Timberwolves surge to top spot, Knicks enter top 10 and Rockets’ road struggles continue

Did you ever think you’d be seeing win-or-go-home NBA games in the first week of December? Say what you will about the In-Season Tournament, but the intensity has certainly been there, and will only increase as we get closer to handing the NBA Cup to one lucky team.

That being said, we’re still here to think about the season as a whole, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were the most dominant team in the league this week, riding three straight wins to the No. 1 spot in the Power Rankings. They dethroned the Orlando Magic, who lost for the first time in nine games and fell to No. 4 — tough break. Another team on the rise is the New York Knicks, who also had an undefeated week to earn a spot in the top 10.

On the other side were the Houston Rockets, who remain winless on the road this season after three more losses this week. They plummeted all the way to No. 22, dropping 13 spots — but if trends continue, we’ll likely see them back near the top half once they get some home games under their belt. The biggest risers this week were the Chicago Bulls, pulling off two unlikely wins with their main scorers sidelined. They jumped 10 spots to No. 17, which tells you how bad things had gotten in recent weeks.

Happy December, and here are this week’s NBA Power Rankings.

Bucks vs. Knicks, Lakers vs. Suns could both see underdogs advance

Monday was the newbie portion of the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals. Tuesday is for the vets. The league’s two biggest markets (New York and Los Angeles) will be represented, and the four teams have three combined MVPs (LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo) along with six other healthy former All-Stars (Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez).

Should this change the way you bet? Only slightly. Remember that these are high-profile players and teams in games that should draw more action than typical regular-season contests. The public is going to back the famous people. Keep an eye on role player props and unders. In this space, though, we’re focusing on the spread, so here are our picks for Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchups.

New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are a tricky matchup for the Knicks in that they can’t be bullied physically. New York relies on its No. 2-ranked offensive rebounding rate to generate extra possessions that keep its offense afloat. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez aren’t going to make that easy for them. Fortunately, the rest of the Bucks will make life easy on one Knick in particular.

Jalen Brunson scored 45 points the last time these two teams met. That’s an increasingly common phenomenon. Milwaukee has played 20 games and has allowed 12 different perimeter players to reach 30 points against them. They don’t have a single perimeter defender that can stay in front of Brunson. If Brunson was solely reliant on the rim for his points, this might be an easier matchup for the Bucks because of all that size inside. But Brunson can exploit Milwaukee’s drop-coverage with a slew of mid-range jumpers and pull-up 3’s that they simply have no counter for. Expect a big Brunson game that at least nets the Knicks a cover, if not an outright win. The Pick: Knicks +4.5

Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have beaten the Suns twice… but they haven’t beaten Devin Booker yet this season. His presence makes this a completely different matchup. When the Suns have Booker and Kevin Durant on the floor at the same time, they’re scoring a staggering 128.3 points per 100 possessions this season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

The obvious counter here is that the Lakers are finally getting their wing defenders back. Jarred Vanderbilt made his season debut against the Rockets on Saturday. Cam Reddish recently returned as well, and Rui Hachimura expects to play on Tuesday as well. But Durant has scored 77 total points in two games against the Lakers this season. Those two are as close to defense-proof as stars get because so much of their shot diet consists of contested mid-range jumpers they can hit over anybody. They’re going to score points on Tuesday. The Lakers? They’re pretty hit or miss on offense, so lean Phoenix in this one. The Pick: Suns +1.5

2023 NBA In-Season Tournament picks, predictions by proven model

Eastern Conference powers meet with lofty stakes on Tuesday evening. The Milwaukee Bucks welcome the New York Knicks to Fiserv Forum for a quarterfinal matchup of the 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament. The winner will earn a trip to Las Vegas for the semifinal later this week. New York has won three straight games, improving to 12-7 overall and 6-4 on the road this season. Milwaukee is 14-6 overall, including a win over New York in early November, and is 9-1 at home.

