Brandon Jennings finding running a team difficult after ‘shooting at will’ in Milwaukee

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The Detroit Pistons, clearly in win-now mode, traded the younger Brandon Knight and passed on even-younger Trey Burke in the draft to make Brandon Jennings their starting point guard.

Jennings, in his fifth NBA season – and sixth pro season, as the Pistons repeatedly noted when they acquired him – should be more polished than Detroit’s potential alternatives.

But Jennings has looked extremely rough around the edges this season.

He’s making just 39 percent of his 2-pointers and 33 percent of his 3-pointers, and his turnovers per game and per minute are both career highs. What gives?

Jennings, via Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

“I think I’m just thinking too much, trying to find guys instead of looking for my shot,” Jennings said. “So when I do, I’m out of rhythm because I’m not looking for it.”

“It’s been a little difficult, but it’s definitely going to take some time,” Jennings said. “I’m still gonna keep doing what I’m doing. This is a learning year for me, trying to be able to run a team. In Milwaukee I was just playing basketball and shooting at will. This year, I’m taking a step back.”

Maurice Cheeks is trying to turn Jennings into a pass-first point guard, but the results have been mixed.

Jennings is averaging a career-high 8.3 assists per game, and though increased passing has caused his turnover spike, his assist-to-turnover ratio is also a career best. The Pistons score 102.8 points per 100 possessions with him and 98.5 points per 100 possessions without him.

That’s all certainly encouraging.

Jennings’ shooting, on the other hand, has not.

His 39 percent on 2s and 33 percent on 3s are below his career averages, but neither are career lows. They’re both within his expected range.

What makes those efficiencies troubling is Jennings is shooting less frequently than ever. If he’s going to be more selective with his attempts, he should make a higher percentage of them – at least in theory. He clearly hasn’t gotten comfortable with that tradeoff in real time.

But Cheeks doesn’t see that as a legitimate excuse. Cheeks, via Goodwill:

“He just didn’t shoot the ball well. It’s not about thinking,” Cheeks said. “Part of the game is thinking. It’s a happy medium where you run offense or take shots. It’s not something new. You have shots, you take them. You make them or miss them.”

Cheeks made it clear he doesn’t subscribe to the theory of overthinking, but he wants Jennings to toe the line from aggression to recklessness.

“He’s got to be aggressive in the game,” Cheeks said. “You cannot be afraid to make a mistake. You’re gonna make mistakes. Play to his ability and his ability is good enough for him and good enough for us.”

The Pistons were spoiled with one of the greatest mid-career improvements by a point guard in NBA history when Chauncey Billups went from spot starter with the Timberwolves to NBA Finals MVP with Detroit under the tutelage of Larry Brown.

Jennings and Cheeks almost certainly won’t duplicate that. Jennings isn’t Billups, and Cheeks, though a former All-Star point guard, isn’t Brown.

But how close Jennings and Cheeks come and how quickly they get there will have a large impact on the second half of the Pistons’ season. The challenge is steep, though. Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Jennings has said he was never a guy who studied videotape before this season and now he and Cheeks spend many hours every week reviewing games.

At some point, those lessons might change how Jennings sees the floor. If it all works, Jennings will be a better player than he ever could have been as a shoot-first gunner. If the Pistons get that more complete player, they’ll be better off for it.

But in the meantime, they’re hurting themselves in the present as Jennings changes his style on the fly. At 17-24 and just outside playoff position, Detroit might not maintain that patience with Jennings’ development.

LeBron James drives, Pau Gasol stands no chance of stopping dunk (VIDEO)

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Monday night was an ugly night for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They got thrashed by the Spurs 103-74 in a game where they looked nothing like a title contender. The Cavaliers fell to second place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron had 17 points but needed 17 shots to get there.

But there were some Cavs highlights. One was LeBron pushing the ball in transition, becoming a one-man break, and while Pau Gasol was in the right place there was nothing he was going to do to stop this dunk.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.

 

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.