The Extra Pass: Gumbo and The Brow, and Tuesday night’s recap

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The New Orleans Pelicans roster was assembled with all the care of an inebriated person making gumbo. Three ball-dominant guards in addition to the ball-dominant guard we just drafted? Sure, that will work. A stretch 4 and a stretch 5? Toss ‘em in.

The individual pieces in New Orleans are talented, to be certain, but they don’t seem to complement each other all that well. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where the Pelicans would look great individually, but a disaster collectively.

But what do we know about gumbo? It’s all about the roux – it’s all about the base. The Pelicans’ roux is Anthony Davis.

Monty Williams has yet to find a lineup with Davis that hasn’t worked. Over the season, any combination with Davis on the floor that has played more than five total minutes together has yielded a positive net rating. So long as Davis is on the floor, the Pelicans are in business.

Problem is, the rest of the roster hasn’t completely caught on to that fact yet. Davis has the biggest catch radius in the league with his mobility and arms that go on forever, but you’ll see the Pelicans’ guards ignore him on rolls to the rim, or worse yet, not even put Davis in situations where he can roll to the rim.

A good example came in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. Nemanja Nedovic, a 6-foot-4 guard, was switched on to Davis. No Pelicans player even looked Davis’ way, and the possession resulted in a traveling violation out on the perimeter.

Play-by-play man Joel Meyers summed up the sequence perfectly with one word: “Unbelievable.”

This sort of thing happens far too often. Part of that falls on Williams, who should be on the hot seat after New Orleans’ 6-8 start. Does that seem premature?

Maybe it is, but Williams has yet to live up to his side of the bargain and improve the defense, as the Pelicans have the 19th ranked defense in terms of efficiency and the 29th worst opponent field goal percentage so far this season.

The offense has been more reliable (8th in efficiency) but it typically comes and goes in relation to when Davis is featured. Perhaps predictably, Davis is just fourth on the team in usage percentage, behind Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday.

Of course, the return of Ryan Anderson just means that there are, to further beat the food analogy into the ground, more cooks in the kitchen. This is an issue, and it’s hard to see it going away without changes.

So what’s the solution? Williams has at least allowed this athletic group to get out and run more often, ending the slow crawl he usually prefers. The Pelicans are up to 14th in pace, compared to 29th last year and 30th the season before.

Maybe you’d like to see the Pelicans embrace an even quicker style to better leverage their athleticism on the perimeter.

New Orleans is the second best defensive rebounding team in the league, so perhaps there’s room to leak out a little more and get out in transition. Davis already runs the floor like a gazelle, Evans is a nightmare to stop in transition, and the thought of Ryan Anderson or Jason Smith trailing the play and spotting up around the perimeter is plenty enticing.

Davis has been flexible overall, but there’s a danger in letting the other players on the roster take advantage of that. According to the SportVU player tracking system, Davis is receiving less frontcourt touches per game than guys like Andrea Bargnani and Zaza Pachulia. That can’t happen.

Still, Davis has legitimately been one of the best players in the league this season. The only limit on his potential will come from outside forces, and New Orleans would do well to figure out exactly what those are.

Stats from NBA.com were used in this post. I was also very hungry.

—D.J. Foster

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Nets 102, Raptors 100: The Nets snapped a five-game losing streak to improve to 4-10 on the season, and it was a big win for the team considering it came without several key players. Deron Williams, Jason Terry and Brook Lopez all missed the game due to injury, and the third quarter woes which have plagued Brooklyn all season long were overcome in this one by the Nets actually winning the period, if only by a single point. The victory certainly wasn’t easy for the Nets, who led by 15 points with just over five minutes to play before surrendering a 14-0 run that made things sketchy over the game’s final few possessions. —Brett Pollakoff

Wizards 116, Lakers 111: The Lakers got a typically balanced effort with seven players finishing in double figures, but defense was the issue as they allowed John Wall and Nene to combine for 61 points. L.A. fought back from a nine-point deficit late to have a chance, and took the lead with under two minutes to play on a three-pointer from Pau Gasol. But Wall had seven points in the final 1:34 to seal it, sending the Lakers to a record of 7-8 on the season. —BP

Magic 109, Hawks 92: Orlando isn’t going to compete for a playoff spot this season, even in the woeful Eastern Conference. But take them lightly and they will jump up to bite you on any given game day, and that’s what happened to the Hawks in this one. The Magic shot 50.6 percent from the field, crushed Atlanta in the paint by a 20-point margin, and outscored the Hawks 36-20 in the third quarter to put enough separation in place to cruise to the team’s fifth win of the season. —BP

Warriors 102, Pelicans 101: Without Andre Iguodala due to injury and with Andrew Bogut sidelined due to serving a suspension, this game was a lot closer than it should have been for the Warriors. But coming off of three straight losses, they needed the win and held on in the closing moments to secure it. Jermaine O’Neal filled in admirably in the starting center spot, and finished with 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go along with eight rebounds in just 26 minutes of action. —BP

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.