For this game, SportsLine consensus lists the Bucks as 5-point favorites, and tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. The total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, or the over/under, is 228.5 in the latest Knicks vs. Bucks odds. Before making any Bucks vs. Knicks picks, you need to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s advanced computer simulation model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 7 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 92-50 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning nearly $4,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Knicks vs. Bucks and just locked in its picks and NBA predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Now, here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Knicks vs. Bucks:

Knicks vs. Bucks spread: Bucks -5
Knicks vs. Bucks over/under: 228.5 points
Knicks vs. Bucks money line: Bucks -206, Knicks +170
NYK: The Knicks are 6-3-1 against the spread in the last 10 road games
MIL: The Bucks are 3-6-1 against the spread in the last 10 home games
Knicks vs. Bucks picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Knicks can cover
Julius Randle is red-hot for the Knicks as they arrive in Milwaukee. Randle is averaging 20.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game this season, and he has scored at least 20 points in 12 of the last 13 games. Randle is flanked by another highly productive offensive force in Jalen Brunson, and the Knicks have elite characteristics in key areas. The Knicks are in the top five of the NBA in offensive rebound rate (34.1%), second-chance points (16.3 per game), and turnovers (12.9 per game) this season, and New York is facing a Milwaukee defense that is in the bottom third of the league in overall defensive efficiency.

On the other end, New York is playing outstanding defense. The Knicks lead the NBA in defensive rebound rate (74.4%) and second-chance points allowed (11.3 per game), helping to push New York to a top-three overall mark in defensive efficiency. The Knicks hold opponents to only 1.09 points per possession, and New York is firmly in the top five of the NBA in assists allowed (24.5 per game), points allowed in the paint (44.0 per game), and free throw attempts allowed (18.8 per game). See which team to pick here.

Why the Bucks can cover
Milwaukee outpaces New York when it comes to offensive firepower. The Bucks have two players averaging more than 25 points per game, and rank in the top five of the NBA in offensive efficiency, scoring 118.0 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks are elite from a shooting efficiency standpoint, making 49.5% of field goal attempts, 58.5% of 2-point attempts, and 37.3% of 3-point attempts. Milwaukee is also creating more than 25 free throw attempts per game, and New York’s offense is vulnerable.

The Knicks are dead-last in the NBA in 2-point shooting this season, making only 49.2% of attempts inside the arc. New York is also in the bottom five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists per game, with the Bucks operating at a high level in preventing free throws on defense. Milwaukee also has the benefit of playing at Fiserv Forum, where the team is 9-1 this season, and former NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo enters on a hot streak with 33.2 points per game on 64.7% shooting over his last 12 outings. See which team to pick here.

How to make Knicks vs. Bucks picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Under on the point total, with only five players projected to score 13 points or more. The model also says one side of the spread hits in well over 50% of simulations. You can only see the model’s pick at SportsLine.

Top DraftKings, FanDuel daily Fantasy basketball picks for Tuesday, Dec. 5 include LeBron James

Four of the marquee NBA franchises at the moment will be featured in Tuesday’s pair of quarterfinal games for the 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament. The Milwaukee Bucks host the New York Knicks followed by the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers and Knicks are arguably the two most recognizable franchises in the league, while the Bucks and Suns are filled with some of the biggest stars in the sport like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, who are all part of the NBA DFS player pool.

However, star players will set your NBA DFS salary cap back quite a bit, so who are some values to target when making NBA DFS picks on sites like FanDuel and DraftKings? Knicks shooting guard/small forward Donte DiVincenzo made seven 3-pointers in scoring 21 points on Friday against the Raptors, and if he gets hot from the outside against his former team, DiVincenzo could be a valuable asset for NBA DFS lineups. Before making your NBA DFS picks, be sure to check out the NBA DFS advice, player rankings, stacks and top daily Fantasy basketball picks from SportsLine’s Mike McClure.

McClure is a DFS professional with more than $2 million in career winnings. He’s also a predictive data engineer at SportsLine who uses a powerful prediction model that simulates every minute of every game 10,000 times, taking factors like matchups, statistical trends and injuries into account.

This allows him to find the best NBA DFS values and create optimal lineups that he shares only over at SportsLine. They’re a must-see for any NBA DFS player.

