Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns

Timberwolves’ offense rolls without Rubio in high-scoring victory over Suns

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The Timberwolves needed this. After losing Ricky Rubio to a season-ending injury just a few days ago, and after not being able to muster the energy to take care of business at home against the horrible Hornets the day the news was confirmed, Minnesota began a tough seven-game road trip on Monday with an offensive explosion in a 127-124 victory over the Suns.

“It’s really huge,” said T’Wolves head coach Rick Adelman. “Especially after losing two at home the way we did and losing Ricky, to come out and get this win, it’s a huge confidence boost.”

The game was a shootout between two teams not exactly known for offense this season, with both ranking in the middle of the pack from an efficiency standpoint. Kevin Love led all scorers, but did most of his damage in the second half where he scored 23 of his 30 points and knocked down five of eight from three-point distance.

While Love struggled early thanks to Phoenix throwing a hard double team at him whenever he touched the ball, Minnesota was brilliant in making the extra pass to find the open man. The one who benefited most was Nikola Pekovic, who finished with 24 points but got 15 of those in the first quarter while the Suns scrambled to recover defensively.

“We had 15 assists in the first half,” Adelman pointed out. “They came out to double team Kevin trying to change things up, but our guys moved the ball. If they play together and make the right play, we’ll be okay.”

Minnesota finished the night with 30 assists, a season high. The 127 points were also a season high, and it was unusual to see against a Suns team that has held its opponents to an average of 89.2 points per game over its last five at home. Jared Dudley, who led Phoenix in scoring with 28, tried to explain.

“I wouldn’t say it was a defensive battle out there today,” Dudley said. “Everyone played well: Pekovic was dominating the boards, Love was inside out, [Michael Beasley] got hot in the first half, and [Derrick Williams] in the second. We did a bad job of rebounding; in the pick and roll coverage, we weren’t crisp at all. And because of that, they made us pay. And even with that, the crazy thing about how poorly we played defensively, we played one of our best offensive games this year, and had chances.”

The game featured eight ties and 15 lead changes, and late in the fourth quarter, neither team seemed to be able to miss. Love had 13 in the final period (including three from three-point range), and Sebastian Telfair had 10 points in under eight minutes, six of which came in a five-second span where he converted a four-point play, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and went in for a layup.

The Suns’ chances were the kind they’d take most nights. Trailing by one with under two minutes to play, Steve Nash — who finished with 25 points and 10 assists, and had made 10-of-14 from the field to that point — missed a 16-foot runner, and then an 18-foot jumper, both of which were open looks and shots he usually can get to go down.

After Love made two free throws, the Suns ran a play to get Dudley an open look from three that was on target, but that just didn’t fall.

“Probably the best look I had all night,” Dudley said of that late three. “Grant Hill set a perfect screen that made my guy fall on the ground, and when I shot it I thought the ball was good, and it went halfway in.”

Marcin Gortat, who was taken out of the game for most of the night due to foul trouble trying to bang down low with Pekovic, ended up at the free throw line after a loose ball foul with a chance to cut the lead to one with 12.2 seconds left … but he missed both attempts.

“Ridiculous,” Gortat said of his missed free throws. “It was not even funny, it was just … bad.”

The opportunities were there for Phoenix, but on this night, they couldn’t keep up with a high-energy and hot-shooting Timberwolves team that, given the circumstances, may just have needed this one a little bit more for their collective psyche. Love may have summed it up best.

“Obviously losing Ricky was a big detriment to the team, it was tough for us — psychologically, mentally, emotionally,” he said. “Tonight we were able to, I wouldn’t say put that behind us; we’re always going to miss him because there’s a lot of times out there where the ball stops moving … But tonight was a big difference as far as energy level and how we felt.”

Report: Clippers owner Ballmer will spend “whatever it takes” to keep Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin, center, responds to reporters while Chris Paul, left, and DeAndre Jordan laugh during the team's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Playa Vista, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
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Is this the season the Clippers break through? They have been one of the eight best teams — usually one of the top five — for several years now, but that has not been enough to get them past the second round of the playoffs. A combination of injuries and running into superior teams has gotten in their way.

This season they will start as the fourth-best team in the league according to most NBA power rankings (including ProBasketballTalk’s), but they will still be third best in the West. If things play out according to that script, it would mean another second-round exit.

The difference is next summer Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can be — and almost certainly will be — free agents (both have early termination options). If there is another second-round flame-out, can the Clippers keep them?

Owner Steve Ballmer is committed to spend whatever it takes to keep them in Clipper red, white, and blue, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Most importantly, according to Clippers insiders, is his commitment to keeping both Griffin and Paul long term no matter what it costs.

