It what is the biggest must-win game of the season for the Lakers Tuesday night — at home against the Mavericks, the two teams chasing the Jazz for the final playoff spot in the West — they will be without one of their key off-season acquisitions.
Steve Nash, who has been limited the last couple Lakers games with a hip injury, is out Tuesday night, according to official Lakers reporter Mike Trudell.
This was expected, the Lakers had hinted this was coming. Steve Blake will get the start in his place.
The Lakers enter Tuesday night half a game back of the Jazz but still tied in the loss column. Win and Los Angeles is tied. Lose and they are a game back — and Utah has the tie breaker (the Jazz won the season series), so the Lakers can’t finish the season tied with the Jazz. Being one game back is like being two back for them.
The Mavericks are two back, one in the loss column. Lose to the Lakers and they are virtually out of it, having to leapfrog two teams with 8 games left in their season. Win and they are still in it (plus they get to .500 and get to shave their beards).
It’s not a literal must-win, but it’s close to it. Very close.
The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.
Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.
The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.
Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?
Andy Larsen of KSL.com:
A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.
The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.
The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.
But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adams – whose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.
Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.
After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”
Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.
Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.
How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?
It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.
Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?
Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.
But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.
James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.
Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.
The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:
Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.
The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.
It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.
The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:
Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.
However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.
He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.
“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.
“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”
Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.
Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.
Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.