Thursday night NBA Grades: Mike Woodson is allowed to exhale

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Our nightly grades from around the NBA, or what you missed while singing Doe, a deer, a female deer… Ray, a drop of golden sun…

source:  Mike Woodson, coach New York Knicks. For a night, the Knicks looked pretty good and so Woodson can sleep without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The core issues with the Knicks slow start have more to do with roster construction and injuries than Woodson. Nonetheless, when James Dolan is your owner your job is never safe, especially after 9 straight losses. Thursday night the “laughingstock” Knicks were knocking down threes, showing energy on defense and generally looking like the defending Atlantic Division champs. They cruised to a much needed win.

source:  The Brooklyn Nets. Right now they are a tire fire and this was a disaster of a game. There were no positive takeaways from a blowout loss at home to their rivals. Yes, injuries are robbing this team of Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and others, but nobody that is left played with pride or energy.

source:  Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls. Boozer has struggled since Rose went down, for whatever reason, but he showed up aggressive in this one and the Heat had no answers. He had 27 points and shot 8-of-12 in the paint to get most of those points. Plus he pulled down 9 rebounds. The combination of Boozer and Joakim Noah (17 points, 15 rebounds) was too much for the Heat up front and could win the Bulls a fair amount of games this season.

source:  Chicago Bulls’ defense. In the first five games since Derrick Rose went down with a torn meniscus, the Chicago Bulls defense was a mess. Whether they were too focused on the offense or just shell-shocked, they were giving up 13 more points per 100 possessions than they had in their first 10 games. Thursday night against the Heat the Bulls defense was back — and when they defend they can beat anybody on a given night. They made LeBron James work for his 21 points and Chris Bosh struggled against the Bulls size. Chicago is not a contender anymore, but they are back to being good.

source:  Los Angeles Clippers’ defense. Since we have talked a lot about how bad the Clips defense has been this season, we need to acknowledge when things go right — they held Memphis to 37.7 percent shooting. Part of that was self-inflicted by Memphis as they got some looks they like but couldn’t execute them — no Marc Gasol really hurts and the loss of Ed Davis and Tony Allen exacerbates things. Still, the Clips had a good defensive game, we should acknowledge it.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.