Roy Hibbert, Paul George

Pacers turn up defense in rout of Wizards

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WASHINGTON – Late in the fourth quarter with the result in hand, Paul George made a 3-pointer in front of the Pacers bench. George turned his back to the court, took a step toward Indiana’s reserves and celebrated his rub-it-in dagger with a little shimmy.

An assistant coach popped up and literally pushed George back on defense.

The Pacers defended with unrelenting effort and execution in a 85-63 Game 3 win over the Wizards on Friday. By taking a 2-1 series lead, Indiana has won four of five, second only to the Heat among the NBA’s hottest teams.

The Pacers had never allowed so few points in a playoff game. The Wizards had never scored so few in any game.

This was complete and total defensive domination.

By quarter, the Pacers allowed 17, 16, 12 and 18 points. They held Washington to less than 33 percent shooting. And they forced 17 turnovers.

No team has scored so little and won a playoff game by so much in a decade. It happened just nine times prior in NBA history.

“This was probably the ugliest game of the postseason this far,” said George, who scored a game-high 23 points. “But this is our style of basketball.”

Asked the last time his team defended so well, Vogel looked down and smiled slightly.

“I don’t know. My emotions are so high, I’m having trouble thinking about it,” Vogel said after a pause. “…I don’t think we’ve ever been that far from where were tonight.

He has a point. During the Pacers’ late-season collapse, their top-rated defense fell all the way to… No. 1.

Even though the Pacers slipped on both ends of the court, they were so dominant early defensively, they had plenty of margin for error to still lead the league in defensive rating. Indiana’s offensive slippage is real. Its defensive dip might be random variance and/or a product of defending fewer possessions after makes.

That case is a lot easier to make when Roy Hibbert is playing well. After his potentially breakthrough Game 2, the Pacers center followed with 14 points on nine shots and three blocks. His focus is essential to Indiana defending well.

Friday, the Pacers had it, and their defense looked every bit as dominant  as it did early in the season.

Of course, the Wizards helped.

Stifled by Indiana’s brick wall early, Washington too easily settled for jumpers. The Wizards’ free-throw shooting – 11-of-21 – can’t be pinned on the Pacers, either.

Late in the third quarter, the Wizards hit rock bottom.

John Wall brought the ball upcourt and then immediately threw a pass to a trailing Drew Gooden, who was behind the halfcourt line – drawing a backcourt violation so painfully obvious, the referee seemingly needed a moment to collect himself before calling it. Then, Washington shot just 1-of-6 from the charity stripe to close the quarter.

Fans at the Wizards’ first home game this deep into the playoffs in nine years mixed supportive cheers and boos. By the end of the game, the only fans left with desire to make a sound were the boo birds.

Afterward, a reporter called the basketball “not picturesque.”

“You’re being kind,” Wittman interjected. “…This was a clunker for us. There’s no question about it.”

For the Pacers, it could be more. Hibbert seems back on track (for now at least), and after a cold start to the series, George is heating up. And most importantly, Indiana is defending like a team capable of making Miami sweat on at least one end of the court.

“We’re building habits,” George said.

The Pacers, who never led the Hawks series until it ended, have regained homecourt advantage. The Wizards, on the other hand, trail in a playoff series for the first time this year.

This will be a new challenge for a young Washington team. The Pacers’ burden comes more from within.

Right now, Indiana is winning its battle with itself.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder attempts a free throw against the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.