Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering if you really should cross a goat and a sheep…
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks. When you pass Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson on a list, you are entering rarified air. With a catch-and-shoot 17 foot jumper from the elbow area early in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki passed Robertson for 10th on the NBA’s all time scoring list. Nowitzki now has 26,714 points in his career after his 21 on Tuesday. The German machine will go down as one of the great scorers to ever play the game — a 7-footer with three point range, an ability to stay balanced in awkward situations, and he has that ridiculous one-legged faraway. He’s a future Hall of Famer, the greatest European player ever in the NBA. When he’s gone in a few years the league will just feel a little emptier.
Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers. With a smart little outlet pass late in the first half that led to a Jodie Meeks dunk, Steve Nash passed Mark Jackson for third on the NBA’s all time assists list — Nash now has 10,335. He did not get to that number thanks to his incredible physical gifts, rather he did it with hard work and an almost psychic feel for the game. He made himself a good shooter so teams just couldn’t lay off him and dare him to shoot. Nash is one of the best ever at just keeping his dribble alive, probing and once he sees an opening making the defense pay. For a guy whose career is ending on a literally painful note it is good to see Nash securing is spot in history.
Atlanta Hawks. They lost to the Pistons, who recently lost to the Sixers. Yet Atlanta is still almost certain to make the playoffs — thanks again Eastern Conference. Even after this ugly loss the Hawks have a 1.5 game lead over the Knicks. The Hawks magic number is still three (combination of their wins and Knicks losses). The Hawks four games left are a back-to-back with Boston and Brooklyn, then they close out with Miami and Orlando, you’d thick there are three wins in there but who knows with this team. Yet they will make the playoffs and in the first round and likely face the Heat (for Miami that will be kind of like when Florida State football program’s home opener is against The Citadel, it’s just a glorified practice round).
James Harden, Houston Rockets. Yes, it still counts if you do it against the Lakers “defense.” Harden had 33 points — 18 of those in the third quarter when the Rockets pulled away — on just 15 shots, plus he dished out 12 assists as the Rockets get the win. Houston put up 140 points on 57.7 percent shooting, and Harden was the focal point of that. The Beard looks playoff ready.
New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.
That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.
Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.
Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.
Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.
Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.
He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.
The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.
Smart move, Jimmy.
This had long been expected, but now it is official.
North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.
“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”
Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).
Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.
Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.
James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.
When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.
“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….
“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”
Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.
This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.
In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.
However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).
Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.
That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.