The Extra Pass: The Wild West, can Portland last, and Sunday’s Recaps

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Let’s jump around the Western Conference with a few observations:

Portland: 20 percent of the regular season is in the books, and the Trail Blazers hold the pole position in the Western Conference. It’s a great accomplishment and something absolutely no one expected, but the Blazers should come back down to earth soon enough.

Wesley Matthews is just one of the reasons why this run at the top should be short-lived. Matthews is posting a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 70.5 percent, a number that’s only been reached over a full season (at least 1000 minutes) by Artis Gilmore and Tyson Chandler, who never shot anything that wasn’t from point-blank range.

For context sake, the highest true shooting percentage posted by Ray Allen, unquestionably one of the greatest shooters ever, was 62.4 percent. One would assume that Matthews will become human again at some point this year.

When the offense inevitably slows down a bit, will the defense compensate?

Portland is 20th in defensive efficiency despite their hot start, and there are tough matchups on the horizon. Just in this month, Portland will be tested with games against Indiana, Houston, Miami, LAC and the Thunder twice. Add in three sets of road back-to-backs to that tough slate, and this is probably the last we’ll see of Portland at the top of the standings, even though it’s been one fun ride.

Oklahoma City: It’s pretty clear that Scott Brooks is attached to Kendrick Perkins and that Sam Presti won’t send him to Belize, so maybe it’s time for armchair coaches to take up a new campaign for the Thunder.
While you can understand the desire to have a bigger perimeter defender next to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant so that they can conserve energy for offense, should Thabo Sefolosha really be playing more than Reggie Jackson?

I realize I’m cherry-picking after Jackson’s 11-point fourth quarter explosion against the Timberwolves, but the ball really seems to move better and more spot-up chances seem to be created for Durant and Westbrook’s way with Jackson’s penetration and speed on the floor. Sefolosha is a nice role player, but the ball dies in hands far too often.

According to NBA.com, Oklahoma City has six lineups that have played over 15 minutes together and produced a positive net efficiency rating. Jackson has played in five of those lineups, and the only one he hasn’t played in has been a garbage time unit. Sefolosha, meanwhile, is only in two of those positive net rating lineups.

Jackson is getting around 22 or 23 minutes a night compared to Sefolosha’s 28 minutes, so it’s not a huge deal. The Thunder need Jackson to lead the second unit, and he’s done a nice job of that so far. All that said, keep an eye on what lineups OKC closes games with going forward. We know who Brooks is starting, but the finishing groups could get interesting.

Utah Jazz: They didn’t get as much hate/love for their tanking job, but the Jazz made one clinching move where other franchises messed up: keep a lame duck coach on the bench.

Jeff Hornacek (PHX), Brett Brown (PHI) and Brad Stevens (BOS) have all been able to squeeze varying degrees of production from their teams in their first seasons, but Ty Corbin is just sort of sticking around and really helping the Jazz pull off this Bad News Bears vibe they have going on. Utah can’t possibly see him as the coach of the future, but it doesn’t appear that Corbin is ready to resign. This is organized ugly.

New Orleans: Sad news on Anthony Davis fracturing his hand. He was having a monster season, and now the “injury prone” murmurs will only grow louder, fair or not.

While I like Jrue Holiday, this is precisely the reason you keep your dealt pick lottery protected instead of top-5 protected. Everyone knew what direction 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie wanted to go, so you’d like to think that Dell Demps could have held out for a slightly bigger safety net in the draft day deal that landed Holiday in exchange for a 2014 first round pick. Now Davis is out indefinitely, Tyreke Evans is struggling mightily and sapping up all the future cap space, and a pick that could be in the 8-10 range in slated to go elsewhere.

Losing Davis is unlucky, but everything else was about pushing the chips in far too early.

—D.J. Foster

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Nuggets 112, Raptors 98: Nate Robinson was the story here, taking control like we saw him do more than once with the Bulls last season. He scored 18 fourth quarter points on seven shots to put this one in the win column for the Nuggets. Denver’s bigs got whatever they wanted for most of the game, especially Timofey Mozgov and Darrell Arthur who combined for 30 points and 18 rebounds off the bench.

