With teams busting it for playoff position tonight we feature three guys that helped their team big time Sunday night and got them in better playoff position.
Third Star: James Harden (29 points, 9 assists)
Houston controls its own destiny — win out and they get the six seed (and don’t have to face the Spurs or Thunder in the first round). And James Harden helped make that happen on Sunday, carving up Sacramento, getting all those points on just 16 shots. He had 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting in the first half. If you want a stat for how good a season Harden has had, the last Rockets player to have as many 20-point games in a season as him (64) was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994-95.
Second Star: Andre Iguodala(28 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds)
Since Danilo Gallinari went down Andre Iguodala has seemed to step up. He had big numbers against the hapless Trail Blazers, but in his last five games Iggy is averaging 16.8 points a game on 47.8 percent shooting (42.9 percent from three) with 9.4 assists and 10.2 rebounds. He single-handedly seemed to shut down every little run the Blazers made and this would have been a blowout if not from another amazing performance from Damian Lillard. With the win, the Nuggets are on the verge of locking up the three seed.
First Star: Dwight Howard(26 points, 17 rebounds)
Dwight Howard wanted to be the man in this one — he aggressively established his position on the low block early and bullied his way to the rim for 10 first quarter points. As he has been he was a defensive anchor for the Lakers and he got some help from the energy of the guys on the perimeter for a change. (The Spurs also just missed some shots, but the Lakers will take it.)
The bottom line is the Lakers out-hustled the Spurs on the night and Howard led that charge. And with that win the Lakers magic number to make the playoffs is one — they can clinch it themselves with a win over Houston Wednesday.
Jimmy Butler wants Mason Plumlee to pay fine after scuffle (video)
Plumlee lowered his head and tried to barrel through Butler’s chest on a Butler screen. Butler fell and retaliated by putting Plumlee in a leg lock, causing Plumlee to fall.
You might remember a leg lock as what Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova did to Bulls forward Taj Gibson during last year’s playoffs. For all the talk then of Dellavedova being a dirty player, Butler seems particularly aggrieved after getting a technical foul, which comes with a $2,500 fine – the same penalty Dellavedova eventually received. (Plumlee got a flagrant foul.)
“He thought he was playing football for a second there,” Butler said. “Almost had to let the Fort Greene Projects out of me, Brooklyn, you know what I’m saying?”
It was said tongue in cheek considering Gibson was a few feet over and Butler wanted to draw some laughs. Gibson is a Brooklyn native and grew up in the Fort Greene Projects while Butler grew up in Tomball, Texas.
It was no laughing matter when he said he would find a way to approach Plumlee about the fine money, jokingly suggesting he would have his agent email him at “Mr. Dukie@yahoo.com or something” and made a joke about Mike Dunleavy applauding Plumlee’s act.
Plumlee and Dunleavy are products of Duke University.
“Yeah, he cost me 2,500,” Butler said. “I’m not happy about that. Gonna ask him to pay me back and I’m not playing.”
“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.
“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”
Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the
Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8
The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.
I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.
If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.
At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.
This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.
Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs
Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.