If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed after buying a bacon scented lottery scratcher …
1) Oklahoma City is starting to get it together. I talked about this on PBT Extra — the Thunder need to get hot now, not later, if they want to make the playoffs because the Suns are not coming back to the pack. (Yes, Phoenix has a tough schedule the next few weeks, but the team’s schedule also is home heavy the rest of the season and Phoenix is already on a 47-win pace.) Oklahoma City is doing just that — the Thunder have won 4-of-5 and while the Miami Heat did not make it easy Tuesday night the Thunder got 19 each out of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and that was enough. However, the real key was the bench — on a night Dion Waiters couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean (1-of-9), Reggie Jackson (remember him?) stepped up with 16 points including 7 in the fourth quarter to help seal the win, while Anthony Morrow pitched in a dozen. The Thunder still have three games to make up on the Suns but they are starting to hit their stride and that should scare the rest of the West. So should the dunk fest Durant and Russell Westbrook put on:
2) Ernie Johnson is the best. After the Thunder beat the Miami Heat, Russell Westbrook did an interview with NBA TV, Ernie Johnson was in the studio and asked the brilliant questions (based on this).
3) Kawhi Leonard is back and the Spurs are starting to look like the Spurs. As Jeff McDonald of the Express-News noted, the Spurs are suddenly 3-0 since Kawhi Leonard got back. It’s not a coincidence. Leonard had 17 points and 15 rebounds in a vintage Spurs win over the Nuggets — Denver hung around for three quarters, then the Spurs took their execution to another level and Denver couldn’t hang. Leonard brings another shooter, an increased level of athleticism, and quality perimeter defense to the table. The Spurs are better than any other team in the league of just saying “the next guy has to step up” after an injury, but some guys are just harder to replace than others and Leonard is not a guy they can easily replace.
yIn the NBA, a minute can be an eternity.
Trae Young didn’t think so, he thought Atlanta was going to get the upset after his assist to Alex Len for a dunk put the Hawks up 6 with less than a minute to go in the game.
Did we mention a minute can be an eternity in the NBA? Miami came back and a Jimmy Butler three sent the game to overtime. Butler finished the game with a triple-double of 20 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Miami owned the overtime and went on to win 135-121.
Butler didn’t miss the chance to mock Young on Instagram
It was a big night for the Heat’s young core. Bam Adebayo had a triple-double of 30 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 36 points, and Duncan Robinson drained 10 threes.
Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto for the first time since leaving the team last summer to head to Los Angeles.
Unlike most returns in recent years, there will not be boos — Toronto will welcome Leonard back with open arms. He won them a ring, there are no hard feelings.
The Raptors already dropped a tribute video on Twitter.
Well done, Raptors.
It’s going to be fun to see his return, which will be a celebration — and should be a good game.
Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.
Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.
Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.
“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….
“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”
Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.
The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.
That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.
What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.
The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.
However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”
What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.
Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.
But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.