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.
Kenny “The Jet” Smith is the next Steve Kerr?
I’m with you, I don’t see that either. But apparently in the Houston Rockets’ broad search for a new coach — we know it will not be J.B. Bickerstaff — owner Leslie Alexander would consider Smith, a member of the Rockets’ championship teams in the 1990s. From Marc Stein of ESPN.
Sources tell ESPN.com that TNT’s Kenny Smith, who like (Sam) Cassell is a former Rockets player, could also land an interview. Rockets owner Leslie Alexander remains close to many players from the team’s highly successful Clutch City era, which delivered two championships, and holds them in high esteem.
As seen in the video above, Charles Barkley asked Smith about it on Inside the NBA Wednesday and Smith tap danced around the question, saying “anything basketball is me.”
The Rockets need a defensive-minded coach and someone who can help guide and build a good locker room culture, two things that held the Rockets back this season. Someone who can get the respect of James Harden and get him to do things such as show up to training camp in shape.
That’s what makes Jeff Van Gundy an interesting fit, same with Frank Vogel if he is let go by the Indiana Pacers as it more and more seems like he will be. Both of them have experience doing what the Rockets need. Can The Jet coach? Who knows. But with Harden in his prime and some other quality role players on the roster (Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Clint Capella, and the list goes on) why gamble on the unknown?
The Chicago Bulls are trying to find their identity. They used to be a defensive team, but they went and got an offensive coach in Fred Hoiberg and by the end of the season had slid badly on that end of the floor. They are no longer Derrick Rose‘s team, but they didn’t have the personnel to run Hoiberg’s system. The Bulls need to figure out who they are and what players on the roster should be part of that team moving forward.
Expect Jimmy Butler to be part of that future. He’s the best player on the team, but he rubs some teammates the wrong way, and there have been rumors the Bulls would listen to trade offers.
The Bulls are telling teams they plan to hold on to him, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.
A league source tells CSNNE.com that the Bulls, while still open to listening to offers for Butler, are telling teams that are inquiring about his availability that their plan for now is to keep him in the fold.
And while there was some thought that a top-3 pick coupled with a few decent players might be enough to entice the Bulls to pull the trigger on a deal to trade Butler, CSNNE.com has been told such an offer would have to include at least one “legitimate, NBA starter” for the Bulls to even possibly consider trading him.
“And that might be a stretch,” the source indicated.
What is the hardest part of assembling a potential NBA title contender? Finding the elite, cornerstone player you need who can lead your team at both ends of the floor. The Chicago Bulls have that in Butler, he’s locked up under contract until at least the summer of 2019 on a good contract (a max before the TV deal money kicked in), why would they trade him?
Stranger things have happened, especially with the Bulls, but unless they want to tear it all down and rebuild — and they don’t — getting rid of Butler doesn’t make sense.
The better question is who will be around Butler come next fall. =
Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.
Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.
In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.
The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.
The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.
Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.