Tuesday Night NBA Grades: Overlook the Pacers at your own peril

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Our grades from Tuesday night around the NBA, or what you missed while debating the Top 10 superhero movies

source:  Indiana Pacers. They have been the best team in the NBA through the first week plus — they are undefeated at 4-0 thanks to a lock-down defense and Paul George. That defense is the best in the NBA this young season and they neutralized the big Pistons big front line, turning the Pistons into jump shooters — and Detroit is terrible at that. The Pistons shot just 37.9 percent on the night. Indiana also has the still improving Paul George — 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting against Detroit. This team went seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals and returned noticeably better.

source:  LeBron James, Miami Heat. Just another LeBron James night — 35 points on 13-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, and just one turnover leading a Heat team that has been up and down this young season to a quality win in Toronto without Chris Bosh. LeBron had 10 points in the first quarter and helped keep Miami in it for the part or the game Toronto played well (that changed).

source:  New Orleans Pelicans. After an impressive 6-1 preseason we had high hopes, but the Pelicans are now 1-3 this season after a sloppy loss to the Suns. While New Orleans hasn’t looked good on either end it is their defense that is concerning — they didn’t get out to shooters against Phoenix and paid a price. The offense just is not good enough to overcome that. It’s a process in New Orleans, but one off to a slow start.

source:  Charlotte Bobcats. This team is not all bad, even without Al Jefferson. Charlotte is now 2-2 on the season and Tuesday night went into Madison Square Garden, took an early lead and never surrendered it to the slumping Knicks. Kemba Walker was creating shots on his way to 25 points and six assists, Gerald Henderson added 18 and Michael Kidd-Grilchrist did a good job defensively on Carmelo Anthony with the game on the line.

source:  Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors. It’s no fair that he was matched up on LeBron most of the night, but Gay was completely dominated — LeBron scored in the post and on the perimeter and did whatever he wanted. I’d say he forced Gay into bad shot choices but Gay does that anyway. The real reason for the bad grade is this is just another night in the slow start this season for the guy supposed to lead Toronto — Gay is shooting 32.3 percent overall and 30.8 percent from three, with a PER of 10.6. Ugh.

source:  James Harden/Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets. Credit these two for bouncing back. Both played poorly in Los Angeles the night before then made a difficult back-to-back trip up to Portland, and both showed up ready to play. Howard had 22 points on 13 shots, plus 13 rebounds. Harden had 33 points on 18 shots. Both played much better defense and Houston got the win (116-101).

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”