We say again, San Antonio should aim for LA in 1st round

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Gregg Popovich said before Sunday’s game with the Lakers that every Western Conference team is trying to avoid the Lakers in round one. Via ESPN:

“The ones that say, ‘We don’t care who we play,’ they’re full of
baloney,” Popovich said. “We’re all trying to hide from the Lakers in
the first round and that’s the truth.

“Really, it’s like, ‘Who do
you want to play in the first round?,'” Popovich continued before
sarcastically answering his question. “Oh, the Lakers! We’ll play the
Lakers!”

After San Antonio’s 100-81 win, in Staples, without Tony Parker and George Hill (who sprained an ankle early in the ballgame), we’d like to say again what we said earlier.

Yes. The Lakers.

Greg Popovich has forgotten more about basketball than we’ll learn in a lifetime, but even he has to see some of the same signs we do.

While our fearless leader pointed out that today’s game doesn’t show us anything new, it did reinforce some ideas that are important to consider. For starters, Andrew Bynum is a huge missing piece against Tim Duncan. Pau Gasol did a great job back on March 24th, when Duncan was struggling. Today, Duncan ran over Gasol like a freight train. Gasol might as well have been tied to the tracks by some 1920’s film villain with a handlebar mustache.

Playing the Lakers in the first round? Means either no Bynum, or one struggling to get back into rhythm. We informed you earlier that Bynum’s struggling to recover from the Achilles strain that’s sidelined him for two weeks. Another two weeks is in no way out of the realm of possibility. If San Antonio can get a matchup with LA without Bynum? That’s preferable than if Bynumzilla is at full strength.

Then there’s Kobe Bean Bryant. Bryant is somehow managing to take tons of shots and miss a high percentage, impressive for a superstar. Bryant was 8 of 24 today, going 13 of 47 since signing his massive extension. But this is Kobe Bryant. He’s going to wake up. But if this slump is the result of the myriad injuries Bryant’s suffered, you want to catch him before he heals and goes back to, you know, being Bryant. It’s probably not going to work, but it’s the best shot.

There’s also the matter of avoiding Dallas. If everyone is avoiding LA, Portland and Utah are at least not trying to avoid the Mavericks. The Spurs, on the other hand, have lost to Dallas in the playoffs twice, including last season, and the Mavericks have won the past two meetings this season. But if the Spurs fall to eighth and the Blazers move up to seventh, there’s a chance that if the Spurs were to somehow make it past LA they may not have to go through Dallas as well.

Beyond all that is the fact that Popovich has essentially said the Spurs are hoping an act of God knocks off the Lakers, like a matchup advantage a la Golden State ’07 or the Kraken or something. But you tell an aging group of veterans (but not the press under any circumstances), “We’ve beaten them this year. We can beat them. We’re not running from them, we WANT to play them” and they’re going to gear up for that.

You want to win the West? You have to go through LA. And while going through them early may not make a difference rather than later, it may present the best opportunity. And besides, is LA really playing to finish as a runner-up? It’s championship or nothing. The Spurs are playing their best ball of the season. They should try to cash in on that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

AP Foto/Eric Christian Smith
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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.