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.
In the age of social media and spin, the idea of a nuanced answer — where there is some truth to a statement, but it is not the only reason for something — gets drowned out.
For example, let’s take the case of Stephen Curry‘s below-par performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder (he was 6-of-20 shooting with six turnovers in Game 4 and is 5-of-21 from three in the last two games). A report came out Wednesday morning saying Curry was only 70 percent following his knee surgery, which first led to a lot of silly “excuses” comments on Twitter. This led to Steve Kerr denying the injury, via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.
Here’s a radical idea: Curry’s struggles are a combination of things.
Yes, the improved, athletic, and lengthy Thunder defense is giving Curry problems. They are meeting him out high, often doubling off the pick-and-roll, and when that pick is set by Draymond Green Kevin Durant and his length is doing a great job of blowing that play up. Also, it is clear the physical exertion of guarding Russell Westbrook is wearing Curry down.
But also, he has lacked the explosiveness we saw lift him to a second consecutive MVP during the season. He’s had great quarters — the fourth and OT in Game 4 vs. Portland, and the second quarter of Game 2 vs. OKC — but he has not been the consistent force we are used to seeing.
Welcome to the playoffs, where if someone is a little bit off that gets exploited by the other team.
That is what is going on, the rest is just spin.
This is all moot now. Frank Vogel has landed on his feet with a promising young Orlando team; Nate McMillan slid up a chair to take over the head coaching job in Indiana (which is an odd hire if Larry Bird wants the Pacers to play faster). But…
Frank Vogel wants you to know he did not beg for his job.
At the post-firing press conference of Pacers’ coach Larry Bird, he said that Vogel basically begged for his job. Vogel, speaking on ESPN Indianapolis Radio’s Dan Dakich Show Tuesday, via the Indianapolis Star:
Larry’s going to speak his mind. A lot of people talked to me about it who didn’t like that and it’s probably an inaccurate perception that I was begging him to stay. … I fully respect Larry and the process. He knew it was going to be an unpopular move but he did what he had to do.
“I felt like we were on the verge of some big things. We stood toe-to-toe with a 56-win team. I told my team after the series that were poised … I felt like I was going to be able to do that with this group. That was my only mention to Larry.”
Again, this is all moot.
The reality is Vogel was never Bird’s guy, Bird wanted the Pacers to play faster than they did last season (11th in the NBA in pace), and Bird thought it time for a change. He’s the team president, it’s his call.
But did Bird make the Pacers better with this move? Begging discussion aside, that is the question to which he must answer.
The Golden State Warriors made history — they won 73 games, more than any team in NBA history.
But they are on the verge of being remembered like the 2007 Patriots.
The Warriors are down 3-1 to the Thunder for a variety of reasons — the Thunder defense has been exceptional, Russell Westbrook is a beast, for whatever reason Stephen Curry is not playing like MVP Stephen Curry — but there is another key one:
Draymond Green has played like crap the last couple games.
Kobe Bryant, who relates to Green’s drive and intensity, texted him a message according to Sportando:
That reflects Kobe’s world view.
It may be very different from the Warriors’ reality — even if Curry and Green were back to playing at their peak, it very well might be a coin toss with this Thunder team playing at their peak. The struggles of those two — Green has turned the ball over, missed shots, and missed defensive rotations for two games — have a lot to do with the quality of play of that Thunder defense.
But if the Warriors can come back and win the series (and the title), it will add to their legend.
This is a quality hire, a respected long-time NBA assistant who has deserved a shot in the big chair.
But is he an upgrade over Dave Joerger?
Apparently the Grizzlies are betting that Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale is the man they need. From Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.
Casual fans may not know his name, but this could be a good hire for Memphis. Fizdale is an assistant coach with a quality franchise who has paid his dues and deserves a chance. For example, in Miami Fizdale had won the trust and respect of a team full of players that had won rings. He was a guy they leaned on. As an example, Fizdale worked hard with LeBron James on developing a post game; he was the guy LeBron trusted.
But how will he deal with an aging roster that lacks shooting? The Memphis job is a good one, but it has its challenges.