The Extra Pass: Quiet Jazz and Tuesday’s recaps

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For the most part, the Utah Jazz typically fly under the radar. Occasionally they’ll pop up after unexpectedly beating a contender, like they did last night with a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But other than that? You won’t hear much out of Utah. No real trade rumors, no murmurs of unhappiness, no headline grabbing material.

Perhaps no team keeps their plans better under wraps than the Jazz. When Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were let go in free agency this offseason, there didn’t appear to be a clear objective. It just looked like a small market , fringe playoff team losing two very good players and hoping the young guys behind them would replace their production.

But then, out of nowhere, Utah turned that cap space into two unprotected first-round picks from the Golden State Warriors, and things began to make a lot more sense.

For all intents and purposes, the Jazz have provided the blueprint for how to properly execute a rebuild. There’s a young promising player at every position, and they’re all growing together. There are no draft picks owed, there are multiple picks coming in, and there’s plenty of cap space available to be used in creative ways, as we’ve seen.

Utah is also set up as a top landing spot for available coaches, as Tyrone Corbin is likely doing nothing more than keeping the seat warm at this point.

Right now, Utah’s roster is cheap, young and bad. At least one of those things will change soon, though.

You may not associate the term “Max Player” with Gordon Hayward, but it would be a surprise at this point if he didn’t demand that in restricted free agency. Young wings with great size that can initiate offense, play in the pick-and-roll and shoot the three don’t seem to come around all that often anymore, and Hayward reportedly had teams drooling during his time with the USA national team this offseason.

Hayward will get paid. Derrick Favors already did. The schedule for the Jazz being competitive may be a little quicker than most think, particularly if an impact player like Jabari Parker lands there on draft night.

But let’s make one thing clear. Any future evaluation of the Western Conference landscape needs to heavily account for the Jazz. This is a well-managed team that understands their direction and is fully invested in rebuilding. There were no half-measures here, and for that reason, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz will be quiet for much longer.

D.J. Foster

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Cavaliers 111, Sixers 93: The Sixers looked great in winning four straight on the road, but have now gotten blown out in consecutive contests. Two inexplicable things happened in this one: C.J. Miles setting a Cleveland franchise record for three-pointers made with 10, and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Thaddeus Young finishing 0-7 from the field with zero points in 22 minutes of action. Michael Carter-Williams finished with a career-high 33 points, many of which came in garbage time. — Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 86, Raptors 79: Toronto got its second straight moral victory, hanging with the Pacers down the stretch after keeping things close with the Heat just two nights earlier. But while the Raptors have recently emerged as the third best team in a dismal Eastern Conference, there’s still a long way to go to earn a basic level of respectability. Awful performances from Amir Johnson (zero points in 21 minutes), Terence Ross (three points, 1-8 shooting) and Greivis Vasquez (two points, 1-7 shooting) can’t happen if Toronto is to be taken seriously. — BP

Wizards 97, Bobcats 83: A balanced effort from an up-and-down Wizards team is one the club will take, especially on the road and coming against one of the league’s better defenses. A 17-0 run in the third quarter did the trick for Washington in this one, and the Wizards led by as many as 19 points before the final buzzer sounded. Marcin Gortat turned in an above average effort against the Charlotte frontcourt, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. — BP

Heat 107, Pelicans 88: New Orleans actually led this one at the break, before LeBron James made sure that his team wouldn’t needlessly drop a home contest. James scored 16 of his 32 points in the third, which helped turn an 11-point deficit into a five-point advantage heading into the final period. Miami outscored its opponent in the second half 64-39 to ultimately cruise to the double-digit victory. — BP

Knicks 89, Pistons 85: Both teams played their final possessions as if they were trying to lose, but in the end New York avoided yet another embarrassing and devastating loss to add its third win in four games to its recent portfolio. The Knicks led by 14 points with under nine minutes to play, yet saw that lead cut to just one with 46 seconds left. Josh Smith missed an unconscionable long two with under 10 seconds remaining that would have given Detroit the lead, and Carmelo Anthony’s game-high 34 points ended up being enough to give the Knicks the victory. — BPP

Bulls 92, Suns 87: Phoenix is without Eric Bledsoe for a week or so, which means defensive-minded teams like Chicago can slow the pace and win the rebounding battle in order to secure a victory. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson combined for 26 of the Bulls’ 50 boards, and the Suns struggled to hit shots, finishing just 6-of-23 from three-point distance. — BP

Warriors 101, Bucks 80: Golden State won its 10th straight, which we dove into in a little more detail here. — BP

Spurs 110, Grizzlies 108 (OT): San Antonio had this one — they were up 16 midway through the fourth quarter and 12 with two minutes to go. But a late 12-0 run by the Grizzlies led by 9 points in those last couple minutes by Mike Conley including the killer crossover move and layup that sent the game to OT (he finished the night with 30). In OT it remained close and it took a vintage Manu Ginobili drive and bucket to get the Spurs the win (see the video of the day above). Tim Duncan finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds and carried the Spurs for stretches of this game. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 110, Lakers 97: Dallas has weapons — starting with that Dirk Nowitzki guy, who had 27 points in this game — and the Lakers simply don’t have the defense to stop good teams no the offense to overwhelm them. Pau Gasol (he’s still there) is clearly Lakers offensive option No. 1, but Dallas wisely doubled him when he got the rock and nobody else made Dallas pay (Nick Young 1-of-7, Jodie Meeks 6-of-16, Ryan Kelly 1-of-5). Kendall Marshall had another strong outing (18 points on 7-of-10 shooting) but this was Dallas’ night. Vince Carter had 19 off the bench for them. — KH

Nuggets 129, Celtics 98: Denver opened the game on a 20-9 run, had extended that to a 23-point lead at the half and the second 24 minutes felt a lot like garbage time. You know things are going your way when Kenneth Faried has 21 points. Ty Lawson had 19 points and 13 assists, he remains very good at this basketball thing. Jeff Green had 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 for Boston. Denver has won three in a row and while it hadn’t been against the best competition you need to beat the teams worse than you and Denver is doing that. — KH

Jazz 112, Thunder 101: No Russell Westbrook, no Serge Ibaka, and really no defense from the Thunder on Tuesday night. Credit the Jazz for hitting their shots — 71 percent in the first quarter and 58.8 percent for the game — but Oklahoma City played like a team that thought they could show up and win. Utah took control in the second quarter and led by 24 in the third, but you knew a Thunder run was coming and it did in the fourth behind Kevin Durant, who had 48 points on the night. The problem was OKC couldn’t stop Gordon Hayward, who had 17-consecutuve Jazz points in the fourth to stave off the Thunder and finished with 37 points on the night. — KH

Kings 123, Trail Blazers 119: I hate to say we’ve been warning you at PBT that Portland’s lack of defense would eventually catch up with them but… DeMarcus Cousins had 35 points and 13 rebounds, and Rudy Gay continues to be efficient in Sacramento with 32 points on 16 shots as the Kings pulled away in the third quarter then held on late for the win. Damian Lillard was a beast — 26 points in the fourth quarter trying to spark the comeback and 41 on the night — but if you can’t get stops (the Kings shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter) you can’t win consistently in close games and the Trail Blazers have dropped 4-of-6. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points for Portland, Isaiah Thomas 22 for Sacramento. — KH

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.