Monday night NBA grades: Blake Griffin’s jumper looked good

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while trying to find Stephen Colbert’s cameo in “Hobbit 2”….

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. This is what Blake Griffin looks like when his midrange jumper falls. Griffin was 7-of-10 from the midrange and even nailed a three on his way to 31 points — check out his shot chart.

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People who don’t think Blake Griffin is still evolving as a player — anyone who tells you “all he can do is dunk” — isn’t watching him. His jumper is not as consistent as you would like, he can be too hesitant to make his move when he gets the ball on the block, he’s got work to do on the defensive end, but he and his jumper are improving — and he does make plays. Besides there is nothing wrong with dunks.

source:   DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors. The Raptors traded Rudy Gay and have been 9-3 since then counting the big win Wednesday over the Pacers. Apparently missing his former teammate, DeRozan did his full on Rudy Gay impression in this one — in the first three quarters he was 6-of-18 shooting for 16 points, just an inefficient gunner with Paul George defending well and forcing him into bad midrange shots. Then in the fourth DeRozan started hitting those tough shots — he had 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting and was key in Toronto owning the final six minutes and winning. DeRozan finished with 26 points on 24 shots and he was making the tough ones from the midrange. All very Gay like, but it worked for a night.

source:   Denver Nuggets. Just when you think they have hit rock bottom, they find a new bottom. A struggling, tanking Sixers team came to Mile High and make it eight straight losses for Denver. Once again you can’t say it was either the offense or defense for the Nuggets as both were bad — over their last five games Denver has the 29th ranked offense and 29th ranked defense (in points per possession, via NBA.com). They used to run teams out of the building at altitude, but that starts with getting turnovers or stops and that isn’t happening. Plus their offense is stagnant and seems to be a lot of dribbling around, or a Ty Lawson/J.J. Hickson pick-and-roll, and not much else. Denver is 1-8 since Brian Shaw banned pizza and junk food from the locker room, time for someone to make a call over to Lucky Pie Pizza and Taphouse and get a delivery.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.