PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

Clippers rally to beat Thunder following ejection of Serge Ibaka

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LOS ANGELES — The Thunder looked to be well on their way to a convincing win over the Clippers on Wednesday, following a strong first half that saw them dominating the game offensively, and doing so with relative ease.

But the results of an entanglement between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin with 6.2 seconds remaining in the half changed all of that, and the loss of Ibaka via ejection impacted the game to the point where the Clippers took control almost immediately to begin the second half.

A 30-16 third quarter sealed OKC’s fate, and L.A. finished with a 111-103 victory to improve to 6-3 on the season. It was the Thunder’s second loss of the year, but head coach Scott Brooks refused to blame it on the loss of Ibaka, who had already amassed 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in under 17 minutes of action.

“They just got tangled up,” Brooks said, when asked to explain how he saw it afterward. “That’s part of it. That’s nothing that I get into. I respect what they do, my job is to coach. Players play, officials officiate the game. I have no complaints about what happened. The bottom line is they outplayed us, they created some turnovers on our part, and offensive rebounds. That’s why we lost the game. We didn’t lose the game because of that incident.”

The incident, as Brooks put it, unfolded after Ibaka flung Griffin toward the floor after the two became entangled. Matt Barnes was right there as he always seems to be, and immediately shoved Ibaka, escalating the situation. Barnes was also ejected, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact. And not surprisingly, Doc Rivers didn’t think that what Barnes did warranted an early shower.

“The only way I think Matt can possibly get thrown out in that situation is if they say he was the instigator of the whole thing,” Rivers said. “I didn’t see it that way. Clearly, I thought Ibaka grabbed Blake and swung him around, and I thought that was what instigated everything. Matt is a tough guy and he sticks up for his teammates, at least he did on that one. And that’s good.”

Barnes may be done playing the part of enforcer, at least if a since-deleted message he posted to his Twitter account is to be believed. “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these [n—–]! All this [s—] does is cost me money,” he wrote.

Regardless of how everyone views what happened, the impact on the game’s outcome was undeniable. The Thunder were already without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is away from the team due to a death in the family, and with Ibaka disqualified that left them extremely thin on the front line. OKC was getting whatever it wanted offensively in the first half — the team scored 33 points in the final 8:05 of the first quarter, by the time they had the lead to 11 in the second they had scored 26 of 42 points in the paint, and the spacing Ibaka helped provide was an important part of the Thunder shooting 54.5 percent from the field over the first two periods.

Ibaka claimed he hadn’t seen a replay of what happened, so he didn’t want to talk too much about it afterward. He also seemed done with it, no doubt empowered by his teammates and their “no excuses” mantra that was everywhere after this one.

“It’s a physical game, and anything can happen,” Ibaka said. “The referee made the decision, so I’ll take it. I didn’t see the video of it afterward, so I’ll need to watch it.

“I was very disappointed, but I’ll learn from my mistake,” Ibaka said. “All I can do know is focus on the next game.”

Kevin Durant did the heavy lifting for his team, finishing with 33 points and 10 assists, with 18 coming in the second half. He blamed everything but the ejection of Ibaka for the loss, while sticking to repeating his coach’s message that there were plenty of other reasons the game was lost.

“We’re not making no excuses,” Durant said. “We’ve got to finish the game out. No excuses. No matter who’s out there, we’ve just got to play. They beat us.”

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

Master P says Pelicans should hire him as assistant coach: ‘I’m serious’

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Did you know Master P had two NBA contracts?

Percy Miller was with the Hornets before the 1999 season and the Raptors before the 1999-00 season. But he was cut in the preseason both times.

These were mostly publicity stunts. Still, the rapper could actually play a bit. NBA quality? He long insisted yes, though his music career provided a convenient and lucrative excuse for sidetracking his basketball ambitions.

Yet, now, the New Orleans native says he wants back in the NBA with the Pelicans — in a different role.

Master P, via TMZ:

I think they need me to be an assistant coach.

I’m serious about coaching.

I don’t think he’s actually serious.

But if he is, would it be a good idea? Probably not. The Pelicans have real issues integrating Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and they need devoted coaches, not passing entertainers, to solve this.

Would it be fun? Heck yeah.

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