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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.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

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.

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