The Extra Pass: Three takeaways and Wednesday’s recaps

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Three takeaways from a busy Wednesday night around the league:

It was Paul George, in the Garden, with the dagger

It’s a crazy thing to watch an entire arena lose all hope, all at once. The Knicks were well on their way to a statement win over the Indiana Pacers. Maybe it could have been a rallying point for the rest of the season, a moment to build up some confidence without Tyson Chandler, however irrational that may have been.

But that didn’t happen. Even before Paul George calmly sank three straight free throws to tie the game in regulation, and even before Carmelo Anthony missed his chance to win the game at the buzzer, you just knew. You knew when that whistle blew, and so did the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Each jumper George stuck in overtime felt like a punishment for believing anything else to be true. In another world, a close loss to one of the best teams in the league after a questionable whistle could be construed as a moral victory, but in New York? It’s just more proof that the sky is indeed falling.

When the gavel swings too quickly

Monta Ellis has always been a target for criticism, whether it be because of mopeds, “having it all” or just his general lack of self-awareness.

Over the years, Ellis has become a popular pinata for both the stats crowd (look at his efficiency, not his raw totals!) and the people who watched him gamble defensively and take ill-advised shots again and again. There was no better way to make any hardcore NBA fan roll his eyes than to say, “I think Monta Ellis is a good player.”

So let me say it now: I think Monta Ellis is a good player. Is he a complete player? Far from it. But anyone feeling like Ellis has turned a new leaf and been a total revelation for the Dallas Mavericks probably never gave Ellis a fair chance in the first place. Yes, he’s scoring more efficiently this year, but Ellis has always been a pretty good passer and playmaker in the pick-and-roll, which are skills a lot of folks think Ellis never had or neglected to use.

It doesn’t match the narrative, but Ellis’ usage rate is up and his assist rate is down this year compared to last year. But with better players around him, a real point guard, a real coach and a scoring threat in Dirk Nowitzki in the pick-and-pop, Ellis looks drastically improved, even though he hasn’t changed much of what he does at all.

Does Ellis have weaknesses in his game? Absolutely, but one of the nicest things about his role in Dallas is that it’s becoming okay to talk and appreciate him for his strengths (shot creation, transition play, penetration) once again. People generally love imperfect things, so long as they aren’t being taken too seriously. I enjoy Ellis like I enjoy pro wrestling, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Okay, I’m a little ashamed. Let’s just move on.

Oh no, Oladipo?

Eight turnovers is a lot of turnovers, even against a swarming defense like Miami’s. The fact that Oladipo is averaging four turnovers a games this year might make a lot of folks uneasy, but here’s why that isn’t the worst thing.

Check out this list. Here are the names players in their first, second or third years in the league who averaged more than 20 minutes and four turnovers per game with a usage percentage over 25%:

Dwyane Wade, Isiah Thomas, Ron Harper, Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, Jim Jackson, Victor Oladipo.

Young players willing to take risks at an early stage are usually more likely to become potent scorers and playmakers down the line. Oladipo’s aggression bodes well for his future, even if his stat lines instinctively make you scrunch your face up like you just accidentally ate something with peas. Thanks for nothing, peas.

It’s Oldaipo’s ballhandling that needs improvement more than anything else, and his decision-making shouldn’t be obsessed over. He’s getting to spots on the floor where good things usually happen, even though they aren’t right now. It will come in due time.

– D.J. Foster

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Mavs coach Rick Carlisle channels his inner Gregg Popovich:

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Bobcats 95, Nets 91: Brooklyn came out with Deron Williams back in the first half and their offense was a little improved — but their defense still wasn’t. This was a close game through the first half but the Bobcats went on a 13-0 run early in the third quarter behind Kemba Walker (13 points in the third and 31 on the night) and that proved the separation the Nets could not make up. Nice night for Andray Blatche — 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Also, Deron Williams tweaked his ankle in the second quarter and did not return, which is not good for a 3-8 team. The Bobcats actually got off to a faster start last season (6-6 this season, 7-5 last season) but this start feels more sustainable, in part because of their defense)

Wizards 98, Cavaliers 91: The Wizards went on a 25-8 first quarter run, in part thanks to Bradley Beal scoring 9 points in the first — which was how many points all the Cavaliers starters had in the first half. The Wizards looked like they would run away with this and led comfortably into the fourth. Then Kyrie Irving happened — he had 18 points in the fourth quarter and made it a game. It just wasn’t enough. Beal finished with 26 but played some sloppy ball down the stretch; Nene added 20 for the Wizards.

Pacers 103, Knicks 96 (OT): New York opened the game on a 13-0 run and held Indiana to 25 percent shooting in the first quarter. But as the game moved on the Pacers defense wore the Knicks down (New York shot 40.9 percent in the paint, thanks to Roy Hibbert) and Paul George pushed back — he finished with 35 points on 26 shots and he took over at the end, going 7-of-11 in the fourth quarter and overtime. The game went to overtime because with New York up three and 5.2 seconds left Iman Shumpert fouled George on a three point attempt — a borderline call, but he touched his elbow — and George sank the free throws. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points on 28 shots and worked his way to 18 rebounds (9 offensive). But while George was hot late Anthony was 3-of-14 in the second half and overtime.

