Deron Williams playing better in games by skipping practices

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The Nets’ move to Brooklyn hasn’t been that kind to Deron Williams.

In posting stats that represent some of the worst of his career, the face of the franchise with the new max contract simply hasn’t been playing up to his normal standards and it’s been one of the main reasons the Nets hadn’t been performing up to expectations for most of the season.

Recently, however, Williams has started to find his stride. Coincidentally, so have his Nets who have rattled off six straight wins. What’s been the secret to Williams’ change in production? To hear him tell it, it’s because he’s found time to rest his nagging injuries by not practicing as often. From Stefan Bondy of the NY Daily News:

“Early on I felt like I wanted to practice so much. I kind of felt like I was soft if I’m not out there and my teammates are out there practicing,” he said. “I’ve just been a lot smarter about it. It’s just been one of those things where either you want it in practice, or you want it in games. Because of that, my ankle feels better. My wrist feels better.

“That’s a big key for me going through my head, it feels a lot better. I’m more confident, just because I know I’m not as injured. It doesn’t affect you, it doesn’t weigh on you.”

In the recent 6 game win streak, Williams is scoring 19.5 points and dishing out 8.3 assists while shooting 46.8% from the floor (48.3% from three point range). He’s also not missed a FT in 31 attempts. These numbers represent big boosts from his season long numbers (16.8 points, 7.7 assists), especially in his shooting percentages where Williams is near career lows from the field and behind the arc.

His recent play is representative of the player the Nets thought they traded all those assets for two seasons ago; the player they signed to that huge contract this past July.

That said, it will be interesting to see how long a strategy of resting Williams in practice to maximize his production in games can be utilized to such good results. Taking time away from the practice court to heal nagging ailments is something that many players do throughout a grueling 82 game campaign. It’s one of the necessary things players have to do in order to perform their best in the actual games.

But there is also a time where your best players have to be on the practice court as leaders and to set the tone for the team.

With the Nets streaking to 6 straight wins and producing an 8-1 record since P.J. Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson as head coach, they’ve seemingly not yet reached that point with Williams. However, once he is feeling better physically, I’d expect him to want to return to the practice floor and rejoin his mates.

For now, however, he should keep doing what he’s doing. It’s obviously working. Both for him and for the Nets.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders: