The Extra Pass: Rudy Gay taking control of his own story in Sacramento; plus Monday’s recaps

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The Memphis Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay and reached the Western Conference Finals. The Toronto Raptors traded Gay and are streaking toward home-court advantage in the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Regardless of anything Gay did, his perceived value dropped considerably in the last two years.

But might Gay be taking control of his own narrative now?

Gay has played well in his 15 games with the Sacramento Kings, at first alternating gems and duds throughout the first seven contests as he’s done for much of his career. But in the last eight games, Gay has taken off while helping Sacramento to a 5-3 record. He’s producing better than usual across the board, the biggest uptick coming in the area he’s under the strongest microscope: scoring.

In his last eight contests, Gay is averaging 23.0 points per game. Everyone knows Gay can score. He’s had 23 other eight-game stretches within a single season where he’s scored this much, all with the Grizzlies.

But the typical questions revolve around how he scores. Is he efficient? Is he helping his team’s offense? The answers in this stretch are a resounding yes and yes.

In this stretch, Gay has made 57.3 percent of his shots and the Kings have a 112.1 offensive rating with him on the court. Both marks best his previous 23 eight-game stretches with at least 23.0 points per game.

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But it’s difficult to see why Gay has been scoring so much better.

He’s working within the flow of the offense about as much as usual. His baskets aren’t any more likely to be assisted than prior to this run.

His shot selection by area of the floor is basically the same as usual, too.

And it’s probably not the opposing defenses, either. The Kings’ last eight opponents – Heat (10th in defensive rating), Spurs (5th), Rockets (11th), 76ers (28th), Bobcats (8th), Magic (18th), Trail Blazers (22th), Cavaliers (16th) – average out to an approximately median defense. (Though the Kings are scoring a solid 105.7 points per 100 possessions without Gay in these eight games, at least leaving the door open that something larger than Gay is afoot).

The simplest answer is that Gay, for all his foibles, is an extremely talented player and this is well within his range. Gay has never matched individual volume and efficiency like this, let alone mixing in the team-wide offensive success. But the results are not so far beyond his previous high-water marks that this couldn’t be another regular wave, splashing just a little higher toward shore.

One contributing factor might be the Kings’ schedule. They haven’t played a back-to-back in these eight games, the last five of which have been at home. Gay, an impressive athlete, has looked particularly explosive in this stretch – elevating quickly and highly on his jumpers, starting and stopping on drives and just making strong moves with the ball in his hands.

Sacramento begins a six-game road trip that should really test just how far Gay has come, and the results could reveal themselves very soon.

Tonight, he’ll face the Pacers, who are led by small forward Paul George, one of the NBA’s best defenders at the position. A Wednesday game with the Timberwolves will mean Gay’s first back-to-back since this run started. And then Friday, he’ll be back in Memphis, where he’ll surely want to prove the Grizzlies erred by giving up on him.

Gay has never played like this before. I’m not sure he ever will again.

But the chance to prove this improved production, or something near it, is sustainable begins tonight in Indiana.

-Dan Feldman

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Knicks 98, Suns 96 (OT): The Knicks won their fifth straight, but they didn’t make it easy on themselves against a Suns team that has a reputation for fighting until the end this season, no matter the circumstances. New York led by as many as 14 in this one, but found itself trailing by five with less than five minutes left. Leandro Barbosa, who Phoenix recently signed to a 10-day contract, showed flashes of his former Suns self with 14 fourth quarter points, and made the two free throws that forced the extra session. Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 29 points, and Raymond Felton had a good night offensively with 19, but struggled to contain or even slow Barbosa and Goran Dragic on the perimeter. This was the final night of a five-game, seven-day road trip for Phoenix, and it showed in overtime where the team struggled to get good looks and went 0-for-7 from the field in the last five minutes. —Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 116, Bucks 94: The Bucks have the worst record in the league at 7-30, and the Raptors have been surging since the trade of Rudy Gay, and have won eight of their last 10 games. As a result, Toronto took charge of this one from the jump, scoring 38 first quarter points and leading by as many as 14 points over the game’s first 12 minutes. The lead reached 31 before the night was through. Kyle Lowry, whose name was mentioned in trade talks earlier this season, continued his strong play with a team-best 23 points on eight shots, to go along with five assists. —BP

Rockets 104, Celtics 92: This was an ugly game for Boston when you look at the way the Rockets clobbered the Celtics for most of the night, outscoring them 65-38 over the second and third periods. Boston made it uglier in the fourth when they went to the strategy of intentionally fouling Dwight Howard and sending him to the line 14 times in the game’s final period. Howard made six of those and finished 10-of-18 from the line for the night. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said afterward that he would support a change in the rule that allows the intentional fouling to take place, even though he used it, and achieved less-than-ideal results. So maybe it’s time. —BP

Wizards 100, Bulls 87: So much for the Bulls five-game win streak — this is not a team or roster than can take a night off from executing on defense, Chicago did and they paid. Washington opened this game on an 8-0 run and never trailed in this game. Washington shot 59 percent in the first half and 52 percent for the game. The wizards were led by John Wall and Nene, each of whom had 18 points — when they are both healthy and working well Washington is a pretty dangerous team. Wall was able to basically get wherever he wanted on the court, he was too quick for the Bulls defenders. — Kurt Helin

Spurs 101, Pelicans 95: Consider this a moral victory for the shorthanded Pelicans (no Ryan Anderson or Jrue Holiday for a while). The Pelicans got 9 points from Eric Gordon in the first quarter, 12 from Anthony Davis in the first half and they did a good job defending the arc. Then the fourth quarter came and the Spurs shot 60 percent overall, hit 4-of-6 from three, got 8 points from Marco Belinelli and pulled ahead for the win. Tony Parker was a stud — 27 points and 7 assists. Tell me again how he shouldn’t be an All-Star this year. —KH

Mavericks 107, Magic 88: The Mavericks went on a 14-4 run in the first quarter to take control of this game, and that was pretty much it. Oh, they played more than three quarters because NBA rules demand it, but the game was never in doubt. Monta Ellis had 21 points, Vince Carter 17 and it was a professional, taking care of business win for Dallas. For Orlando… well, there was one stretch in the second half where they played better. Orlando has lost eight in a row, seven now by double digits. —KH

Jazz 118, Nuggets 103: Utah had a monster offensive night — led by Alec Burks 34 points the Jazz shot 55.7 percent as a team, or to look at it another way they had an offensive rating of 123.2 points per 100 possessions in this game. That was tied to some terrible defense from Denver — the Nuggets played poor defense in the paint (we’re looking at you Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson) which forced the guards to come down and help in the paint, which left the Utah guards open and they made Denver pay. Derrick Favors had 19 points for Denver, Trey Burke 18. —KH

Chris Paul says Clippers should play through Lou Williams, which sounds like a slight of Blake Griffin

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After the Clippers’ win over the Rockets last night, Chris Paul didn’t go after Blake Griffin just through a back entrance into the Clippers’ locker room.

He also seemingly went after Griffin in his post-game interview.

Asked to assess playing against his former team, Paul:

They’ve got Lou Will. Lou Will is the guy. You know what I mean? That’s the go-to guy, the guy that they should play through and stuff like that. He having a great year, and he tough. He tough, man.

Williams is having a great year, especially by the standards of career as a solid sub-star. But Griffin is a bona fide star – a tremendously skilled scorer, ball-handler and passer for a power forward. He’s clearly the Clippers’ go-to player when healthy. It’s great Williams stepped up when Griffin was injured, and Williams can run second units while Griffin is healthy. But Griffin is the go-to player.

