The Extra Pass: Three guys that deserve more playing time, plus Monday’s recaps

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With the first half of the season in the books, let’s look at five players who deserve to get a little more burn the rest of the way.

John Henson, F/C, Milwaukee Bucks

Before we get to Henson, let’s travel in the way back machine to the 2009-10 season. If you’ll remember, Kurt Rambis was the head coach of a dreadful Minnesota Timberwolves team, and for some reason, Rambis decided to play his best player, Kevin Love, only 28 minutes a night.

It was criminally stupid. Not surprisingly, the Wolves went 15-67 and Rambis was fired.

This isn’t to compare Henson to Love, but rather to serve as fair warning to Bucks head coach Larry Drew: for your own sake, you should probably play your best player more than 28 minutes a night.

Henson is an incredible shot blocker with arms that go on forever, and he’s a glass eater despite his thin frame. He’s limited offensively, but he has a nice lefty hook that’s impossible to block. He’s the one guy Milwaukee can post up consistently and expect a decent output from.

Plain and simple, Henson deserves starter’s minutes. I’m just going to leave this per 36 minute comparison to Anthony Davis right here, and let you decide if Henson should be playing less than 30 minutes on the league’s worst team.

Kyle O’Quinn, C, Orlando Magic

Typically this is where I’d take up for Andrew Nicholson, another Magic big man who is glued to the bench far too often. At least you can sort of understand why Jacque Vaughn is playing Nicholson only 17 minutes a night, as he’s limited defensively, despite being a great scorer.

It’s hard to make that argument with O’Quinn, though. With Nikola Vucevic sidelined with a concussion, O’Quinn’s minutes haven’t spiked nearly as much as you’d think, as Glen Davis has played an uncomfortable amount of 5 for Orlando.

It makes sense that Orlando would try to showcase Davis in advance of the trade deadline, but something has to give here. O’Quinn is averaging just 12.4 minutes a night despite being one of the most unique talents in the league, and his playing time could decrease to zero once Vucevic gets back.

Honestly, how many 6-foot-10, 240 pound big men with 7-foot-5 wingspans shoot nearly 42 percent from behind 16 feet, average 11.4 rebounds per 36 on their career and block nearly two shots a game? O’Quinn can play, and it’s time for Rob Hennigan to create playing time for him.

Draymond Green, F, Golden State Warriors

Rarely do contenders like Golden State need to make rotational changes, and rarely do players who shoot 35 percent from the field on their career demand more time. Draymond Green bucks conventional wisdom pretty frequently, though.

Green’s biggest asset is his ability to legitimately cover four positions and do it incredibly well. If Green was ever paired with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, opponents would have a whale of a time trying to score at all.

Unfortunately, according to NBA.com’s stats site, that three-man lineup has only played 39 minutes together this year. In their short time together, though, they do have a net efficiency rating of +25.2 and have held opponents to a stingy 85.1 points per 100 possessions. It’s a small sample size, but that’s sort of the point.

Despite Green’s limitations as a scorer, he’s a 38.8 percent career three-point shooter, which means he can offer space for Stephen Curry to operate while also playing much, much better defense than a player like David Lee does.

Green currently plays 19 minutes a game, but that number should probably increase. Green is the rare 3 and D guy who can play smallball 4, and Mark Jackson would be wise to try him in more and more lineups as the Warriors prepare for a deep playoff run. He’s the type of specialist that can swing a game if he’s given enough burn.

D.J. Foster

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Raptors 104, Nets 103: This was a brutal loss for Brooklyn, considering they had control of this game in the waning seconds, only to see it all slip away. Brooklyn had erased a nine-point deficit with just under 7:30 remaining, with a 9-0 run to tie the game at the 3:48 mark of the final period. It was close from then on, but it appeared the Nets were in control, leading by one with possession and 12 seconds remaining. A poor decision by Deron Williams to try a pass to the backcourt was intercepted by Patrick Patterson, who calmly drained a pull-up jumper that sealed the win for the Raptors and stole it from the Nets. Kyle Lowry continued to stunt for a spot on the All-Star team with a performance that included 31 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals, and Paul Pierce finished with 33 points on 16 shots to lead the Nets in the losing effort. — Brett Pollakoff

Thunder 111, Hawks 109: Kevin Durant scored at least 30 points for the 11th consecutive game, the longest streak by any player in the league over the last 10 seasons. One shot in particular stood out in his 41 point performance against the Hawks, however, and it was the game-winner he hit against what seemed like all five Hawks defenders. As long as Durant keeps essentially dragging his team to victories all by himself (and this was the team’s eighth straight), the MVP will be his despite the fact that LeBron James is still considered to be the game’s best player almost unanimously. — BP

