Three Stars of the Night: Justified Jumpers

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Play enough basketball and chances are you’ll run into a player who likes to justify his relentless jump shooting with a catchy phrase like, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” or “there’s a reason it’s called feeling it instead of thinking it” or maybe “I was open.” These people, of course, are the worst. But when they do catch fire, you kind of have to laugh and just take the points.

Now, I’m not insinuating our Three Stars are relentless jump shooters, or bad jump shooters, or chuckers of any sort. That’s wrong. It’s just sometimes their shot selection when they start to feel it can be a little…questionable? Tonight though, with the shots falling, we can appreciate a good “no..no..no…YES!” bucket just like everyone else. To the stars:

Third Star: Jrue Holiday – (26 points, 10 assists)

It’s not tough to torch the Lakers backcourt these days. Whether it’s due to their inexperience (Darius Morris), too much experience and creakiness (Steve Nash) or energy and attention being devoted elsewhere (Kobe Bryant), they tend to let up a lot of points. But let’s not discount the effort Jrue Holiday showed — he’s a guy who is quickly becoming one of the most prolific and efficient isolation scorers in basketball. The 76ers pretty much run everything through Holiday, and he’s responded by scoring off his own dribble quite often, usually on tough pull-up jumpers. Holiday’s drive right down the middle of the paint late in the game, when the Lakers once again failed to foul in a situation they very obviously needed to foul in, served as the dagger and a nice cap to a night where he displayed some really nice scoring instincts. Holiday is a legitimate Most Improved Player candidate this year — he’s made a huge jump from last year.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony – (45 points, 14-for-24 shooting)

There was obviously a lot of concern with how Carmelo Anthony would play in Amar’e Stoudemire’s first game back…but so far, so good! Anthony started off ridiculously hot from the outside, as he’s done quite a bit this year, and looked every bit as comfortable as he has all season. With no help from New York’s typically sweet shooting role players, Melo really took the load and carried the day offensively with a season-high 45 points. It will be interesting to see how he works with Stoudemire going forward, but since Anthony has played with so much confidence and aggression all year, it’s hard to imagine his numbers suffering much. Losing to Portland at home is a bad, bad loss, but Anthony scoring nearly half of his team’s points on only 24 attempts is pretty impressive.

First Star: Josh Smith – (23 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks)

As you may already know, Josh Smith is not a very good spot-up shooter. It’s his one real blind spot in an otherwise pretty complete offensive game. Smith actually knocked down a few spot-up attempts tonight, which can sometimes cause more harm than good, but he didn’t let it deter his real value as a slasher and as a creator on a night his guards couldn’t get it going offensively. Smith showed the frontcourt chemistry with Al Horford that New Orleans is trying to develop with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, but the Hawks’ duo benefitted from the familiarity that comes from all the years next to each other. I’m not sure what the ideal center next to Smith looks like since his skill-set is so varied, but Horford sure seems like a perfect match. Very quietly, Atlanta is a team to watch in the Eastern Conference now that they’re off the treadmill of good, but not great. This team has some sneaky sleeper appeal, especially when Smith is doing it all on both ends.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?

 

 

 

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

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The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to a left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to a nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.