Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while watching Lionel Messi be Lionel Messi….
Masked LeBron James, Miami Heat. The rest of the teams may petition the NBA asking that LeBron not be allowed to wear any mask again. In the three games since coming back and wearing a mask he is shooting 67.1 percent and has scored 31, 20 and on Monday night 61 against the Bobcats. And that’s a good defensive team in Charlotte — seventh best in the league this season (in points allowed per possession) and a couple nights ago Kevin Durant shot just 8-of-24 against them. LeBron hit 22-of-33 and had eight three pointers in a vintage efficient night. This was just his night.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats. He had a really good game against LeBron and company — 38 points on 18-of-24 shooting plus 19 rebounds. It just got overshadowed. Jefferson scored 26 points in the first half and completely worked Chris Bosh and others. Jefferson has played well for much of the season, but like this game it just got overshadowed.
Mike D’Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers coach. He takes an unholy amount of abuse from Lakers fans — and he deserves some of it, but he’s also the coach of what was not a great roster to start with then has lost more man games to injury than any other team. He deserves a pat on the back for the Lakers win in Portland — down one with six seconds left he drew up the inbounds play that won the game. It’s a play the Lakers have used before (in Detroit) where Jordan Farmar runs a little misdirection then sets a back pick that freed Wesley Johnson to sprint to the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge got hung up on Farmar’s pick just enough that he was a step behind and Johnson was able to catch the lob and lay it in. Portland’s response (they had six seconds left) was to run a Damian Lillard isolation that led to a contested 24-foot shot that had no chance. D’Antoni had the better late play — the Lakers ran an actual play.
Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks. Ilyasova had complained lately about the way the Bucks had a playoff team last season but rather than build on it they tore it down (they needed to, the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis combo didn’t work). He took those frustrations out on the court Monday night and dominated the Utah Jazz, dropping 31 on 13-of-14 shooting to lead a blowout Bucks win. He was doing it all, driving the lane and knocking down threes. He tends to have strong second halves to the season, this seems to be a sign of another one.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. It was a vintage Minnesota win — they didn’t play a lick of defense but were able to get the win with a flood of offense. Love led the way with 33 points on 10-of-21 shooting, plus pulling down 19 rebounds. It’s amazing how numbers like this can seem unremarkable from him; he just does it so often. With the win Minnesota went 4-1 on its road trip, they continue to make a late (but likely futile) push to make the playoffs.
If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.
He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.
Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.
Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:
1) He is still a terrible defender.
2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.
But he deserves consideration.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”
How long is “for now”?
Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.
Sam Amick of USA Today:
This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.
Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.
Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.
LeBron James did it and shook up the NBA — he returned home to Cleveland. That has led to fantasies other players want to do the same thing: Kevin Durant back to Washington D.C.; DeMar DeRozan or Russell Westbrook back to Los Angeles; Blake Griffin back to Oklahoma. And the list goes on.
Not every player wants to do it.
Chauncey Billups did. Billups is a Denver guy who returned to play for the Nuggets — he gets his number retired Wednesday night in Detroit, a much-deserved honor — but in a letter to his young self at the Players’ Tribune Wednesday he explained that going home is fraught with peril.
“But in reality, playing at home as a 23-year-old professional is going to be less blessing and more curse. (There’s perception, again, for you.) It’s as simple as this: you’re just not going to be ready for Denver to be Your City. You’re going to think you’re ready — and they are too — but, trust me, you won’t be. You’re still going to be so young. You’re still going to be hanging out with your boys, doing your old thing. There are going to be those … hometown distractions. And those distractions will add up.”
“And you have to understand, Chaunce: It’s not just that you made it. It’s that your whole neighborhoodis going to feel like they made it. All of Park Hill is going to feel like they made it. And don’t get me wrong — that’s special. But at the wrong age, it can also be tough. It can be a lot to handle. And you’re going to be at that wrong age. You’re not going to be mature enough yet, or developed enough yet, to take on that mix of environments, those responsibilities, that role.
“You’re not going to be ready to lead.”
There are plenty of guys around the NBA who understand those distractions and how those can get in the way of off-season workouts, of time spent shoring up a weakness or developing a new shot, and how during the season they can be another thing that wears the body down.
Some guys can handle it. Some can’t.
Go read the entire letter from Billups. He talks about getting traded from the Celtics his rookie season, about playing for Mike D’Antoni, about how very rarely do veterans want to mentor younger players because they are fighting for the same piece of the pie. Billups is honest.
And it’s great that Detroit is rewarding him as they should.
Leandro Barbosa – guarding Marcus Thornton and fighting through a Clint Capela screen – was called for a foul in the first quarter of last night’s Warriors-Rockets game.
Thornton went to the line.
Should he have? Or should Capela have?
Perhaps, Thornton and Barbosa tangled, but it certainly appeared the contact primarily occurred between Barbosa and Capela. It looks like Barbosa tries to ram through Capela.
It also appears Capela thought he drew the foul. Watch him step toward the line before seeing Thornton there and taking his spot along the paint.
So, why would Thornton step in? He’s making 89% of his free throws to Capela’s 40%.
I’m honestly surprised players don’t try this maneuver more often. Refs have so much to keep track of. The worst consequence would be the refs shooing away Thornton and bringing Capela to the line.
Thornton made both free throws, but it didn’t matter. Houston was playing Golden State, which rolled to a victory.