Associated Press

Three things we learned on Wednesday: Toronto is good, but not Golden State good

3 Comments

Things could be worse for you: You could be the person printing the Christmas Day prayer and carol book for a church service in Sri Lanka, the person who substituted the traditional “Hail Mary” prayer with the words to Tupac’s 1997 “Hail Mary” — “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me.” The Raptors may have had a rough night, but not one that bad. Here’s the Wednesday takeaways from around the NBA.

1) Toronto is very good, but was reminded of its place in loss to Warriors. The Warriors turn the ball over too much — they turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions Wednesday night. One in five trips down the court ended in a Warriors turnover. Kevin Durant had six of them himself.

But only Cleveland seems able to make the Warriors pay for it. Toronto certainly couldn’t. Toronto came into Golden State looking for a glimmer of hope that they could climb past that second tier in the NBA they are on — the Raptors had won 8-of-9 and were just a game back of Cleveland in the East. Surely this was a team that could run with one of the NBA’s two big dogs, right?

Golden State was up 42-17 after one quarter, and the Warriors shot 72 percent for that frame. Shot charts don’t look much better than the Warriors first quarter:

Warriors shotchart

The Raptors are scrappy and fought back to make it a five-point game in the second, then Toronto coach Dwyane Casey stuck with big man Jonas Valanciunas too long against the Warriors small lineups at the end of the second and the Warriors went on another run and led by 17 at the half. The Raptors turned all those Warriors turnovers into 26 points, which allowed them to make the game respectable at the end — 122-111 Warriors — and while Toronto made its late push to this game never really felt in doubt. Stephen Curry had 28 in the win.

Too many fans underestimate how good this Raptors team is — they won 56 games last season and went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, this season they are on pace for 58 wins and the two-seed in the East (only Boston, as it starts to come together, looks like a team that would have the potential to keep the Raptors from a return to the ECF). Toronto has the best offense in the NBA this season (yes, better than the Warriors statistically) and the second best net rating (+9.5 points per 100 possessions). This is a very good team. But they are 0-3 against the Cavaliers this season and the Warriors offered the same assessment — the Raptors are on the second tier.

2) Trail Blazers snap six-game losing streak against Kings in battle of teams eyeing eight seed in West.
There is a lot of basketball to go this season, things can change, but the West seems to be shaping up with seven teams as playoff locks barring major injuries — the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder, Jazz, and Grizzlies — then there is a five game drop to anyone else. That could leave the Kings, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers fighting for the final playoff slot in the West (New Orleans can enter this discussion if it strings some wins together, but we need to see that first).

Which is why Portland snapping its six-game losing streak — and Sacramento’s four-game winning streak — on Wednesday night mattered. Portland won comfortably 102-89, which leaves Sacramento and Denver tied for the eight seed at 14-18, with the Blazers just one game back. There were no DeMarcus Cousins/Meyers Leonard fireworks this time around, although Leonard did have an impressive game with 16 points off the bench.

The Blazers strategy clearly was to make life difficult for Cousins and dare any other King to beat them. Without Rudy Gay (he’s missed seven of the last eight) they couldn’t — Kings players not named Cousins shot 38.3 percent overall and 6-of-22 from three. It wasn’t good enough, the Kings offense was entirely too stagnant against a Portland defense that has been the worst in the NBA this season.

Portland got 20 points out of C.J. McCollum, but it was more about balance as six Blazers scored in double figures, and as a team they shot 48 percent from three.

The race for the eight seed in the West could be very interesting the rest of the season, and it could well impact the trades the Blazers and Kings look to make — and don’t look to make — as the trade deadline starts to loom.

3) There was Lopez on Lopez crime. It’s easy to say the shot of the night was Jimmy Butler‘s game winner lifting the Bulls past the Nets. We don’t like to do things the easy way.

My favorite video of the night was from that same game: Brook Lopez putting brother Robin Lopez in a poster.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

Leave a comment

The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

AP Photo/Steve Dykes
5 Comments

Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.