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.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.