The Extra Pass: A Google goggle revolution dream, plus Wednesday’s recaps

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I have this odd vision for the future of the NBA, and in it everyone looks like Kirk Hinrich.

Well, everyone doesn’t actually look like Kirk Hinrich, but all the players are wearing goggles nonetheless. That’s not just because they look cool and I think Hinrich is the undisputed king of accessorizing, and it’s not just because I’m a proponent for eye protection. These goggles are being used for information.

Let me backtrack.

A few years ago, I was in a locker room postgame, hopping from scrum to scrum, mining for quotes. I was hoping to pick up on a conversation more interesting than the standard fare of canned media responses and questions like, “talk about your game tonight” that tend to fill up most of the airspace in that setting.

I was in luck. I hopped in on a reporter asking Eric Bledsoe if he knew what his plus/minus number for the season was.

Bledsoe, who was then just a rookie, didn’t know the answer because he didn’t know what plus/minus was.

As the reporter halfway incredulously explained what that number entailed, it dawned on me that a stat like that, at least for Bledsoe’s purposes, was completely useless.

Sure, his agent could use it in negotiations. His coach could make more informed lineup decisions based on it. His general manager could keep it in mind when mapping out the future of the team. But Bledsoe? What did he need it for?

Great advancements have been made in the NBA when it comes to analytics. Player tracking and injury tracking services are potential game-changers, but a lack of data isn’t necessarily the issue at hand. The focus of any analytics movement should be on how to make that data digestible and useful for those who need it most, and perhaps no one could better apply the information gleaned from the data than the players themselves.

But let’s get back to my goggled utopia.

Let’s say that Eric Bledsoe, now in Phoenix and fully aware of the fact that all reporters are scum (except for Brett Pollakoff, who is lovely), is going heads up against James Harden.

Bledsoe’s coaching staff lets him know that Harden likes to drive all the way to the rim when he goes left, but if he goes right he prefers the pull-up. The eyes and the numbers support that.

Bledsoe is aware of this, but things get crazy during the game. Staring down one of the best players in the league leaves very little time for planning ahead or remembering something your coach said hours ago.

So here’s Harden in the triple-threat, where he’s one of the most dangerous players in the league. Bledsoe readies himself, his hips sunk, his feet ready to slide.

And in the bottom corner of his vision in clear print, the tendencies for which way Harden will go are right there for him: L 75% R 25%.

Bledsoe sees this and remembers, and he jumps on Harden’s left hand and gets a steal. There are 39 seconds left. In his vision, “2-for-1, find shot in 11 seconds” pops up and a timer starts to tick down. Bledsoe races the ball up the floor. He knows exactly how many timeouts he has, and he knows Houston has a foul to give. To avoid a Chris Webber situation, all he needs to do is have his eyes open.

So now I ask you: could an invention like Google Glass one day change the NBA as we know it?

Better yet, as fans would we want our players to have those capabilities? Seeing athletes play smarter and come closer to actualizing their full athletic potential is almost always welcomed, but would it make the game less human?

Would a league that prohibited Dwyane Wade from wearing tinted goggles because opponents couldn’t see his eyes even consider this for a second? I mean, baseball just adopted instant replay, for goodness sake.

And there’s this: would the players even want all that information?

It’s hard to say. In that same year with the Clippers and Bledsoe, it was Ryan Gomes who quickly established himself as the guy to talk to when you needed to know what was going on the floor.

Gomes knew it all. He could recount every situation. He could tell you how the defense countered and what the right play to make was. But even though Gomes knew all those things, he wasn’t able to apply it, and he suffered through the worst season of his professional career. It was painful to watch him think on the court instead of play.

It was a classic case of what’s called “paralysis by analysis”, and there’s a real concern that overloading players with too much information could cause this. Ignorance can be bliss for an athlete. Confidence can be irrational and yet completely required.

Bledsoe didn’t need to know about plus/minus, so he didn’t. And that’s the question that should be asked for new player data: is this useful for the player? If it’s not, what would be?

Should Trevor Ariza be aware of the fact that he’s shooting 57.4 percent from the corner 3 but 21.8 percent from above the break? Yes. Should he know how many times he touches the ball a game compared to the rest of his teammates? Perhaps not.

