Andre Iguodala

The Extra Pass: The All-Mesh Team and Tuesday’s recaps

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While the Golden State Warriors were giving the Detroit Pistons the proverbial business on Tuesday night, the Warriors’ announcing crew fawned over Andre Iguodala before asking, “who wouldn’t want to play with this guy?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course, but I tried to answer it anyway. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any joyless, Oscar the Grouchian NBA player who wouldn’t love playing with Iguodala.

And it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Iguodala defends the best player on the floor every night. He looks to distribute before anything else. He’s completely unselfish, yet he requires very little from his teammates in order to be successful. I’d be suspicious of any player who didn’t want Iguodala on their team.

Iguodala is just a player who meshes. It seems a little silly that he has only played in one All-Star game and been named to an All-Defensive team just once in his career, but guys who make a living by fitting in sometimes struggle to stand out.

There are other players like Iguodala out there. Maybe the individual accolades won’t come their way, but at least we can name them to the All-Mesh team.

PG: Pablo Prigioni, New York Knicks

Even if you don’t have a vested interest in the Knicks, watching guys like Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani stand around on the court is enough to make you throw things at your television. Maybe it’s the contrast that makes him so refreshing, but Pablo Prigioni is infinitely entertaining to watch.

Every assumption you probably had about Prigioni before you saw him play was incorrect. He’s 36-years-old and looks unathletic, but Prigioni plays with this non-stop motor defensively that drives opposing point guards nuts. The Knicks were 4.6 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Prigioni on the floor last year, and through six games this year, Prigioni has a true shooting percentage of 84.4 (!) percent.

Prigioni can play on or off the ball, he can space the floor and make the right swing pass, he won’t take bad shots, and he can change a game with his defensive hounding. The Knicks aren’t hard up for players who just want to score and do very little else, and so Prigioni provides some badly needed balance.

SG: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

You knew it wouldn’t be long until a Spur popped up on this team. Green is the preeminent “3 and D” guy in the league, but people will still make a funny face when you call him a top-10 shooting guard, for some reason.

While 3-point shooting is his calling card, what I like best about Green is his ability to protect the stars around him.

If Tony Parker is having a rough time staying with an opposing point guard, he has Green right there to take the assignment. Instead of having defenders swarm him in the post, Tim Duncan can jab step to his heart’s content because Green is sitting in the corner and keeping his man with glued to him.

His reputation is still attached to his name instead of his game, but Green is a guy literally every team could use.

SF: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

I’ve explained why he’s here, and the fact that he has fit in so incredibly well to a team loaded with wings is a testament to his blending abilities. Just thinking about how maligned he was in Philadelphia for not being Allen Iverson and shooting 35 times a game makes me sick to my stomach.

PF: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

We’ll cheat by listing Horford as a power forward, which he might actually prefer thanks to the long-standing tradition of talented big man (Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.) not wanting to be considered centers.

If there’s something on a basketball court that Horford can’t do, let me know. He contributes in every single facet of the game, and it’s hard to imagine a frontcourt partner that would be a truly bad fit for him given his varied and balanced skill-set. Every player looks better next to him, and that says it all.

C: Marc Gasol

Before I die, I’d like to write a 40,000 word ode to the Gasol brothers and the beautiful basketball they play, but I’ll spare you for the time being.

Marc resurrected the career of Zach Randolph and conditioned Defensive Player of the Year voters to value positioning over raw blocks totals, which were two things that I thought would never happen in my lifetime.

With Pau on the decline, we should be thanking the basketball gods (or Mr. and Ms. Gasol) that we still have Marc in his prime. There aren’t many players you can say this about, but you can build an entire defense around Marc, and then run your whole offense through him as well. He’s truly a brilliant player.

-D.J. Foster

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Miami 118, Milwaukee 95: The Heat had allowed almost 109 points per game in the team’s three losses this season, and after LeBron James came out and publicly declared that this would be a point of emphasis, you knew the Bucks would be in trouble. Miami led by as many as 28 points before this one was through, and even though Ray Allen missed this on due to illness, James made sure the final outcome was never in doubt with 33 points in just under 30 minutes of action.

