Josh Smith, Andre Drummond

Joe Dumars hopes Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt can take cues from Hawks and Grizzlies

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Which team has the best starting frontcourt in the NBA?

Depending on how you value the top player compared to the depth of the trio, there are several contenders including:

  • Nets (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez)
  • Bulls (Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah)
  • Nuggets (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee)
  • Warriors (Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut)
  • Pacers (Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert)
  • Grizzlies (Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol)
  • Heat (LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh)
  • Timberwolves (Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic)
  • Thunder (Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins)
  • Spurs (Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter)

I’ll offer one other wildcard option: the Pistons with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Those three have a lot of talent, though it’s not clear how they will fit together. None is a good shooter outside the paint, but perhaps they can create other matchup advantages by being big. Really big.

If Smith adapts to playing small forward, if Monroe develops defensively, if Drummond can handle big minutes, they could be excellent. Obviously, their partnership relies on a lot of ifs.

Joe Dumars realizes that too, and he addressed them in a fantastic Q&A with Zach Lowe of Grantland:

I’m sure you anticipated the spacing concerns everyone has raised since you signed Josh Smith, a non-shooter who has played mostly power forward the last few seasons. Why did you go with Josh, another big, instead of chasing someone like maybe Andre Iguodala on the wing? Or are you not all that worried about the spacing stuff?

We just thought we needed to get better from a pure talent standpoint. And that’s where Smith and Jennings and KCP [rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] and Chauncey [Billups] come in. That was first and foremost — just to raise the talent level.

Of course, you don’t have the stretch [power forward] or the 3-point shooting [small forward] in that lineup, but what you do have in Monroe and Smith are two guys who really have high basketball IQs, and are very, very good passers. Even if you’re not spreading to the 3-point line, when you have high IQ guys playing together, they make plays for each other.

And I don’t know how many minutes we’ll have that front line [Drummond, Smith, Monroe] on the floor together, once you get past the first six minutes for the first quarter. It’s not like it’s going to be 40 minutes a night with that front line. Monroe will slide to [center], Josh will slide to [power forward]. It’s not a concern of ours.

Did you look to Memphis as something of an inspiration — another team that struggles for spacing, but that managed to squeeze out enough points after the Rudy Gay trade by just moving the ball and using a great passing big in Marc Gasol to run a lot of the offense?

We looked at that. We actually talked about them a lot. There are definitely similarities. We watched a lot of film of them, and what they were doing after Tayshaun [Prince] got there, and how it worked. And it clearly worked.

Smith and Al Horford ran a mean big-big pick-and-roll in Atlanta.

Exactly. That’s because Josh can really pass the ball. He can deliver. When you have frontcourt guys who can pass the ball … that’s why Marc Gasol is so, so good. That’s why with Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis, centers who could really pass it, you don’t worry about what the system is, because whatever it is, they are going to figure it out.

At minimum, Detroit’s starting frontcourt is wayyyy more talented than last year’s – Kyle Singler, Jason Maxiell and Monroe – so that bodes well for the Pistons, but it’s not the only factor in their success. Maurice Cheeks will have his work cut out for him in making everything work.

But, as Dumars said, the Grizzlies and Hawks – and even the 1980s Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, whom Dumars alludes to elsewhere in the interview – provide a blueprint, and the Pistons have a real chance of overcoming their fit problems.

If Detroit’s frontcourt does that and allows its talent to shine, maybe, just maybe, it could be among the NBA’s best.

Three questions to answer: Cavaliers vs. Warriors rematch (plus notes on other MLK Day games)

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It’s the best rivalry going in the NBA — the game that matters most to both teams. Even if they try to deny it. This is a rematch of the last two NBA Finals and a likely preview of the next one, and this January game is a measuring stick. Here are three things to watch for, and after that notes on the other nationally televised games on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

1) Can the Warriors break the Cavaliers’ mental advantage in this series? The Warriors will say the Cavaliers are not in their heads, because that’s not just what competitors say, it’s what they have to believe. However, The Cavaliers have won four straight games against the Warriors dating back to last year’s Finals — Cleveland came from 3-1 down on basketball’s biggest stage to take the title, then came from 14 down to beat the Warriors on Christmas Day. In those games, LeBron James has been nothing short of brilliant and Kyrie Irving has been a late-game killer.

January games don’t decide June series, but the Warriors certainly could use the confidence boost against the Cavs. David West was honest about that speaking to CSNBayArea.com.

“This is a very important game for us,” West said Sunday, “because this is the last time we’re going to be able to measure ourselves against these guys. The only other time we’d get to face them would be in The Finals.”

