Wednesday night NBA grades: How about that Kyrie Irving?

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while you and your friends debated canned vs. bottled beer….

source:  Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. He wasn’t in attack mode, he was in seek-and-destroy mode. With Dion Waiters and basically everyone who can shoot outside 15 feet injured he knows he has to be the man to space the floor and he did just that — 4-of-7 from three and also 3-of-6 from the midrange on the night. Also, there was the key late-game three and a late-game and-1 on Serge Ibaka that propelled the Cavs. He finished with 31 points on 19 shots. Oh, and his crossover is still impressive.

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder late game defense. A lot of arm-chair pundits are going to say “the Thunder are 0-3 with Russell Westbrook back, they are worse with him.” That’s crap. We have years of numbers — or years of watching them if you have an eye for the game — that says they are better when both Kevin Durant and Westbrook are together on the court. It’s just going to take some time to integrate Westbrook again. They will work it out. Chill.

There is nothing really for Thunder fans to worry much about, but if you want how about OKC defense under pressure. Go read John Schuhmann’s fantastic breakdown at NBA.com that shows jump shooting teams give them real trouble. Then look at the Cavalier possessions in the final 4:30 of a game (so we are starting with OKC having a two-point lead at home):

• Jarrett Jack open corner three on Derek Fisher’s late rotation.
• Kyrie Irving left alone at the three point line early in the clock when Thabo Sefalosha fell asleep.
• Spencer Hawes gets the ball at the three point line after setting a pick and popping, nobody gets between him and the basket so he drives in for a lay-up.
• Irving short-arms a jumper but Tristan Thompson out-hustles every Thunder player to get the board, which leads to another set and a Hawes left-handed runner.
• Irving turns the ball over, his pick-and-pop timing with Hawes is understandably still a little raw.
• After struggling to get open for the ball Irving makes like he’s going for handoff from Thompson at top of key, but changes up and cuts to rim, nobody goes with him and nobody rotates quickly, one nice pass later he is driving into Serge Ibaka for an and-1.
• Jack drives left away from pick from at the top of the key, no help rotation comes until he is deep in the lane and can hit floater.
• After that it’s pretty much the foul game.

source:  Jerryd Bayless, Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens decided to start him next to Rajon Rondo and… nobody saw that coming. Bayless had 29-points and shot 5-of-8 from three (an abbheration as he shoots 28.8 percent from there on the season). I’m not really sure that’s sustainable, but give the man credit when it happens. And give him credit for taking the three rather than the long two that he often gravitates toward. Expect to see a lot more of this backcourt in the coming games.

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. This makes 18 straight games he has scored at least 20 points. He took 25 shots to get his 23 in this one, not exactly efficient, but he still was key for the team’s win. If you watched this game and still think all he can do is dunk, well, you should take up watching cricket. He showed a midrange game, a number of post moves, his handles are amazing and he still wisely gets points by being the most athletic guy on the court. Because he is. It’s simple, players should exploit their strengths and Griffin’s biggest strength is that few can match his athleiticism. But if you think that’s all he is watch again. Or, go watch cricket.

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John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.