We know you might have missed some NBA action Monday night as you chased a flock of feral turkeys around New York City, so we bring you grades from the night to help you get caught up.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets. Lawson spent the first half of this game deferring (J.J. Hickson had 12 points in the first quarter), but in the third quarter he took charge with 13 points, sparking a 16-4 run that solidified Denver’s eventual win. Lawson finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting plus he dished out 11 assists. Denver is playing well again and Lawson is at the heart of that renaissance.
LeBron James, Miami Heat. Just another LeBron James dominant performance — 35 points on 11-of-14 shooting — but this one game is not why he is here. Rather, it is this stat: On the season LeBron is shooting 60.9 percent. That with a usage rate near the top of the league at 28.3 (percent of team possessions he uses). Insane. If you’re a fan of the game of basketball, savor getting to watch him play at this level while we can.
Samuel Dalembert, Dallas Mavericks. He was benched at the start of the Mavericks’ game Monday after sleeping through shootaround. That happens to guys out on the road when in Miami or New York (the night before has something to do with that), but at home in Dallas? Come on, you’re a vet.
The Indiana Pacers defense. Another day, another team with a lot of offensive weapons just shut down. The Timberwolves shot just 32.6 percent overall, and thanks to the “Roy Hibbert effect” they shot just 40 percent inside 8 feet of the rim. Minnesota finished with an offensive rating of 79.8, which is well off their season average of 102. Indiana is 13-1 and while they will not sustain that pace all season with their defense they can sustain winning deep into the playoffs.
Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers. When people talk about the Blazers hot start it’s all about LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but people are looking past Batum who is hot and key to all of it — he had 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists against the Knicks Monday. In Portland they have been waiting on him to live up to his potential (and contract), well he has been lately.
LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.
In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.
Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.
“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….
“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”
Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.
I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.
But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.
The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.
Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.
While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.
While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.
Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).
I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.
Tributes have poured in all over the NBA world since Kevin Garnett announced his retirement on Friday afternoon — from other players, commissioner Adam Silver and media members who covered him. Garnett and Tom Thibodeau have a lengthy history together: Thibodeau coached Garnett in Boston as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and they won a championship in 2008. This spring, Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted Garnett, saw his best years and saw him end his career. Thibodeau released a heartfelt statement on Saturday congratulating Garnett:
“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Kevin for all of his great accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, and for me personally with the Boston Celtics. Kevin combined great talent with a relentless drive and intelligence. I will always cherish the memories of the way in which he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship. His willingness to sacrifice and his unselfishness led us to that title. Kevin will always be remembered for the way in which he played the game. His fierce competitiveness, his unequalled passion for the game, and the many ways in which he cared about this team was truly special. KG is without question the all-time best player to wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey, and he is also one of the best to ever play this game.”
It’s a shame that Thibodeau didn’t get to coach Garnett again in Minnesota, but the team is in good hands with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:
It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.