Three Stars of the Night: All Purpose Big Man Edition

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Defense. Rebounding. Points in the paint. Toughness.

When you think of an NBA big man, these are likely the qualities you’re looking for. You want the guy who can get your team baskets close to the rim, stop the other team from doing the same, and do it all while giving your team a sense of physicality.

Of course, you also want your big man to have great skill and feel for the game. Because while all those other traits are great, being able to play through your big man at the high post is also a tremendous asset. Being able to give him the ball at the elbow, survey the defense, and make the right read to an open teammate, is invaluable.

Tonight, our Three Stars give you the best of both worlds. They are the all-purpose bigs. Let’s go…

Third Star: David Lee (21 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists)

Every night David Lee just continues to prove why he’s making the all-star team next month. Offensively, he’s just a load with touch out to 20 feet and the ability to finish with all varieties of shots in the paint. And, with Andrew Bogut back, Lee’s improved defense should become even more reliable. But the most underrated part of his game is his facilitating, where Lee often works with the ball in his hands around the edges of the Warriors offense playing set up man for their other scoring threats. Against the Raptors, this part of Lee’s game was on full display as he zipped passes to Klay Thompson and Steph Curry for open jumpers and tapped touch passes to Bogut for dunks inside.

Second Star: Joakim Noah (13 points, 18 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks)

There may not be a big man in the East playing a more well rounded game than Noah. Of course, his defense is some of the best in the league, both in the pivot and in blowing up pick and rolls with his quickness and smarts. And while he’s not the biggest scoring threat, he does well enough on that end to help his team. And when you add in his tremendous passing from the high post in the Bulls’ offensive sets where off ball screens are being used to compensate for Derrick Rose’s absence, Noah’s full game is simply a joy to watch. Well, unless you’re the opponent, like the Bobcats were tonight. Noah’s work on the glass and in setting up his mates were just as big to the victory as Jimmy Butler’s continued strong efforts on offense or Nate Robinson getting hot. There really aren’t that many big men that can give you the type of night that Noah did.

First Star: Marc Gasol (27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, game sealing block)

On most nights, Gasol gives you all-star level impact but not necessarily the numbers to go with it. But, maybe  the West coaches should have chosen Gasol to the all-star team and saved themselves this level of fury, because sine he was snubbed he’s giving the numbers and the impact. Against the 76ers, Gasol brought all aspects of his offensive game, scoring in the paint and from range with his jumper while also bringing his trademark elite passing. His jumper was wet and his defense was rock solid too. And when the game was on the line, he got the block that sealed the game.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.