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.

LeBron James, making career-low 67%, pledges to shoot at least 80% on free throws in playoffs

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LeBron James is making a career-low 67% of his free throws this season.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“Yeah it’s killing me, it’s killing me,” James said

But I’ll be fine for the playoffs. For the rest of the regular season I’m going to end up shooting in the 60s, which is a career-low for me, but the postseason I’ll be up there in the 80s.

LeBron has never shot better than 78% in any regular season. He has only once eclipsed 78% in a postseason, shooting 81% in 2014.

If he could simply decide to shoot better from the line, why hasn’t he done it already?

That said, the Cavaliers look like they’re just biding their time until the playoffs. Their focus should increase, and LeBron’s free-throw percentage should rise with it.

But to 80%? Though I’ve learned never to count out LeBron, I’m skeptical.

Dwight Howard ate equivalent of 24 candy bars daily for about a decade

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Dwight Howard‘s love for candy is infamous, though in recent years he has talked more about healthy habits.

Just how much candy did he consume at his peak?

Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

By February’s All-Star break, it was time for a full-blown intervention, and Dr. Cate Shanahan, the Lakers’ nutritionist, led the charge, speaking to Howard by phone from her office in Napa, California. Howard’s legs tingled, he complained, but she noticed he was having trouble catching passes too, as if his hands were wrapped in oven mitts. Well, he quietly admitted, his fingers also tingled. Shanahan, with two decades of experience in the field, knew Howard possessed a legendary sweet tooth, and she suspected his consumption of sugar was causing a nerve dysfunction called dysesthesia, which she’d seen in patients with prediabetes. She urged him to cut back on sugar for two weeks. If that didn’t help, she said, she vowed to resign.

To alter Howard’s diet, though, Shanahan first had to understand it. After calls with his bodyguard, chef and a personal assistant, she uncovered a startling fact: Howard had been scarfing down about two dozen chocolate bars’ worth of sugar every single day for years, possibly as long as a decade. “You name it, he ate it,” she says. Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and oh, how he loved Reese’s Pieces. He’d eat them before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, and like any junkie, he had stashes all over — in his kitchen, his bedroom, his car, a fix always within reach. She told his assistants to empty his house, and they hauled out his monstrous candy stash in boxes — yes, boxes, plural.

Howard is 6-foot-11 and muscular, and he does strenuous workouts daily. He can handle far more food than the average person.

Still, dear lord, that’s a lot of candy.

This anecdote was part of Holmes’ fantastic story on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches’ place in the NBA. I suggest reading it in full.

Report: Paul George wants to play with Gordon Hayward

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Paul George called this “one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of.” He bemoaned the Pacers’ place as “the little brother of the league.” He pushed back against Indiana fans booing their own team. He expressed frustration about being kept in the dark on trade discussions before the deadline. Just last week, he told Zach Lowe of ESPN the Pacers lack an identity.

This all ought to strike fear into the Pacers, with George headed toward free agency in 2018 and Lakers rumors swirling.

How does Indiana convince George to stay?

One possibility: Signing Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who has a player option after this season.

Lowe:

George would love to play with hometown boy Gordon Hayward, according to sources

My best guess: George doesn’t have a particular affinity for Hayward, but just wants a better supporting cast, and Hayward – who was born and grew up in Indiana and played at Butler – appears more attainable than other stars.

But the Jazz are better than the Pacers and can offer more money. If he makes an All-NBA team, Hayward might not hit the market at all. If he does become a free agent, the Celtics – with former Butler coach Brad Stevens – loom as a bigger threat to poach the forward.

This is an extreme longshot and only raises more questions about what the Pacers can actually do to keep their superstar.

LaVar Ball rebuffs LeBron James’ warning: ‘They’re not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing’

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LaVar Ball, father of highly touted UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, continued his media tour by discussing the difficulties LeBron James‘ sons will face due to the high expectations implicit with their dad.

LeBron didn’t like that one bit, saying: “Keep my kids’ name out of your mouth. Keep my family out of your mouth.”

LaVar Ball on Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t have a problem with LeBron.

It’s just how people, they asked me a question about, do I think superstar players’ kids are good? And just my opinion that I’ve never seen one that was really good. LeBron is going to make his kids probably one of the best players ever, according to him. Now, there’s going to be some outside opinions. I’ve just never seen superstars that have kids, because they have to live up to that – they don’t have to live up to it – but I’ve never seen none really live up to what their dad has done.

So, he could be the first or not or the last. So, like I said, it’s not about me having his kids’ mouth. I’m not worried about his family. I’m not worried about his kids. If somebody asks me a question I’ll answer it the way I feel like answering it. But I have nothing against LeBron or his kids.

So, they can go ahead and make them the best or make them the worst. It ain’t got nothing to do with me.

People just asking me questions. I’ve been talking all my life. It’s just now the cameras and the things are in front of me. So, I’m just saying, if people ask me something, I’m going to give you an answer, because I can have freedom of speech to say whatever I want. And it’s either going to be good or bad, and it’s just for conversation for the next day.

I don’t have nobody telling me nothing. I don’t have nobody telling me nothing. It’s just like people saying, “Keep my family’s mouth” – whatever they’re saying, I don’t care. They’re not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing. If they take a little edgy edge on it and they get a little touchy because I answered something a certain way, who cares? They’re not going to do nothing to me. I’m not going to do nothing to them. So, it ain’t no big deal.

LaVar Ball’s inability to say the phrase “Keep my name out of your mouth” or any variation of it is poetic.

Some advice to LeBron: Don’t respond. You’ll get nowhere with someone who can say so much publicly about something he admits “ain’t got nothing to do with me.” The elder Ball is too attention-hungry to back down, and engaging him further will only serve his agenda.