Maybe it won’t be the super goggles I’ve imagined, but technology and innovative data collection will continue to heavily impact the NBA. If the focus shifts more on what the players can actually use, the impact will only be that much greater.

-D.J. Foster

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Kyle Korver has now hit a three in 89 consecutive games, tying the NBA record.

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Cavaliers 98, Nuggets 88: If you’re a Denver fan, this game is the argument for shortening the regular season schedule. The Nuggets looked like world beaters Tuesday night in Brooklyn after disposing of the depleted Nets by 24 points in a game that wasn’t even that close. But playing on the road again on the second night of a back-to-back against a rested Cavaliers team, it was a very different story. Timofey Mozgov had maybe his best game as a pro in a 20 rebound effort on Tuesday, but managed just three boards in this one. Denver as a team had tired legs, and shot 39.1 percent from the field while finishing on the wrong end of a 15-rebound differential. The Nuggets are better than the Cavaliers at this point in the season; scheduling circumstances made that reality impossible to showcase. — Brett Pollakoff

Hawks 107, Clippers 97: When the Clippers lose, it isn’t because of their offense. The defense was rough in this one, as evidenced by the fact that they let Kyle Korver connect on 6-of-9 three-point attempts to finish with 23 points. That’s like, what he does, and L.A. allowed him to get loose for those looks nonetheless. Paul Millsap had a huge all-around game in finishing with 25 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Atlanta finished the game shooting 51.2 percent from the field. — BP

Suns 97, Rockets 88: The Suns bounced back from one of their most disappointing efforts of the season on Tuesday to rip the shorthanded Rockets. Houston was without Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith due to injury, and Phoenix took control early to ensure victory. The Rockets shot just 35.2 percent as a team, and James Harden had one of his worst statistical performances in Houston, finishing with just 14 points on 3-of-17 shooting while missing all 10 of his attempts from three-point distance. — BP

Pistons 105, Bucks 98: As a frame of reference, the Pistons now have the same record as the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10) after winning their third straight over the Bucks, In the East that means a guaranteed playoff spot, so we’ll go with the assertion that Detroit is playing well as of late. Brandon Jennings had a sub-par shooting night, but still managed to light up his former team for 17 points and 11 assists in almost 42 minutes of action, despite shooting just 4-of-16 from the field and committing six turnovers. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe continued to batter their opponents on the boards with 36 rebounds combined, and Ersan Ilyasova had a nice 22-point, 10-rebound performance off the bench for the Bucks in the losing effort. — BP

Mavericks 100, Pelicans 97: This game was won inside out — Dallas limited New Orleans to 48 percent shooting in the paint on the night, meanwhile Dallas was 11-of-24 (45.8 percent from three). It also doesn’t hurt to have Dirk Nowitzki on your side. Nowitzki had 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and he had four blocks in the game. Jrue Holiday had 26 points and 9 dimes for the Pelicans.

Pacers 95, Jazz 86: Credit the Jazz who took the lead with a 12-0 first quarter run and led through the first half. Trey Burks had 8 of his 13 points in the first quarter to help spark that. Still, you just knew it wasn’t going to last. In the second half the Pacers brought out the grinding defense, which held the Jazz to 38.2 percent shooting over the final 24 (while the Pacers shot 52 percent) and the game ended pretty much as you expected. Derrick Favors did have 22 for Utah to lead all scorers.

Spurs, Timberwolves, game postponed: It looked like someone flipped on the arena lights during a Snoop Dogg concert — the arena in Mexico City where the game was supposed to take place had a generator fire near an elevator and it filled the arena with smoke. The arena had to be evacuated. No way the game could be played, the game was called off and will be replayed in Minnesota later this season. Feel bad for the fans in Mexico City, but no way the game could go on.

Trail Blazers 111, Thunder 104: How about those Trail Blazers? First Indiana and now Oklahoma City fall this week — and in both cases it’s a come-from-behind win for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge was the best player on the court and finished with 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting, plus he pulled down 13 rebounds. His play forced Scott Brooks to put Kendrick Perkins back in the game (it was the right move, Aldridge was abusing Serge Ibaka and Perkins at least got some stops, but he’s an offensive black hole) and once again the isolation ball of the Thunder down the stretch could not get it done. Kevin Durant had 33 and 8 points in the fourth. Portland is a jump shooting team but when those shots are falling they can hang with anyone.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.