NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies win the day, but is their success sustainable?

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The Memphis Grizzlies did it. They made big play after big play down the stretch on Sunday afternoon, and secured a 1-0 series lead against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, not to mention scored their first playoff win in franchise history. The victory was a tremendous achievement on several levels, and yet even the Grizzlies’ day in the sun seems fleeting; Game 2 will likely mark the return of Manu Ginobili, and though Memphis is still equipped to compete, a Ginobili-infused Spurs team presents an entirely new kind of challenge. The poor, hungry Grizzlies faithful and underdog bandwagoners alike should cherish this moment while they can, because we’re in for a fundamentally different matchup once Ginobili takes the court.

Case in point: the Spurs’ dreadfully poor shooting. San Antonio posted an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3 percent, and while Ginobili’s typically efficient scoring alone would boost that number, his very presence should also bring less direct shooting gains. Ginobili’s drives demand the full attention of opposing defenses, which should grant the Spurs’ sharpshooters even more open opportunities. Plus, Ginobili is a deadly enough shooter in his own right that his presence on the perimeter prevents opponents from cheating off of him to help against Tony Parker or Tim Duncan.

Yet above all, the most compelling reason for San Antonio to bounce back on offense is the lofty anchor of the Spurs’ season-long averages. San Antonio posted a higher effective field goal percentage than any team in the NBA this season, while the Grizzlies defense ranked 18th in effective field goal percentage allowed. This isn’t some perfect cocktail of defensive factors to cripple one of the league’s top offenses, but merely a momentary hiccup in the Spurs’ otherwise stellar offensive performance. They’ll climb back because the players, the coach, and the system involved are just that good, and when they do, the Grizz could be in a bit of trouble.

Yet Memphis has their own unique advantages on the front line, as the combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph proved too big and too productive for Tim Duncan’s big man counterparts. DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, and Matt Bonner all struggled defensively, and Gasol and Randolph — who scored a combined 49 points on 19-of-25 shooting shooting while grabbing 23 total rebounds — had a field day. The problems with those three aren’t exactly based in execution, either; Blair, McDyess, and Bonner could all stand to play better, but their biggest weaknesses stem from their lack of size, lack of mobility, and lack of overall athleticism, respectively. Those aren’t elements that are going to change between Games 1 and 2, and the brilliant efficiency of Randolph and Gasol should endure so long as the Grizzly big men are committed to exploiting mismatches.

Beyond Gasol and Randolph, Memphis benefited from a solid performance by Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo balancing his poor decision making with three-point marksmanship, timely scoring by Shane Battier, an impressive team defensive front against Tony Parker, and the occasional moments of Tony Allen heroism. It was a total performance championed by two of the Grizzlies’ finest, but a similar showing in the games to come unfortunately may not be enough. If the Grizz are to steal any more games from the Spurs after Ginobili’s return, they’ll have to be even better. The fouling — though mostly due to an overly anxious officiating crew in Game 1 — will have to be reined in. The shooting from all over the floor must remain pristine, and Memphis’ supplementary scorers will have to become even more efficient. It took quite a bit going right for the Grizz to steal Game 1, but this was the game they stood the greatest chance of winning. Now comes the real test, and Memphis’ chance to really throw a wrench into this series’ works.

Good work so far, Grizzlies. Now let’s see what you’ve got.

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

Fergie, who has eight Grammys, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to tip-off. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies will perform the national anthem of their home country.

The Feb. 18 game will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT from the Staples Center. It will be seen in more than 200 countries.

Pharrell and the band, which released its fifth studio album last month, will perform a medley of chart-topping hits. Fergie released her second full-length album, “Double Dutchess,” and a companion visual album in September. She is a host of the new Fox show “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”

Kevin Hart will open the night.

 

Magic’s Aaron Afflalo suspended two games for swing at Nemanja Bjelica

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This wasn’t two guys yelling into a locker room after a game, this was an actual fight. With an actual haymaker punch being thrown — and missing.

Aaron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica had been going back-and-forth all game Tuesday night, then it bubbled over when Jamal Crawford missed a jumper, Bjelica charged right at Afflalo while going for an offensive board, Afflalo blocked him like an offensive lineman, and then it got out of control.

The league announced Thursday that Afflalo has been suspended two games for throwing a haymaker. Both men were ejected from that game, but there is no further punishment for Bjelica (which is fair, Afflalo was the instigator here, Bjelica ended it with a headlock).

Glad to see this suspension was more than one game — if Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green get two games for an incident where there wasn’t a punch thrown, this had to be at least equal to that.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, Kevin Love has moved to center, and the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The roster shakeup of losing Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — along with the other injuries is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, LeBron’s comment seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team as constructed. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.

Kings will shut down veterans for some games, rookie Harry Giles for rest of season

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The Kings foolishly strayed from rebuilding last summer by signing George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to relatively expensive contracts. Those additions came despite Sacramento already having veterans Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos.

The plan has predictably failed. The Kings have the NBA’s worst offense and worst defense and are 13-31.

That’s bad, but not quite bad enough. Not in the last year Sacramento has its own first-round pick before conveying its selection as a result of a ridiculous salary dump a few years ago.

So, in a transparent bid to break a tie with the Hawks and Magic for the NBA’s worst record and tank to the top seed in the lottery/develop young players already on the roster, the Kings are sitting those veterans on a rotating basis.

Sacramento is also shutting down No. 20 pick Harry Giles, who hasn’t played this season.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

“Going forward, what I’m going to do is, we’re going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there’ll be three. It’s an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I’ve got it laid out…I’ve got about five or six games laid out, and every week I’ll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they’re not going to play. Other guys, they’ve got to be ready. If you’re in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play,” Joerger told the media after the Kings’ loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

This is smart, though it’s also an opportunity it would have been smarter not to sign Hill, Randolph and Carter in the first place. Though those veterans might not be thrilled with the direction of the franchise, at least they’re getting paid. And they should know their rest days far enough in advance to enjoy the reduced workloads.

Younger Kings – including De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere – should have a chance to spread their wings and grow. That could help down the road, when Sacramento has a chance to win meaningfully. This year, the difference between the fully operational Kings and tanking Kings is minimal on the court, but could make a huge difference in draft position.

As for Harry Giles, it’s strange how the Kings are touting him as fully healthy while shutting him down for the rest of the season. The best way to keep him his healthy is never play him. At some point, they must test him on the court. Perhaps, giving him even more time to strengthen his knee is the right approach. But if he needs this long, can really accurately be described as entirely healthy?