Ricky Rubio’s game translates to NBA just fine thank you

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For the first three quarters Friday night, the Ricky Rubio doubters out there — those that said his game would never translate to the NBA —  had their chance to crow. “He can’t shoot” and he was 0-10 from the floor. “He can’t defend” and Mo Williams was tearing him apart (along with everyone else on the Wolves).

But he won Minnesota the game, beating the Clippers 101-98. He won it before Kevin Love got free for a game-winning three on a play Rick Adelman has been running since Brad Miller was the guy popping out. He won it before he knocked down his one shot from the field all game, a three from the right corner that tied the game with 20 seconds to go.

Before the dramatic finish, Ricky Rubio earned the Timberwolves a key road win by controlling the game in the fourth quarter, changing the pace and getting his guys the ball in position where they could do damage. He led the Timberwolves back from a double-digit deficit in the final 10 minutes to win. And in doing so showed a kind of veteran savvy and confidence that could take the Timberwolves a long way in a few years.

His game translates just fine. Thank you very much.

“He’s got a real gift,” according to Minnesota coach Rick Adelman. “He’s a great passer in the open court and he’s just a smart player. You’ve got to give him rope and let him go because he’s got that ability. And because of him, we’ve really kind of changed and simplified things we’ve done just to put the ball in his hands. He’s been better than I thought he was going to be.”

“He’s clever with the basketball,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He was getting in the lane on us, turning the corner on the elbow pick-and-roll….

“His penetration hurt us more than anything, even though he was missing shots. He was getting in the lane, then at the end with about 20 seconds to go he hits the three from the right corner.”

For most the way Friday night at Staples Center the Clippers were in control. And Rubio seemed out of it, unable to knock down shots or find the passing lanes he likes in the half court. After the game he admitted that the number of games he plays now — dramatically more than the two or so a week he did in Europe — has his legs tired and that was impacting his shot (he was shooting 42.5 percent on the season before this game and 40 percent from three). He talked about the need to get stronger so this is not a problem in the future.

But then came the fourth quarter, and it was different.

“(The fourth quarter) is when you have to control more of the game, it’s when I feel much better…” Rubio said. “We feel comfortable in the last quarter.”

The young Clippers had the chance to put the Timberwolves away for three quarters but never did. Rather than keep doing what had gotten them the lead in the first place, they went for the home run. There were some calls the Clippers didn’t like (Williams got ejected in the fourth) and that seemed to be their focus and not the game.

Rubio never lost focus. Minnesota came back when Rubio pushed the pace in the fourth quarter and finding ways to create. That was one of the questions about him coming into the NBA — will he really be able to make those passes in the NBA against better athletes?

“Over (in Spain) he would pretty much initiate the offense without creating as much,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We found out right away he can create and we are better off when he does that.”

He did that in the fourth. He wasn’t hitting shots but he was getting in the lane and drawing contact, getting to the free throw line eight times in the quarter. The other thing he does beautifully is drive at and occupy a help defender, all the while waiting for that defender’s man to cut to the basket so Rubio can pick up the assist. Rubio had three assists in the fourth quarter that were started by his penetration. He had a steal and a block, too.

Then there was the game-tying three. He was 0-10 yet he shot it with confidence. Something one expects of veterans.

The next play he defended Chauncey Billups well on the Clippers second to last possession, getting left on an island without help but staying in front and contesting a shot Billups missed. Rubio is not the most athletic guard on the planet, but he’s pretty long and uses his anticipation well.

Some people struggle with Rubio’s game because it is hard to define — it’s not like anyone else’s game. He is not the next Steve Nash or anyone else. Adelman is good with that — and thinks it translates to the NBA just fine.

“I think we get in trouble all the time in this league trying to manufacture players into who you want them to be and not let them be themselves,” Adelman said. “He’s been playing in the pros for so long, and when I watched him he has such great instincts….

“People ask me all the time if he is like Pete Maravich. No, no. Not even close. He’s a good young player who has a chance to have a very good future but sometimes people try to mark him as something he’s not right now. Let him develop. So far he’s doing great.”

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Anthony Davis

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The New Orleans Pelicans look every bit the playoff team right now — at 23-20 they are the farthest they have been over .500 and fivethirtyeight.com lists them with an 82 percent chance to make the playoffs.

They wouldn’t be there without Anthony Davis, who has been brilliant all season but has turned it up in the past week, and that got him the NBC ProBasketballTalk Player of the Week award. In his last three games, Davis has averaged 43 points on 56.3% shooting, plus 14 rebounds a game, and the team. More importantly, the Pelicans have won every game, including knocking off Boston behind his 45 points a couple of days after he dropped 48 at Madison Square Garden.

Just to be clear on one other thing, the Pelicans are not trading Davis anytime soon. Because they’re not stupid.

Paul Pierce says he told Celtics not to show Isaiah Thomas tribute video

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Isaiah Thomas announced he was withdrawing his request for the Celtics to play a tribute for him Feb. 11, the same night Boston will retire Paul Pierce’s number.

That was a nice gesture that ended a dispute started by Pierce, who said he preferred not to share his night with Thomas. It made Thomas look magnanimous, and it prevented Pierce – even if he had a fair point – from continuing an unbecoming campaign that made him look petty.

Except, before Thomas’ announcement, Pierce revealed just how far he went to stop Thomas’ video.

Pierce, via Jackie MacMullan and Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

“Danny and I talked about it for 40 minutes,” Pierce explained to ESPN early Tuesday afternoon. “He told me, ‘This is what we have planned,’ and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘If you don’t want us to do Isaiah, we won’t.’ So I told him, ‘I really don’t.’ So that was it.

“That’s how we left it.”

“(Thomas) had a shot to be honored,” Pierce said. “You came to Boston. Whether you are playing or not, you should have had your tribute then. I just don’t see how, if someone is having a jersey retirement, they’re going to be running other tributes for other players.

“Danny tried to sell me on it, but I told him, ‘He had a shot, Danny, and he punked you on it. He pretty much dictated everything.’ They let it happen because they felt sorry how (the trade to Cleveland) went down. It’s guilt. That’s what it is.”

Ainge said Tuesday night that Thomas intended all along to bow out of the video tribute once he learned of Pierce’s reservations.

If only Pierce kept quiet publicly a little longer, he could have avoided looking even pettier. Yet, he revealed his conversation with Celtics president Danny Ainge, so he we are.

That probably won’t matter to those close to Pierce, though. Though Rajon Rondo was most blunt, he wasn’t the only member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team to take Pierce’s side.

Tony Allen, via Jay King of MassLive:

“Yeah, I’m with Pierce, man. He didn’t put in more work than Pierce. Anybody disagree? OK. Paul Pierce put in big work, man. Why would they honor him on that same day, man?”

Kevin Garnett, as relayed by Pierce to ESPN:

“Everyone understood where I was coming from,” Pierce said. “KG was like, ‘Isaiah who? Hell no, you’re damn right you’re not sharing your night with him.'”

Was there nobody to in Pierce’s life to tell him just to let Thomas have his short video during pregame introductions?

Pierce got his wish. He just looks even pettier as a result.

Tension between players, referees about communication more than calls

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Tensions between NBA players and referees are at a higher level than seen in decades.

Players are frustrated — they feel the calls are inconsistent, and if they try to talk to a referee about it they get a technical fast. And technicals have come fast — D’Angelo Russell got one for applauding a call from the bench the other night. LeBron James was ejected for the first time ever this season. Draymond Green already has 11 technicals this season, not to mention getting fined for complaining about the officiating and saying it’s personal (something Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins have echoed). A referee even headbutted a player this season.

However, this is a two-way street — players seem to complain about virtually every call. Watch a game, and on how many drives to the basket does the shooter or defender throw their arms in the air and say something to the ref about the call/no call. How do you expect the referees to react? Officials feel players are disrespectful, and they are just trying to keep control of the game.

Sam Amick of the USA Today did a great job talking to representatives of both sides for a story.

“The No. 1 issue on their minds is officiating. And it’s only gotten worse over the years, (and) probably now is about as hot as it has been,” Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBA Players Association since 2014, told USA TODAY Sports….

“Players are intense and frustrated, and that’s to be expected,” Mark Denesuk, spokesman for the National Basketball Referees Association, told USA TODAY Sports. “I think the referees expect a certain amount of it, but I think there’s just been a decline in civility, a decline in respect, an increase in aggression.”

“I just really think that to the extent that there are officials who adopt that absolute ‘I’m not going to comment (with players during game action)’ rule, they should reconsider that,” Roberts said. “That drives my members fairly batty, too, because guys don’t think talking to the ref is necessarily going to change the call but they want to be able to say, ‘Ref, hey maybe you didn’t see it, but he hit me here, or he touched me there.’”

The players want to be able to lobby for future calls. They want an open line of communication. Carmelo Anthony said as much recently.

“The game has changed a lot since I came in 15 years ago, the players and the officials had that dialogue, whether it was good or whether it was bad, there was always a point where they would let you get a little steam off, and then would come to you and say that’s enough, let’s move on. And now, the trigger is too quick. You look at somebody wrong, you get a technical foul. You say one wrong thing, you get a technical foul. So I think that’s the difference from when I came in, the dialogue and communication and the relationship the players and officials [had] when I first came in and from now is a lot different.”

Those lines of communication need to be opened up again. Referees have to listen to players, and players need to be more respectful and less demonstrative when talking to an official.

It’s also easy to say that writing a story, or from the NBA offices in Manhattan, but when the players are emotional during a game (as they should be) calm conversations are harder to come by.

Hopefully, some of this can be worked out when the representatives of the players’ union and referee’s union sit down All-Star Weekend to talk. The NBA promoted long-time official Monty McCutchen — one of the better communicators among officials — to help move the league in this direction.

Hopefully, all this works, because the tensions are really starting to impact the game.

Jimmy Butler okay with last loss, “We need to humble our damn selves”

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The Minnesota Timberwolves had won five in a row, climbed up to third in the Western Conference (and third in our power rankings), and they had become everybody’s darlings. Jimmy Butler has pushed his way into the MVP conversation, and Karl-Anthony Towns is finally defending well. This is the team on the rise that we expected.

Then Minnesota lost to the Orlando Magic Tuesday night. Orlando is arguably the worst team in the NBA and Minnesota had no answer for Evan Fournier, who dropped 32.

Butler is okay with that. Sort of. He doesn’t like losing but told ESPN the Timberwolves needed to be brought back down to earth.

“We need to humble our damn selves,” Butler told reporters after the Timberwolves fell to the Orlando Magic 108-102 on Tuesday night. “I’m glad we lost. Came in here on our high horse, thinking we’re a really good team, and we haven’t done anything yet. Good for us, man.”

That’s a good lesson for a good young team. As Minnesota gets better and better there will be a target on their back nightly — it’s not an easy burden to carry. Ask the Warriors, Cavaliers or other elite teams past and present — you get the best shot of the other team every night, and that requires a level of focus to keep on winning. Minnesota was reminded of that Tuesday night.

This is all still a learning experience for the Timberwolves — as the playoffs will be. The franchise hasn’t been to the postseason since 2004, Towns and Andrew Wiggins have never been in a playoff game, and there will be adjustments. But if Minnesota has next as the Warriors fade, or if they are going to rise up and challenge Golden State, these are the lessons they need to take to heart.