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

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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.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.