Hawks forward Smith reacts after a shot in the first half during their game against the Celtics in Game One of their NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs basketball game in Atlanta

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.

Zaza Pachulia steals ball, starts break, blows open layup against Suns (VIDEO)

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Zaza Pachulia is riding the Golden State Warriors train for all it’s worth, in the good and the bad. In November, Pachulia hit a mid-range jumper and did a horse dance. If that was the zenith, Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns was the nadir.

Particularly because Pachulia blew a breakaway layup in which he definitely should have scored.

Instead, the Warriors big man stuffed the ball between the iron and the backboard, clumsily squandering his opportunity:

*Sad trombone*

Russell Westbrook’s no-look, two-hand, behind-his-head pass ignites Thunder break

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Russell Westbrook was just himself — hustling, attacking, and getting his fifth triple-double in a row Sunday night against the Pelicans.

But the play of the night didn’t get him any points or an assist. It was Westbrook hustling, getting to the floor to get a loose ball, then making the showtime pass to start a Globetrotters-like fast break that ended with an Andre Roberson dunk.

Westbrook had an impressive dunk of his own.

NBA VP Kiki VanDeWeghe on “unnaturual acts:” “Our rules are for every player”

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The NBA has tried to crack down on “unnatural acts” — players flailing body parts trying to draw a foul call.

At the heart of that is Golden State’s Draymond Green, who picked up a flagrant foul for the unnatural act of getting his leg high enough to kick James Harden in the face Thursday night. Green fired back at the league, saying in part, “It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements.” Green’s argument is that he was fouled in the air and the high leg was the natural act of him trying to keep his balance. (Doesn’t matter, it’s a reckless act and if you kick someone in the face you should get a flagrant foul. Also, try explaining the kick on Marquese Chriss on Saturday that way.)

Former All-Star NBA player as well as coach Kiki VanDeWeghe is now an NBA vice president and the guy who is the decision maker on these reviews and fouls. He spoke with Sam Amick of the USA Today about how those unnatural act rules are applied.

“Our rules are for every player,” VanDeWeghe told USA TODAY Sports. “We want each play judged according to the rules, as best possible, and the rules applied fairly across our whole league. That’s very important to us. We don’t make exceptions for players. They are applied to everybody.

“In Draymond’s particular case (against the Houston Rockets on Thursday), he had an arm flail which struck the player (James Harden) in the neck-head area. And then in addition to that, he had a kick up above the head of the defender. As he brought his leg down, his heel hit him in the face. It wouldn’t matter what player we’re talking about (it’s a foul)….

“Most of these are done to draw the attention of the referees. We noticed an uptick in these last year, and they needed to be addressed by the competition committee.”

While Green feels singled out — “marked” is what he tweeted — VanDeWeghe noted that competition committee included owners, coaches, GMs, people from the players union, and a lot of people with playing experience, who all sat down as a group and studied what is and is not an “unnatural act.” As Amick noted, it isn’t just Green who gets hit with these penalties, although he gets the headlines: Boston’s Marcus Smart was given a Flagrant One for his kick to the groin of the Miami’s Hassan Whiteside; Thursday LeBron James was given a technical foul for his blow to the head of the Clippers’ Alan Anderson.

So long as Green continues to make these acts — and the kick to Chriss Saturday suggests they are not slowing down — the crackdown will continue.

Watch Raptors PG Kyle Lowry throw a full-court alley oop to Pascal Siakam

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an excellent year for the Eastern Conference Finals hopefuls, and part of that is due to his vision. On Saturday, Lowry threw a full-court lob to Pascal Siakam that was mighty impressive.

After a missed shot in the middle of the third quarter by the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry gathered the rebound on the left block and quickly turned his eyes downcourt.

Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was streaking toward the Raptors basket and behind the Hawks defense.

Lowry took advantage with a long-distance heave after one dribble at the free-throw line, and Pascal was able to gather and softly lay the ball up at the rim.