On Monday, McClure highlighted Pelicans shooting guard/small forward Brandon Ingram as one of his top picks in his NBA DFS player pool on both sites. The result: Ingram had 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, returning 51.5 points on DraftKings and 49.6 points on FanDuel. Anybody who included him in their lineups was well on the way to a profitable day.

McClure has turned his attention to NBA action on Tuesday and locked in his top daily Fantasy basketball picks. You can only see them by heading to SportsLine.

Top NBA DFS picks for Tuesday, December 5
For Tuesday, one of McClure’s top NBA DFS picks is Lakers forward LeBron James, who is listed at $9,600 on DraftKings and $9,900 on FanDuel. James is listed as questionable with a calf contusion, but he’s one of the most competitive players in the league with a close eye on legacy and NBA history. With this being the inaugural in-season tournament, it’s no surprise James has the Lakers playing with a different focus and intensity during these games. James wants to win and he could see a postseason-like increase in his minutes and usage on Tuesday, despite it being a regular-season game for the standings.

The Lakers defeated the Suns, 122-119, in their first meeting of the year, which also happened to be a part of the in-season tournament. James had 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists over 36 minutes. James reached 30 points in two of four in-season tournament games and is averaging 24.4 points per game overall this season. The four-time NBA MVP averaged 24.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists over 38.7 minutes in 16 playoff games last year, and McClure expects a similar boost in production from James on Tuesday.

Another part of McClure’s optimal NBA DFS strategy includes rostering Suns center Jusuf Nurkic ($6,900 on DraftKings and $7,600 on FanDuel). The 29-year-old scored 31 points against the Nuggets on Friday, followed by 14 points and nine rebounds against the Grizzlies on Saturday. The Suns will need to play Nurkic often with the Lakers’ size of Anthony Davis and options off the bench. Nurkic had 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against the Lakers in their first meeting.

Nurkic is averaging 10 rebounds over his last five games, and his size is vital for the Suns, who often play with smaller lineups. The Lakers are allowing the most offensive rebounds (8.2 per game) and the most second-chance points (16.8 per game) in the NBA this season, and Nurkic is a prime candidate to capitalize off those scoring opportunities following misses. See McClure’s other NBA DFS picks right here.

How to set your NBA DFS lineups for Tuesday, December 5
McClure is also targeting a player who could go off for massive numbers on Tuesday because of a dream matchup. This pick could be the difference between winning your tournaments and cash games or going home with nothing. You can only see who it is here.

Bucks’ dominant display against Knicks was the offense we were promised all along

MILWAUKEE — When the Milwaukee Bucks traded for Damian Lillard, the first thought was that they were going to be unstoppable on offense. That’s just what they were on Tuesday night, as they cruised past the New York Knicks for a 146-122 win in the quarterfinals of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament.

“I thought this was probably our best offensive game,” Lillard said. “What did we score? 146 or something like that? And we left a lot of points on the board too. We missed free throws, we missed some shots in the paint. This could have easily been a 165-point game.”

The Bucks shot 60.4% from the field and 60.5% from 3-point line en route to a season-high in points and made 3s. This was the first time they’ve shot at least 60% overall and from behind the arc in the same game since 1985, and they became the fourth team ever to make at least 23 3s while shooting 60% or better. All against a Knicks team that boasts a top-10 defense.

After shaking off an early scare with his ankle, Giannis Antetokounmpo acted as a battering ram to soften up the Knicks. He scored 10 of the Bucks’ first 12 points with a series of powerful drives and athletic finishes at the rim. That’s a grueling act to keep up all night long, but the two-time MVP doesn’t have to now that Lillard is around. In the second quarter, it was Lillard’s time to shine, and he poured in 14 points with a barrage of 3s.

Lillard and Antetokounmpo may not be running as many pick-and-rolls as everyone expected, but they’re starting to figure out a balance where they can each thrive without detracting from the other. The Bucks are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and during that stretch both are in the top-14 in the league in scoring, and combinging for 57.7 points and 14.9 assists per game. Antetokounmpo is shooting 63.9% from the field, while Lillard is at 47.7%, including 41.5% from downtown.

