Associated Press

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.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.