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



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, 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



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.

Kevin Love on back slide: ‘I don’t know what the hell that was’ (video)

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In the Cavaliers’ win over the Bucks last night and his first game back from injury, Kevin Love fell while shooting then very oddly slid up court on his back.

Rob Perez:

Love, via Chris Fedor of

“I don’t know what the hell that was,” Love told a private group of reporters while being shown the video at his locker. “I was just having fun.”

When I saw that, I was having fun, too.

Potential top-three pick, Texas C Mo Bamba, declares for NBA draft

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Slovenian point guard Luca Doncic and Arizona center DeAndre Ayton are considered frontrunners to go 1-2 in the upcoming NBA draft.

No. 3 is more up for grabs – with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Texas’ Mo Bamba, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. in the mix.

Bamba is committing to the competition.

Texas release:

University of Texas freshman forward Mohamed Bamba has declared himself eligible for the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft and will not return to school, the University announced Tuesday.

Bamba – 7-foot with a 7-foot-9 wingspan – is an elite rim-protector. He’s also fluid enough to stifle opponents on the perimeter. He brings an awesome defensive package. Considering his size, he rebounds and finishes predictably well.

But his offense his otherwise raw. He attempts a fair number of jumpers, including 3-pointers, which suggests a capability. But he shoots poorly on those attempts and has displayed minimal court vision as a passer.

He’ll also turn 20 in May, making him the oldest of the top 2018 draft prospects. Mamba will carry some physical advantages to the NBA, but how much was he dominating college opponents because he’s more physically advanced?

Bamba carries risk, but an NBA team will almost certainly bet on him sooner than later in the draft.

Former Mavericks marketing manager: Mark Cuban oversaw business side, still doesn’t get it

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Sports Illustrated detailed a predatory environment – including sexual harassment and domestic violence – in the Mavericks’ business office.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban denied much interaction with the business side, expressed outrage this occurred and vowed to fix the problems.

Melissa Weishaupt, whom Sports Illustrated cited anonymously in its initial article, says Cuban hasn’t responded appropriately.

Weishaupt in Sports Illustrated:

I’m using my name because I’m still not sure the Mavericks get it. Since the story broke, owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly claimed he oversaw only the basketball side of that franchise, not the business side.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. You own 100% of the team, Mark. The buck stops with you. When I worked on the Mavs’ business side, all marketing, promotional and broadcasting decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.

I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call!

Now you want to help? We are not fragile flowers. We don’t long for counseling. (As for that hotline: I’ve spoken with a dozen current and former team employees; we have no idea what this is or how to find it.) We want equitable pay. We need to be treated with respect. When deserved, we ought to be given the same promotions as our male counterparts.

This problematic culture exists throughout the world. It would hardly be a shock if it still exists within the Mavericks, even after a spotlight was shined on them. In fact, there are indications it does.

If Cuban is sincere in his desire to provide better conditions for the women working for him, he should listen to people like Weishaupt. He can defend himself if he disagrees with her claims, but he also shouldn’t act as if he automatically knows all the solutions to these problems.

Report: Pistons interested in hiring Chauncey Billups to work with Arn Tellem in front office

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Update: Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the Pistons from eventually hiring Billups. They could claim they weren’t interested while Van Gundy held the presidency then became interested in Billups later.

But such a sharp statement seems unlikely if the Pistons planned to go that route. They’d probably leave the door open wider than this.


Pistons owner Tom Gores made it sound as if president-coach Stan Van Gundy would lose his front-office title.

The rumored replacement? Former agent Arn Tellem, who’s an executive on the Pistons’ business side.

Tellem could also have new help – like Chauncey Billups.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

That would certainly turn heads in Detroit, where Billups is still beloved after playing for the Pistons and leading them to the 2004 championship. His reputation remains sterling there, because he was traded before the major downturn of that era.

For a team struggling to fill its new arena, Billups could make a splash (just like the Blake Griffin trade was designed to).

But if Billups and Tellem aren’t ready to build a winning team, the good feelings would be short-lived. Detroit-area fans have proven they support good teams and not otherwise.

To Billups’ credit, he has worked to position himself for a front-office job. He was a very smart player and good communicator, and he has always eyed an executive, rather than coaching, role. The Cavaliers nearly hired him last year. He and Tellem might be up for the task.

It’s a substantial one. The Pistons’ roster is expensive for the next couple years, and Detroit is down a first-round pick from the Griffin trade. The top two players, Griffin and Drummond, don’t fit seamlessly.

The Pistons could easily make the playoffs next season, especially if Reggie Jackson is healthier than this year. But greater success will be hard to come by no matter who takes over.