Seeing Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson on the sidelines in Brooklyn shouldn’t feel normal. At least not while the two teams playing in Barclays are the hometown Nets and the Chicago Bulls. But the adjustment period for NBA players is brief and brutal. I suppose it shouldn’t feel all that different to fans, right? Sure, 24 hours ago, Bridges and Johnson played for the Phoenix Suns. But today, they are the newest Nets. As they say, after all, it’s a business.
And business was booming in the NBA, from late Wednesday evening into the wee hours of Thursday’s trade deadline. All in all, north of 50 players were dealt, with 24 teams making deals to acquire fresh faces (while a few brought back familiar ones). The biggest deal — Kevin Durant to Phoenix in exchange for a package featuring the aforementioned Bridges and Johnson — came through just after 1 a.m. ET on Thursday morning; that proved to merely be the opening of the floodgates. Impact players ranging from Jakob Poeltl to Gary Payton II were moved back to their previous homes; Jae Crowder came out of hiding to be dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks in search of a championship; Jaden McDaniels (to Philly), Luke Kennard (to Memphis), Bones Hyland (to the Clippers), and Mike Muscala (to Boston) were dealt to contenders looking to fill holes.
Plus, Adrian Wojnarowski reportedly won the 2023 edition of his annual reporting duel with Shams Charania. It was a Thursday like none in recent memory.
After all that, of course, the games on the calendar needed to be played. Seven of the eight teams in action made deals ahead of (or up against) the deadline. Only the Chicago Bulls failed to move/acquire any players, despite rumors that discussions surrounding Zach LaVine were ongoing with the New York Knicks. LaVine was, indeed, playing in New York on Thursday, but he was still wearing red and black, suiting up for the away team at Barclay’s Center.
Why don’t we start there, with the team that is most deserving of any “new-look” monikers they’ll undoubtedly be slapped with over the next few days and weeks?
Remodeled Nets outlast Bulls, 116-105
First, some housekeeping: Brooklyn’s starting group looked a bit different than it did this time last week. Sure, Cam Thomas and Royce O’Neale know their way around these parts, but Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith were making their Brooklyn debuts; Day’Ron Sharpe was making just his second start of the season. For all intents and purposes, this was a foreign lineup for Jacque Vaughn to throw out onto the floor. Good news for him: This foreign lineup worked well together, despite a slow start.
Spencer Dinwiddie led the way for Brooklyn with 25 points in his return to the franchise (he last suited up for Brooklyn in the 2020-21 season before being traded to Washington). Joe Harris added 18 points, Yuta Watanabe scored 14 points off the bench, and Dorian Finney-Smith, who came with Dinwiddie from Dallas in the trade for Kyrie Irving, added nine points and nine boards in his own Nets’ debut.
As for the Bulls, it was Zach LaVine who led their sporadically-competitive effort, scoring 32 points, but adding just one assist and one rebound. So, I suppose Chicago’s biggest accomplishment is the following:
Magic stun Nuggets, 115-104
Aaron Gordon — apparently the most dependable member of the Denver Nuggets, who scored 37 points and pulled down 13 rebounds on Thursday — wasn’t enough to survive an onslaught led by Cole Anthony and Bol Bol. I mean, considering the fact that Orlando’s reserves outscored Denver’s 56-10, this all lines up. Sure, Nikola Jokic had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and six dimes, and sure, he and Gordon combined to score all 29 of Denver’s points in the third frame.
But Orlando was efficient from the field, and remained level with Denver over the course of the game until finally pulling away down the stretch. Wendell Carter Jr. led the Magic with 19 points, though six others scored in double figures. Orlando has won four of its last six and sits just three games outside of a play-in spot. I’m just saying…
Hawks handle Suns, 116-107
Trae Young’s performance in the first half was, in short, brutal. Luckily for Atlanta, he made up for his lousy 11-point effort in the game’s first 48 minutes by pouring in an additional 25 points in the second half to lead the Hawks to victory over the shorthanded Suns. Phoenix only had nine players available in the loss, playing with a rotation that did not include Devin Booker or the newly-acquired Kevin Durant. Needless to say, you can’t judge the squad we saw on Thursday without noting that they’ll look a heck of a lot different by the time Durant suits up.
Bucks extend win streak with win over Lakers, 115-106
Though they didn’t make a Kevin Durant-quality move ahead of the deadline, the same that was said of the Suns could be said of the Lakers. The rotation they put out on Thursday didn’t include LeBron James — a big problem when you have to play against Giannis Antetokounmpo; LeBron was out with ankle soreness — nor did it include the newly-acquired D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, or Mo Bamba.
Still, the Lakers somehow hung tough against the superior Bucks, who won their ninth straight behind 38 points from Giannis and an efficient 22-point outing for Khris Middleton. Dennis Schroder (25 points) and Anthony Davis (23) led the Lakers, whose reinforcements should suit up in no time.