Sunday night NBA grades: The Pistons’ “three bigs” lineup is a mess

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Our grades for what happened around the NBA Sunday….

source:   Pistons’ “three bigs” lineup of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. The Pistons are force-feeding this trio, trying to get it to work, but it remains a mess on the defensive end. Check out these numbers from Sunday night: When they were together the Lakers averaged 127.8 points per 100 possessions, shot 59.6 percent, hit 7-of-13 from three, which means an eFG% of 66.4 percent, and Jordan Hill went off against the Pistons for 24 points and 17 rebounds. The Lakers were able to run that trio and just space them out with shooters and beat them, plus Piston bigs got burned on their man cutting back door all night, or they just would lose track of their man in general. On offense there is now flow or spacing with them together. This is not a new thing, on the season teams are shooting 51 percent against this trio with an offensive rating of 114.8 (for comparison, the Bobcats had the worst defense in the NBA last season at 108.9). The Pistons have other issues as well (Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey don’t help the defense at all) but what happened against the Lakers is the norm right now. Is Maurice Cheeks a guy who can fix this?

source:   Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers. David Thorpe (he of ESPN and Executive Director of the Pro Training Center) likes to say “energy is a skill.” That is Jordan Hill’s skill. Against the big Pistons’ front line Sunday he had 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting, he knocked down some baseline jumpers, and he had 17 rebounds. Hill outworks the competition, and if you pair him with Jordan Farmar there is a real pick-and-roll chemistry that works for the Lakers.

source:   Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors. He has had a rough season (37.5 percent shooting, trade rumors hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles) but when the Raptors needed him Sunday he played like the guy they hoped he would be. Gay had 11 fourth quarter points to spark a 10-point comeback by the Raptors to force OT against a good Blazers team — an he hit the driving layup to tie the game (he’s shooting just 47 percent in the restricted area this season, another issue he overcame Sunday). Gay finished with 30 points. He got a “B” because he was 1-of-4 in the OT and a not very efficient 12-of-27 on the night (he’s still a gunner) but he made plays when they needed him, which is a step in the right direction.

source:   Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. We could have him on this list more often as he just consistently puts up numbers. No, not the best defender ever, you can go ahead and pick the team apart his game if you want, but he had 22 points and 10 boards against Sacramento on Sunday and was a key cog in the Grizzlies’ victory. As he is most nights. Thought it was time to recognize him.

source:   Mike Malone, coach of Sacramento Kings. Malone got so frustrated with his starters in the second half — who had gotten off to another slow start, let the Grizzlies lead balloon to 20 and had shot 12-of-32 to that point — that he benched the lot of them. For the rest of the game. And the Kings’ bench made it interesting, getting it all the way down to 3 points (82-79) before the Grizzlies starters restored order. But we here at PBT applaud coaches who make big, bold moves when their team is struggling and seemingly not trying.

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.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.