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.
CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.
Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.
James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.
Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.
Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.
After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”
Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.
Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.
This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.
One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.
LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.
Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.
That lasted about a minute.
LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.
For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.
The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.
With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.
I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.
That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.