Weekend Observations: 25 things from the week that was

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Each weekend we bring you 25 random observations from the NBA week that was. 

1. Ramon Sessions is not shooting well, but he’s drawing a lot of contact and his assists are up this year. He’s got a 19.5 PER and can’t get over 25 minutes per game on the Cavaliers. He’s much more of a playmaker this year. It’s hard to understand why no one will make a move for him.

2. Derrick Williams has that tweener offensive game, but that’s becoming less of an issue in this league. Coaches have started to understand how to use athleticism from bigs effectively on the perimeter. Williams has great scorer’s touch and that doesn’t always translate from college to the NBA. He’s drawing fouls and converting a high percentage from the field. Rubio gets all the attention but there are two good rooks in Minny.

3. If Ricky Rubio can shoot like this, if this isn’t an aberration, he’s going to be a perennial All-Star. As in, next year. As in, he’d be one this year if it weren’t for the shortened schedule keeping him from nabbing the starting job in time.

4. Efficiency is a big key word in the NBA. The Bulls aren’t particularly efficient, in terms of style of play (they are 6th in offensive efficiency, 2nd in defensive efficiency, so overall pretty efficient), but they are hyper-effective. The things they do are proven to work (defend, draw fouls, have a guard that blows by everyone), and they do them insanely well. They create open jumpers for Deng who can hit them, and create space. They grind you into oblivion. It’s not a lot of fun to watch. Not that defense isnt’ fun to watch, but that they make the opponent so bad and their offense is so grinding there’s not much spectacular play outside of Rose.

5. Paul George has been phenomenal on teh catch and shoot this year. It’s such an underused element in the NBA and he’s killing it. With his range and size, it’s a near-impossible matchup for opponents. The guy has a 67 TrueShooting percentage this year. That’s insane.

6. Danilo Gallinari is going to find his long-range shot and when he does he’s going to be terrifying offensively. His awareness this season of when to pump fake and drive and when to shoot has been really impressive, as has his ball-hawking (2 steals per 36 minutes).

7. I don’t have a specific name or description of the award that Gerald Wallace needs to win for his performance through the first two weeks of the season, but he deserves it. No one has made more of a positive impact for his team than Crash so far. Both ends. His work on Kobe Bryant this week was the stuff of legend, wrist or no.

8. James Harden still has a hand full of plays per game where he tries to do too much. But it’s mostly on account of the fact that the rest of the time, you’re pretty sure there isn’t anything he can’t do.

9. The Hawks really aren’t as bad as they looked against Miami. They have played really well top to bottom this season outside of that game. The Hawks have a greater penchant for playing down to the lowest level they can on national television of any team in the league.

10. Gerald Henderson has improved in just about every phase of the game. 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from the arc. He needs to learn to draw more fouls and finish at the rim in traffic, but there’s a lot to like about him for Charlotte.

11. Greivis Vasquez is a fine NBA player who has worked exceptionally hard to get where he is. He also should not be playing as many minutes as he is.

12. You want to blame everything for Memphis on injuries. But so much had to go right and did last year for what the Grizzlies accomplished, you feel like this is some sort of karmic payback. Crushing to see a team with that much effort struggle so much with execution.

13. Can we talk about Bosh? 21 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block per game, and he’s been a go-to for them on offense. This is the best I’ve seen him play, maybe ever. His defense has been rock solid, too, though he’s struggles in the post. As scary as the Heat have been overall, Bosh has been an important element in it.

14. Both the Knicks and Clippers have shown the true power of star power this week. In close games, they simply gave the ball to their best player and let him do damage to close out a game. The Clippers used it to give the Blazers, the best team in the West, their first loss. The Knicks used it to beat the Wizards, the worst team in the East. Same result, though, with Melo doing Melo things.

15. Greg Monroe has been a much more complete player offensively this year. He’s passing out of the post well, and is getting better on weakside defensive rotations. 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists (!) per 36 for the second-year big. He and Jerebko are the best players on the Pistons right now. Which says a lot about the Pistons, but still.

16. Utah’s starting to get it together, and Al Jefferson has been part of it. It continues to boggle my mind that no one is making a sronger push for Paul Millsap on the trade market.

17. Double-small-guard lineups are a rage right now and they’re being deployed really effectively. Denver with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller and Indiana with Darren Collison and George Hill (Hill’s a pretty legit two, but still) are some examples.

18. The schedule is slamming down on teams right now. It’s not really conditioning, which has been good, but the initial rush of the season is over and teams are struggling with these back-to-back sets. It’s not pronounced on the back-to-backs or even the back-to-back-to-backs. It’s just the overall play as we see scoring drop and injuries piling up.

19. The Blazers play really balanced, well-executed ball for about 44 minutes. Jamal Crawford takes care of the rest. That’s been a huge pickup this season.

20. Andrew Bynum is an All-Star and for once the hype is deserved. He’s finally put it all together.

21. Some teams lose because they’re just terrible at multiple aspects of the game. The Rockets, instead, are good in multiple aspects of the game. They’re just immensely solvable. Their schedule has been brutal, though.

22. If the Wizards could just learn to close a game… they’d still be pretty terrible. But you have to think this team will look better at season’s end than they do now. Some pieces you started to see coming along this week.

23. Chris Singleton keeps winding up having to defend players who are offended he’s guarding him. Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony. Gotta feel for the kid.

24. Dallas. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad bad. Bad bad bad.

25. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.

