A question of point guard extensions starring Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, and Jrue Holiday

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October brings with it a rush of NBA news. Training camp starts, teams begin assessing if they need to make a pre-season trade, injuries unfortunately occur, preseason games begin and everyone is in the “best shape of their careers” on teams “ready to compete for a championship.” October is Hopetober for the NBA and outside of the above-mentioned injuries, everything is all rainbows and sunshine. But there’s another element.Extensions on players coming to the end of their rookie deals are due on the 31st, and that means big decisions.

Often times, the extensions will be no-brainers, for the elite of the elite. And some will be no-brainers for those players who have overstayed their welcome. But every year, so many fit into that middle gap. Good enough to not want to lose them, not good enough to want to throw the bank at. It’s a complicated question that involves not only the player’s skill but he situation of the franchise and their future.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports Saturday morning on the status of a few key players that fit into this group.

 

Lawson is probably the clearest cut choice to get done. His only issue has been consistency, and that’s something you can attribute to age and experience. He’s one of the fastest point guards in the league, and showed for the first time last spring in the playoffs that he can take over a big game offensively. His leadership continues to be a question mark for George Karl, but it’s also a work in progress. There’s no skill attribute that would prevent the Nuggets from wanting to give the extension. It will, however, eat up a significant chunk of their cap space. The Nuggets endeavored for two years to produce a roster with cap flexibility while maintaining its talent, but extensions for Danilo Gallinari and new contracts for Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee eat up some of that. The rest will be taken care of by Lawson and Andre Iguoadala with a 2014 player option.

So the Nuggets have to be sure this is the guy they want. He looks the part, but it’s still going to be a gamble, the likely reason he has not been put at the max yet, along with Lawson’s decision to switch agents.

Holiday is an entirely different question. There have been hints in the past that he wants the max. The numbers… they are not good. He’s coming off a year with a TS% of .496 (that sucker needs to be over .500 at the very least). His assist percentage dropped nearly eight points last year. There’s a lot of talk about Evan Turner getting time at point guard or at least point forward. Last year per 36 minutes he produced 14.4. points on 13.7 shots. In a league where offensive efficiency is a must, Holiday was severely lacking in it. He also was the point guard and maestro for one of the worst offenses of a playoff team in the league.

The problem with all that? So was Rajon Rondo. The Celtics were a dreadful offensive team, per 36 minutes Rondo produced 11.6 points on 10.5 shots, had an even worse TS% of .486. Now his assist percentage was one of the best in the league at a startling “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me” 52.3 percent. But if we’re looking at numbers, Holiday was at least as efficient as Rondo. (The Sixers had a 99 offensive rating – points per 100 possessions- with Holiday on the floor, the Celtics were a better 101 with Rondo, but neither is anything to run and tell that about.)

But you can make the argument for a qualitative if not substantively quantitative difference between Holiday and Rondo. His control and impact over the game is much greater, and his skillset is readily apparent as superior. Still, these are the kinds of things you factor when you decide whether and how to retain Holiday. The Sixers like Holiday, they seem invested in him, but the money is likely a sticking point.

Jennings… who knows. He can look like an All-Star, a world beater, a dominant offensive player one minute and a huge question mark the next. It’s an ever-evolving question, and part of a much bigger question. Unlike Denver and Philadelphia, the Bucks could be facing significant upheaval next summer with both John Hammond and Scott Skiles working out with a net, effectively. Do you give big money to a largely inefficient player who at times is dazzling and who constantly says he both wants an extension and thinks it would be great to play in New York, something he’s harped on since he was a draft prospect? The Bucks could be facing one of three scenarios: Jennings thrives, becomes an All-Star and the center of their future success as he embraces the Bucks as his team with his maturity, Jennings continues to vacillate between brilliance and dreadful, forever giving management and analysts headaches only doing it for big money, or Jennings manages to become the star he’s shown flashes of, only to pull a modern-superstar trick of demanding out once he’s gotten his money.

There may not be a way to win that conversation.

So all three teams have decisions to make and not much time to make them. But the choices will have a huge impact on not only the players’ seasons, but the future of the franchises.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.

 

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.