Two straight Finals meetings means these teams know each other and their sets very well. There are no secrets. That’s an advantage for Cleveland: Golden State runs a lot of deception, fake screens, relatively meaningless actions designed to distract from what they really want to do. But by now the Cavs have seen it all. They aren’t fooled. The Warriors need to beat the Cavs one-on-one occasionally. That is what’s at the core of the Cavaliers game plan — we’re going to force Stephen Curry onto LeBron James or Kyrie Irving (via a switch on a pick), then isolate and bet he can’t stop them. It’s simple but it works, and the Warriors have not had an answer.

Being at home should help the Warriors. The bottom line is they can say the Cavaliers are not in their heads all they want, the Warriors could use a confidence-boosting win to convince themselves of that.

2) Kevin Durant was the best player on the court on Christmas, can Stephen Curry be? There is another way to phrase that question (which ties into the first one): Are the Cavaliers in Curry’s head? He had a rough Finals at points. Curry was a relatively passive 4-of-11 for 15 points on Christmas Day, and immediately after said he needed to be more aggressive.

In the Cavaliers’ four straight wins over the Warriors, Curry has shot  37 percent overall (36 percent from three) and has 15 turnovers to 10 assists. Cavaliers use physical defenders and are aggressive against Curry, they try to trap him and bait him into the flashy, playground-style passes that ignite the Warriors — except the Cavaliers have the defenders to turn those passes into steals and transition buckets. It’s the reason Durant was the best player on the Warriors on Christmas Day (36 points on 26 shots) — the Cavaliers are a very good help/schematic defensive team, but they have guys who can be beaten in isolation. Durant thrives in isolation.

Curry needs not to be baited into bad passes, be aggressive looking for his shot but pick his spots, get to the line a little more, and just knock down some shots.

3) How do the Warriors handle Kyle Korver? This is the one change after the Christmas day matchup. After they finally got a practice under their belts to figure things out, Tyron Lue slid Korver into the “LeBron and the bench” lineup —LeBron James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Korver, and Channing Frye. It worked well, as you might expect LeBron surrounded by shooters would work, and Kover had 18 against the Kings. How well this works against the Warriors though could be different — it’s not easy for the Cavs to keep Frye on the court against the Warriors matchups.

That said, the fact defenders can’t leave Korver to help is a boost to the Cavs when they start to run picks to get Curry switched onto Irving or LeBron. Either Korver is going to get some “butt-naked looks” (Tyronn Lue’s words) or he’s going to open it up for teammates. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the Warriors go with Shaun Livingston or someone else off the bench to counter Korver Sunday.

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There are other interesting games on Martin Luther King day, here’s a few things to watch (all times Eastern):

Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks, (1 p.m. NBA TV). The Hawks have won 8-of-9 and are defending incredibly well. The Knicks have won 2-of-12 and have defended very poorly — and that has led to all kinds of speculation and rumors around the team. Another loss would just stoke that fire.

Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets (5 p.m. NBA TV). The teams have struggled but there are two players worth watching here. Denver’s Nikola Jokic is one of the best sophomores in the league, averaging 13.3 points a game on 58 percent shooting, plus he is a gifted passer. Orlando’s Aaron Gordon is struggling in his adjustment to playing the three, but he’s a good perimeter defender and the games he is aggressive on offense good things happen.

Oklahoma City Thunder at LA Clippers (10:30 p.m. TNT). The Clippers have won six in a row, and Chris Paul has been phenomenal since his return. Russell Westbrook has been phenomenal all season, 18 triple-doubles in 40 games, but the Thunder are on the second night of a back-to-back.

James Harden’s 12th triple-double helps Rockets end 2-game skid

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NEW YORK (AP) James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game.

Joel Embiid helps bring hundreds of fans to D.C. with ‘Bus the Process’

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Joel Embiid has fans all around the NBA. Some even came out to see him during the Philadelphia 76ers game against the Washington Wizards on Saturday despite the Cameroonian big man sitting out due to restrictions on playing in back-to-back games.

#BusTheProcess was the hashtag used to get 350 Sixers fans to the game in D.C. thanks to Embiid, coach Brett Brown, and the podcast The Rights to Ricky Sanchez.

Via Twitter and ESPN:

Fun stuff for some dedicated fans, even if they didn’t get to see Embiid play.

Unfortunately for the #BusTheProcess folks, the 76ers wound up losing to the Wizards, 109-93.

Ball ricochets off Robin Lopez’s face, Bulls score anyway (VIDEO)

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Robin Lopez #8 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michael Carter-Williams is still shaking the dust off after being inserted into the starting lineup, I guess. At least, that’s about what you can say when you pass the ball off your starting center’s face.

But there’s good news! The Chicago Bulls scored on this play.

Let’s take a look at the whole thing, shall we?

I think the more important question is whether Carter-Williams received a secondary or primary assists on the NBA.com tracking site.