Suns 124, Sixers 113: A 40-point first quarter set the tone for Phoenix in what would become an unstoppable night for them offensively. Gerald Green led everyone with 30 points on just 12 shots, and hit six of his seven three-point attempts to help the Suns to their fourth victory in their last five games. Goran Dragic was similarly efficient with 24 points on 13 shots, to go along with seven assists and three steals. — BP

Timberwolves 95, Bulls 86: In a game defined by who wasn’t playing, the star who did show up was able to dominate. Kevin Love finished with 31 points to lead his team to victory, and while the Bulls had five players end up in double figures scoring, none were important enough to pose a legitimate challenge. Carlos Boozer, for example, finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 9-of-24 from the field. The Bulls were without Joakim Noah due to illness, and Minnesota lost Nikola Pekovic in the first quarter due to a sore right Achilles. — BP

Clippers 114, Bucks 86: Not much to say here other than the Bucks are unquestionably one of the league’s worst teams. Yes, they were without Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo in this one due to illness, but the season in Milwaukee has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, and the presence of even the team’s best players wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. Blake Griffin scored with ease, and finished with 20 points on 13 shots in just 28 minutes of action. Jamal Crawford ld all scorers with 25 points in 24 minutes off the bench, and the Clippers finished their Grammy road trip with a 5-2 record, the best in franchise history. — BP

Jazz 106, Kings 99: And with this, the Kings now have the worst record in the West, not the Jazz. For the second straight night the Kings fought hard without Rudy Gay or DeMarcus Cousins — then after playing 7:41 of the third quarter Isaiah Thomas left with “stomach issues. And for the second straight night all those injuries meant they couldn’t sustain the level they needed for 48 minutes. Utah went on an 11-2 run early in the third quarter sparked by Marvin Williams who had 12 in the frame. Derrick Favors led the Jazz with 17 points. Utah led by 20 in the fourth but the game dragged out, got ugly and got close thanks to a  “hack-a-everyone” strategy by the Kings on a Jazz team that could not knock down free throws in that stretch (10-of-19) nor could they get stops on the other end. But the Jazz hung on. —Kurt Helin

Gregg Popovich on Fox News pundit attacking LeBron James: “Unbelievable”

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Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham launched an attack at Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the NBA star voiced his opinion on Donald Trump. LeBron had done so many times before, alongside other notable NBA personalities like Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr.

This instance of LeBron speaking up apparently struck Ingraham in some type of way, enough to invoke a shot at James’ intelligence and speaking mannerisms in thinly-veiled comments. Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble” which sparked the ire of many around the league. LeBron responded in kind, and most considered Ingraham’s racially-tinged tirade to be par for the course from that particular outlet.

Ingraham, who failed to do basic research on LeBron’s background, community leadership, and charitable contributions, also drew criticism from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Speaking before San Antonio’s game against the Cavaliers, Popovich told a crowd that Ingraham’s comments said more about her than about LeBron, and that he was happy the game had such a positive role model for young fans in James.

Via Twitter:

Shoutout to Popovich for continuing to be a voice from such a prominent position within sports and pop culture. Guys like him and LeBron haven’t exhausted themselves even though the discussion about what they say is undoubtedly tiring.

Jimmy Butler has surgery on right meniscus, no timetable for return

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The playoff picture in the Western Conference became much more opaque after Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury earlier in the week.

Reports out of Minnesota was that Butler had suffered a right meniscus injury, ducking what many had feared was an ACL tear. According to the team, Butler had successful surgery on his right meniscus this weekend.

As of Sunday morning they did not have a timetable for his return.

Via Twitter:

Minnesota currently stands third in the West but they will have a hard time fending off the rest of the playoff hopeful teams below them without their star player.

For his part, Butler is hoping he will be back in time for the playoffs. Early reports were that the team was thinking his recovery had a 4-to-6 week timeline, but again nothing has been set. Meniscus recovery times vary greatly depending on the issue at hand and the procedure done, neither of which we have details on at this time.

The Timberwolves have the 15th most difficult strength of schedule ahead of them according to Tankathon.com, with games against major Western Conference opponents ahead of them as well as bottom-dwellers like the Memphis Grizzlies.

Minnesota has been a good story all season long. No doubt many will bring up Tom Thibodeau’s workload once again with Butler injured, something compounded by Butler apparently requesting to rest during the 2018 All-Star Game.

Wolves fans have been waiting a long time for this. They don’t deserve this kind of punishment at this late a date, but the Basketball Gods are cruel and unceasingly unforgiving.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.