NBA Summer League: Where Tyler Zeller stands out above the rest

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The NBA Summer League is already through four days of basketball, leaving those around the world clamoring for non-Team USA basketball just six more days of games until the annual extravaganza is complete. There’s already been one player that has received a confirmed NBA training camp invite (congratulations, Chris Copeland!), but plenty more players are hoping for a similar opportunity.

There were plenty of players that took a step closer to that opportunity on Monday, too, which we’ve handily decided to list below.

  • The Cleveland Cavaliers ended the D-League Select team’s hopes of an undefeated season with a 94-88 victory on Monday night. They did it with their other first round pick and a former D-Leaguer, though, as Tyler Zeller looked great on his way to 19 points and seven rebounds while call-up Donald Sloan had 10 points himself starting beside Dion Waiters on the Summer League roster. Dion Waiters struggled again, however, looking a bit out of shape on his way to 11 points on 14 shots … with a nice dunk to ease the pain a bit, however.
  • The D-League Select team didn’t play bad, however, as Jerry Smith scored 21 points and shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc as he single-handedly helped keep the D-League squad in contention. Mardy Collins also looked like the NBA player he used to be on his way to an efficient 12 points and six rebounds as he tries to make it back to the league as a former first round pick.
  • The first game of the day featured a very solid outing from Jae Crowder, but since we’ve already highlighted him earlier in the day, the player we’ll highlight is Dominique Jones. Jones is too good to play in Summer League, but not quite good enough to get minutes  in the NBA so it’s a bit interesting to watch him play in this setting. He had 21 points on 12 shots and turned the ball over just once, but it’s tough to tell how well he translates. Bernard James also performed admirably as the rookie scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a win.
  • On the other end of the floor, Ed Davis was in the same predicament as Jones … except Davis has shown to be a decent player in the NBA already. The young power forward needs to add some weight to his frame, but it wasn’t a problem on Monday afternoon as he scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Bobby Brown was also able to put together his typical solid Summer League performance with 19 points and five assists.
  • The Boston Celtics began their Vegas Summer League entry with a victory after playing last week in Orlando and, surprisingly, it wasn’t because Jared Sullinger played out of his mind. Sullinger had a solid 14 points, but fellow rookie Kris Joseph had 14 as well while Dionte Christmas’s impressive play carried over from Orlando as he scored 11 points to go with five rebounds and two assists in a solid defensive effort.
  • While watching the game it seemed that Paul Carter was a bright spot for the Atlanta Hawks, but the D-League wing finished with just five points and three rebounds off of the bench. The players that did produce in the box score did so pretty inefficiently, however. Mike Scott and John Jenkins both needed 14 shots apiece to make 12 points while undrafted rookie Jordan Taylor struggled to just four points on 2-of-12 shooting — though at least he contributed in other areas, picking up six rebounds and five assists.
  • The Miami Heat made the Los Angeles Lakers’ Summer League squad look worse than it already has with a 106-56 victory. It was an all-around effort from the Heat, to, as all five starters — and Mickell Gladness off the bench — scored in double figures.  Norris Cole deserves some individual praise, though, considering his 13 points came on just four shots … and he had nine assists to boot.
  • There wasn’t a bright spot for the Lakers squad as they shot just 26.5 percent from the field and turned the ball over 22 times. Yucky.
  • Minnesota made its first foray in Vegas on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in a game they won with relative ease. Wes Johnson struggled his way to being the leading scorer with 16 points on 17 shots while Derrick Williams scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a pretty solid team effort all-around. Coby Karl looked particularly impressive with nine points as he knocked down three 3-pointers.
  • The Clippers got a nice performance out of former Detroit Pistons draft pick Terrico White as he came off the bench to score 16 points off the bench in a loss. Eric Bledsoe was far and away the team’s best player, though, racking up 11 points, five rebounds and four assists — though he seemed to have a bit of an over-passing problem.
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The midway point happens Tuesday and, with that, the Chicago Bulls also begin play as they’ll be in action five of the next six nights. Along with the Bulls, 13 other NBA teams will be in action.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.