Do both want to stay? That’s impossible to predict nine months out. But it’s hard to imagine either finding as good of a set up as they have in Los Angeles. Both have firmly planted roots in L.A., with deep ties to the business and entertainment worlds.

Take a moment to step back and realize just how much Ballmer has changed the Clippers’ culture in three years from what Donald Sterling would have done. If Sterling still owned the team we’d be asking if he would open his pocketbook to spend to keep his two big stars in the same summer, and even if he was would that be enough or would both players be looking just to get away.

Now it’s harder to make a case that either wants out — and that includes the idea that Griffin will bolt to go home to Oklahoma City and play for the Thunder next to Russell Westbrook. Few players have taken advantage of the Los Angeles lifestyle and opportunities as Griffin, who is an executive producer of one television show making a pilot and has worked on a career as a comic.

As for the inevitable Griffin/CP3 trade rumors, take them with a whole box of kosher salt.

As for the idea that they’d make a blockbuster trade, consider this: The only way the Clippers get a decent return is if Paul and/or Griffin agreed to waive their player option for next season, or guaranteed they’d re-sign long term in the city they were traded. There’s no compelling reason for either of them to do that after the infusion of television rights’ money spikes the salary cap up more than $100 million next summer.

Griffin and Paul will be free agents next summer. Whether they stay in Los Angeles or leave will depend in part on how this season goes and the prospects for them and the Clippers after this season. It’s possible they leave.

But with Ballmer willing to open up his bloated checkbook, it’s much easier to make the case they both stay put.

Matt Barnes says he’s been warned for chewing gum, using bathroom during national anthem

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 19:  NBA players Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick attend the David Yurman in-store shopping event to celebrate the launch of Men's Faceted Metal Collection at David Yurman Boutique on March 19, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for David Yurman)
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The NBA has long taken a hard stance on the national anthem.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was infamously suspended for sitting during the national anthem 1996. The league has a specific rule  – which it doesn’t plan to change – that states, “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.”

That makes it more difficult for the NBA and union to compromise on national-anthem protests – especially because precedent has set a strict tone on the rule.

Kings forward Matt Barnes on The Vertical Podcast with JJ Redick:

They don’t want you chewing gum. They told me, take the gum out of your mouth.

I was using the bathroom. They said you can’t miss the anthem. I’m like, “Man, I had to pee.” “Next time you’ll be fined.” I said, “Ohh, OK.”

I doubt NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants to punish players for demonstrating on behalf of important social issues. But he’s also behold to the team owners and corporate sponsors, and he must enforce the league’s rules.

It’s a fine line, one that the NBA’s prior warnings on national-anthem conduction make even more difficult for Silver to walk.

Maybe the solution is raised fists? Kneeling, like Colin Kaepernick, would seem to violate the “stand” requirement. But if players are on their feet and in place, would the league really deem a raised fist an undignified posture?

Joel Embiid to start in Sixers first preseason game

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Here’s a little bit of good news for beleaguered Sixers fans:

Joel Embiid will start the Sixers first preseason game next Tuesday. Embiid was the No. 3 pick and a very highly rated prospect coming out of Kansas, but foot injuries sidelined him the entirety of his first two seasons. Now he’s healthy and going to get a start next Tuesday, according to coach Brett Brown.

This will be a process. It will be two steps up and one step back all season for Embiid, but at least he’s healthy enough to take those steps now.

Now the focus shifts to when Ben Simmons will be able to take his first steps.

Another report Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets nowhere near deal as deadline approaches

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is fouled as he shoots by Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on December 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Donatas Motiejunas and his agent had given the Rockets a Saturday deadline to make a contract extension offer they liked.

But the sides aren’t even talking in a serious way.

That was reported early on Friday, and now comes another report — this was from Calvin Watkins of ESPN — that the two sides are nowhere close to a deal.

With the deadline to sign a qualifying offer approaching, restricted free-agent power forward Donatas Motiejunas and the Houston Rockets have exchanged contract proposals but remain far apart on an agreement, multiple sources told ESPN.

Motiejunas is seeking a larger financial deal from the Rockets, but the two sides haven’t had serious contract discussions in a month, the sources said.

Motiejuas, a restricted free agent, has a $4.4 million qualifying offer on the table that expires Sunday. He likely will sign it — if so he will have the ability to veto trades during the season then would be a free agent next summer.  Motiejuas could let the deal expire then sign a new one-year deal with the Rockets, but he would make less money.

Last season the Rockets agreed to trade Motiejunas to the Pistons. However, Pistons voided the deal after he failed his physical. Motiejunas hammered Detroit for how it went down. That left Motiejunas a restricted free agent this summer, but he didn’t land any offers from other squads (many thought the Rockets would just match).

That gets us to where we are today, where Motiejunas appears headed to signing the qualifying offer, then testing the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent.