Monday night NBA grades: A tale of two Brooklyn halves

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Our grades for what happened around the NBA Sunday, or what you missed while watching Jean-Claude Van Damme do the splits between two moving trucks

source:  Brooklyn Nets first quarter offense. With all that talent on the roster we expected some big nights from Brooklyn and it looked like we would finally get one (even if they didn’t have Deron Williams or Brook Lopez, both out injured). There was ball movement, player movement and screens. Kevin Garnett jumped in the hot tub time machine and played like his Minnesota days, just scoring from all over the court on LaMarcus Aldridge — KG had 12 of the first 14 Brooklyn points on 6-of-6 shooting. Shaun Livingston used his height advantage to score 10 over Damian Lillard (and drive past him once for an impressive dunk). Brooklyn attacked and got to the line 11 times. The Nets put up 40 points and shot 73.7 percent in the quarter. They looked like a force of nature.

source:   Brooklyn Nets second half offense. And this is why they are now 3-7 — the Nets devolved quickly into what has made their offense so easy to defend of late. Brooklyn went into isolation basketball that was stagnant — nobody would set screens, nobody moved off the ball, it was just iso basketball. You can defend that, and the Trail Blazers did. The Nets scored 35 points (less than the first quarter) on 22 percent shooting. Paul Pierce was 1-of-7, Garnett 1-of-8, Joe Johnson 1-of-6, Jason terry 0-of-4. The Nets are 3-7 and have some real issues to work out.

source:   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. He mostly gets this grade for that shimmy-shake dance he did after a key three in the final two minutes — I love the emotion from Durant. He had missed three from three leading up to that, shots that could have been like daggers, so when he finally got one to go he had to dance. Durant had 38 points on 11-of-27 shooting, plus he had 13 in the fourth quarter when they needed it most. He helped key the OKC comeback and win. But mostly it was about the dance.

source:   Mark Gasol and Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis has gone 4-0 on their road trip, beating the Clippers on Monday night, and the reason is these two are executing at a high level again. Randolph had 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Gasol pushed a triple-double with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. More than just the numbers they are hustling on the boards, Gasol is being a defensive anchor, and Randolph is just taking rebounds away from people. These two simply out executed the Clippers front line of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan down the stretch and Memphis pulled away for the win.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.