Dallas 105, Washington 95: Dirk Nowitzki moved into 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in this one, passing Jerry West with a three-pointer late in the third quarter. As for the game itself, the Wizards were unable to dig themselves out of the hole they dug by scoring just 15 points in the second quarter while falling behind by 12 at the break. Fantasy basketball players have known about Trevor Ariza this season, but he’s starting to drift into the mainstream with performances like the one he put up in Dallas. Ariza finished with a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds, and four steals in the losing effort for the Wizards.

Golden State 113, Detroit 95: This one was over very early, as the Warriors led by 19 points after one and by 21 points at the half. Stephen Curry finished with 25 points on 10 shots in just 29 minutes, and the Warriors assisted on 28 of their 42 shots on the way to shooting 60 percent from the field for the game. Jermaine O’Neal scored 17 points in 23 minutes off the bench for Golden State — that’s how out of hand this game truly was.

L.A. Lakers 116, New Orleans 95: Jordan Hill got his first career start, and it resulted in a career-best 21 point performance, to go along with 11 rebounds. The Lakers shot almost 56 percent from the field for the game and 55 percent from three-point distance — quite a difference from their 85-point output against these same Pelicans in New Orleans just two games prior. Nick Young and Xavier Henry combined for 32 points off the bench on 13-of-19 shooting, and Anthony Davis was held in check this time around after dominating the contest during the teams’ last meeting.

Brett Pollakoff

LeBron on Cavs’ three-game losing streak: “We got to get out of the honeymoon stage”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wipes his face as he looks down after guard Kyrie Irving missed a shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-105. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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For a team that is 13-5 and atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been their intimidating selves consistently this season. There have been flashes during a 13-2 start, but mostly they win on talent, or when they flip the switch for a half, but they haven’t looked like a tested team working on building good habits through the first quarter of the NBA season. They have an elite offense, but their defense is surrendering 105.1 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the league.

It’s been worse the last four games. The Cavaliers had to come from behind to beat the Sixers, then got blown out by the Bucks and Clippers. Friday night, Cleveland lost to Chicago, giving the Cavs a three-game losing streak, and LeBron James had enough. He sent a message to his team through the media (from the Associated Press):

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

The Cavaliers would be far from the first team to have a championship hangover, and considering the five-decade title drought in Cleveland before that win we should have expected one of those “I can’t get off the couch, I’m just going to lay here and watch golf all day” kind of hangovers. As Gregg Popovich has said before, its human nature to let up after a big win.

However, the blowout loss at the hands of the Clippers Thursday — the only title contending team the Cavs have faced this season — should be a wake-up call. The fact is the Cavaliers are still playing well enough to beat everyone in the East, but their real tests come in the form of the Warriors/Clippers/Spurs out West. Right now it’s hard to picture the inconsistent defense of the Cavaliers lifting them past any of those teams in four out of seven games.

LeBron has been to six-straight Finals for a reason — he does not let up. And he’s going to have to shake this team out of its malaise to get them back to an elite standing.

It’s also the first week of December. It’s we’re having this same conversation the last week of March about the Cavaliers then it’s okay to start looking for the panic button in Cleveland. For now, trust LeBron to be the leader this team needs. Calling them out was just step one.

 

James Harden scores 20 in Rockets’ runaway win over Denver 128-110

Houston Rockets guard James Harden brings the ball upcourt against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game late Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — James Harden scored 20 points and the Houston Rockets led from start to finish in beating the Denver Nuggets 128-110 on Friday night.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson had 18 points each and Sam Dekkar added 17 points for Houston, which completed an impressive road back-to-back sweep that began with its 132-127 win over Golden State in double overtime on Thursday.

Wilson Chandler had 24 points to lead the Nuggets, who saw their three-game winning streak against the Rockets come to an end. The Nuggets have lost four of their last five and fell to 3-7 this season at home, the high-altitude venue they once routinely dominated.

Up by 10 points at halftime, the Rockets took a 99-84 lead into the fourth quarter and kept the pressure on the rest of the way as part of a sharpshooting display that included converting 17 of 37 3-point attempts against a listless Nuggets defense. Denver made 9 of 30 from beyond the arc.

The Rockets took a 73-63 halftime lead over the Nuggets, who allowed a season high in points over the first two quarters by an opponent.

Houston led by as many as 15 points in the first half, hitting nine 3 pointers, including four by Anderson, to gain early separation with its highest scoring output over the first two quarters this season.

