 assists (just three turnovers) in only 31 minutes.
Lillard was flanked by 51 combined points from fellow starters Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, while rookie Shaedon Sharpe finished one point shy of his career high with 19 (8-12 FG) in 27 minutes.
For the losing Spurs, each starter scored in double figures, led by Keldon Johnson’s 20 points (8-15 FG), but the one who stood out to me was rookie forward Jeremy Sochan, who posted 18 points (5-11 FG), six rebounds, and four assists. He’s now on a career-best streak of four games in double-digit scoring and has hit multiple threes in three straight games, which is also a career-best streak.
Kings are America’s Team with the Grizzlies their latest victim in 133-100 win
Sacramento has now won seven of their last eight games and are by all accounts a true contender. Against the “fine in the West” Grizzlies, the Kings hung 130 on an opponent for the fifth time over that eight-game stretch, led by a triple double from Domantas Sabonis (14/10/11), 24 points from Trey Lyles, and 20 from each of Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray.
The Grizzlies were led in scoring by Desmond Bane’s 21 points. Tyus Jones, starting in place of Ja Morant, stepped up big time with eight assists to one turnover in 31 minutes. Jones was also a team-best -7 among those who played more than 10 minutes.