Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are going back to old homes that are doing just fine without them.
Indiana and New York are winning, bolstered by players they acquired for their superstars. While Oklahoma City remains underwhelming, Pacers and Knicks fans are even thinking they also won the trades.
George gets the first homecoming when the Thunder travel to Indianapolis on Wednesday, while Anthony makes his first trip back to New York on Saturday.
Indiana wasn’t eager to deal its All-Star forward last spring, but had little choice with no commitment he would stay beyond this season. So the Pacers shipped him off to Oklahoma City in June for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
The Pacers have won four straight and are solidly in the middle of the Eastern Conference at 16-11. They average 109 points, sixth in the league, and Oladipo was Eastern Conference player of the week last week for the second time this season after his career-best 47 points on Sunday in a victory over Denver hiked his average to 24.5 per game for the season.
In New York, Enes Kanter has become the starting center, an offensive rebounding force and a fan favorite. Doug McDermott, the other player in the September trade for Anthony , has played an important role off the bench for the 14-13 Knicks.
Of the three teams, the only one that wouldn’t be in the playoffs at the moment is Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are just 12-14, Russell Westbrook and his two star sidekicks are all shooting around 40 percent, and Anthony, at 18 points per game, appears headed for the worst offensive season of his career.
Maybe some familiar scenery can finally get them going.
“This is a chance for us to be even closer, even tighter, be more connected, because in those two arenas that’s all we got,” George said. “And we have to play that way.”
Other games to watch:
—Lakers at Cleveland, Thursday. One of those games that figures to spark conversation about LeBron James’ future.
—San Antonio at Houston, Friday. First meeting between two of the West’s best since the Spurs eliminated the Rockets in the conference semifinals.
—Utah at Boston, Friday. The Jazz lost Gordon Hayward to Boston over the summer. The Celtics lost him to injury on opening night.
—Warriors at Lakers, Monday. Golden State’s only road game in a span of 10 games, and the defending champs don’t even have to leave California for it.
PISTONS NOT PUMPING
It’s been a dismal December in Detroit.
The Pistons are 0-7 this month after a strong start to the season in which they racked up a number of impressive road victories. That spurred them to a 14-6 record and a spot near the top of the Eastern Conference after they missed the playoffs last season.
But once December started, the victories stopped. Detroit dropped its seventh in a row when it was blown out 103-84 at home on Tuesday by a Denver team playing without Nikola Jokic.
“I’ve got to find the answers,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’m not running from the responsibility. This is on me. I selected these players, I decide who plays, I decide what we run on offense, I decide how we play defense. That was an embarrassment tonight.”
One that was hard to see coming when the Pistons won at Golden State, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Boston in October and November.
Part of their problem has been a difficult schedule that has included games against the Spurs, Warriors and Celtics within the last 10 days. But the Pistons also are misfiring from 3-point range and Van Gundy sees chemistry issues, even shuffling his starting lineup before Tuesday’s loss.
But he said changes won’t matter if Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley don’t play better.
“We’re in holes too many nights with them and I’ve got to find an answer to that,” he said. “I’m not out there running them down, I’m just telling you they have to play better.”
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
LeBron James, Cleveland: 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting, 17 assists in a 123-114 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday. James had a career high in assists but finished with seven rebounds, leaving him still one behind Larry Bird for sixth in NBA history with 59 triple-doubles.
More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
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