Tuesday Night NBA Grades: We fail the entire Atlantic Division

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Our grades for what happened around the NBA Sunday, or what you missed while you were turning in your neighbor who stole monkeys and grew marijuana

source:   The entire Atlantic Division. With the losses Tuesday of the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics, Atlantic Division teams have now lost 14 games in a row. As a division the Atlantic is 19-36, a winning percentage of 34.5 percent. The Philadelphia 76ers are on top of it at 5-7. It’s not going to stay this way all season… please, don’t let it stay this way all season. The idea of a sub .500 team as the No. 4 seed in the East because makes me queasy. This losing streak will end Wednesday — the Raptors and Sixers play each other and by NBA rules one of the teams has to win. (Hat tip to Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers for pointing this out.)

source:   New York Knicks offense. We warned you earlier in the day that for all the issues with their soft-as-a-Twinkie defense, New York’s offense could be a bigger issue. The team proved that point Tuesday night. The Knicks went up against a Pistons team with the worst defense in the NBA so far this season (allowing teams to shoot 49 percent) and could only manage 86 points on 43.4 percent shooting. For those of you scoring at home, that works out to less than a point per possession (the Pistons have allowed 107 points per 100 possessions this season, the Knicks scored 98.9). Yes, Raymond Felton was out, but it was more than that and wasn’t pretty: Carmelo Anthony had 25 points on 20 shots, J.R. Smith 18 points on 15 shots. Wednesday night the Knicks get the Pacers — the team with the best defense in the league. Cover your children’s eyes, they don’t need to see that.

source:   Chris Bosh, Miami Heat. This is what Miami needs out of Bosh. He had been in a funk for a few games, had only taken four shots in the Heat’s last game, but with Dwyane Wade out he stepped up. Bosh finished with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting. He had a corner three but his other buckets all came within 15 feet as he stretched less and just went after the Hawks. He played solid defense and pulled down five boards as well.

source:   Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets. Great line from him — 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting, plus nine rebounds and a couple of blocks. Jones was aggressive and attacking the Celtics inside, all but one of his makes came inside five feet of the rim (the other was a three). Jones is making a good case that with Dwight Howard in the center spot he is the best choice on the roster to play power forward because of his athleticism and you have to respect him from the outside. The Rockets have looked much better with him starting.

source:   DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. Good stat line — 27 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, 2 blocks — and he did it playing through a shoulder injury. Cousins tweaked his shoulder in the second quarter and wore a brace the rest of the game. He also had three points, a block and a steal in the Kings’ 10-0 run at the end of the game to get the win. He also had a turnover and an offensive foul in that stretch, it wasn’t always pretty, but (as tends to be the case with with him) there was more good than bad, and in this case he carried the Kings to that win. Bad shoulder and all.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?