Blake Griffin, Lamar Odom ejected after tussle over hustle

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The game was over, in any real sense of the word. It was 99-90 Clippers with 5.7 seconds left. Randy Foye would shoot his free throws, the Lakers would dribble out the clock and the Clippers would have beaten their second elite team in a week.

But it didn’t end quietly.

As Foye shot and made the second free throw Lamar Odom boxed out Blake Griffin — and Griffin wanted the position so he shoved Odom under the basket to get it. Odom, turned and grabbed Griffin’s jersey and pulled him under the basket with him. And suddenly you had them jawing, Baron Davis running in to protect Griffin and pushing Odom, which led to an escalation of pushing and talking and everything that passes for fights in the NBA. Ron Artest jumped in the middle of it to push Odom out and be a peacemaker.

After the refs talked amongst themselves,  Odom, Griffin, Davis and Artest were all ejected. Terrible decision to throw out Artest by the way, they clearly tossed him based on his reputation and not his actions. Artest got T’d up for the crime of being Ron Artest, nothing more (and after the game he took the high road and did not criticize the refs). He got in the middle but did nothing except separate Odom from the scrum.

Monday, the league rescinded the technical on Griffin and Artest. Odom and Davis still get fined.

But that’s not the interesting part of all this.

The interesting point is a question Zach Lowe brings up at Sports Illustrated — is there a time to turn off the hustle and coast to the end? I don’t mean like the Cavaliers are doing with their entire season, I mean the final seconds of an already decided game.

The game was over, whatever happened with the free throw, yet Griffin played the final seconds of this like it was a tied game. On one hand you want guys who hustle — how many coaches told you to play to the whistle? Griffin was just playing hard at the end.

But there is an unwritten rule here — why risk injuring yourself or others over a meaningless play? The last seconds of an NBA games (and college games and high school games) are played out this way all the time. Dribble out the clock and move on. Odom said that to ESPN’s Brian Kamenetzky after the game.

“Maybe I overreacted, but I just feel like if you’re up nine with the three throw going through, the ram in the back, at that point,” Odom said shaking his head no. “Any other time I get it. You’re playing hard, strong. But the ram in the back up nine? I just don’t get it.”

Honestly, you can make the case either way here and have valid points. But I tend to side with Odom — it was a made free throw and the game was all but over. There is a time to turn it off, and that was it.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.