Monday night was no different, as Antetokounmpo went for 35 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists and Lillard added 28 points and seven assists.

“I really like how we’re starting to learn each other,” Lillard said. “There’s been some bumps in that process where we don’t play so great some nights, but we’re still able to win those games. Now it’s just starting to get a little more smooth. Knowing where we should be on the floor, knowing how to give each other outlets, knowing how to help each other be who we are. It’s not perfect, but I like that we’re showing improvement and it’s carrying over and you can see it on the floor.”

Even arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league needs help, though, and the Bucks’ supporting cast has been thriving. Six different players are scoring in double figures this season, which is tied for the third-most on one team in the league.

Against the Knicks, it was Malik Beasley’s turn to show out. The veteran shooting guard chipped in 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from downtown, making this the fourth time he’s made at least six 3s in a game this season. Only Stephen Curry (seven) has done so more often.

With Antetokounmpo and Lillard demanding so much attention, Beasley feasted on open looks. None more dramatic than when all five Knicks were in the paint surrounding Antetokounmpo, and he found Beasley all by himself in the corner for an exclamation point 3.

“In training camp we kept smiling because it was so easy with our spacing,” Beasley said. “Your’re starting to see it now… I have the role where I gotta be the X-factor guy and knock down shots. Sometimes when Giannis and Dame have the ball so much, the attention’s all on them and there’s gonna be stints where three, four shots right away and I gotta knock ’em down. I’ve been doing a good job of that. Just gotta stay focused, I know my job is to defend and make shots.”

The Bucks’ defense is still a concern, but it might not matter with how easily they put points on the board.

After their destruction of the Knicks, they now rank third in the league in offensive rating at 119.2, second in true shooting at 61.4%, seventh in 3s per game at 14.5 and seventh in free throw rate at 0.282. If you’re less inclined toward advanced stats, they’ve put up at least 130 points seven times, which is second only to the Pacers.

And as they tell it, they’re just getting started.

“I definitely expected us to be great because of the kind of people we have on the team, not necessarily the talent,” Brook Lopez said. “Obviously the talent’s there, but the make-up of the guys is what’s gonna make it really succeed. As good as were tonight, I don’t think we’re close to what we’re gonna be at the end of the season.”

LeBron James joins Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson in record books as Lakers advance to In-Season Tournament semis

LeBron James can’t go more than a week or two without making NBA history, and he made plenty of it in Tuesday’s 106-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns. The win itself was historically significant as it sent the Los Angeles Lakers to Las Vegas for the first ever In-Season Tournament semifinals. They will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, but his individual numbers to get there were the real story of the night.

In leading the Lakers to that win, James put up 31 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals. That stat line made history in several ways. Here is a brief sampling:

James is the first Laker to put up 20 points, 10 assists and five steals in a game since Kobe Bryant did so in 2004.
James is the first Laker to put up 30 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals in a game since Magic Johnson did so in 1987.
James is now the oldest player in NBA history to record a 30-point, 10-assist, five-steal game, and the 17th-oldest player overall to record any sort of five-steal game.
James has been making and breaking records for over two decades now, but part of the fun of the In-Season Tournament is that it is so new that he has a chance to set initial records that other players will one day break. Through five games, he ranks ninth in the tournament in total points (131), fourth in assists (41), fifth in steals (nine) and 16th in rebounds (40). Should the Lakers advance to the championship game, it is conceivable that he could wind up leading or coming in close in several of those areas.

Whether he does or doesn’t, James just had one of the most memorable individual performance of the In-Season Tournament so far. When we look back on the tournament’s inception years from now, this will certainly be one of the games that gets remembered.

