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Three things we learned Wednesday: Pistons beat Celtics, winning games, about to get healthy

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Just a word of advice to our readers: This holiday season designate a driver, call a cab or Uber/Lyft, but don’t drink and drive. For a lot of good reasons. Including avoiding having to listen to Nickelback. Now, on to what we learned Wednesday around the NBA.

1) Pistons beat Celtics, finding ways to keep head above water as Reggie Jackson’s return nears. The Detroit Pistons played some of their best basketball of the season Wednesday night. A bottom-10 team in assisted shots, the Pistons moved better off the ball and found the open man more often. It all started with Ish Smith at the point, who has had a couple nice games in a row and Wednesday was pushing the pace, was curling off picks beautifully, and hit 75 percent of his shots to finish with 19 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.

Also, the Pistons just hit shots — Boston dared Detroit to shoot from the midrange, and the Pistons took advantage and knocked down the looks. Shot charts don’t get much better than this.

Pistons shotchart

Here is why wins like this really matter for Detroit: The Pistons are still without Reggie Jackson, their star point guard and the catalyst for their offense (he has a strong pick-and-roll chemistry with Andre Drummond). Jackson had knee and thumb issues (he got PRP treatments for both before the season) but has been back at practice recently and should be cleared for a return soon. At the time it was announced he would miss the first month or so of the season, we said the Pistons just needed to keep their heads above water until his return. With the win over Boston Tuesday Detroit is 10-10 and tied for one of the final playoff slots in the East. They did more than just survive, they put themselves in a good position, once Jackson gets back and is settled (conditioning may take a little bit) this team will be poised to make a run up the East standings.

2) Russell Westbrook gets fourth straight triple-double, earns Thunder an overtime win. Russell Westbrook is very good at this basketball thing. After that, we’re kind of running out of superlatives for the guy, who continues to put up numbers at a historic pace every night, including another triple-double of 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists Wednesday.

But it’s not just the raw numbers, it’s he is lifting this team to wins — everyone in the state of Oklahoma knew Westbrook was going to get the ball and would be hunting or a three to force overtime late Wednesday against the Wizards, and yet he still made the play.

The Thunder are now 12-8 and look like a solid playoff team in the West. And that’s all about an above-average defense and a whole lot of Westbrook carrying the offense.

3) Kings/Sixers postponement leads to Boogie moping, Tweet of the season from Joel Embiid. Good on the Sixers, the Wells Fargo Center, and the NBA for not trying to force a game to be played on an unsafe floor. Blame the Flyers, the building, nature, Trump, whoever you want it doesn’t matter, the NBA couldn’t play in these conditions. No date has been scheduled for a makeup yet, by the way, but expect early January.

The situation did let the two star big men from the game be comedians.

First, there was DeMarcus Cousins doing some serious, two-handed mopping.

Then there was what might be the Tweet of the season from Joel Embiid.

Damian Lillard talks about his “no pressure” pitch to Carmelo Anthony, selling Portland

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Self-made, over-achieving players in the NBA tend not to be the recruiters. They worked hard and made it to where they are more on their own, and their world-view follows that path. Think Derrick Rose in Chicago.

Damian Lillard was one of those guys, but he has done a little recruiting of late — he reached out to Carmelo Anthony last week. Lillard told Chris Mannix of NBC Radio (who is filling in for Dan Patrick for the day on his national radio show) that it wasn’t really the John Calipari hard-sell.

“It wasn’t really a pitch, I just reached out to him and let him know the interest just wasn’t from our front office, if there was a possibility there was definitely interest from the players as well, and I didn’t want that to be confused,” Lillard said on the radio show. “I didn’t put no pressure on him or ask him a bunch of questions, I just said what it was from our end.”

That is nice, but Anthony reportedly has focused in on Houston, and might settle for Cleveland (if there was a deal to be had). Would ‘Melo waive his no-trade clause to head to Portland?

