Three Stars of the Night: Buckets in Bunches

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We had a pretty streaky Sunday around the league. Chris Paul and the Clippers extended their winning streak to 13 games, the longest seen this year in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki returned for the Mavs, but the Spurs made it six straight at home in a laugher. The Knicks squeaked out a win over the Love-less Wolves, the Jazz ended their road journey with a win in Orlando, and Sacramento took it to the Blazers for a win without DeMarcus Cousins. There are six games and six winners, but there are only three stars:


Third Star: Chris Paul – (17 points, 13 assists, 5 steals)

The Clippers aren’t just winning all the games they should be winning on this streak — they’re usually doing it in three quarters. Chris Paul barely needs to shower after games these days, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up some big time stat lines. Paul came out right away in the first quarter and hit the Suns for 12 points, sending the message loud and clear that the Clippers wanted to put this one away as quickly as possible. Paul’s been his usual self offensively, but his defense this year has been on another level. Yet again Chris Paul completely locked down Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair, as those two combined to go a miserable 5-for-18 with 1 assist and 6 turnovers. No individual Clippers has had a very “loud” performance during this run, but Paul has very quietly churned out quality game after quality game.

Second Star: Danny Green – (25 points, 7-for-8 from 3-point land)

This was like watching someone shoot fish in a barrel. Green hit the game’s first shot (a three) and then hit three more in the period, setting the tone for the Spurs’ offensive attack right off the bat. Green finished 7-of-8 from behind the arc to help the Spurs set a franchise record with a whopping 20 3-pointers. The Mavericks looked awfully old and slow trying to close out on Green and the rest of San Antonio’s shooters, and all the open looks led to some big time numbers. The Spurs hit the 100 point mark in the third quarter, shot 56 percent as a team, and dropped 129 points on the game. The Spurs were an absolute buzzsaw.

First Star: Carmelo Anthony – (33 points, 7 rebounds, 19 point fourth quarter)

New York had trailed Minnesota the entire game, but then Carmelo Anthony flipped the switch. Melo rattled off an incredible 19 fourth quarter points to complete the comeback victory. When he gets in one of those grooves, Anthony is almost impossible to derail — especially when he’s putting his head down and going to the rim. Say what you will about New York’s title chances, but if it comes down to one game or one quarter, Anthony is one of a handful of players capable of completely swinging the tides and taking over a game all by himself, even against a great individual defender. The big threes, the bullying drives and the clutch free throws — Anthony had it all going, and the Knicks needed every ounce of it.

Sixers Jabari Parker upgraded to “probable,” will decide after warm ups

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day. Embiid had been out with a concussion and orbital bone fracture.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.