Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets

The Extra Pass: The league’s leading lineups; plus Tuesday’s recaps

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After watching two of the league’s best starting lineups duke it out in Indiana, let’s check in on the best and worst lineups around the league so far this season.

Best Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Houston: Patrick Beverley-James Harden-Chandler Parsons-Terrence Jones-Dwight Howard

Net efficiency is the difference between a team’s offensive rating and their defensive rating.

The Pacers or Heat are usually a safe bet to be in the pole position all year, but the league’s best net offensive/defensive efficiency mark actually belongs to a lineup no one saw coming.

After the experiment with Omer Asik failed and Jeremy Lin went down with an injury, this lineup has led way for Houston and put up a net rating of +23.3 this season, a differential that’s nearly double what the fourth best lineup (Portland’s starters) has posted this season.

Supplementing the core talent with athletic defenders in Beverley and Jones has paid dividends defensively, but it hasn’t sacrificed spacing on the other end. Houston may be tempted to turn Asik into a legitimate power forward or upgrade at point guard, but the production this group is providing is hard to walk away from.

Worst Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins

Shocking, right? Oklahoma City’s starting lineup for the last three years has laid an egg out of the gates and simply can’t score. This group’s offensive rating of 93.1 would rank dead last in the NBA, and the net rating of -10.2 isn’t a whole lot better.

History would indicate two things will happen here, though.

The first is that this number should improve a great deal, as this very same lineup posted a net rating of +12.3 last season.

Secondly, you can bet that Scott Brooks will stay with it for extended minutes, even if he has preferred to close games with Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb as of late.

League’s Fastest Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Minnesota: Ricky Rubio-Kevin Martin-Corey Brewer-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic

Minnesota’s starting lineup is playing at a ridiculously fast pace of 102.8. How? Pairing the league’s best outlet passer with a player constantly leaking out on the break doesn’t hurt:

Best Shooting Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Golden State: Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-David Lee-Andrew Bogut

Anytime the phrase “best shooting” is uttered, you can be sure the splash brothers are involved. Curry and Thompson obviously carry this lineup, but Iguodala’s incredibly efficient start to the season took this group to another level.

This lineup’s true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent blows everyone else out of the water, as the second place team (Houston’s aforementioned lineup) is four percentage points worse.

Watch out for the Warriors once Iguodala recovers. With Harrison Barnes playing in place of Iguodala, Golden State has posted a net rating of -7.4 and has dropped in true shooting eight full percentage points. He’s critical on both ends for them.

D.J. Foster

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Take a second to look at how small the ball looks in the hands of Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Cavaliers 109, Knicks 94: New York followed up its horrific 41-point home loss to Boston by falling behind by 18 points in the first quarter in this one. At least they did battle back to close the gap before ultimately getting down big again, and for a team with so few positives to lean on this season, a competitive streak could be something to lean on. Staying positive, Carmelo Anthony finished with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and Amar’e Stoudemire had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 27 minutes. But allowing Kyrie Irving to drop 37 points in 36 minutes, while seeing Jarrett Jack score 17 points on eight shots was too much on the road, so New York fell to a record of 5-15 on the season. —Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 90, Heat 84: Indiana trailed early, but Paul George and Roy Hibbert came alive in the second half to ensure a Pacers victory. Indiana treated this game like it mattered while Miami simply viewed it as one of many on the long road back to the playoffs, but this Pacers team causes real matchup problems for the Heat. Miami has more than four months before the postseason begins, however, to figure things out. —BP

Spurs 116, Raptors 103: Jeff Ayres started in place of the injured Tiago Splitter for the Spurs, but it was Aron Baynes who provided the big man performance that San Antonio needed to push through. Baynes finished with 14 points and six rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting in less than 21 minutes to help San Antonio overcome an early deficit of 14 points. The Spurs shot 54.9 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from three-point distance in compiling their 116 points, yet no single player managed to score more than 16 points — in other words, it was a perfectly balanced attack from one of the top teams in the game. —BP