“I didn’t get a sense that he wouldn’t,” Lillard said in a tepid response. “What we have here is a good situation for him and that’s just kind of where it went. I let him know what I thought he could do for our team and what our team could do with his presence. And that was it. We didn’t go over no details or talk about a no trade clause or nothing like that. He’s gonna make his own decision to do that or not, I just want to make sure we had some kind of a conversation.”

It’s a start. It’s likely not enough. Anthony wants to go somewhere and chase a ring, and despite what C.J. McCollum thinks, Portland with ‘Melo isn’t a contender. Even with Anthony, I would have them sixth in the West, maybe fifth at best (Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and probably Minnesota are better still). And this is assuming Portland can find a team to take on Myers Leonard’s contract to make a deal work.

What Lillard wanted to get across was that Portland is a great place to be an NBA player.

“I think people talk about what it would be like in Portland or to play in Portland, but actually having lived here, I live here year-round, so I know it’s a great place to live,” Lillard said. “Some of the best food in the United States. You talk about loving the game of basketball, our team and the soccer team are all the city has, so we get a lot of support and our fans really back our team and are really passionate about our team. That type of environment, and that type of love and support around the city, what NBA player wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Jimmer Fredette re-signing in China

AP Photo/George Bridges
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Jimmer Fredette played well in China last year, and buzz even emerged about him re-joining the NBA after the Chinese season ended in March. Never happened.

Even in the offseason, when every NBA team had open roster spots, nobody stateside has signed Fredette.

So, he’s returning to the Shanghai Sharks.

Fredette:

Fredette retains a cult following in America, but not the talent of an NBA player. He can score plenty in a lesser league, but his game doesn’t fit with better players on the floor.

Perhaps, he could’ve gotten a training-camp invite, maybe even with a small guarantee. But would’ve faced an uphill battle sticking into the regular season. Better for him to lock into a bigger salary in China now.

Rumor: Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder ‘officially circling each other’

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Carmelo Anthony prefers to be traded to the Rockets. He might soon be traded to the Rockets.

Are the Thunder trying to interject themselves before it’s too late?

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse when Anthony played there. Weaver is also well-connected in the Washington area (D.C./Maryland/Virginia). I’m not sure how much that means to Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore – in many ways, a different world from the DMV (which includes only parts of Maryland and Virginia closer to D.C.). Still, Weaver and Anthony at least share their Syracuse connection.

The problem: An Oklahoma City trade for Anthony would almost have to include Steven Adams (way more valuable than Anthony) and/or Enes Kanter (way less valuable than Anthony). There’s no easy way to bridge either gap, especially considering how much the Thunder need Adams’ interior presence.

Here’s my best stab at a workable framework for a trade, via ESPN’s trade machine:

screenshot-www.espn.com-2017-07-24-12-26-16

The Clippers would get a more-skilled backup center while just shuffling bad contracts (at least that’s how it seems they view Wesley Johnson‘s deal). The Thunder would still need to send the Knicks more assets (Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant and/or draft picks). The Knicks would get a veteran point guard in Austin Rivers while Frank Ntilikina develops and, more importantly, additional young assets. It’s just a matter of determining whether there’s an overlap in the picks Oklahoma City would trade and New York would receive. That window might be tight – or not exist.

Adding Paul George and Anthony to a team led by Russell Westbrook would be exciting. I’m just not sure it’s realistic.

Rumor: Knicks likely to trade Carmelo Anthony to Rockets this week

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After numerous starts and stops and starts and stops, maybe the Knicks will actually trade Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets soon?

Tarek Fattal of the Los Angeles Daily News:

So, they found a third team to take Ryan Anderson or a fourth team to take Meyers Leonard?

If true, that’d please at least Anthony.

There’s room for a trade to work. New York is clearly ready to move on from Anthony, and Houston wants him to join James Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets can add sweeteners to convince another team – or maybe even the Knicks – to take a bad contract in the trade.

But this has dragged on so long, I need more evidence the deal is actually close before I believe it.