Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat

Monday NBA grades: Pacers don’t even play and still get good marks

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking the French don’t really get the point of the smartphone…

source:  Indiana Pacers. They had the night off and are still winners. Early in the season their focus was getting the top seed in the East and make everyone come to them in the playoffs. Now with Miami’s loss to the Wizards Monday night the Pacers got their wish. They will have the best record in the East. Indiana has home court through the conference playoffs, which is huge for a Pacers team that is 35-6 at home but 20-20 on the road this season.

source:  Milwaukee Bucks. With their loss they have locked up the worst record in the NBA and with it they will have more ping pong balls (really random number combinations, but that’s not exciting to say) than any other team. Maybe the best news is they can’t fall farther than fourth in the lottery — no matter what happens they are going to add a quality player to a young core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Larry Sanders. The Bucks may be building something for the new owners coming to Milwaukee this summer.

source:  Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans. Coach Monty Williams didn’t want him to play because of a balky knee, even pulled him out of shootaround. Tyreke begged and it worked out pretty well — Evans took over the second half scoring 32 of his 41 on the night. He sparked the Pelicans to an upset win over the Thunder Monday. Evans also had 9 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals, and only one turnover. The Pelicans need more of that Evans next season.

source:  Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. When he is scoring like this, and Memphis is grinding on defense like they did Monday night against the Suns, the Grizzlies are very hard to beat. Which is why nobody wants to face them in the first round. Randolph had 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting and he was doing his damage in close — he was 12-of-18 inside 8 feet. He was scoring around the rim because that is what Randolph does.

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. He had 22 points… in the first quarter. He finished with 40 points and 14 rebounds. And the Timberwolves lost in spite of it. Again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

source:  Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers. I don’t know where Swaggy P will be playing next season (he is expected to opt out of his contract), but the guy has carved a niche out for himself with the Lakers. He has become vintage sixth man material, in sort of the same way J.R. Smith has been for the Knicks — he will come in off the bench firing. He’s going to miss more than he makes some nights, but on the nights he has got it going — as he did dropping 41 on the Jazz Monday — he is fun to watch. Even if his outbursts are hurting the Lakers’ lottery odds.

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.