Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while playing table tennis against a robot…
Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets. In a game against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, The Truth was the best player on the court. He couldn’t seem to miss on his way to 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting including 5-of-7 from three. He did most of his damage in the third quarter, but with the game on the line he did hit a driving lay-up that broke a 92-92 tie. Early on in the game the Heat played back daring Pierce to shoot a jump shot, then he started to nail them. Miami adjusted and closed out, so Pierce went the fake and it opened up drives and more. Since going to the four he has sparked the Nets and he was key to them getting their biggest win of the year.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks. Drama swirls around the Knicks — Phil Jackson will be in, which means Carmelo Anthony will be in or out, depending on who you ask — yet through it all Carmelo Anthony busts it hard on the court. He did that again Wednesday with 34 points on 25 shots to lead the Knicks to their fifth straight win, doing a lot of his work early in the game. It says a lot about Anthony that he has brought this effort and played this well through it all. To quote Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Philadelphia 76ers. They have lost 18 straight games — they sent the Sacramento Kings to the free throw line 50 times Wednesday, which is a good way to extend a losing streak. The NBA record is 26 and if the Sixers were going to avoid tying that they needed to beat the Jazz, Knicks or Kings this week. They didn’t. Now their schedule goes Pacers, Grizzlies, at Pacers, Bulls, Knicks, at Bulls, at Spurs, at Rockets. Hard to see a win in that stretch. Lose those games and the Sixers are at 26 having tied the league record for consecutive losses. That could make March 29 against the Pistons (potential loss 27) very interesting.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies. Remember those people who said “who is going to take the last shot, the big shot” when the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay? Meet Mike Conley. He led Memphis with 16 points in a key win over New Orleans that puts the Grizzlies two clear of the Suns in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. Oh, and he also did this to get the win.
The Chicago Bulls are trying to find their identity. They used to be a defensive team, but they went and got an offensive coach in Fred Hoiberg and by the end of the season had slid badly on that end of the floor. They are no longer Derrick Rose‘s team, but they didn’t have the personnel to run Hoiberg’s system. The Bulls need to figure out who they are and what players on the roster should be part of that team moving forward.
Expect Jimmy Butler to be part of that future. He’s the best player on the team, but he rubs some teammates the wrong way, and there have been rumors the Bulls would listen to trade offers.
The Bulls are telling teams they plan to hold on to him, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.
A league source tells CSNNE.com that the Bulls, while still open to listening to offers for Butler, are telling teams that are inquiring about his availability that their plan for now is to keep him in the fold.
And while there was some thought that a top-3 pick coupled with a few decent players might be enough to entice the Bulls to pull the trigger on a deal to trade Butler, CSNNE.com has been told such an offer would have to include at least one “legitimate, NBA starter” for the Bulls to even possibly consider trading him.
“And that might be a stretch,” the source indicated.
What is the hardest part of assembling a potential NBA title contender? Finding the elite, cornerstone player you need who can lead your team at both ends of the floor. The Chicago Bulls have that in Butler, he’s locked up under contract until at least the summer of 2019 on a good contract (a max before the TV deal money kicked in), why would they trade him?
Stranger things have happened, especially with the Bulls, but unless they want to tear it all down and rebuild — and they don’t — getting rid of Butler doesn’t make sense.
The better question is who will be around Butler come next fall. =
Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.
Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.
In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.
The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.
The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.
Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.
On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.
The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.
The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.
18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:
That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.