The lack of defensive urgency by Denver was epitomized by Gordon’s fastbreak layup at the halftime buzzer as he drove the length of the court virtually uncontested in the final 3 seconds of the period.

TIP-INS

Rockets: F Trevor Ariza left the game in the final minutes with a leg injury, apparently after coming down awkwardly while going for a rebound. … Houston has made at least 10 3-pointers in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak of its kind in league history. … Houston’s previous high for first-half points was 71 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 26. … Houston is 7-2 on the road since beginning the season 2-3.

Nuggets: C Nikola Jokic missed the game because of a sore left wrist. … G Gary Harris remains sidelined with a right foot injury. … G Will Barton returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the previous two games.

 

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lead Bulls to 111-105 win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, front left, talks with Chicago Bulls' Dwyane Wade before an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James wasn’t holding back.

Cleveland’s superstar had plenty to say after the Cavaliers gave up 78 points in the paint on the way to another loss. The condensed version was this: It’s time to start playing like a championship team again.

Jimmy Butler scored 26 points, Dwyane Wade had 24 and the Chicago Bulls beat James and the slumping Cavaliers 111-105 on Friday night.

Taj Gibson added a season-high 23 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago. Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as the balanced Bulls handed the Cavaliers their third straight loss.

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

James manned up to the tune of 27 points and 13 assists, a championship-level performance on a night when he showed up dressed as a World Series champion: He arrived at the arena in a Cubs uniform to honor a World Series bet with buddy Wade.

Kyrie Irving added 20 points and eight assists, but the Cavaliers matched their longest losing streak in a year.

Chicago dominated Cleveland 78-60 in the paint, outrebounded the Cavaliers 49-33 and came out on top despite shooting 3 of 18 on 3-pointers. It was a big turnaround for the Bulls coming off a loss to the Lakers.

“I think we know what we’re capable of if we play basketball the right way and do what we’re supposed to do,” Butler said.

DOWN THE STRETCH

The Bulls used a strong third quarter to turn a one-point halftime deficit into an 88-80 lead. And they withstood several pushes in the fourth to knock off the defending NBA champions.

Kevin Love nailed a 3 to cut the lead to 103-99 with about 4 minutes left, but the Bulls hung on.

Wade drove for a layup to make it 107-101 with 2:39 remaining. Nikola Mirotic then stole the ball from James, leading to a putback basket for Wade.

Mirotic came up with another big play when he blocked a 3 by Irving with 1:11 left to cause a shot-clock violation.

KING CUB

James clearly wasn’t thrilled about having to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform after he rooted hard for his hometown Cleveland Indians in the World Series. But he was a man of his word, honoring the wager he made with Wade, his good friend and former Miami Heat teammate.

James wore a No. 23 Cubs jersey with his last name stitched across the back, a Cubs hat partially covered by a Cubbie-blue hoodie, pinstripe pants and long baseball socks. James’ uniform even had the 2016 World Series champions shoulder patch.

“I actually thought he looked good,” said Wade, who was waiting for James when he arrived at the arena and took a picture of his ex-teammate. “He actually did look like a baseball player.”

The two hugged before tipoff and had some playful moments during the game.

James patted Wade on the backside as they ran down the court together after he hit a tough fadeaway jumper over his pal in the third quarter. Wade returned the favor after burying a 3 in James’ face moments later.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: G/F Mike Dunleavy Jr. missed his second consecutive game because of a concussion.

Bulls: Rondo’s triple-double was his first with the Bulls and the 29th of his career. … Butler has 12 straight games with 20 or more points. … With the Bulls playing four times in five days, coach Fred Hoiberg said Wade won’t travel to Dallas for Saturday’s game. … Hoiberg said F Doug McDermott (concussion) could be cleared for contact shortly and might practice with the D-League’s Windy City Bulls.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard sink game winner to lift Spurs past Wizards

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: the Spurs ramped up their defense and execution in the third quarter, with their bench sparking a run that gave them the lead, then they held on and got the game-winning shot from their star on a clever play.

LaMarcus Aldridge set the screen that freed up Manu Ginobili to be the playmaker, then set another that got Kawhi Leonard a clean look at the game winner. Aldridge had 19 points on the night, but it’s those things that do not show up in the box score that gets the Spurs wins.

Plus, they just make shots under pressure.