Three Things We Learned Monday: Spurs look like contenders, Cavaliers look lost in rout

Associated Press
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Maybe you were busy Monday night having flaming food shoved in your mouth and didn’t have time to watch the night’s slate of NBA games. We’ve got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Spurs look like title contenders, Cavaliers look overwhelmed in rout. Cleveland falls to second in Eastern Conference. Is it time to worry yet, Cleveland? Because it’s feeling a lot like it’s time to worry. Not full on hit the panic button mode, more make sure you know where it’s located level of worry.

Last season the Cavaliers went 13-7 over their last 20 games, and that includes some meaningless losses with guys resting to close out the season — they had flipped the switch and found a groove that they carried into the postseason. Starting at the same point this season they are 5-6 in their last 11 (with nine games left). They are 8-10 since the All-Star break with the second-worst defense in the NBA in that stretch (allowing 113.2 points per 100 possessions, barely better than the tanking Lakers). Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers say they can flip the switch, that getting guys rest is the priority. They hint that when they play good teams they are playing vanilla offenses so as not to give anything away. Lue and company want it to sound like this slump is nothing, it can be easily overcome, that it’s almost part of the plan.

Was the plan to fall behind Boston and become the second seed in the East?

Was part of the plan to get thrashed by the Spurs on national television?

Both those things happened Monday night. San Antonio looked like a contender getting in a playoff run groove. Cleveland looked like a guy standing in the middle of the street in Pamplona trying not to get run over by the stampede. San Antonio routed the Spurs 103-74 in a game that was never in doubt after the second quarter. The Spurs did whatever they wanted, check out this 10-0 run at one point in the second quarter.

The Cavaliers offense was a big problem in the first half – they had an offensive rating of just 85.1 at the half — but the larger issue became those bad shots led to the Spurs getting out and running, exposing the Cavaliers lackluster transition defense. Another problem was the Cavs’ bench, the Spurs won that first-half battle 28-0.

With the loss the Cavaliers fell half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East.

If the Cavaliers are playing like the Cavaliers can, extra road games are not a problem. Maybe there is a switch to flip, an adjustment here or there that changes everything. Cleveland’s defensive issues, and to a degree offensive ones as well, seem to be about effort. There is a sense of boredom as the team waits for the playoffs to start. Maybe that’s the case. But during the wins at the end of last season the Cavaliers were building good habits to fall back on when things did get tough in the postseason, these Cavaliers are doing no such thing.

It’s still tough not to pick Cleveland to come out of the East. But if things get tough against the Wizards in the second round, or against Boston or Toronto at some point in the postseason, those teams will be ready and think they know where they can find another gear. Will Cleveland?

2) Russell Westbrook makes an MVP statement: He racks up another triple-double, dominates end of game in Thunder’s comeback win. What made this game an impressive part of Russell Westbrook’sMVP resume was not his 37th triple-double of the season — 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but rather how he showed his value to the team at the end.

The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 on OKC with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The game looked over. Then Westbrook happened — he scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, capping it off hitting the game winner. On that shot, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender — because nobody was going to stop him.

It was an MVP-level performance. Whether that is enough to get him the award is another question.

3) Is Sam Hinkie possibly making a return to the NBA? With the Sacramento Kings?
With the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, the Sacramento Kings will be counting on fan loyalty, an amazing new building, and hope for the future to sell tickets the next few seasons. That’s because the Kings are in full on rebuilding mode… can you call it rebuilding if you haven’t been to the playoffs for a decade? Whatever you call this round of bottoming out, the Kings are restructuring their roster, Sacramento is doing it.

Do they trust Vlade Divac to lead that rebuilding?

They probably shouldn’t, based on track record. Plus stability at the top of the organization is not something owner Vivek Ranadive apparently considers important — again, based on his track record — and it’s been coming up on two years since there was a front office shakeup. So it wasn’t a shock when a report surfaced Monday night that the Kings were talking to former Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie about coming on board.

The Kings quickly denied this.

Which led to the Tweet of the night from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

A few things here. First, the number of times the Kings have said “we’re not doing” something then turn around and did it would require a spreadsheet to track, with the latest being trading DeMarcus Cousins. Second, the Kings are a leaky organization, so I don’t doubt the reports. Third, there has been a push from some minority owners to make changes at the top of the Kings basketball operations side, and Wojnarowski said the league has suggested the same thing because they want the Kings to be more professional.

Starting this summer, the Kings need someone in charge who understands rebuilding a team — that doesn’t have to be Hinkie, there are numerous other qualified candidates — but it needs to be someone. It shouldn’t be a big flashy name or personality, not someone a star-struck owner likes sitting next to and talking with, but someone who knows how to do the job. What the Kings need most of all, however, is to hire this person then have Ranadive get completely out of the way. Give the basketball person power, then get out of the way for four or five years. Let the rebuilding happen, and at that point assess what, if any, changes need to be made. Because the system going on in Sacramento now isn’t working on the court.

LeBron James drives, Pau Gasol stands no chance of stopping dunk (VIDEO)

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Monday night was an ugly night for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They got thrashed by the Spurs 103-74 in a game where they looked nothing like a title contender. The Cavaliers fell to second place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron had 17 points but needed 17 shots to get there.

But there were some Cavs highlights. One was LeBron pushing the ball in transition, becoming a one-man break, and while Pau Gasol was in the right place there was nothing he was going to do to stop this dunk.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.