Mike D'Antoni's vote of confidence in Timofey Mozgov's basketball ability, if not his language skills

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timofey_mozgov_new_york_knicks.jpgAll basketball coaches play favorites, but Mike D’Antoni — no stranger to wearing his opinion on his press scrum sleeve — is a bit more forthcoming with that information than most NBA types. It’s still something short of explicit, but deciphering Pringles’ player-specific quotes doesn’t take much imagination.

Plenty of this year’s Knicks have D’Antoni gushing (Danilo Gallinari, per esempio, is a typical target of praise showers, even if Amar’e Stoudemire may soon give D’Antoni a run for his money as president of the Gallo Fan Club), but he clearly thinks the world of undrafted free agent rookie Timofey Mozgov.

There is one tiny, tiny problem, though. From Marc Berman of the New York Post:

…D’Antoni
has already called Mozgov training camp’s brightest light. In the
preseason opener, the sturdy center scored a smooth 10 points with five
rebounds in 19 minutes. But D’Antoni is still leery of giving him the starting job at the
outset, partly due to the language barrier that reared its ugly head in
the Knicks’ preseason-opening victory in Milan. “I’m trying to hold down, curb my enthusiasm,” D’Antoni said of Mozgov. “I think he can play. I don’t see anything bad.”

..,D’Antoni even marveled at Mozgov during yesterday’s light practice. “I
watched him,” D’Antoni said. “He can shot the ball, nice rhythm. He has
a learning curve. But he’s smart. He makes foul shots. His confidence
is good. He’s definitely not shying away, attacking the basket.” However,
Mozgov, who speaks only a drop of English, experienced a series of
defensive lapses but only because he misheard the defensive scheme.

“We
changed up our pick-and-roll defense to a zone and over,” D’Antoni
said. “He only heard zone. And for four plays, I was like, ‘Why are
they scoring?’ He just heard zone.”

Even as the game continues to globalize, basketball doesn’t act as some magical translator. There are the universals — ‘rebound,’ ‘screen,’ or in this case, ‘zone’ — but the language barrier that international players face is a very real thing. It prevents international players from picking up play calls on the fly, just as it hinders their development on the practice court and stymies their camaraderie with their teammates.

And in this case, it could end up costing Mozgov a starting job, even if his playing abilities say he’s deserving of the gig. It’s a bummer, but if the Knicks’ big man is as talented as D’Antoni seems to believe, he’ll be jumping center for New York in no time.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

Associated Press
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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.