Refs stand by controversial LeBron James timeout call that helped Lakers reach In-Season Tournament semifinals

The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to Las Vegas for the In-Season Tournament semifinals after defeating the Phoenix Suns, 106-103, in Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup, but the victory was not without controversy. Leading 105-103 with 11 seconds left, the Lakers needed only to inbound the ball, get fouled and make two free throws to effectively clinch the game. Yet when they attempted to do so, chaos ensued. Austin Reaves lost the ball and the Suns seemed to gain possession with a chance to tie or win the game. Fortunately for the Lakers, LeBron James had the foresight to call timeout to save possession.

Here’s the problem: Reaves didn’t seem to have possession of the ball when James called the timeout. Video seemingly shows that the ball was loose when James signaled for the timeout, meaning it should not have been granted and the Suns should have been able to gain possession on a live ball then and there.

After the game, pool reporter Jovan Buha of The Athletic asked crew chief Josh Tiven about the incident, and he stood by the call. “During live play the official felt that LA still had possession of the ball when LeBron James requested the timeout,” Tiven said. “Through postgame video review in slow motion replay, we did see that Austin Reaves had his left hand on the ball while it’s pinned against his left leg, which does constitute control.

Instead of Grayson Allen potentially tying the game on a quick layup, the Lakers were allowed the timeout and another chance to inbound the ball. After yet another timeout, Anthony Davis was fouled and made his first free throw. He missed the second, but Kevin Durant came up short on a game-tying 3-point attempt as the clock wound down. That sealed the Lakers’ victory, and it was a meaningful one at that.

The Lakers will now travel to Las Vegas for a matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans. If they win that game, then a championship game awaits them against either the Indiana Pacers or Milwaukee Bucks — and each player on the last team standing earns an additional $500,000. The Lakers have spoken quite a bit about wanting to win that prize, though the top award would’ve been especially meaningful to the Suns. They have nine players earning minimum salaries this season. Even the wealthier Suns were upset with the call. “We’re not asking for favoritism, just a fair chance,” Devin Booker said after the game. Booker also posted a screenshot that seemingly showed James calling for time without Reaves possessing the ball to his Instagram story after the game.

Instead of competing for the grand prize, the Suns will have to settle for a Friday date hosting the Sacramento Kings. It may only be a single loss in the standings, but given the attention on the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament, the last thing anyone wants is a controversial ending to a knockout game.

Lakers oust Suns, will face Pelicans; Bucks to meet Pacers

The NBA’s In-Season Tournament final four is set, but oh was there drama on the way there. The Los Angeles Lakers emerged from their quarterfinal matchup with the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night, in part, thanks to a controversial timeout that was issued in the waning seconds of the game. Regardless, the Lakers are moving on to face the New Orleans Pelicans in Thursday’s West semifinal in Las Vegas. In outlasting the Suns in the 106-103 victory, the Lakers remain undefeated in IST play. LeBron James continues to stiff arm Father Time and re-write the record books.

In Tuesday’s early quarterfinal, the Milwaukee Bucks rolled over the visiting New York Knicks, 146-122, and will now meet the Indiana Pacers in the East semifinal on Thursday afternoon. Pretty much everything went right for the Bucks, who were lethal from 3, shooting 60.5% (23 of 38) and on a high volume to boot. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 35 points and added eight rebounds and 10 assists. Damian Lillard shot a whopping 71.1% from 3, connecting on five of seven shots from distance. Julius Randle scored 41 points for New York.

On Monday night, the Pelicans erased a 15-point deficit in the first quarter, and went on to take a 69-61 lead at halftime. Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 30 points. “[Ingram] was incredible,” said coach Willie Green. “He put us on his shoulders and he carried us.”

Meanwhile, the Pacers rode MVP candidate Tyrese Haliburton who notched his first career triple double with 26 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists. With the score knotted at 105, Haliburton converted a four-play with 93 second left in the game to put Pacers up for good. “The atmosphere was crazy,” he said. “We’re excited to be [going to Las Vegas], but we want to win.”

The In-Season Tournament culminates in Saturday’s championship for the NBA Cup. The title game will not count toward the league’s 82-game regular season standings, although each winning player will receive $500,000.

The end of the quarterfinals also means that the last two of Friday’s flex games have been determined. All four losing teams from the IST quarterfinal round will play Friday night. The Knicks will visit the Celtics and the Suns will host the Kings.

