The Spurs and the new balance of attack

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San Antonio has lost six times out of 43 games.  That to me, puts it in the best perspective. They’ve had success 86% of the time. They’ve failed less than 15% of the time. That’s insane. This from a team with a trio of aging stars and late first round and early second round picks plus Richard Jefferson, for God’s sake.

More surprising? The way they’re getting it done.

The Spurs are seventh in defensive efficiency this season. Before we get too far into this, the Spurs are not bad at defense. That’s a top ten rating in defense. The Los Angeles Lakers were fourth, the Boston Celtics fifth in defensive efficiency last season, and that worked out pretty well for them. It’s mostly important when we put in context that the Spurs are first in offensive efficiency.

The Spurs are averaging 109.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s .6 more than the Lakers, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but is in relation to the fact that it’s nearly as great as the gap between the Lakers and the sixth best team, the Knicks. In short, the offense is spectacular. And what’s more, it’s beyond just one player making them great. Consider this quote from a scout in ESPN’s Weekend Dime with Marc Stein:

“I can’t see Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] spending two minutes worrying about 70 wins, but they’ve never been more fun to watch. They’ve just got five guys playing basketball. They’re the best passing team in basketball. They’re shooting lights out. They’re so much more high octane than they used to be.

“Everybody shares the ball and Tim [Duncan] just gets his stuff out of flow instead of [the Spurs] just calling ‘4 Down’ and ‘4 Up’ every time down and pounding the ball into him. The Spurs win championships when Manu’s healthy and they make 3s and that’s what they’ve been doing all year. I think Boston, in a series, beats everybody in the East. But I really like San Antonio.”

via Weekend Dime: What NBA scouts are saying – ESPN.

That’s a pretty stirring assessment from a league insider perspective. The Spurs are winning with a team concept, not with stars taking over. They have stars. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan when he has nights like last night. But for the most part it’s guys committed to winning within the system, sharing the ball and winning games. And they’re doing it with offense.

But let’s be clear. They have to do what everyone assumes and kick that defense into another level come April. Many teams have looked invincible on offense and pretty good on defense and then fell in the playoffs… often teams like the Spurs used to yield. We should appreciate what the Spurs are doing in the regular season while also trying to understand how they’re going to improve come the playoffs.

But I for one am done trying to find a nitpick. They have simply been awesome, and it’s time to recognize what they’ve accomplished.

(They will inevitably now lose to New Orleans. Sorry about that, Spurs fans.)

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.