Clearly, it was the good kind. Sometimes the bounces go your way, the shots on your end are falling at a more generous rate, passes find seams and even the pregame spread far outshines whatever was served in the other locker room.
Friday night was one of those nights for the Texas Legends (16-11). After a close first quarter, Texas blew the game open and wound up scoring a season-high 146 points, topping their previous high of 129 (recorded on Nov. 18th and Dec. 21st). Somebody had to be the victim, and it was the Grand Rapids Drive (14-16), G League affiliate of the Detroit Pistons, who mustered a comparatively bleak 114 points and fell on the road.
The Legends matched their season-high point total by extending their record to five games over .500 and their win streak to four, both top marks on the 2017-2018 season. During the streak, Bob MacKinnon’s team is surrendering just 107 points per game. While that may sound like a handful, remember the pace G League games are played at. More than half the league averages more than 107 a night.
“Guys have really bought into our defensive concepts,” MacKinnon said after the convincing win. “They’re playing with a lot of energy and they like playing with each other. We’re getting more familiar with each other. Our bigs, between Johnathan Motley, Jameel Warney and Brandon Ashley, are doing a tremendous job of getting us into our coverages and that’s allowing our perimeter players to really go out and put pressure on the ball outside the three-point line. I think it’s made a big difference.”
Those three bigs have been unguardable of late and that didn’t change in Frisco on Friday. Motley scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Warney scored 23 with three steals and Ashley hit the glass for seven boards while recording a trio of blocks and steals. He has three blocks in each of the last two games and for Motley, his rebounds per game average has leaped above 11, now at 11.4 and second in the league.
From bigs to guards, Donald Sloan broke out of his own personal slump in a big, big way. Putting his injury troubles behind him, Sloan led all scorers with 34 points, his highest total of the season, and also passed out a season-nigh nine assists. When healthy, there’s no doubting the NBA capability of the former Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks point guard.
With Justin Dentmon still sidelined, Wade Baldwin IV picked up the slack by utilizing the free throw line. After eight makes from there Tuesday, “Ivy” made 10 of 12 attempts, the second time he’s hit double digits from the line this season. Bryson Fonville chipped in seven points and a pair of assists in 20 minutes off the bench.
Though the point guard unit always seems to be missing a piece, MacKinnon knows he can trust any of the four at all times.
“Whoever it is, (they’re) just making good decisions. I think it’s telling that we lead the league in the fewest amount of turnovers per game (14.7) and also in pace (95.7 shots per game). Those two things usually don’t go together. It just shows you the quality of players we have at those positions.”
Baldwin, Sloan and Fonville also aided their big men with 14 rebounds, six, five and three respectively.
Off the bench, the red hot J.J. Avila set a new season high (seems to be a common theme around the clubhouse lately) at 17 points and did it in 18 minutes. He converted on 6-of-8 shots, 3-of-5 three’s and like most players in Friday’s game, gave the Legends a sizable advantage during his minutes.
The Legends won their seventh home game of the year out of 11 and are only halfway through their season-long five game home stand. A lot of things are going right at the moment and the results see Texas making the most of some home games and climbing the standings.
Is this the best basketball the team has played to date?
“Yeah, I think we’re playing well,” MacKinnon agrees and chuckles. “It’s nice to come home after the game and not have to pack. We started out the year, our first 25 games, we were away for 17. I thought we did a tremendous job coming out of that above .500.”
With extended run in the big win, Prince Williams, too, posted a season-best point total of six. Anthony Walker had four, his second-highest output of the year.
There’s no doubting how well the Legends are playing right now. And even then, the team is still without the injured Dentmon and currently recalled Jalen Jones. Additionally, they have been missing Keith Hornsby since early December. The sky’s the limit for MacKinnon’s club, but he’s perfectly happy watching the sunrise.
“Well, we’re just taking it day by day. We don’t look at ceilings or anything else like that. All we do is look at the next game and go from there because everything in our league changes. An old saying in our league is ‘if you don’t like your situation just wait a week, it’s going to change.’ Last year we had 25 guys suit up for us and we’re already at 19 this year. Things change in our league so all we do is worry about the very next thing that’s on our plate.”
Next up is a big one, to say the least. The Legends welcome to town the rival Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers, affiliate of the like minded Houston Rockets, are the only team in the G League that outscores the Legends and at 18-11, hold a one game lead in the Southwest Division. This sets up a Texas-sized showdown for first place and it arrives Saturday at 7:30 PM.