I can’t read Paul’s intent. Maybe he genuinely disagrees and believes the Clippers should play through Williams. But – given Paul’s nd Griffin’s history and how heated last night’s game was – it sounds as if Paul is just trying to create friction within his former team and take a dig at Griffin. That’d be petty, but… yeah. Nobody would put that past Paul.

NBA Twitter had fun with Rockets, Clippers, secret tunnels

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This Clippers/Rockets story is so perfectly today’s NBA.

It’s not about the game itself (game-related stories draw far fewer eyeballs/traffic than off the court stuff). It involves drama and confrontation between star players with grudges and a guy who forced a trade. And while the players postured, there was never going to be an actual fight and everybody knew it, still the LAPD was called in.

It’s all perfect fodder for Twitter.

Just a quick recap of events. The Clippers win Monday over the Rockets at Staples Center got chippy — Blake Griffin got into it with Mike D’Antoni after running into him, Griffin and Trevor Ariza were ejected after some words where Austin Rivers was involved. After the game, Paul led a group of Warriors — James Harden, Ariza, Gerald Green — down a secret tunnel behind the locker rooms, went to the back door of the Clippers’ locker room and started to confront the Clippers. Except, nothing really happened but a verbal exchange, security broke it up and the LAPD was called in. That last part just about made Shaq fall out of his chair on Inside the NBA.

All this while Clint Capela knocked on the front door of the Clippers locker room and had it shut in his face.

This story was perfect for NBA Twitter, and it had a field day. Including the big names.

Everyone got in on the act.

Three Things to Know: After another loss to Warriors, what do Cavaliers do now?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Warriors handle Cavaliers again, do Cavaliers have to make an upgrade at the trade deadline? LeBron James was an MVP-level beast — 32 points on 18 shots, grabbing boards, dishing out assists, blocking four shots and seemingly being everywhere. Cleveland was targeting Stephen Curry on switches, hit 8-of-10 to start the game and shot 52.1 percent for three quarters. It wasn’t enough. The Warriors led by two after three because the Cavaliers defense remains terrible, and Golden State pulled away in the fourth for a 118-108 win to sweep the season series. It was clear from this game that while the Cavaliers may be better built to take on the Warriors than nearly every other NBA team, and maybe better than they were last June, there is still a gap between them and the Warriors.

That leaves the Cavaliers facing hard questions as the trade deadline approaches Feb. 8:

Do they make a bold move for the best player available? Do they go after depth to help against matchups with Golden State? Is there an available player that can actually close the gap with Golden State? If they find a player they want, do the throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

It starts with a big-picture philosophical discussion for the Cavaliers: Do they throw everything into another run at a ring with LeBron, and hope that motivates him to stay next summer? Or, do they make sure they hold on to the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick they got in the Kyrie Irving trade (consider it LeBron insurance)? While the Nets have outperformed expectations and lowered the value of the pick (right now it would go into the lottery the No. 7/8 pick tied with Phoenix), reports are the Cavaliers are holding onto that pick unless a player becomes available who can put them on the Warriors’ level.

DeAndre Jordan is not that guy. He is the best player available and the Clippers and Cavaliers have talked plenty, but Jordan does not change the equation vs. Golden State. Yes, he would give the Cavaliers rim protection and rebounding, but he can’t space the floor at all and defensively the Warriors would be able to pull him away from the basket and expose him. The Cavaliers are still interested (in part because it would make Cleveland better, in part because proposed swap would get them off of Tristan Thompson’s long-term money), but they would only throw in their own first-round pick (currently 24th) as part of the package. Is that enough?

There are other players available who could help the Cavaliers, such as Nikola Mirotic or Evan Fournier (or anyone on the Magic), but none are game changers with the Warriors. Paul George is the only guy who might be and he is not available, the Thunder are riding this season out with him.