Pacers 105, Clippers 100: The Clippers are not a team that’s particularly deep in terms of overall offensive talent, so losing J.J. Redick and his 15.8 points per game for a while with a fractured hand injury is going to sting. Willie Green got the start in redick’s place against the Pacers, but managed just two points in 15 minutes of action. L.A. battled back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit to tie it and make it a possession-by-possession contest down the stretch, and while the Pacers didn’t hit a field goal in the final 4:25, they did score their final nine points of the game from the free throw line to seal it. With the victory, Indiana improved to a league-best 16-1 on the season.

Pistons 115, Sixers 100: Andre Drummond was absolutely dominant, and made history by finishing with 31 points, 19 rebounds, six steals, and two blocked shots. It’s the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990 that a player has finished with a stat line like that, and it could have been worse — Drummond played less than 33 minutes because of how out of hand the game was.

Warriors 115, Kings 113: Remember that time Mark Jackson said that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best shooting backcourt combination of all time? It’s games like this one that he was talking about. The pair combined to hit 13 of their team’s 15 three-pointers on the night, with Curry finishing with 36 points and 10 assists while Thompson ended up with 28 points of his own. Sacramento was up to the challenge on this night, however, and had DeMarcus Cousins performing at an unstoppable level in the game’s final minutes. Andrew Bogut blocked a shot from Isaiah Thomas at the rim in the closing seconds to seal the win for the Warriors, while the Kings fell to just 4-11 on the season.

Heat 99, Bobcats 98: Charlotte had a legitimate chance to get this victory in theory, taking a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter and leading by 11 with under 7:30 to play. In the least surprising news of the day, Miami rallied to make a game of it, and then Chris Bosh gave the Heat the lead by hitting three straight shots from three-point distance. Kemba Walker was huge for Charlotte and finished with a game-high 27 points, but Miami’s experience simply won out over the game’s final few possessions.

Thunder 113, Timberwolves 103: Not to be outdone by Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant finished this victory with an historic stat line of his own, and it was somehow even more ridiculous than the one put up by the big man of the Pistons. Durant’s triple double of 32 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, four steals and four blocked shots hasn’t been done by anyone since 1985, via Royce Young. Durant awesomeness aside, OKC turned the pressure up defensively in the fourth, and held the Timberwolves to just 26.1 percent shooting in the final period while outscoring their opponent 35-20 to seal it.

Pelicans 103, Knicks 99: This seemed to be a prime opportunity for the Knicks to snap their eight-game losing streak, but even after Anthony Davis went out with a broken hand injury, the team couldn’t come up with enough key plays late to prevent it from reaching nine. New Orleans put together a 10-0 run that lasted almost four minutes to take a five-point lead with 2:30 to play, and while the Knicks had their chances, they couldn’t execute or get any ket shots to fall in the closing moments. New York got a bit of a bright spot with the performance of rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who came off the bench to score 21 points on 10 shots in under 25 minutes of action. The Knicks have a few days to try to figure things out, and will try to avoid losing their 10th straight game when they head to Brooklyn on Thursday to face the Nets.

Trail Blazers 114, Lakers 108: This win makes the Blazers 14-3 and the No. 1 seed in the West right now. Didn’t see that coming. You have to give the Lakers this: They are resiliant. They fight back and do not give up. Portland raced out to a 21-4 lead but the Lakers clawed back to make it a three-point game at the half. Portland’s ball movement was great in the third quarter and they put up 41 points, then the Lakers stormed back behind Xavier Henry (11 in the fourth quarter, 27 for the game) to get within one in the fourth quarter but it just wasn’t enough. LaMarcus Aldridge had 27, Damian Lillard 26 for Portland.

Dikembe Mutombo says he is putting together a group to buy the Rockets

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It appears as though Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin will have some competition if he decides to bid for the Rockets. Namely, former NBA big man Dikembe Mutombo.

Mutombo played in the NBA from 1991-2009, ending his career with five seasons in Houston. The franchise apparently made an impact on the Hall of Fame center, as he is apparently looking to buy the franchise per an interview with USA Today.

Speaking with Adi Joseph over at FTW, Mutombo would not give out names of his partners but said that he will be able to make a bid in the coming weeks.