Nets 104, Celtics 96: Paul Pierce faced his former team for the first time, but did so coming off the bench in his first game back after suffering a broken hand injury five games ago. He finished with an uncharacteristically effective line of four points, seven rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes as a reserve, while Deron Williams and his return was much more important to the game’s ultimate result. Williams finished with 25 points and seven assists as the Nets won their second straight to improve to 7-14 on the season. —BP

Thunder 101, Hawks 92: OKC held Atlanta to 35.6 percent shooting for the game, and used a 27-18 second quarter run to gain the separation needed to finish the game with a comfortable margin. Kevin Durant finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Russell Westbrook ended up with 14 points, 11 assists and four steals in the victory that sent the Thunder to a record of 16-4 on the season. —BP

Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94: This was close until midway through the second quarter when Minnesota went on a 21-5 run sparked by Kevin Martin, who had 12 of his 18 in that period. Minnesota ran away from there and the starters basically got to rest the fourth quarter. Kevin Love put up a monster 26 point, 17 rebound line in just 30 minutes. However, the real key to Minnesota’s run was them getting to the free throw line 33 times, hitting 28. Brandon Jennings led the Pistons with 20 points, but basically none of the Detroit starters played well. —Kurt Helin

Bucks 78, Bulls 74: No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no Joakim Noah, no Jimmy Butler — no offense and no win for the Bulls. Milwaukee’s John Henson was the best player on the floor scoring 25 points with a variety of shots (he’s got a nice lefty jump hook) and pulling down 14 boards. Chicago, with few options on offense, tried to go to Carlos Boozer late but on a key play late Henson stripped him. Mike Dunleavy outscored the Bucks 18-15 in the second quarter (he finished with 24). This was an ugly game, let us never speak of it again. —KH

Suns 114, Lakers 108: Kobe Bryant looked better — he had a team high 20 points and switched up his game to get the ball either in the post or at the elbow most of the time, which allowed him to work closer to the basket. The Laker offense worked better — but their defense was a mess. The Suns guard tandem of Goran Dragic (31 points) and Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 9 assists) did what they wanted, which included feeding Marcus Morris who added 22 points. The Suns know who they are right now, the Lakers are clearly figuring that out and now have to do it on a tough four-game road trip. —KH

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.

Pelicans shut down Tyreke Evans until after All-Star break

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Tyreke Evans #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles the ball during the NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on November 6, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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the Pelicans have dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries so far this season to nearly every key payer on their roster. Tyreke Evans has missed the last five games with a lingering knee issue, and the team says he’s going to sit out their final four games before the All-Star break, as a precaution to make sure he’s healthy for the second half of the season.

From the Pelicans’ official site:

“We’re probably going to hold him out until after the All-Star break,” Alvin Gentry said during pregame at Quicken Loans Arena. “That gives him a situation where he has almost two weeks where he can rehab it and hopefully get it back. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go right after the All-Star break and we’ll be able to play him for the rest of the stretch (of the schedule).”

Evans initially missed the Jan. 2 game at Dallas due to the injury, then was sidelined again Jan. 18 at Memphis. Against Houston, he only played 16 minutes before being taken out of the game, suffering from the same issue.

“I think it’s just rest,” Gentry said of what it may take for Evans to get past the injury. “It’s one of those situations with tendinitis, where you rest and it feels better. That’s better than having him play two games, then sit out one (and have his status in flux). This may help him be able to play the last part of the season, without sitting out.”

Despite being 18-31, the Pelicans are just six games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Their resting of Evans could be read two ways—it could be gearing up to make a push for the playoffs, as much of a long shot as that may be; or it could be the first in a series of instances of shutting down or resting key players to try to position themselves for a lottery pick, effectively hitting the reset button after a season as ravaged by injuries as the one they’ve had.

Bulls say Jimmy Butler has knee strain, no timetable for return

<> during the second half at TD Garden on December 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bulls 105-100.
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Exhale, Bulls fans. Jimmy Butler‘s left knee injury isn’t as serious as it looked. The injury, which Butler suffered just before halftime of Friday night’s Bulls loss in Denver, looked bad at the time, and Butler had to be carted off the court. But on Saturday, the Bulls announced that an MRI revealed no tear in the knee, just a strain, and he’ll go back to Chicago to get treatment.

