Three Stars of the Night: Welcome Back, Z-Bo.

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What a night. Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George scored nearly half of his team’s points (34 points on 14-for-25 shooting) in a victory over the Bulls, and he didn’t make the list. Deron Williams had 33 points and 7 assists, nearly carrying the Nets to a victory over the Thunder, and you won’t find him here. Jordan Crawford dropped 22 and 6 in a Wizards win (!) over the Miami Heat (!!!) and, yup, he didn’t make the cut either. Who were Tuesday’s Three Stars of the Night? We’ve got ’em right here:

Third Star: Greg Smith – (21 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes)

Everyone made fun of the Rockets for having a roster that consisted of roughly 14 power forwards, but Rockets GM Daryl Morey is probably the one laughing now. With all the viable frontcourt options the Rockets possess, who would have thought that an undrafted free agent would actually outplay Dwight Howard and lock up a come from behind victory over the Los Angeles Lakers? While Howard squirmed uncomfortably on the free throw line (8-for-16) again during Hack-A-Howard, little known reserve big man Greg Smith actually made his clutch free throws and attacked hard for the Rockets, taking little dump off passes strong to the tin with a fearlessness not commonly used around the league’s biggest defensive presence. Smith’s 11 fourth quarter points were a testament to his tough play, but his four offensive rebounds illustrated an even bigger problem among the Lakers frontline (21 offensive rebounds allowed total). With Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons combining to go a dreadful 10-for-44 from the field, the Rockets needed everything they could get from Smith (and Toney Douglas) to make up for a double digit deficit and take the win.

Second Star: Kevin Durant (32 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds)

Durant has you dead in the water the second he gets the ball, which is why you’ll see teams fight through those pindown screens so hard to try and prevent him from catching the ball. Durant’s ability to turn the corner and reach those comically long arms out towards the rim was just too much for Brooklyn to stop — especially without Brook Lopez in the lineup to protect the basket. The Thunder didn’t run anything particularly pretty down the stretch, but Durant was a foul magnet and converted all his chances (12-for-12) on the evening. Pairing a True Shooting Percentage of about 65 percent with such a high usage rate is just absurd and largely unprecedented, but that’s Durant for ya.

First Star:  Zach Randolph (38 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks, 15-for-22 shooting)

What a bully. Z-Bo had only scored more than 20 points in a game once this season, but he definitely made his rounds on the block and beat up anyone who got in his way. Randolph got ridiculously low post position all night, and in a sign that he’s healthy and ready to go again, even threw down a one-handed jam off an overpowering post move. Randolph grabbed 7 offensive rebounds (or Z-bounds, for the Grizz fans out there), and really just lived right next to the rim all day. After scoring all 13 of his field goals in the paint during regulation, Randolph showed off his outside touch in overtime, knocking in two mid-range jumpers to effectively put the game away.

Stephen Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.

 

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.