Three Stars of the Night: Heat Checked

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Three games were on the menu Thursday night, and each brought their own unique flavor.

If you love defense (or hate scoring), Pacers-Knicks was the game for you. With Carmelo Anthony serving his one-game suspension, the Knicks really struggled to generate offense and relied almost solely on J.R. Smith heroics most of the night. That didn’t exactly work against the league’s best defense, however, and the Pacers grinded out another win at home.

Speaking of suspensions, guess who got ejected (twice!) in Sacramento? DeMarcus Cousins played a magnificent game offensively, but he took a whack at Vince Carter’s face that earned him his 6th foul, which was ultimately deemed a flagrant-two. As for the game itself? Hilariously awful. Isaiah Thomas hit a buzzer-beating banked 3-pointer to push it to overtime, but both teams traded awful passes, missed free throws, and terrible decisions until the Mavericks finally decided they wanted to lose less than the Kings. I refuse to believe one of these teams won.

As for Portland-Miami? A few members of the red hot Blazers earned their place in the stars below. To the Three Stars of the Night!

 

Third Star: Wesley Matthews – (18 points, game-tying and game-winning threes)

It takes some serious, serious intestinal fortitude to do what Wes Mathews did against the Miami Heat. After watching his team come back from a 13-point halftime deficit largely without his help, Matthews managed to stay confident despite his ugly 5-for-16 night. When the ball came to him down three points with under a minute left, Matthews nailed an open corner 3 to tie the game. Then, down two after a Miami bucket, Matthews went one-on-one against Ray Allen and stepped back to nail the incredibly difficult go-ahead 3. And finally, as if he hadn’t done enough already, Matthews played brilliant defense on LeBron James on the game’s final possession, as helped to force the ball out of LeBron’s hands. Although Mario Chalmers ended up with a wide-open look, it was Matthews who ended up being the unquestioned and unlikely crunch time hero.

 

Second Star: Paul George – (24 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 steals)

Yesterday, we talked about how the Pacers are staying alive this year, and how Paul George is a huge part of that. With J.R. Smith representing the only threat to create his own offense off the dribble, George locked in defensively and used his incredible length to bother Smith into a 10-for-29 shooting night while also recording a career-high six steals. George’s defense and forced turnovers really set the table for a Pacers offense that desperately needed some easy buckets. Watching George grow more and more comfortable as a wing-scorer is exciting, but it’s his development defensively that should have Eastern Conference foes worried. George can legitimately guard every position on the floor, and he’s a nightmare to score against in an isolation. If you could head play basketball Frankenstien and create the ideal wing defender to guard LeBron James, it would look an awful lot like Paul George.

 

First Star: Nicolas Batum – (28 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists)

Batum just keeps adding layers to his game, slowly but surely. He’s always been a good spot-up shooter and a good defender, but Batum has spent more time with the ball in his hands than ever before, and he’s shown the chops of a really solid playmaker early on this season. Batum’s assists have jumped from 1.4 a game last season to 4.5 this year, and although it was Matthews who knocked in the game-tying 3-pointer, it was Batum who found him open in the corner. That was just one of the many great plays Batum made in the second half to help the Blazers climb back into it. He may never be a pure isolation scorer, but Batum plays smart team ball and could absolutely develop into an acceptable accompanying star on a contending team if he keeps steadily improving.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”