Here’s a quick refresher on how the In-Season Tournament is working. The home teams have debuted this season’s city edition uniforms during games that have been played on specially designed courts.

NBA In-Season Tournament bracket

Below is the remaining In-Season Tournament schedule, scores, standings and more. All games on ESPN and ABC are streaming on Fubo (try for free). Fubo’s holiday offer just kicked off! For a limited time, new subscribers can save $40 on Fubo’s Pro, Elite and Premier plans ($20 off the first and second months).

Joe Ingles embracing ‘oldest by a mile’ role on upstart Magic squad

After beating the Boston Celtics on Nov. 24, Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony proposed a nickname for his team’s dynamite second unit: “Joe Ingles and his grandchildren.”

Ingles, 36, is the most seasoned player on the roster — 29-year-old guard Gary Harris is his lone teammate older than 26 — and he’s as renowned a trash-talker as he is an offensive connector. The Magic signed him to a two-year, $22 million contract (Year 2 is non-guaranteed) last summer because they needed someone who could tie the team together.

Asked to describe Ingles, Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley listed some adjectives: “Honest. Open. Loud.” He then repeated the word “honest,” laughed and continued: “But he’s absolutely great for this group. He keeps it real with these guys about the things that we’re doing, the things that they’re seeing, what he’s seen throughout the league. And, all jokes aside, he is all about winning. And whatever that means, if he plays eight minutes or he plays 18 minutes, he’s preached the same message to this group about what we need to do to become successful.”

For a player averaging five points, Ingles has made a huge difference. He has made 50% of his catch-and-shoot 3s, but that number doesn’t capture his shooting gravity or his decision-making when the ball finds him. Ingles might not be initiating the offense as often as he used to with the Utah Jazz, but virtually all of the Magic’s rotation players have been more efficient when sharing the floor with him. In Ingles’ minutes, Orlando has scored 125.5 points per 100 possessions, which is 17.6 per 100 better than it has fared with Ingles on the bench, according to Cleaning The Glass.

When Ingles signed with the Magic, he couldn’t have known that, six weeks into the season, a team led by two forwards in their early 20s (Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner) would have the third-best record in the East and be the league’s most pleasant surprise. He watched film of last year’s team, though, and, having played against them, already knew there was real talent and upside. He talked to Mosley about what would change, what would stay the same and how he could help.

After Orlando’s nine-game winning streak, which tied a franchise record, ended at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, Ingles said that his unselfish style of play had already proven to be a good fit.

“I’ve loved the role that I’ve got here,” Ingles said. “I’ve loved every minute of living here and the organization and the players and the coaches.” Then he made eye contact with the team’s chief communications officer, who was waiting to tell him it was time to get on the bus. “And even the PR guys — to some extent.”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.

What was your conversation with Jamahl Mosley like in free agency?

He told me I’d start over Franz. Which he lied about [laughs]. No, just the role. Obviously, being around and being in winning organizations and teams and doing what I could do in that sense to help the guys kind of process a nine-game winning streak — you lose the 10th one, now we gotta pick it up, we got a game in 48 hours. Just those type of things. And I think the other part of it, which he’s reminded me probably more than I would’ve liked him to, but still being myself out there.

Is there a balance there? You’re known as a connector, but you can also initiate offense.

Yeah, for sure. And I think early on in the year, it was a bit tough just — it’s not on anyone else but myself — just trying to kind of figure out where I could be aggressive. And a part of that was understanding these guys, too. Getting to know the players I’m playing with, getting to know Coach in-game, different to off-court, and all that. So it did take me a little while to just kind of get the flow of it. But I think having that kind of connection, trying to help these guys in that way, playing the right way for as close to 48 minutes as possible — we’ll have ups and downs, but I think for the most part we’ve done a really good job of that.

Was there a moment where it was apparent that this team was ready to win?