An MRI performed today on Bulls forward Jimmy Butler’s left knee confirmed that he sustained a knee strain in the second quarter of last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets.  The timeline for his return to play will be determined by further evaluation in Chicago and his response to treatment.

Butler will not play tonight in Minnesota. Beyond that, it’s unclear. But the fact that it’s just a strain and not anything more serious indicates that he won’t be out long.

Report: NBA considering expanding rosters for greater D-League integration

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04:  A detail of the NBA Players Association logo with the slogan " THe Players' Union FIghting for You" is seen on Theo Ratliff of the Los Angeles Lakers as Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association, speaks at a press conference after NBA labor negotiations at The Westin Times Square on October 4, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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The NBA Development League is in a weird place right now. It’s growing as more teams are placing importance on it and adding single-affiliate franchises, but it’s still not a true minor league. Players don’t make very much money unless they’re already signed to NBA deals, and teams have to have an open roster spot or waive someone they have currently signed to call someone up. Unless you’re sure you’re going to get called up at some point, it’s smarter for fringe players to sign overseas to make more money than go to the D-League.

The NBA is trying to do something about that. According to a new report, the league is interested in potentially expanding NBA teams’ rosters as part of the next CBA to allow for greater integration between the NBA and the D-League, and allow teams to have a couple of so-called “two-way” roster spots.

From Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:

The NBA likes the idea of expanding rosters from the current limit of 15 to as many as 17 as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement with the additional spots designated for two-way contracts that will mean more money for some players and more control of select prospects for the parent clubs.

While it will be one of several major issues on the table as the league and the players’ union eventually ramp up negotiations on the new CBA that could end as soon as the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, if either side opts out by Dec. 15, the concept of a contract that would cover the minor leagues as well as the majors is a pressing topic for the hopeful D-League. And since the NBA runs the executive side of the D-League as well as most of the basketball operations for the minor-league clubs, the D-League and the NBA usually speak as one.

The proposal would mean as many as 60 new jobs for players, if rosters do increase by two and depending how many of the 30 NBA teams utilize both spots. That, in turn, would mean a deeper talent pool for the D-League as it grows from 19 teams this season to 22 in 2016-17 and possibly more in what is projected to be the first season of the new CBA. And that would mean more prospects for the NBA to develop without paying major-league salaries.

According to the report, players signed into these two-way roster spots could make as much as $100,000 to play in the D-League (player salaries currently max out around $25,000), which could incentivize players to stay home and play in the D-League rather than pursue overseas opportunities.

The plan is still early enough in the discussion stage that one of the most bottom-line elements — money — has not been settled. According to insiders, though, the thinking is to set the minor-league portion of the dual contract in the neighborhood of $100,000 a season, give or take $25,000.

That would only be for hopefuls with two-way contracts, not all D-League players with salaries that currently peak at $25,000 if they have no NBA deal. Salaries of players sent down with NBA contracts, usually rookies or second-year prospects, would not be altered. But even with a small number of players in the minors impacted, officials figure the chance to make a minimum of $100,000, while showcasing themselves in front of NBA scouts and executives most every game, while getting to be relatively close to home, will convince 60 players to accept a deal in the minors in North America rather than opt for more money overseas.

If the player with a two-way deal gets promoted, he will make the pro-rated minimum of NBA money. If he is sent back down, it will be with the cushion of $100,000 as the floor for the season, not the $25,000, $19,000 and even $13,000 (based on current numbers) others are making in the minors. There is also the possibility those tiers could increase with the next CBA as well.

Obviously, this isn’t going to happen until the next CBA is announced, if then. But it makes total sense, especially as the NBA gets closer to having true one-to-one affiliation. Right now, there are 19 D-League teams, each affiliated with an NBA team—10 as single-affiliates and nine under hybrid ownership models. Next year, the Bulls, Hornets and Nets are set to have their own D-League teams as well. It’s not hard to imagine that within the next few years, all 30 teams will have their own affiliates. And when that happens, there will need to be a mechanism in place for them to call players up and send them down that’s more in line with a true minor-league system like the one Major League Baseball employs. Even if that involves paying D-Leaguers more money and paying for two extra roster spots, it’s worth the trade-off in the long term if more top basketball talent stays in America rather than going overseas.