Via FTW:

“I’m putting together a group to buy the Houston Rockets, and we’re getting close,” he said. “Getting close in the next couple weeks, maybe I’ll have a chance. Lot of people, lot of people and good people with a lot of money.”

With Leslie Alexander’s decision to sell the team, it certainly would be interesting to get another NBA player as part of team ownership in this league.

Watch the 10 best 360 plays from last season (video)

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The NBA’s top-10 highlight packages have been pretty enjoyable. This one is oddly specific – but still dizzyingly fun.

Kevin Durant on White House visit with Donald Trump: “Nah, I won’t do that”

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It’s not much of a surprise, but at least we have confirmation. If the Golden State Warriors are invited to the White House for a championship visit with Donald Trump, at least one star won’t be going: Kevin Durant.

Speaking in an ESPN article published on Thursday, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP said he didn’t respect who currently held the office of president.

Durant was interviewed as part of his Kevin Durant Day in his local Washington D.C. area suburb of Seat Pleasant, Maryland.

He is not the first NBA player to come forward and speak out about Trump in the aftermath of Charlottesville. LeBron James, Jabari Parker, and other NBA players have denounced the tone of Trump’s politics and positions in the public sphere.

The Warriors star had a lot to say on the subject, but I think this was most poignant.

Via ESPN:

“Nah, I won’t do that,” said Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP. “I don’t respect who’s in office right now.”

“I don’t agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,” said Durant, who said it wasn’t an organizational decision. “That’s just me personally, but if I know my guys well enough, they’ll all agree with me.”

“He’s definitely driving it,” Durant said. “I feel ever since he’s got into office, or since he ran for the presidency, our country has been so divided and it’s not a coincidence. When [Barack] Obama was in office, things were looking up. We had so much hope in our communities where I come from because we had a black president, and that was a first.

“So to see that and to be where we are now, it just felt like we took a turn for the worse, man. It all comes from who is in the administration. It comes from the top. Leadership trickles down to the rest of us. So, you know, if we have someone in office that doesn’t care about all people, then we won’t go anywhere as a country. In my opinion, until we get him out of here, we won’t see any progress.”

Durant also mentioned the need for more sports stars to come out and voice their opinions as a matter of leadership and as role models in the community.

That is definitely a huge part of the impact that sports stars can have. We all know how important NBA players are to pop culture and the culture of basketball itself. Couple that with how much influence they have as individual brands, as major players in the corporate sphere, and hopefully it will help them make a positive impact.

It’s great that NBA players are coming out and standing up against this kind of violence, and good on the NBA for making sure their voices as individuals aren’t silenced.

Chris Bosh to ‘host’ players-union awards revealed via tweets

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The NBA didn’t reveal its major regular-season awards until after the playoffs and draft – until most fans had turned the page toward the offseason. But at least the league got a revenue-drawing nationally televised award show out of the delay.

What is the players union doing, and how does Chris Bosh come into play?

National Basketball Players Association release:

CHRIS BOSH TO HOST NBPA “PLAYERS VOICE AWARDS”

11-Time All-Star to Reveal Awards Via Social Media

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) announced today that 2017 Players Voice Awards will be revealed exclusively via social media tomorrow beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET.

The Players Voice Awards are voted on solely by NBA players

The awards and videos will be revealed via @theNBPA on Twitter, and NBPA.com will curate all of the content throughout the day.

Voting took place at the end of the regular season and did not consider postseason performances.

The full list of Players Voice Awards includes:

  • Best Rookie
  • Comeback Player of the Year
  • Best Off the Bench
  • Best Defender
  • Hardest to Guard
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team
  • Best Dressed
  • Home Court Advantage
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For
  • Clutch Performer
  • Best Social Media Follow
  • Most Influential Veteran
  • Global Impact
  • Most Valuable Player
  • Best Teammate (one per team)

I’m still not sure how Bosh is hosting tweets or what took so long for the union to get to this. The players-union awards, which debuted two years ago, haven’t gained much steam. I don’t think this will help.

On the other hand, not much is happening this time of year. Diehard basketball fans are thirsting for activity, and this provides some.

But they’d care at any time. I don’t think this moves the needle at all for casual fans.

As a hardcore basketball follower, though, I am curious who wins – and how Bosh fits into all of this.