Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks

Three Stars: Career highs for three guys

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The soulless pursuit of stats by players on bad teams (or as I like to call it, the Corey Maggette special) can often be pretty brutal to watch. No one likes watching a guy play isolation basketball the whole game, hogging possessions and looking off teammates. Three Stars doesn’t reward that type of behavior, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate some great individual play — even in a losing effort.

Tonight, we have two career bests by players with a combined NBA experience of 15 years, but our First Star is just getting started. Yes, Kobe Bryant, we’re very impressed with what you did to the Spurs tonight, but you’ve clearly made the mistake of setting your career-high bar (81 points!) much, much too high. Here are Tuesday’s Three Stars of the Night:

Third Star: Jose Calderon – 13 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Jose…Jose, Jose, Jose! Filling in place of the injured Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon put up his first career triple-double in 487 NBA games, and set a new career-high for rebounds with 10 all at the same time. I know what you’re thinking — how the heck does Jose Calderon get 10 rebounds? Well, with Andrea Bargnani on the floor, anything is possible. Bargnani pulled down just two rebounds in 30 minutes of floor time, but give Calderon some credit for sticking his nose in there and capitalizing off an Indiana Pacers team that loves shooting long jumpers. There’s a pretty good chance we’ll never see this happen again, so let’s give Calderon his due in a big win over the Pacers after a triple-overtime battle last night.

Second Star: Anderson Varejao – 35 points, 18 rebounds, 16-for-21 shooting

The league’s premier garbage man did it bigger than ever before, hanging around the rim for a career-high in points with 35. While we know Varejao is plenty capable of those duties, his evolution as a pick-and-roll big man has been incredible to see. Varejao has always been one of the league’s best screeners, but now he’s timing his rolls better, creating angles for his guards and finding the open space on the floor rather than plowing into traffic. It might sound silly, but the Irving/Varejao pick-and-roll combo may finish as the league’s best this year, even though they’re surrounded by no other consistent contributors. Seriously, Cleveland. Six bench points tonight? It’s time to get Andy, one of the hardest working players in the league, some more help.

First Star: Kyrie Irving – 34 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 9-19 shooting

Kyrie went all “Uncle Drew” tonight, toying with one of the league’s best point guards in Deron Williams. Although Williams would win the war, Kyrie won nearly every battle, maneuvering to the hole with ease and getting to the free-throw line (14-for-14) whenever he wanted to. If you had to start a franchise today, and every player is on their current salary, wouldn’t Kyrie Irving be a smart choice? Although he neglects one side of the floor completely, Irving is one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the league. There’s nothing he can’t do with the ball in his hands, and as a natural point guard, he’ll have the ball plenty. Don’t be surprised if his new career-high of 34 points is broken this year, or even this month. It’s rare for this to happen, but Irving is even better than advertised.

Kristaps Porzingis cocks back, hammers dunk (video)

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It wasn’t all bad for the Knicks last night.

You can practically see the moment Kristaps Porzingis realizes his spin got him so open, he can put a little juice into this dunk.

Wizards defend final possession horribly, beat Knicks anyway (video)

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The Wizards – one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season – showed why it’s so difficult to believe in them.

They built a 10-point lead over the Knicks with 1:51 left and steadily blew it. New York got within one and trailed by three with 4.3 seconds left.

And Washington went to sleep.

The Wizards – four of whom hung out near the halfcourt line – allowed the Knicks to push the ball and find a wide-open Langston Galloway behind the 3-point arc. Galloway is one of New York’s best 3-point shooters, and he makes 47% of his wide open 3s, per NBA.com

This is horrific focus by Washington.

But if there’s a team less inspiring than the Wizards, it’s the Kurt Rambis-coached Knicks, and Galloway missed to give his new coach a loss in his first game as New York’s head coach.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Watch out for the Utah Jazz

<> at American Airlines Center on February 9, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby.PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. PuppyMonkeyBaby. Just wanted to freak you out. Here is what you need to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Gordon Hayward game winner makes it seven in a row for Utah. This team is hitting it’s stride again. The reason Utah was everyone’s favorite pick to leap up into the Western Conference playoffs this season was they were one of the best teams in the NBA after the All-Star break last season — they went 19-10, played lock-down defense allowing just 89 points a game, and got just enough offense to win.

