Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets

Three Stars of the Night: Beard Power!

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I’m willing to give Paul George a pass for his slightly questionable beard growing abilities, primarily because he’s still only 22-years-old (scary, right?) and he’s still growing, uh, taller. George is listed at 6-foot-8, but some people are saying he’s now 6-foot-10, and even if that is a Bunyan-sized tall tale, we’ll let him finish growing up before we demand a better beard. It’s only fair, especially when he’s distracting us with offensive explosions against the Miami Heat. As for our other two stars? Those beards and those games require little introduction. It’s Three Stars:

Third Star: Reggie Evans – (2 points and 23 rebounds in 27 minutes)

Evans has been rebounding tirelessly for years, but tonight’s game was his masterpiece. His 23 rebounds marked a new career-high, but that only scratches the surface of his dominance on the glass. Evans pulled down 16 of those boards in the first half alone, and at one point about halfway through the third quarter, he had one more rebound than the entire 76ers team! The only way this could have been better is if Evans were allowed to play garbage time of the Nets’ 109-89 whooping of Philadelphia, or if he didn’t score two points, record two assists and grab one steal. How fun would a line with only 23 rebounds in it be? Instead, we’ll have to revel in the absurd rebounding percentages and rebound per minute stats from tonight — the same stats that for his career firmly place him among the greatest rebounders to ever play.

 

Second Star: James Harden – (31 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists)

Just another day at the office for Harden, who has now scored at least 25 points in his last 13 games. As the Rockets further define their style of play with each passing game, Harden looks like an even better fit. Houston plays at the lightning quick pace of 97 possessions per 48 minutes, a number not even the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns teams played at. These guys push the ball off misses and let threes fly with zero restraint, but it’s Harden who bridges the gap when the primary break or the secondary break doesn’t yield anything. Against the shorthanded Lakers, Harden swept through the lane with his mean eurostep, he threaded the needle (and went in between the legs once) on passes to his roll men, he posted from the elbow occasionally, and when everything else broke down, he’d just stop and pop for a jumper. This offense has staying power, especially if Chandler Parsons keeps playing a mean smallball four.

 

First Star: Paul George – (29 points, 11 rebounds)

It’s awfully hard to keep Dwyane Wade and LeBron James down once you’ve got them there, but George’s second-half scoring outburst did the trick. With Indiana’s defense holding the Heat to a season-low 35 points in the second half, George took care of business on the other end with some huge momentum capturing 3-pointers and some tough finishes off the dribble. 22 of George’s 29 points came in the second half, which provided a much needed boost for one of the league’s worst offenses. It’s not often you see a team shoot 36 percent from the field and win by ten points, but Indiana’s 22 (!) offensive rebounds provided George with enough chances to fill it up. It’s funny, but a lot of people forget just how close Indiana was to defeating Miami in the playoffs last season, even with George giving them nothing offensively. The road to an NBA Finals will go through Miami for quite some time, so George netting a nice scoring night against LeBron and company is just another step in the maturation process for one of the league’s most tantalizing young talents.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.

DeMarcus Cousins on trade from Kings: “I’m not sour”

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DeMarcus Cousins met with the press for the first time in New Orleans, and they got a vision of the relaxed and happy side of the big man.

He was cracking jokes, saying he thought himself and Anthony Davis would blend perfectly, and being engaging.

One of the best parts was Cousins being asked how competitive he is, and Cousins replied “About 17 technicals worth.”

Cousins also talked a fair amount about how he and Davis would work together.

Cousins talked a good game, now he has to show it started Thursday on the court against the Rockets.

Report: Wizards trade first-round pick to get Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough, unload Andrew Nicholson

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards battles Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets for a loose ball during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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John Wall has been so good, he made himself right.

The Wizards’ starters have been awesome, and their bench has been about equally bad. With Washington surging to third in the East, and the fourth-place Raptors making their move with Serge Ibaka, this was no time to idle.

So, as Wall predicted, the Wizards traded for bench helpBojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough from the Nets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Andrew Nicholson, with three years and $19,911,007 remaining after this season, had negative value. He was part of the reason the Wizards’ bench stunk. Likewise, Marcus Thornton provided little in reserve. A 29-year-old on an expiring minimum contract, he was likely included only so Washington didn’t exceed the roster maximum of 15 players.

Essentially the Wizards traded a first-round pick for Bogdanovic, McCullough and shedding Nicholson.

Bogdanovic will provide wing scoring for a reserve unit badly in need of juice. He has been an ineffective defender, but his 6-foot-8 frame offers a path to improvement on that end.

The 27-year-old will be a restricted free agent next summer. Assuming re-signing Otto Porter is the priority, keeping Bogdanovic could push Washington into the luxury tax — likely a non-starter. This could win up just a rental, but there’s plenty of time to evaluate Bogdanovic’s (and everyone else’s) long-term fit.

The Nets drafted McCullough No. 29 in 2015 as a project, and he remains one. The 22-year-old has spent far more time in the D-League than the NBA this season. It’s unlikely he contributes this season, as lower as the bar is for the Wizards’ bench. He has two additional seasons left on his rookie-scale contract, time for Washington to figure out what it has.

Now, Brooklyn has a couple first-round picks this year — the Celtics’ and the Wizards’. That doesn’t amount to much, but the Nets are so far from relevance, getting even younger is a wise path forward.