Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns

The Extra Pass: Boxed out and Thursday’s Recaps

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You probably already know what I’m going to say about Shane Battier before I even say it.

For 12 seasons, Battier has largely defied conventional box scores by doing all the things that don’t show up there.

It’s been a long-standing feud between Battier and the box score, really, but it’s a feud that Battier is on the brink of losing.

Battier is maturing. Box scores are not. Box scores, actually, have stayed almost exactly the same over the last 12 years. They’re pretty much unaffected by time.

We are in the midst of the sport’s biggest analytic movement. Great strides are being made. Fantastic information is out there. But for the stat lines most commonly seen by 99 percent of fans? The best we can do for an advanced stat is a plus/minus number that is almost completely worthless on an individual game basis and borrowed from another sport, no less.

So why haven’t we seen any changes on the front lines, despite all the progress? Basketball takes its cue from baseball in this regard: keep things consistent, simple, and easy to digest. It doesn’t matter that there’s better information out there. RBI’s will be listed because RBI’s have always been listed, and also, how dare you try to sully RBI’s.

A changing sport with changing statistics requires change in representation and consumption. Would Dean Oliver’s Four Factors be nice to have available? Sure. Team efficiency numbers? Great. But I’m not asking for the world. We can walk before we run.

Tonight provided a perfect example for why things should be a little different.

Shane Battier was an afterthought on paper with 7 points in 22 minutes. But on the court? He completely changed the game.

Battier’s mobility allowed him to trap Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls, and the Clippers offense was completely stifled once the ball was forced out of Paul’s hands.

We’re still working on how best to convey that sort of thing, but there was something else Battier did in the Miami Heat’s 102-97 win that we could start listing tomorrow.

Battier drew three huge charges in the second half. Momentum shifting, backbreaking, gamechanging charges. But guess what — the stats give him no credit. That’s nowhere on his “line” for the night.

Isn’t that a problem?

It makes no sense. Blocked shots lead to a change of possession roughly 57 percent of time, but we’ll record that, we’ll base awards on that, and we’ll form opinions on that while a play that results in a change of possession 100 percent of the time only gets recorded by a few websites and never sniffs a box score.

Battier was unquestionably one of the most important players on the court Thursday night, and there’s been plenty of nights just like this one throughout his career. This particular one will be forgotten, unmarked and deemed unremarkable statistically like all the others. How many more times does that have to happen before something changes?

-D.J. Foster

 

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Heat 102, Clippers 97: We covered this in greater detail, but the short version is that there was too much Dwyane Wade for the Heat and not enough Chris Paul for the Clippers. On a night where LeBron James was far from dominant, one more big time performance on the opposing team might have been enough to steal one in Miami, but the Heat’s strategy of making sure to key the defense on the game’s best point guard ended up being enough on a night where Wade was simply sublime when it mattered most.

Nuggets 109, Hawks 107: Denver held on for its first win of the season, but it was anything but easy and the team has real issues to work through if it’s going to once again make it to the playoffs. Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, and Nate Robinson did the bulk of the damage offensively, while new head coach Brian Shaw continued to shuffle his lineups, going 11 players deep while trying to find the right combination. Atlanta’s frontcourt of Paul Millsap and Al Horford was too much for the Nuggets’ starting unit inside, but three of Denver’s six players who scored in double figures came off the bench in this one to secure the team’s victory.

Lakers 99, Rockets 98: Steve Blake hit a three-pointer off of an out of bounds play with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Lakers the victory, and despite the fact that the Rockets will be better over the course of the long regular season, it’s a comforting victory for L.A. nonetheless. The Lakers blew a big lead in this game, but it’s to be expected given the gap in talent between the two teams’ rosters. Plenty of Lakers fans wanted this one badly given the way Dwight Howard spurned the team in free agency over the summer, and they largely got their wish. Howard’s numbers were fine, but he was fouled intentionally throughout the final period and finished just 5-of-12 from the line in under six minutes of fourth quarter action. L.A. won this game on the strength of its three-point shooting and because the Rockets simply didn’t convert a high percentage of their shots. James Harden was an inefficient 9-of-24 from the field in scoring his 35 points, and Houston as a team shot just 37.7 percent from the field. Wes Johnson and Jodie Meeks were the stars for the Lakers on this night, which makes you wonder if this performance was at all repeatable under reasonably similar circumstances.