The Jazz are hitting that stride earlier this season. After a dramatic win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Jazz have won seven in a row and moved past Houston into the seven seed in the West. Utah is hitting its stride and is not only going to make the playoffs but also be a tough out in them. They are playing great defense again, allowing 87.3 points per game during the win streak (95.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), plus are getting offense when they need it. Like during the dramatic end of the win over Dallas on the road Tuesday. First Rodney Hood hit a three to force overtime:

Then Gordon Hayward hit the step-back game winner.

2) Kurt Rambis drops first game as Knicks coach. Meet the new Knicks: They got off to a terrible start, had no offensive flow, were constantly putting up contested shots late in the shot clock, and didn’t slow the other team down in transition. And they lost (111-108 to Washington). If that sounds a lot like the old Derek Fisher Knicks, well, what did you expect? Kurt Rambis — whatever you think of him as a coach — was not going to be able to make many changes on the fly, and while Carmelo Anthony dropped 33, the reasons this team has struggled of late have not gone away. This roster is not as good as Phil Jackson apparently thinks it is, and people running the show at Madison Square Garden may have been blinded by a better than expected start. This is not a good team, if anything the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis has them playing above expectations. There are some pieces to build on for the future, but there is still a lot of building to do. This coaching change doesn’t change much of anything in the short term.

3) Setback Tuesday: Bulls’ Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with knee strain; Grizzlies Marc Gasol out indefinitely with a broken foot; Pelicans Tyreke Evans to miss rest of season after knee surgery. The basketball gods were handing out injuries Tuesday like Oprah handed out cars.

The Bulls will be without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler for a month due to the knee strain he suffered a couple of games back. The Bulls are already 5-12 in their last 17 and struggling on defense; this is another big step back along those lines. Chicago is just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs, and that is suddenly a concern. The Bulls’ Pau Gasol will replace Butler in the All-Star Game (which means the Bulls keep a representative, and Gasol is there for the Kobe sendoff game, which is nice).

Marc Gasol is the hub of what Memphis likes to do on both ends, but he has a broken foot and will be out indefinitely. Gasol’s game has taken a step back this season, but the team is still 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and the Grizzlies don’t have anyone who can replace what he does at both ends. The Grizzlies have a 4.5 game cushion from falling out of the playoffs, but wins are going to be much tougher to come by now.

This has been a lost season in New Orleans, Tyreke Evans going under the knife because of his knee is just piling on. It does kill the Pelicans’ efforts to trade him at the deadline in nine days.

4) Khris Middleton’s free throw gives Bucks win over Celtics. Wild ending in Boston. First, a Jerryd Bayless foul gives Kelly Olynyk the chance to tie the game with one second left.

Just one second left, so it’s going to overtime, right? Wrong. Avery Bradley with the stupid foul and the Bucks get the win.

5) Miami’s Hassan Whiteside was ejected for elbowing Spurs Boban Marjanovic in the face. It was a made free throw in the fourth quarter of a double-digit game — there wasn’t anything to be battling over. But Marjanovic was working to get his big body in a rebounding position, Whiteside was trying to fight him off and got his elbows up. It was the move of an immature player, which Whiteside can still be at times. Elbow a guy in the face and you’re gone.

Stephen Curry starts ridiculous Warriors fast break (VIDEO)

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Golden State is such a thing of beauty to watch in transition.

This play starts when Stephen Curry slides down to help on post defense on Clint Capela, steals the ball, saves it to a teammate and then gets it back when they start the break. James Harden tries to slow Curry down, cutting him off in the backcourt, Curry just whips a 20-foot behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala, who lobs it to Leandro Barbosa for the finish.

Houston fought back from 16 down early to make it interesting for a while, but Golden State pulled away late for the 123-110 win. Curry finished with 35 on the night.