Heat 120, Magic 92: Miami opened the game on 16-0 run — Miami started out shooting 6-of-6 which included a couple of threes and a LeBron James spinning layup, while Magic went 0-of-6. This game was never close. LeBron had 21 points on 11 shots, Chris Bosh was a +27, James Jomes had 17 points on 8 shots. Orlando go a great game from Arron Afflalo, who had 30 points as Miami kept inexplicably leaving him open so he hit 7-of-9 from three.

Raptors 108, Sixers 98: Toronto had 24 assists on 36 made baskets — for them that is a minor miracle. Toronto can just be a team of guys trying to beat you in isolation but they shared the ball on Wednesday and they looked much better for it, winning comfortably. DeMar DeRozan had 33 points on 19 shots. Michael Carter-Williams was back for Philly but looked rusty (2-of-10 shooting) while Spencer Hawes continues to look good (28 points).

Hawks 93, Pistons 85: Everything that has been wrong with Detroit this season seemed to be on display in this one: Josh Smith tried to do too much in his return to Atlanta and was 5-of-15 shooting, the Hawks shot 70 percent in the restricted area (despite the Pistons’ big front line) and better than 50 percent overall, and Paul Millsap had 19 points despite having the bigger Greg Monroe on him most of the night. Brandon Jennings had 21 points but needed 21 points to get there for Detroit.

Trail Blazers 91, Bucks 82: This one makes eight wins in a row for the Blazers. It wasn’t pretty — the winning team shot 40.7 percent from the field — but Portland will take it on the road. Let’s sum this game up this way: LaMarcus Aldridge led the Trail Blazers with 21 points but needed 22 shots to do that; Luke Ridnour led the Bucks with 13 points but needed 14 shots to do that.

Clippers 102, Timberwolves 98: Chris Paul got Los Angeles this win — he had 4 points in the first 42 minutes, then took over the last half of the fourth quarter scoring 16 points in six minutes, holding off a late run from Minnesota. CP3 finished with 20 points and 11 assists, making it 12 point-assist double-doubles to start the season, breaking Magic Johnson’s record of 11. The other key to this game was it was not Kevin Love’s night — he shot 2-of-14 and while he had a double-double of his own (10 points, 12 boards) he didn’t dominate.

Pelicans 105, Jazz 98: This was a pretty tight game most of the way until a 14-2 New Orleans run in the fourth quarter gave them some breathing room. Anthony Davis had another impressive line — 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 9 rebounds and 8 blocks. Ryan Anderson had 11 of his 19 in the fourth quarter (tell me again why they are gong to trade him?). Enes Kanter had 19 points on 13 shots, while Gordon Hayward had a VERY rough night shooting 1-of-17.

Spurs 104, Celtics 93: How did you expect this one to turn out? Exactly, pretty much like this. Six Spurs in double figures, none with gaudy numbers (Tony Parker led the way with 19). Just another Spurs win. Nothing to see here, move along.

Kings 113, Suns 106: Sacramento swept a home-and-home with Phoenix, and they did it with just a better all-around effort on the second night of the back-to-back. Isaiah Thomas was in his usual attack mode and led the way with 23 points and 4 assists. It was a fairly close first half (tied after one quarter, 5 point Kings lead at half) but Sacramento started to pull away in the third with an 11-0 run, fueled in part by an efficient night from forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Jason Thompson, who combined had 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. But in the fourth Goran Dragic (18 points in the quarter, 31 for the game) and P.J. Tucker (12 in the quarter) made it entertaining — the Suns put up 44 in the final frame. But the Kings put up 39 behind 11 from Thomas and held on for the win.

Mavericks 123, Rockets 120: Houston seemed in control — up 18 midway through the third quarter, 14 at the start of the fourth, with Dwight Howard having his best game as a Rocket (he started 11-of-11 from the field and already had first 27 of his eventual 33 points). Then the fourth quarter happened. Dallas shot 73.7 percent in the fourth, with Dirk Nowitzki putting up 14 points in the frame, Monta Ellis 8 and Jose Calderon 7. Meanwhile the Rockets shot just 26 percent. James Harden and Howard were a combined 2-of-10 in the frame. Dallas did everything right, seemed to hit every shot, won the quarter 36-19 and the game. That’s a comeback Dallas can build a little momentum on.

Grizzlies 88, Warriors 81 (OT): Memphis won this with their defense. They held a Golden State team that on the season shoots 44.9 percent from three to 27.8 percent, a team that averages 19.7 free throw attempts a game to 8, a team that averages 104.3 points per 100 possessions to 86.6. The Warriors had 37 points in the second half and overtime. And this was in Golden State. The Warriors were in control of the first half but Memphis had a 17-2 run early in the third to make it a game but could not pull away. Then they got five big points from Mike Conley in OT (he had 19 on the night) and pulled away. Zach Randolph had 21 points, Marc Gasol 21 points and 12 boards. Klay Thompson had 21 points but Golden State missed Stephen Curry’s shooting and shot creation in this one.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.