New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies

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

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.