Can the Cavaliers afford to do nothing? That would send a bad message to LeBron as he weighs free agency. Expect the Cavaliers to make trades, it just might be re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

2) Clippers win fifth straight beating Chris Paul’s Rockets — then things really get interesting when Rockets go after Clippers in the locker room. The story the Clippers wanted this game to be about is that they beat the Houston Rockets 113-102, and with that fifth straight win moved into a playoff position in the West despite the rash of injuries that hit the team this season. The Pelicans, Clippers, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers all within half-a-game of each other for slots 6-9 in the West — one of them will miss the playoffs — and that sets up a fun race for the second half of the season.

That’s not what anyone is talking about.

Instead, the fact that Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and James Harden used a secret back-tunnel between the locker rooms to try to go into the Clippers locker room and confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin. The guys reportedly stood at the back door of the Clippers locker room, Clippers players dared them to enter, and security stepped in fast. The LAPD was called and nothing actually happened — and it wouldn’t have anyways, these are NBA players there wasn’t going to be a fight. We know that.

Meanwhile, Clint Capela went to the front door of the Clippers locker room, knocked, and had the door shut in his face. (Was he the diversion tactic or just not in on the plans.)

NBA Twitter had a blast with this, including Griffin himself.

3) Earlier in the day, Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry almost got in a fight in the hallway after being ejected. Or they didn’t. After the Rockets/Clippers fun, this almost seems quaint. Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry had a little run in during the third quarter of MLK Day matchup.

Later, they were ejected late in Philadelphia’s 117-111 win over Toronto:

This led to reports of a dust-up in the hallway after the game.

After the game Simmons and Lowry both basically denied it.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Go watch the Clippers and Rockets, that’s far more entertaining.

Reports: Rockets try to confront Clippers, police dispatched to locker room

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The Los Angeles Clippers got the better of the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Staples Center, 113-102, but the battle between Chris Paul and his former team had apparently just begun.

According to multiple reports, members of the Rockets took to the Clippers locker room after the game to confront Austin Rivers and then Blake Griffin.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says that according to his sources, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green entered the Clippers locker room looking for Austin Rivers, who was on the sideline due to an injury. LAPD were then dispatched to the scene — not just ordinary Staples Center security — and while nothing happened that’s somehow not the end of this story.

In true Scooby Doo fashion, Woj reports that the Rockets then sent Clint Capela to the front door of the Clippers locker room while Chris Paul went to a secret back door to the Clippers’ area as he looked to go after Blake Griffin.

Once again, I cannot stress that I am not making this story up.

Via Twitter:

Some of this may stem from the general tension between the two teams. Paul was traded to Houston in June for Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Sam Dekker among others after spending six seasons with Los Angeles.

There’s also the fact that Mike D’Antoni and Griffin got into it during the game, yapping at each other after Griffin made contact with the Houston coach on the sideline.

Griffin appeared to be pointing at D’Antoni for being out of the box on the sideline, making purposeful contact with him and resulting in double technical fouls.

Yet the overarching tension between the two teams was already palpable. Paul reportedly took umbrage to how Rivers was treated by his father, coach, and (at the time) GM Doc Rivers.

Then, late in the fourth quarter — after Griffin had already gotten into it with D’Antoni — some jawing from Austin Rivers led to an on-court discussion between Ariza and Griffin.

That prompted officials to eject both Griffin and Ariza with just a minute to go:

Austin Rivers said that the tension between Paul and Griffin was the thing that led to CP3 looking for a trade to Texas, just as a bit of backstory, so the bad blood and he-said, she-said is long-running.

No word yet on the details confirming how far anybody got, although it seems reasonable to expect Adam Silver and the league office should come down with some suspensions for folks. Malice in the Palace was perhaps the greatest modern disgrace for the NBA, and the league tries to keep even the whiff of violence away from their games.

It feels like there’s no way anyone here can get off light in an era where guys are getting suspended from both playoff games and preseason games for taking a teensy little step off the bench during disputes.

Meanwhile, the guys on the set of Inside the NBA had an absolute BLAST with the details (as did of Twitter, to be honest).

The Rockets and the Clippers play again next on Wednesday Feb. 28 in LA.