-Brett Pollakoff

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Kevin Durant saves his best games for Thunder

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles past Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena on January 18, 2017 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Here are the big takeaways from a busy night around the NBA:

1) Kevin Durant saves his best games for Russell Westbrook, Thunder. Prior to Wednesday night, Kevin Durant’s highest-scoring game this season was 39 points, something he broke out the first time his new Warriors team faced his old Thunder squad. Then Wednesday Durant an incredibly efficient 40 points on 16 shots — again against the Thunder. Just in case there wasn’t enough salt rubbed in that OKC wound.

Whatever you think of his choice, Durant’s team is way better than Westbrook’s, which is both expected and why KD made the move — he is closer to a ring now. Part of that is obviously what Durant brings to the Golden State offense — and how efficiently he’s been doing it this season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9, his career best (for some perspective, the league average is around 52). But also he’s been bringing it on the defensive end this season, particularly of late, having a strong game against LeBron James Monday then doing well when switched onto Westbrook a couple of times in this game. Durant would be having an MVP-level season most years, but Westbrook and James Harden change the equation this time around.

Westbrook himself had a triple-double (that’s 21 this season) in the loss… actually, it was a quadruple-double when you throw in the 10 turnovers. Westbrook wasn’t efficient, hitting 8-of-23 from the field, and when he isn’t this team struggles to win, they rely on him that much. Of course, that’s not the play everyone is talking about — rather, it’s Zaza Pachulia with the hard foul, and then taunting Westbrook by standing over him.

When Westbrook saw that, he promised to “get his ass back.” These teams meet again in March — when Durant returns to Oklahoma City for the first time in a Warriors’ uniform.

Bonus thing we saw: Russell Westbrook had the travel of the year (and Kemba Walker tried to top him).
Even in the NBA, this is a travel — and a funny one.

Earlier in the night, Kemba Walker got away with one almost as bad.



2) The Sixers beat the Raptors and have now won 7-of-9.
When this run of wins from the Sixers started, it was easy to say “they are just beating other weak teams.” Then they beat the Bucks. Wednesday night they beat the Raptors. Brett Brown has settled on a 10-man rotation, found lineups he likes with Joel Embiid starting (surrounded by shooters) and Nerlens Noel relieving him off the bench. Plus, the Sixers are finding their defensive identity. It’s coming together.

Still, this is all about Embiid — the Sixers are outscoring teams by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. He had 26 points — including 12-of-14 from the free throw line — plus nine rebounds against Toronto. The man is a force. The only question the next couple of weeks is will he be an All-Star?


3) Rudy Gay is out for the season, which changes West playoff chase and trade picture.
This is bad news for the Kings, and it is worse news for Rudy Gay himself — trying to drive out of the right corner Wednesday night, Gay tore his left Achilles tendon (something the team announced, although it needs to be confirmed by an MRI Thursday).

Gay is done for this season and likely the start of the next one.

In the short term, that is a blow to the Kings’ playoff chances. Technically they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers, but the Kings have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions this season when Gay is off the court. This isn’t the same team without him. Gay has scored 18.7 points per game, which was second-best on the team, and now that role falls to Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi (once Casspi returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks). Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, meaning don’t be surprised if Sacramento tries to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

It also changes the trade deadline. Gay was clear he wanted out of Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone on the trade block. Teams were calling about him, including the Thunder (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted what the team might do). Now obviously that is off the table, and the question becomes will Gay even opt out?

Kings’ Rudy Gay suffers apparent torn left Achilles tendon, would be done for season

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This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.

Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.

Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.

Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings — this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court — and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.

That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.