Our grades from Sunday around the NBA, or what you missed while watching your Ferrari get run over by a delivery truck…
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. He returns and the Oklahoma City offense, particularly in the fourth quarter, looks better. (Not great by any stretch, there’s still work to do, but better). It’s not a coincidence. Westbrook looked explosive but rusty on the finish, which is why his 21 points came on 5-of-16 shooting, but he was getting to the line and dished out seven assists. He looked like his old self. There is rust to shake off but the rest of the West should worry.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Another big line: 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting, plus 15 boards. He was attacking inside with 9 of his 19 shots coming in the restricted area (he hit seven and got to the line for 15 free throws), but he also drained an off-balance jumper then got a high-five from Spike Lee. Love also had 9 points and 5 rebounds in the fourth quarter when the Knicks made the game interesting but the T-Wolves hung on. Love and Kevin Martin (30 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 5-of-5 from three) led the Timberwolves to an offensive rating of 110.4 (points per 100 possessions) against a Knicks team that had a strong first two games defensively.
Washington Wizards defense. This isn’t just a grade earned tonight — although the Heat certainly abused them — this is one for the season. Think they miss Emeka Okafor? Washington has given up at least 100 points in all three of its games. The Wizards have allowed 108.1 points per 100 possessions in their first two games (that would have been third worst in the NBA last season) then let the Heat rack up 113. Miami shot 52.9 percent, the Heat’s “big three” had 69 points. Washington isn’t going to come close to their goal of the playoffs if they don’t clean up that end.
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns. He had an unimpressive first half (1-of-5) shooting, but after Goran Dragic left the game with an ankle sprain he stepped up — 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting in the second half. Bledsoe finished the game with 26 points and 14 assists. He kept Phoenix ahead for much of the third and the start of the fourth quarter, until Oklahoma City did what it does and pulled away. Bledsoe has struggled on the season (40.9 percent shooting) but this half was a glimpse of what he can be for Phoenix. He just needs to attack and get the threes to fall if he’s going to keep gunning them.
Athletes are injecting themselves into the needed national conversation about race, violence, and policing in this nation. That has taken some very public forms, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony speaking at the ESPYs, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and leading others to do so. Some NBA players likely will follow Kaepernick’s lead.
Pistons coach/GM Stan Van Gundy likes seeing players speak out.
A couple of his Detroit players — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — said they backed the 49ers quarterback. Here is what the never shy Van Gundy said about all of it, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.
“I’m encouraged by the fact of what some of those guys stood up and did at the ESPYs and had a conversation,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have guys that not only see the problem, but want to try to do something about it…
“To me, in some ways, (police brutality is) just the most visible to focus on and it goes to deeper inequities in our criminal justice system, our education system so there’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”
Van Gundy has been telling his players part of that solution is to vote.
The players union and NBA sent out a release saying they wanted to work together to create positive change, but details are still vague on what that might be. The only thing we know for sure as we head into the NBA season — with as divided a nation and election as anyone can remember as a backdrop — is that some NBA players are going to try and keep the conversation going.
It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.
But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.
Best. Dunk. Ever.
Weis was never the same.
In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.
Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.
The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.
Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.
Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.
Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:
For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.
“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”
Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.
I’m here for that.
I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.
Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.
But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.
Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.
Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”
It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.
One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.
Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.