Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo must be a small minded racist (is there another kind)…

source:  Jodie Meeks, Los Angles Lakers. Meeks epitomized the Lakers on this day — not only was he hot he was aggressive, and that’s what led to his career high 42 points. He was attacking off the dribble, getting into the body of Thunder bigs and getting to the free throw line 14 times. He was 11-of-18 shooting and 6-of-11 from three. He was also the guy guarding Russell Westbrook when he airballed a key three late (although that was more Westbrook than Meek’s defense). Meeks has been one of the few consistent Lakers this season (played in 59 games, scored in double digits in 51 of them) and he took advantage of the next grade in this list.

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder’s perimeter defense. For the second game in a row — against the Suns and now Lakers — the Thunder’s perimeter defense was exposed by guards who can attack or shoot from distance (Gerald Green and Meeks, both of whom topped 40) and by teams that want to play at a fast pace. Part of this was that the Thunder really miss Thabo Sefalosha (out until likely about the start of the playoffs) but part of it is that they are simply not playing good defense right now. Guys are getting blown by on the perimeter, the help is late and if it is there guys are not helping the helper. Miami lost and looked bad, but at least they defended. Against the lowly Lakers there just is no excuse.

source:  Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls. Pretty much every Bulls fan felt like Yannick Noah — the tennis legend and father of Joakim — who erupted mid-interview on ABC to cheer on another big play from his son, the heart of the Bulls and the reason they beat the Heat on Sunday. Noah was at his best when it mattered most scoring 10 points plus he had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks in the fourth quarter in overtime. For the game Noah had 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks.

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. He had his sixth career triple-double — 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting with 10 rebounds and 12 assists. That needs to be acknowledged — as does the fact Russell Westbrook took a terrible three late in the game (Thunder down 3, 45 seconds left, they don’t need a three but they do need Durant to at least touch the rock and he didn’t instead Westbrook airballed a step-back three). The Thunder are 3-5 since Westbrook’s return, make of that what you will. But when Durant has the hot hand he needs to get the rock and initiate plays down the stretch. The MVP candidate has earned that right. (Durant’s “B” is because his team lost.)

source:   Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors. While we are mentioning triple-doubles, here is Lowry with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists leading the Raptors to a win over the Timberwolves. Toronto remains the three seed in the East and with a soft schedule the rest of the way we could see a lot more Raptors in this space in the coming weeks.

source:  James Harden, Houston Rockets. It’s not just the 41 points, it’s that 20 of them came in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Rockets came from 13 points down to beat the Trail Blazers. He didn’t just do it for one night this week — in the wins over Miami, Indiana and Portland for the Rockets Harden averaged 30.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds a game plus hit 45.2 percent of his threes. The Rockets are hot, their offense is carrying them and Harden is a big reason.

Honorable mention: Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, who had 18 assists, 0 turnovers; Anthony Davis had 32 points and 17 boards in the win over Denver; LaMarcus Aldridge had 28 points and 12 boards for the Trail Blazers in a loss; and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins with 28 points and 20 rebounds (10 offensive) in a losing effort).

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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As expected, Wesley Matthews says he will pick up $18.6 million option with Mavericks

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Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.

However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.

He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.

Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.

Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.