Three Stars of the Night: An Odd Scoring Battle

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With 22 teams in action, you’d expect the usual suspects to be the big scorers of the night. Guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. The guys battling Kobe Bryant for the scoring title. Those guys.

Nope! Saturday was a little bit wild and crazy, and as a result we had Luis Scola balling out and dropping 33 and 10 on the Timberwolves while Nikola Pekovic smashed his way to 28. We saw David West (29 points) continue to do his share of the scoring while Roy Hibbert (21 minutes, zero points) went missing yet again. The Jrue Holiday show raged on with 29 points and a near triple-double, but actually, Holiday’s 7 turnovers almost gave him the rare quadruple-double-trouble, which really would have set the evening off nicely.

Instead, it seems like we’ll have to settle for a scoring battle between an awkward 7-footer who loves comic books and shoots a set-shot and a reserve forward who averages 8.5 points a game on his career. It’s weird, it’s hard to explain, and it’s Three Stars:

Third Star: C.J. Miles – (33 points, 8-for-10 from 3-point land)

Look, guys, I don’t know either. C.J. Miles is a career 41 percent shooter from the field and a career 33 percent shooter from behind the arc. This should not be happening, but Miles has a really weird habit of getting hot and then suddenly morphing into this unstoppable offensive force. You either believe in the hot hand theory or you don’t, but everyone watching tonight knew Miles was hot. He was catching passes and firing away like he was Ray Allen whenever he had a look at the basket, never hesitating once to think, “I’m C.J. Miles.” It got to the point where the announcers were preaching the importance of keeping the ball out of the hands of C.J. Miles, which feels absurd to even type. Whatever it was, Miles and his 33-point explosion kept the shorthanded Cavs in it, even with Luke Walton on the floor for 30 minutes. While this may come as surprise to exactly no one, eight 3-pointers is indeed a career high for Miles. He was stupid good tonight.

Second Star: Russell Westbrook – (28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists)

Ah, a nice return to normalcy, both for Westbrook and for Three Stars. With Kevin Durant unable to get it going early on, Westbrook took the scoring load on his shoulders and blew past Houston’s defense all night. Westbrook may get criticized for taking an inordinate amount of jumpers off his own dribble, but when he’s scoring at the rim and those jumpers are falling, he instantly morphs into one of the more unstoppable players in all of basketball. Westbrook’s jumper has sort of abandoned him to start the season, but it was certainly falling tonight.

First Star: Brook Lopez – (35 points, 11 rebounds)

Lopez was an absolute monster against the Varejao-less Cavs, as he scored a whopping 11 field goals in the paint and went to the free-throw line 11 times as well. While Lopez may not be considered fleet of foot, he’s a load on the low block and around the rim, especially against a rail-thin big man like rookie center Tyler Zeller. That’s not to take anything away from Lopez — he showed his usual soft touch and he gobbled up some offensive rebounds, something he doesn’t always do. Perhaps it’s because of the time he missed due to injury this year or because of the other distractions in Brooklyn right now, but Lopez has been posting some pretty incredible numbers with very little fanfare. His rebounding percentages are back to respectable levels, his PER is really solid at 24.5, and he’s averaging 22 points per 36 minutes on 51 percent shooting. Lopez probably isn’t regarded as a player you would build an offense around, but he’s a better option for that than Deron Williams is right now. That’s something to keep in mind, especially if post-oriented coaches like Phil Jackson or Mike Dunleavy do end up in Brooklyn. Lopez, even with that hideously effective set-shot off the glass from 18-feet, is the best bet for consistent offensive production the Nets have.

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.