Three Stars of the Night: Super Sub Edition

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The towel waver. The dancer. The 27-step handshake guy.  Every bench player has their role, but our Three Stars of the Night broke the mold and did a whole lot more than watch the starters. On a night where Brooklyn beat up on their big brother and the Hornets bested Chris Paul, anything seemed possible…so long as you weren’t a Wizard or a Bobcat. Only sadness was possible for them. But cheer up, kick your case of the Mondays to the curb, and check out the Three Stars of the Night: Super Sub Edition:

Third Star: Tiago Splitter (15 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists in 23 minutes)

Unless you’re some kind of crazy person (or Bradley Beal) you’ve probably already accepted the fact that the Washington Wizards are really, really bad. They’re the only winless team in basketball and it’s often uglier than the final score lets on. Against the San Antonio Spurs, a team that actually runs plays (a novel concept in Washington), the Wiz stood virtually no chance of winning. Likewise, no Spurs player had any chance of totaling a starter’s share of the minutes. But still, could you imagine what Tiago Splitter could have done with a full load? Splitter flirted with a triple-double and set a new career high for assists (7) in a game he played just 23 minutes. Doing some quick, possibly inaccurate number crunching (Math: not even once.), Splitter was on pace for about 23 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks had he received 36 minutes of time. Tiago Splitter was LeBron James tonight, which is something I plan on writing never again.

Second Star: Derrick Favors (19 points, 7 rebounds, GW free throws)

If you’re not watching Derrick Favors whenever you can, stop that. He’s like a young Amar’e Stoudemire that actually defends and doesn’t punch fire extinguishers. It’s not always easy to get him minutes, but Favors came up big down the stretch in a tight game against the Nuggets. After an Al Jefferson miss in a tie game with under a minute to play, Favors nabbed a huge offensive rebound and got fouled. After calmly sinking what would end up being the game-winning free throws, Favors grabbed a defensive rebound off Andre Miller’s miss and sealed the win with another big free throw.  It’s early, but Favors has some serious 6h Man of the Year appeal so long as Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap stay put in Utah.

First Star: Ersan Ilyasova (18 points, 6 rebounds, 12 4th quarter points)

On a night where key subs shined, no team exemplified the theme of the night quite like the Milwaukee Bucks did. The Bucks, for all intents and purposes, were dead. They were down 27 points to the Chicago Bulls, who don’t let numbers go up on the scoreboard very easily. When Bucks head coach Scott Skiles trotted out his entire second unit to start the fourth quarter, it might have been mistaken by the Bulls for a white flag. While the Bulls let off the gas, the Udrih-Lamb-Dunleavy-Ilyasova-Udoh lineup played the entire fourth period – and with good reason. In a huge comeback win, Ilyasova scored 12 points in the fourth, which also happened to be all Chicago could muster in the game’s final period He may not have started the game, but Ilyasova sure finished it.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.