Roy Hibbert finally asserts himself in Pacers’ Game 2 win over Wizards

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On the game’s first possession, Roy Hibbert caught the ball outside the paint as the shot clock wound down. With no other option, he let a shot fly.

Swish.

The Indiana Pacers desperately needed their All-Star center to find himself before it was too late, and he did.

Hibbert scored 28 points – a season high and one shy of his career playoff high – to lead the Pacers to an 86-82 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. Indiana tied the second-round series, 1-1, with Game 3 coming in Washington on Friday.

After weeks of everyone questioning why Hibbert was letting down the Pacers, he carried them to victory. Indiana outscored Washington by 16 in his 33 minutes and got outscored by 12 in the other 15.

Thanks to Hibbert – who shot 10-for-13 and had nine rebounds and two blocks – not only did the Pacers at least temporarily right their season, their starters will avoid the type of criticism that had been coming Hibbert’s way.

  • Instead of discussing George Hill blowing an open layup, we’ll mention his dependable 14 points, second only to Hibbert among Pacers.
  • Instead of discussing Lance Stephenson shooting 3-for-12, we’ll mention his big shots – two 3-pointers within a minute in third quarter as the Pacers re-asserted their lead and a jumper with 21 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner.
  • Instead of discussing Paul George drifting too often, we’ll mention his big dunk in the final three minuets.
  • Instead of discussing David West fading to 3-of-8 shooting, we’ll mention him making both free throws with 10 seconds left to ice the game.

Hibbert changed the narrative.

What changed for him?

In Game 1, he had no points or rebounds. That followed overall dismal play against the Hawks, which followed a disturbing second half to the regular season.

Maybe the Pacers eradicating themselves of Bynum helped Hibbert, but he credited an off-day fishing trip with George.

“We just sat there, and we fished for a long time, and we didn’t even talk about basketball,” Hibbert said. “So, I think this one is really a tribute to Paul’s love and care for me as a friend and teammate.”

As this narrow win highlighted, though, the Pacers’ troubles run much deeper than Hibbert.

An on-track Hibbert got Indiana a narrow win in Game 2. If his teammates continue to play unevenly, that might not be in enough in Washington for Games 3 and 4

The Wizards hung around Wednesday with willing ball movement and good-enough mid-range shooting. Marcin Gortat (21 points and 11 rebounds) led the way, and Bradley Beal (17 points, seven assists and five rebounds) hit a big game-extending 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds left.

But John Wall (six points on 2-for-13 shooting with eight assists) played tight late, and Trevor Ariza (2-for-8) went cold. Had either played better, maybe Washington would be headed home with its second 2-0 series lead.

Instead, the Wizards must address losing on the road for the first time this postseason. That’s not their only new problem, and the other is a big one – 7-foot-2, 290-pound big.

For at least one night, Hibbert wasn’t Indiana’s problem, but plenty of issues remain for the Pacers. The Wizards, too.

There’s plenty to clean up before Game 3.

But thanks to Hibbert, a broom definitely won’t be involved.

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.