Don Nelson threw a D-League team out on an NBA floor Wednesday night. Almost literally. Anthony Tolliver was playing in Idaho in January. Reggie Williams was playing for Sioux Falls last month. Chris Hunter was playing for Fort Wayne when the season started.
Three guys who were sharing hotel rooms, flying in coach, carrying all their own gear and trying to impress in the D-League this season.
Three guys beat the New Orleans Hornets Wednesday night.
The trio combined for 69 points on 66 percent shooting — 8 of 14 from three — leading Golden State to a 131-121 upset of New Orleans. They helped spark Golden State’s dramatic comeback from 21 down in the third to get that win.
It would be easy to rip the Hornets “defense,” which was downright bad. Without Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic, plus Emeka Okafor playing limited minutes, New Orleans is not going to be confused with a good NBA team. But give the D-Leaguers some credit, they battled. They earned this.
Tolliver had 30 points in his role as the starting center (even though at 6’9″ he’s no NBA center, he’s more of a combo forward). He showed off his athleticism all night and the man can attack the rim (and dunk).
Chris Hunter is a real center at 6’11” and during the comeback he took charge in the paint (something that likely confused Warriors fans at first as they had not seen someone dominate the paint in a long time, it’s not in Nelson’s playbook). He was grabbing offensive boards and getting tip ins. Reggie Williams was just draining threes (4 of 6) whether there was a guy contesting the shot or not. He seems unphased by hands in his face.
Golden State has more success with D-League call-ups than any other team in the league. Likely because of Nelson’s open system. But the Tolliver/Hunter/Williams trio was moving the ball — and moving without the ball — in a way the Warriors starters never did. The D-League guys were playing right, making the extra pass, finding the open man.
A 21-point comeback in an NBA game is huge. As is scoring 30 like Tolliver did. Don’t care who is defending you (or not defending, as the case may be). You’ve got to earn it at this level.
These three earned it.
Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr is a thoughtful, measured adult who made a very rational decision: He was battling debilitating back pain that was keeping him away from the Warriors, so he chose to try marijuana to try to ease that pain. It didn’t work for Kerr, but he advocated for professional sports leagues to have a more open mind toward allowing the drug to be used for pain management.
Suns’ coach Earl Watson is a thoughtful, measured adult who comes from a very different world than Kerr, and that gives him a different perspective. Watson’s story is that of a child who grew up in poverty, surrounded by violence, in Kansas City, and used basketball to pull himself out of that world.
Watson urged caution in NBA coaches endorsing the use of marijuana, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.
“I think our rhetoric on it has to be very careful because you have a lot of kids where I’m from that’s reading this, and they think [marijuana use is] cool,” Watson told ESPN on Saturday after the Suns’ 138-109 loss to the Warriors. “It’s not cool. Where I’m from, you don’t get six fouls to foul out. You get three strikes. One strike leads to another. I’m just being honest with you, so you have to be very careful with your rhetoric…
“I think it would have to come from a physician — not a coach,” Watson said. “And for me, I’ve lived in that other life [of crime and drugs]. I’m from that area, so I’ve seen a lot of guys go through that experience of using it and doing other things with that were both illegal. And a lot of those times, those guys never make it to the NBA, they never make it to college, and somehow it leads to something else, and they never make it past 18.
“So when we really talk about it and we open up that, I call it that slippery slope. We have to be very careful on the rhetoric and how we speak on it and how we express it and explain it to the youth.”
There is no doubt that as a society, the United States is moving toward the legalization of marijuana. More and more states move that way each election, and the generational shift in attitudes toward the drug is an unstoppable trend.
How the NBA (and other professional sports leagues) adjust their rules and procedures in dealing with this will be a topic in the coming years. With that is the issue Watson brings up — the image the NBA projects on the issue. NBA players are free to drink alcohol, but it can’t impact them at work (like just about every other job), but the NBA doesn’t want to be seen as pro-drinking. It will have to find a way to walk that same line with marijuana.
Dirk Nowitzki has played in just two of the Mavericks’ last 13 games, and five games total all season. When he has played he hasn’t been his vintage self, he’s been slowed by injury. This is a 38-year-old battling a sore Achilles, and Dallas doesn’t want to see its future Hall of Famer limping off into retirement, and he is out indefinitely. They are being cautious.
But make no mistake, Nowitzki wants to play. He doesn’t see himself as done.
Here is what he told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
“I’m all-in. I want to play,” Nowitzki said in front of his locker after his teammates pulled off the Mavs’ most lopsided win of the season, a 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls that improved Dallas’ record to a Western Conference-worst 4-15. “This is obviously not a career-ending injury that I’ve got. It’s something that just keeps lingering unfortunately. I can hopefully get over it.
“There’s still a lot of season left. December just started. We know that there’s a lot of games coming, so hopefully sometime soon I’ll be out there and then stay out there. I don’t want to jump in and out of the lineup with soreness or fight this whole year. I’d love to be healthy and stay out there once I go….
“It’s frustrating for me,” said Nowitzki, a 19-year veteran who has missed more than 10 games in a season only once before in his career. “The whole situation is frustrating to be dealing with something I never have before in my career, so it’s tough. But once I’m out there, I don’t want the same thing to happen again that just happened last week, so I want to make sure now it’s good to go. At this stage of my career, I don’t move well anyways, so if I’m out there at 80-90 percent, I don’t think I’m a big help. I want to make sure my body’s responding the right way and we’ll go from there.”
At this point, Dallas has dug too deep a hole to climb back up and make the playoffs, but Nowitzki doesn’t want the Kobe Bryant send-off tour. When he returns, Dallas will get better.
Watch Nowitzki get in a sweat before a game now — even when he is not playing he puts in a thorough workout — and you see a model for how other players should take both their craft and conditioning more seriously. He is meticulous about the details but is going to get in his work. The problem for him is with an Achilles it’s going to be about rest. He can get treatments, but time is his biggest ally.
Being patient sucks. But that’s where we are with getting to see Nowitzki play again.
The Detroit Pistons’ playoff dreams hinged on them being able to hang around until point guard Reggie Jackson got back from this thumb and knee injuries. They have done just that — the Pistons are 11-10 and would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today.
And now they get Jackson back. Stan Van Gundy made the announcement Sunday at shootaround, before the team takes on the Orlando Magic.
It will take a few games to get his conditioning back, but this is huge for Detroit. Jackson running the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond is at the heart of Detroit’s offense – the Pistons were 2.3 points per 100 possessions better with the ball in his hands. Ish Smith played well for the Pistons in his absence — 10.8 points per game, 6.4 assists, and he’s been solid. Move his playmaking to the second unit and suddenly the Pistons become a lot more dangerous.
The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.
But we didn’t expect this.
During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.