Is Monta Ellis back?

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In the 2007-08 season, Monta Ellis was one of the most explosive and efficient young scorers in basketball. Thanks to his blazing speed, explosiveness, and deadly mid-range game, Ellis was able to score 22.3 points per game while shooting 54% from the field in 2007-08, a nearly unheard of field goal percentage for a high-volume backcourt player. Ellis was particularly unstoppable in the month of February, when he scored 26 points per game while shooting 60% from the field.

Thanks in large part to Ellis’ contributions, the Warriors won 48 games in 2007-08, barely missing the playoffs in one of the strongest Western conferences ever. The team lost Baron Davis the following off-season, but it looked like Ellis’ emergence as an elite scorer would soften that blow and allow the Warriors to remain competitive.

Then Monta got on that moped, and things went downhill fast. Monta’s injury limited him to 25 games in 08-09; when Ellis returned to the lineup for the 09-10 season, he wasn’t the same player he had been in 07-08. Thanks to lingering effects from his injury, Don Nelson’s apparent apathy, the Warriors’ lack of ball movement or an offensive system, and Monta’s own lack of discipline, Monta went from being one of the most efficient scorers in the league to one of its most notorious chuckers. Ellis scored 25.5 points per game last season, but took 22 shots and 6 free throws a game to get those points, and would often huck a three or contested deep two with 18 seconds on the shot clock just to see if Don Nelson was paying enough attention to tell him not to do it. The once-dynamic and fearsome Warriors had become a boring, ineffective team that happened to shoot a lot, and Ellis’ game was the clearest symbol of how far they’d fallen.

Flash-forward to Wednesday night, when the Warriors buried the Rockets with 132 points, with 46 of those 132 coming from Ellis. More importantly, Ellis was hyper-efficient, getting his points on only 24 shots and 12 free throws, resulting in a True Shooting percentage of 78.6%.

What did Ellis do so well on Wednesday night? First of all, he attacked the rim often, and was successful when he did so; Ellis took 7 shots inside of 10 feet against the Rockets, and made all of them. Second, Ellis and Steph Curry, who struggled to figure each other out last season, appear to have developed a chemistry — Curry handled the passing (11 assists to Ellis’ two) and outside shooting (all nine of Curry’s field goals came from 16 feet or deeper), and Ellis was given free reign to slash and score.

Most importantly, Monta found his mid-range game again. Monta seemed to think he was a great shooter in 09-10, but he isn’t one; Ellis’ stroke isn’t very smooth, and he doesn’t have natural range out to the three-point line. What Ellis does excel at is using his speed to make his man back up, pulling up on a dime, and sticking jumpers from the 15-20 foot range. It’s no coincidence that Ellis all but gave up shooting threes during his 07-08 efficiency renaissance — Ellis can knock down jumpers, but they have to be ones he sets up with his driving ability.

Ellis put on a mid-range clinic in the Warriors’ season opener, shooting 3-3 from 10-15 feet and 7-12 from the 16-23 foot range. The important thing to note is that all of Ellis’ shots were from what I call “actual” mid-range, not shots taken with a foot on the line or one step inside of it. Ellis only took two mid-range jumpers longer than 20 feet on Wednesday, and missed both of them. The rest of his jumpers were taken from Ellis’ sweet spot between the top of the circle and the free throw line extended, a step inside the free throw line, or the wings. It was a return to form for Ellis, who was once one of the NBA’s best at the lost art of the mid-range jumper.

Ellis won’t make two-thirds of his jumpers every game, but Wednesday night was a great sign for Ellis and the Warriors nonetheless. If Ellis and Curry can keep playing like they did against the Rockets, it won’t be long before the Warriors are both fun to watch and dangerous to play against again.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”