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.

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.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.