Indiana Pacers center Hibbert puts up a shot against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Williams during their NBA basketball game in Indianapolis

Three Stars of the Night: Guys that their teams need in the playoffs edition


Every team entering the playoffs needs their star to step up, but these three guys have a little extra weight on their shoulders. Without big performances these guys’ teams sink fast in the postseason (or in Kobe’s case, don’t even make the playoffs).

Honorable mention tonight to Thaddeus Young who put up 24 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort.

Third Star: Kobe Bryant (31 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists)

The Lakers recent run of wins came because Dwight Howard started playing better defense, because the Lakers started to find an identity, and mostly because Kobe was running the offense, scoring and setting guys up. If they are going to make the playoffs, let alone do any damage, they are going to need him back and moving well after his severe ankle sprain. They are also going to need a more efficient Kobe than the one Wednesday who needed 33 shots to get his 31 points — those kind of numbers get the Lakers golfing early. Especially against the top of the West.

Second Star: Stephen Curry (31 points, 8 assists)

It’s not just Curry with the Warriors, it’s really him and David Lee in concert. The Warriors don’t play enough defense as a team to have that win them playoff games (and that likely is their undoing), but they can win games when Curry and Lee put up big games. And Curry did that against the Pistons on Wednesday. Curry got his 31 points on 14 shots and was 5-of-7 from three. Golden State is going to need a lot more of that to get out of first round, and other teams will put up more resistance than the slumping Pistons.

First Star: Roy Hibbert (27 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks)

Count me in the camp that says if one team has a shot at the Heat in the East, it’s the Pacers. Actually, after the last 20 games I don’t think any team in the East has a real chance, but the Pacers have the best of the insane long shots. But for that to happen (or even to reach the conference finals) they need Hibbert to play the best basketball of his career. Against an undermanned Timberwolves team Wednesday Hibbert was that guy — he absolutely dominated the paint and got his team the win. It’s another thing to do that against a playoff team, but after how poorly Hibbert started the season it’s good to see him rounding into form when it matters most.

Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha on not guilty verdict: “Justice was served”

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Friday morning, a New York jury found Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The charges stemmed from the night in the final weeks of last season when Sefolosha and then teammate Pero Antic went to a New York club after arriving in town, and while there Pacers’ player Chris Copeland was stabbed outside the club. In his clash with police, Sefolosha suffered a broken leg that required surgery and kept him out of the playoffs.

The New York prosecutor tried to make this go away with a plea deal of just day of community service and six months probation. But Sefolosha had the means and mind to fight the charges, got his day in court and won. This is what he said in a statement after the verdict, released by the Atlanta Hawks.

“This morning’s verdict ended a long and emotional period for me.  Justice was served and for that I am eternally grateful to the judge and jury for their quick and deliberate decision….

“It’s troubling to me that with so much evidence in my support that this case would even be brought to trial and that I had to defend myself so hard to get justice. It pains me to think about all of the innocent people who aren’t fortunate enough to have the resources, visibility and access to quality legal counsel that I have had.

“It was important to me as a man, a father to two young girls and as a role model, to stand up for what I believe in and have my name cleared of any wrongdoing.  Today’s verdict will not make up for the pain and trauma my family and I have suffered over the past six months or bring back the opportunity to have played in the Eastern Conference Finals and have a shot at an NBA title, but it does bring me some peace and closes a painful chapter in my life.

“Now I look forward to returning to the team and focusing solely on my rehabilitation for the upcoming season so that I can get back to playing the game I cherish so much.”

While Sefolosha says he is focusing “solely” on his rehab, the win in the criminal case would bode well for a potential civil case if he wanted to sue regarding his treatment and the broken leg.

Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer — who testified at the trial and was amused by parts of it — released this statement:

“Thabo is a man of great character and we are proud that he took a principled approach to proving his innocence. We are extremely happy for him and his family, and we are very pleased with today’s verdict in his favor.”

Byron Scott doesn’t care about exhausting Lakers in preseason

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The Warriors use wearable technology to track players and have rested them when the data revealed fatigue. Gregg Popovich is holding relatively healthy Spurs out of practice. Heck, Popovich doesn’t even send himself to every preseason games.

Meanwhile, with the Lakers…

Lakers coach Byron Scott, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

“I don’t necessarily care about tired legs in preseason,” Scott said. “I think everything that we’ve done thus far will pay off at the end of the day. You’ve got some guys that might have tired legs and [are] a little worn out, but all the running as far as getting into that physical condition that we need to get into, I think in December and January, it will pay off.

“So I’m not necessarily worried about guys having tired legs in preseason. They’ll just have to kind of fight through that fatigue part of it. And I think mentally it gets them a little stronger anyway.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers coach has a reputation for demanding a lot of running in the preseason. It’s important in his mind because the Lakers will be better conditioned than other teams down the road.

Players, predictably, aren’t as enthused about it.

Bresnahan quotes just two players, Brandon Bass and D'Angelo Russell, and neither expressed much resistance to Scott’s methods. But I trust Bresnahan to read the team’s pulse.

I also think Scott is right: Fighting through fatigue builds mental toughness. But it also makes players tired, and it’s not the only way to instill toughness. The Warriors are tough. The  Spurs are tough. They didn’t have to run their players into the ground to get that way.

Scott loves to project himself as old-school and anti-analytic. Thankfully for the Lakers, his actual methods aren’t as bad as he conveys. For example, he said the Lakers would take an absurdly low 10-15 3-pointers per game last season. In reality, they hoisted nearly 19 per game, 25th in the league. That might not have been enough for that roster, but at least it wasn’t leaps and bounds below the norm.

So, I’m not convinced Scott is pushing the Lakers as hard as he wants everyone to believe. But he’s  clearly giving them a bigger workload than many teams.

If the Lakers are playing relevant games late in the season, this could come back to bite them. On the bright side, they probably won’t have to worry about that problem.