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Paul George: “It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of”

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The Indiana Pacers are a disappointment. I’ll admit I misjudged them, I thought they would be the fourth best team in the East, but if the playoffs started today they could be booking tee times in Cancun because they would have that kind of time. They are 15-18, with a bottom 10 offense that is putting up similar points per possession numbers to a year ago, but their now pedestrian defense is well off the top 10 (often top three) pace it was for years under Frank Vogel. The biggest issue is a lack of consistency — there seems to be two versions of this team, and you never know which one will show up on a given night.

Paul George isn’t enjoying the losing — the Pacers are on a four-game losing streak. Or the lack of identity this team has.

George spoke after practice Thursday and said this Pacers team doesn’t know how to close games, and just isn’t having fun.

“(This season) hasn’t been (fun). We’re trying to work through it. It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of…

“Maybe I’m just living in the past of how good we used to be, the personnel, the guys I had around. I’m still living in that moment, maybe. I gotta put myself into a different team and maybe I have to do more, maybe that’s just what it is, maybe I have to do more now. But whatever is, I’m going to figure it out…

“I just have to continue to enjoy playing this game. I’ve been caught up with officials, getting caught up with on-court stuff. And losing sight of how fun this game is to me,. As long as I’m approaching each game to enjoy it … whatever happens on the court, I couldn’t care less. As long as I’m having fun and enjoying what I’m doing.”

First things first: If you read this and thought “George is unhappy, I bet the Pacers try to trade him” you can kiss that idea goodbye. Right now, Larry Bird is hanging up the phone when people call about George. There is no pressure on the Pacers to make a move right now, George has a player option for the summer of 2018, so there is time. The Pacers plan to keep him — if he makes the All-NBA team this season or next the Pacers can then offer him the new  “designated player” super-max contract and make it very difficult to leave. Even if he doesn’t qualify for that offer, the Pacers can still offer more than anyone else. Plus, they know they’re not getting another elite superstar that easily, they are going to fight to keep the one they have.

As for this years’ Pacers, George needs to own up to being part of the inconsistency on this team — he shoots 48.4 percent in the Pacers wins, below 40 percent in the losses, and he struggles from three.

Maybe George is living in the past. A handful years back, the Pacers were regulars in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding an elite defense and a George/David West/George Hill offense that was good enough. The roster is not the same. Jeff Teague started slow, hasn’t shot well from three, but has begun to come around. Myles Turner is developing into a special player. And then… Monta Ellis is looking older, Thaddeus Young hasn’t been as good as hoped, and the bench has struggled.

Under Vogel, the Pacers had a defensive identity. Larry Bird wanted to play faster (they are playing just one possession faster a game) and thought Vogel’s message had gotten old (or Vogel wasn’t doing what Bird wanted). The drop off with Nate McMillan has been steep, mostly because what is this team’s identity now? They don’t play that fast, they don’t defend as well, the Pacers don’t have one area where they excel.

George can be part of the solution, but he’s going to need help. Not just from teammates, but from the front office.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.