Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

The Extra Pass: Is the second tier in West ready to challenge Thunder, Spurs?


We know Oklahoma City is a contender — despite their little three-game blip as they re-adjust to Russell Westbrook in the lineup, they are still 21-7 when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both play this season, they have a top-10 offense and defense when you look at points per possession. The same is true of the Spurs, and while they have had struggles against the NBA’s elite during the regular season last season’s run should remind you not to read too much into that. When the Spurs are healthy and focused they can compete with anyone.

But what about the next tier in the West? What about the Clippers? The Rockets? The Trail Blazers? Can any of those rise up and truly challenge OKC (the current bar for Best in the West).

Defining a contender can be a bit nebulous. It’s more like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart effort to define test for obscenity — we know it when we see it. I don’t see it with Portland, I think the Clippers and Rockets are on the cusp but may not be there yet.

Here are a few numbers to help us get an idea, using NBA.com stats (including some from the Sports VU cameras).

• Portland came back to earth some in February — they had a point differential of +4.4 per 100 possessions, which is good enough for ninth in the NBA but more in the Charlotte/Washington/Toronto range than contender status. Their defense remained 11th in the NBA and their offense, now without LaMarcus Aldridge, can’t bail them out. I’ve not been sold Portland is ready to knock on the door of the contenders all season, nothing right now is changing my mind.

• The question with the Clippers remains defense — in February they allowed 105.6 points per 100 possessions, ranked 22nd in the league. Because of a stellar offense (114 per 100) they remain fourth in point differential through those 11 games, but that doesn’t mask the question of if they can get enough stops to win in the postseason.

• Opposing teams get a league-high 10.4 shots a game at the rim when DeAndre Jordan is on the court — he defends it well and they only hit 51.5 percent of them, but they get there.

• Glen Davis may actually help the Clippers defense — it’s not that he’s a great defender, he’s just better than Ryan Hollins and that is who loses minutes with Davis in the fold. Same with Danny Granger, who is no great wing defender but will be taking minutes from Jared Dudley.

• Houston on the other hand has the sixth best defense in the NBA since Feb. 1. They give up a lot of points per game because they play at the fourth fastest pace in the league but they defend their possessions well and are a very good transition defensive team.

• In February, teams finished a very high 63.2 percent at the rim against the Rockets — but they never get there. The Rockets gave up just 250 attempts at the rim in the month, only Charlotte did better (247, but they played one less game than Houston). (And yes, using raw numbers for a moth is a rough gauge, go the last 15 Rockets games and they are 20th in shots allowed at the rim and teams shoot 62.3 percent.)

• The Rockets are maybe the best first half team in the NBA — they are disciplined in forcing their style and sucking other teams into a pace the opponent is not comfortable with. It leads to big quarters, like the 42 they dropped on Sacramento this week. However in the playoffs that element of surprise goes away. Will the Rockets in the halfcourt suddenly be too much James Harden in isolation, and too much Dwight Howard in the post? Both of those can disrupt the Rockets’ offensive flow.

• The question with the Rockets in February was the toughness of the schedule — we will learn more soon. They lost to the Clippers on Wednesday but that was the second night of a back-to-back and their tired legs showed as their transition defense was not what it normally is. That said, their next eight games port the Rockets include the Heat twice, the Pacers, the Thunder, Trail Blazers and Bulls. That’s a legit test.

• My sense is the Rockets are closer — they are now getting quality minutes out of Omer Asik off the bench, he gives them depth of defense that the Clippers just do not have. That the Trail Blazers do not have. Houston also is starting to find its identity. They may need to learn a hard lesson in the playoffs this season, they may need to tweak the roster some, but they have grown toward being a contender this season in a way I haven’t fully seen with the Clippers yet.

Report: Kevin Garnett in talks with Cavaliers, other teams about coaching consultant role

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If you’re wondering what Kevin Garnett is going to do now that he’s retired, turns out sitting on the couch with a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and watching Judge Judy is not the answer.

He seems headed to the TNT studio show, and may be consulting with some teams — including the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. So reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

There are a lot of teams that could use KG as a consultant, I would expect the Timberwolves are part of that mix as well. He’s going to have the respect and ear of players for teams trying to get a message across to a young squad.

Garnett isn’t doing this for the money, he can pick-and-choose where he feels comfortable and needed.

Watch Dwyane Wade hit dagger three to lift Bulls past Celtics

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What spacing problems?

Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Rajon Rondo combined to shoot 9-of-14 from three in the Bulls season opener at home Thursday night. As a team, the Bulls shot 44 percent from three.

That included Dwyane Wade’s dagger three with a hand in his face to seal the 105-99 win.

The Bulls are not going to shoot like this every night, but they looked good on Thursday.



76ers players may respond in wake of national anthem flap

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers held a team meeting Thursday and may take action in the wake of the organization’s decision to cancel the national anthem performance by a singer wearing a “We Matter” jersey.

Sevyn Streeter said she was told by the team she could not perform the anthem before Wednesday night’s season opener because of the slogan.

The Sixers players met at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, and are considering whether to respond to Streeter’s cancellation.

“Everybody expressed their emotions about it,” forward Robert Covington said. “We want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things.”

The Sixers play at home Saturday afternoon against Atlanta.

Streeter said in an interview with The Associated Press late Wednesday she was told she would not sing just minutes before her performance.

“I’d say two minutes before we were about to walk out … the organization told me that I could not wear my shirt while singing the national anthem at their game,” the R&B singer said by phone. “I was never given any kind of dress code. I was never asked beforehand to show my wardrobe.”

The Sixers declined to say why Streeter’s performance was canceled.

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community,” the Sixers said in a statement.

The Sixers had a member of their dance team sing the anthem.

Sixers management declined comment on Thursday.

Coach Brett Brown said there are several options on the table.

“We understand the situation and we respect the social issue involved,” Brown said Thursday. “We completely get it. As a group, we will try to find a way to deal with this.”

Streeter has written songs for Chris Brown, Ariana Grande and other stars. In 2013, she had a Top 40 hit with “It Won’t Stop,” a duet with Brown that reached RIAA gold status.

The singer, born Amber Denise Streeter, said she was hurt by the NBA team’s actions.

“I was angry, extremely, extremely angry and disappointed and honestly brought to tears by all of it. It broke my heart,” she said. “Honestly, I was very excited about being able to perform the national anthem. I was really looking forward to that.”

This isn’t the first time the Sixers were brought into a national anthem controversy. A woman performing the national anthem before the team played a preseason game in Miami did so while kneeling at midcourt.

Denasia Lawrence opened her jacket just before she started to sing, revealing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt, then dropped to her left knee and performed the song. She said it was her way of protesting racial oppression.

The anthem issue has been a major topic in sports in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand while it is played. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports – and many levels, from youth all the way to professional – have followed his lead in various ways.

“I also felt it was important to express the ongoing challenges and ongoing injustice we face as a black community within the United States of America – that’s very important to me,” Streeter said. “Yes, we live in the greatest country in the world but there are issues that we cannot ignore. This can’t be ignored.”

Dwyane Wade misses reverse dunk (and scores his first points as Bull)

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It looks like Dwyane Wade‘s going to end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool.

At the end of the first quarter in the Bulls season opener, he had leaked out and gotten open at the basket, took the halfcourt pass — and missed the dunk. He was rushing because of the clock and misjudged where he was on the court. It happens. But it wasn’t pretty.

Wade also scored his first bucket with his hometown Bulls in the game.