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.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.