Three Stars of the Night: Volatile Stars Edition

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On a night where the Atlanta Hawks scored 58 points, the Memphis Grizzlies shot 30 percent from the field, and the Orlando Magic lost by 29 points…to the Washington Wizards…we could probably use some offensive outbursts to distract us, right? Well, I’ll tell you what — if it’s outbursts you want, our Three Stars are plenty capable of providing them. When O.J. Mayo (20 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists) is too cool of a customer to join the group, you know we mean business. To the stars!

Third Star: DeMarcus Cousins – (26 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks)

Toss in a flagrant foul and a technical foul to that gaudy line, and tonight’s showing against Cleveland really was the full DeMarcus Cousins experience. Cousins played like a man possessed, bullying through double teams and multiple defenders to show off some sweet spin moves and a nice touch with his baby hook. Although referees have been extra strict with him on the extra curricular stuff, Cousins forced a ton of whistles by leveraging his overwhelming strength advantage against Tyler Zeller and Tristain Thompson. Cousins, who is surprisingly a 77 percent free throw shooter, knocked in all 12 free ones and really showed the skill level that makes him such a hot commodity. There isn’t a thing he can’t do offensively, and there aren’t an awful lot of centers in the NBA who can lay stake to that claim.

 

Second Star: Russell Westbrook – (36 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists)

Westbrook doesn’t get enough praise for being one of the game’s best competitors. How many times have you seen Westbrook aloof or unaffected by what’s going out on the court? The guy has never missed a game in his NBA career and he plays his heart out every time he takes the floor. No one should be as jacked up about a third quarter fast break conversion in a game in January against the Phoenix Suns as Westbrook is. It’s a little frightening, actually, but I guess it’s not as scary as he is to opposing defenses when that jumper is falling. That stop on a dime pull-up J from the free throw line is virtually impossible to stop, and Westbrook hit about 6 or 7 shots right in that area en route to his big scoring night. If that shot ever becomes as consistent as Westbrook’s energy and effort level is on a nightly basis, head for the hills.

First Star: Rajon Rondo – (17 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists)

No player in the league is quite as mercurial as Rajon Rondo. He’ll float through games, not giving you much, and then all of the sudden he’ll snap into takeover mode where he’s pulling off fake around-the-back passes for layups. It’s confusing and a little unpredictable, but that’s Rondo. This was sort of the “take care of business” Rondo we saw tonight — his 8-for-11 shooting was tidy and efficient, and his 26th career triple-double was bare bones, yet still fulfilling. I’m not sure why any team would ever hedge on Rondo in a pick-and-roll, but he split the pick multiple times before turning Charlotte’s backline defenders into statues.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.