Yeah, I mean, I think you see patches of it in preseason. And you talk even before that. And you can see the group has flashes of it. And like I said, for this year, we’ve done a pretty good job — our record is what our record is for a reason. We’ve played good basketball. I think everyone forgets part of it: We’ve got two starters out at the moment, too. Markelle [Fultz] and Wendell [Carter Jr.] are out and J.I. [Jonathan Isaac] has been in and out a little bit. We’ve got two starters not playing and we’ve been able to do what we do, and that’s a credit to the guys stepping up but also the depth of this team. And we’ll get those guys and obviously continue to go.

You said you get sick of the “young team” label. Anthony Black is only 19, but he’s one of the young guys who makes super advanced plays. On the court, does it sometimes feel like the team is more experienced than it is?

There’s times. But I think it’s not necessarily like a dislike of the young thing. I think it’s the first thing that people go to as a negative. Like, “They’re young, they can’t win now.” Well, the flip side of that is we should run teams out of the gym, we should have more energy, we should be — there’s so many other things that people don’t [talk about]; they just think of the negative. As soon as you think of “young,” it’s like, “Oh, they’re inexperienced” or whatever. The list goes on.

It’s just a process for us to keep getting better and to keep learning. I think the narratives around our team are going to be written and going to be talked about. And obviously the guys in our locker room know what we’re capable of, and I think we’ve shown that throughout the year and we’ll continue to do that. The good thing is we do have a young group, and it’s different to what I’ve been around, but it’s a nice change, too. It’s fun. I’m the oldest by a mile, but it feels like the energy is there every day. We could’ve lost nine straight, and the group knows what we’re expecting to do.

People know you talk trash, you joke around. I’m sure primarily this is just your personality, but is part of it about keeping things light throughout the year?

Yeah. I mean, I’m going to be me regardless of anything else. I think I’ve got a good balance of knowing when to do those things and not. I think part of it is we’re in the NBA, we’re not going to win 82 games. There’s going to be ups and downs throughout the year. I think what I have been good at in my career and the teams I’ve been on [have been good at] is riding those waves and not letting one loss get to five straight. And that’s hard to do. Like we’ve got Cleveland next. You play this game, and you’re like, “F—,” you’re frustrated, and then you look at the schedule, it’s like: Cleveland. And I think, as a lot of teams know, you can’t take any of these teams for granted. You can win or lose against any team in this league. And that’s what we’ve gotta kind of lock in on as of now. It’s like we have tomorrow off and get back Monday and watch film and see what we did right and see what we did wrong and learn from it and try to change it as quick as possible so it doesn’t get into that slump of two, three, four, five games.

Los Angeles Lakers v Orlando Magic
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You’ve come back from a torn ACL, and you said on a podcast that a friend sent you a story saying you were done. I know you don’t really care what some random person has to say, but at the same time, you did say you kind of needed that. Is the mentality that, if there’s something you can use for motivation, you might as well use it?

Everyone’s different. I don’t need motivation from someone tweeting or writing an article or whatever that is. I’ve been around long enough to have the right motivation in place. But throughout, I think anyone would tell you, throughout an ACL or Achilles, those long-term injuries, there are days where it’s a grind. And right when I had been given that little snippet of whatever it was, I was in a bit of — like, it was a grind. You’re doing the same thing every day for the first few months and it’s just monotonous. And it does, it just gives you this, “All right, well f— you” kind of thing. I knew I was going to do everything I could to get back. And sometimes, I mean, you see it, sometimes it’s out of your control: you can do everything right and still not be healthy. I’ve been very lucky [note: Ingles literally knocked on wood — the side of his locker — while saying this] to go through that process and play after 10 months and not have any issues so far. And really not have any issues through that 10-month period of rehab, either.

So it is a grind, and it was my first major injury. And you look at other people and you see them come back and you’re like, “Man, he looks like he’s a step behind,” and it’s like, f—, now I know why. Like, you come back and, I mean, after 10 months, I was ready to play — physically, mentally — but it still takes time. I was just telling [Danilo] Gallinari last game, who’s just gone through kind of a similar thing: After this World Cup and then a bit of a break and then getting back into it, this summer was the best I’d started to feel. And for me, it’s been about 18 months. I think he was about a yearish. It’ll continue to get better, but it is a grind. It’s frustrating. And there are days — like I said, I’ve got a wife, three kids, that’s enough motivation for me to get back, but then you see these little bits and pieces. I don’t have social media, but people send me some stuff and it’s like, “All right, well f— you. I’m going to keep doing what I do anyway, but this is a nice little motivation to keep doing these leg lifts 100 more times today.”

Playing must be much more fun than leg lifts. Klay Thompson has talked about how much he appreciates the game after missing two full seasons. You relate?

100 percent. I think for me my kids always give me a very good perspective of, like, this. We’re very lucky that I get to go home to my family and get away from this as well. And the other part is injuries. I’ve been lucky to play 18 years professionally, and to have that first major injury — and at that time, too, we were living in Utah; I’d been traded to Portland but I didn’t go to Portland ’cause I wasn’t playing anyway. So we were still living in Utah, but I couldn’t go to the facility in Utah, so I was going to a hospital there. And you’re away from the team, you’re not in the locker room, you’re not on the plane. It was great to take my kids to school and all that more often and be around for them, but, for a lot of us, this is all we know. This is our life. This is as close to another family as you’ll get, with the amount of time we spend together. I’m sure Klay had kind of a more extreme situation than I did with a couple back-to-back injuries, but it gave me a great perspective of, for one, how much you enjoy it, and then I think the other part for me was like I’m not done.

Like, you want to keep playing. I think you go through parts of your career, especially as you get older, of, like, you know the door is coming where you’re going to get pushed out eventually. I mean, I’ve thought about it. And then you get an injury like that and it’s like, well, f—, maybe this is it. You just never know. You look at Lonzo [Ball], who hasn’t gotten back yet. You look at these different injuries. Who knows what could have happened with mine? Maybe it could’ve been worse than what it was. It felt like there’s so many things that could happen. And to have it go full circle, it’s like, f—, you realize you’re not done, you want to keep playing. And to me, it gave me a bit more motivation, too. I felt good, and especially this year, coming back and feeling like myself again and being able to help this group and all that, it was a good reminder of, like, you’re not done until you’re done.

The Magic signed you to a nice contract, and last year it’s not like you scored a ton of points—

No, never have [laughs].

But the fact that they wanted to pay you to come in here and make other players better and make good decisions — do you think that itself is sort of a good lesson for younger players?

Well, I think a big part of it to me is, if you look at the 30 teams in the NBA and the draft every year, like how many guys get drafted to take over a team like that, like LeBron? There’s, what, two or three max guys on each team, depending on what team you are, and everyone else, you’ve gotta find a role. And if you don’t find a role, there will be another young guy that’ll take that role. And for me, early on, I was obviously 27 [as an NBA rookie], but it was like, “I’m going to fit into this role however it is.” And that’s not saying you don’t push the limit to try and get more minutes, more reps, more whatever it is. But the max guys are the max guys. If you go to the Lakers, Anthony Davis and LeBron are there, you’re not taking their spot. So you’ve gotta fit in and figure out how to play with those guys. I think for me it was easy to do that because I’d come from playing in Australia and Europe, and if you don’t fit into a role, like I said, there’s always someone cheaper and younger that will happily take that job.

That first team I was with, with Gordon [Hayward] and Rudy [Gobert] and Derrick Favors, for me it was about perfecting that role of helping those guys. And then you go to another team, and with Milwaukee last year it was like play with Giannis, play with these guys and try to help them. And I think the more players can realize, like, you can make so much money being a good role player. Obviously if you want to make as much money, like you want to buy this and do this — I do think in the NBA people get caught up with other people’s salaries and other people’s points, and you can’t control that, you can only control what you can do, what the team thinks about you, what the Magic believe about me. I think that the more players that can do that are the ones that stay. You look at [Udonis] Haslem’s role: His role changed and changed, he ended up not playing at all but he was still making $3-4 million a year to help these young guys. I think the more you can understand the role of the NBA and how good a life you can have from being in this locker room, yeah, it’s a pretty cool life we get to live.