Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Lakers make a defensive statement in back-to-back road wins in Denver, Utah. After winning 10 games in a row against the softest part of their schedule, the calendar flipping to December was supposed to start a real test for the Lakers. No more playing hard for 24 minutes and getting a victory, no more sloppy quarters leading to a comeback win - the Dallas Mavericks made that clear on Sunday.
Los Angeles answered that with back-to-back road wins where their defense - led by Anthony Davis - shut down the Nuggets and Jazz. Through the two games, the Lakers allowed less than a point per possession (96.5 defensive net rating total), including holding Donovan Mitchell and Utah to 96 points (and a 97 net rating) on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz shot just 41 percent as a team for the game.
Mitchell, who has played at an All-Star level this season, scored 29 but on 11-of-24 shooting - the Laker defense made him work for his buckets. (Bojan Bogdanovic had another strong game for the Jazz with six threes, he has been the Utah summer signing that has worked out well.)
Los Angeles led struggling Utah by 18 at the half and cruised to a 121-96 win. In what looked like a scheduled loss before the season - the second night of a back-to-back at altitude against a good team - never felt in doubt as Davis had 26 points and LeBron James 20 and 12 assists.
The only drama was that LeBron got away with a blatant and hilarious travel and double dribble in the first quarter, one the officials somehow missed.
After the game LeBron owned it, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
"It was the worst thing, probably one of the worst things I've ever done in my career," James said after the game… "I didn't realize I did it until halftime. One of my coaches showed me."
Coming into the season there were questions about how good the Lakers' defense was going to be, with coach Frank Vogel wanting to play two bigs and more of a drop-back style of defense. That's the style Vogel used with success back in Indiana (with peak Roy Hibbert protecting the paint) and has become in vogue again in the NBA. That includes in Utah, where Rudy Gobert has won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards because he owns the paint but also because of his length and mobility tp contest and cause problems out on the perimeter.
Davis has done exactly that for the Lakers this season.
It was most evident late in the game against Denver Tuesday. On one fourth quarter play big man Nikola Jokic tried to back down Davis, put on a move and score in the post and AD just stuff blocked him. A couple of possessions later, Davis got switched onto quick guard Jamal Murray on consecutive plays and forced him into a couple of bad shots that missed.
Stretches like that are the reason the Lakers' have the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA this season - and it is their defense that has them looking like legit title contenders. Davis is at the heart of it, although both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have used their mobility to be surprisingly good defenders who can contest at the arc and get back to protect the rim.
Davis' performance has the Lakers already campaigning for him to win Defensive Player of the Year (and some in the Lakers' media core seem eager to promote that idea). We're just a quarter of the way into the season, and this award is one that has to be earned over a much longer stretch of ground. There are no actual frontrunners yet, and players like Gobert, the Bucks' Greek Freak, and Boston's Marcus Smart - among others - will be in the middle of any conversation down the line.
But make no mistake, the Lakers defense and Davis are for real. They made a statement about that the past couple of nights - and showed why their defense could carry them to a parade in June.
2) Blake Griffin steps over Giannis Antetokounmpo and tempers flare. There wasn't much drama in the game itself between the Bucks and Pistons on Wednesday - Milwaukee blew the doors off Detroit and never looked back.
Any drama came in the third quarter when Antetokounmpo tried to back down Griffin on the left block, Detroits Bruce Brown came over to double and fouled the Greek Freak, who fell to the floor. Then Griffin stepped over him.
Khris Middleton ran over to get in Griffin's face about the disrespect and then… well, a lot of words were exchanged. Nothing else. The officials reviewed the play, and both Brown and Middleton ended up getting technical fouls.
That's the most drama there was in Detroit Wednesday. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points and the Bucks won by 24, extending their win streak to 13.
3) Houston "leaning toward" protesting loss to Spurs over missed James Harden dunk call. That will fail, too. Let's start with the obvious: The referees missed the call on James Harden's fourth-quarter dunk against the Spurs Tuesday night. The basket should have counted, and after the game the officials admitted they missed the call.