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Three things we learned Wednesday: Giannis takes Manhattan


You had other things to deal with Wednesday — maybe a brick wall blocking your front door — so you didn’t watch the NBA’s offerings for the night. We’ve got you covered, here’s what you need to know.

1) The Giannis Antetokounmpo making the leap tour made a stop in New York and the Knicks paid the price. That tour will be making a stop in New Orleans for the All-Star Game next month, then will continue on to the playoffs. We’re starting to reach the “Giannis Antetokounmpo is on, stop what you’re doing and watch” phase of this season, because he just seems to be putting on a can’t miss show nightly now.

He did that in Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, leading a 32-17 Milwaukee fourth quarter charge that gave them a chance for the come-from-behind win. Down a point with eight seconds to go, everyone in North America knew Antetokounmpo would get the rock, and sure enough he did with Lance Thomas bodying him up. Antetokounmpo backed Thomas not so much down but toward the middle, spun over his preferred right shoulder, then put up an unblockable (almost uncontestable) fadeaway that gave the Bucks a 105-104 win. Antetokounmpo is shooting 35.3 percent from that area of the floor this season, but he nailed this one.

That shot handed the Knicks their sixth straight loss. New York’s defense in the fourth quarter — although not on that shot, there was nothing Thomas could do with that step back — let it down again.

Antetokounmpo has made the leap this year from “he has a lot of potential” to an All-Star level, must watch player leading his playoff-bound team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Jason Kidd has unleashed him as a point guard and he is now a force of nature — and one with plenty of room to improve, when he develops a reliable jump shot he will be unstoppable. For now, from New York to Los Angeles, just sit back and enjoy the show from Milwaukee because it is one of the NBA’s best things going.

2) LeBron James and Cavaliers have 2009 flashback, fall to Jimmy Butler and Bulls.
Remember how LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland ended? Every night it was him against the world, with little to speak of as a supporting cast (Mo Williams was the next best player on those teams) and the Cavs were doomed to failure despite how great LeBron played? (And you all were shocked he left that situation… really?)

Wednesday night was a flashback of that. Kevin Love is still too sick to play, he shouldn’t have had the fish. Kyrie Irving tweaked his hamstring and the Cavaliers are, for obvious reasons, going to take it easy and slow with getting him right before bringing him back. That left LeBron — who has been under the weather himself of late, then tweaked his ankle in this one — to take on Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and the Bulls. This ultimately ended about like those 2009 campaigns — 31 points on 21 shots, eight rebounds, and seven assists was not going to be enough to get the win.

The Bulls had six players in double digits led by Butler’s 20 — 14 of those points in the fourth as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers for the win. That win that matters more to the Bulls — it pulled them up to .500 and is the kind of win that helps them in the tight playoff race in the bottom of the East. The Cavaliers will be the top seed and just fine whatever happened in this game.

If you want to hear more in-depth Bulls talk — such as what’s the future of Rajon Rondo, and are they going to trade Taj Gibson? — check out the new PBT Podcast with myself and Sean Highkin, who covers the Bulls for The Athletic.

3) Russell Westbrook tries to give the ball back to the referee, gets a technical. There’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and too often it seems people with power like to focus on the former and ignore the latter. Which leads to foolish decisions.

Russell Westbrook got a first-hand example of that Wednesday night. The Thunder’s Mr. Everything was making a standard NBA play — dribble the ball up the court and get over half court, near the bench, and call the timeout the coach wants. Westbrook then tries to toss the ball to referee Sean Corbin on the baseline, but Corbin turns away and doesn’t see it coming, so the ball just nails him in the head.

Westbrook got a technical for it. He shouldn’t have. I get why you want a rule on the books about hitting the official in the head with a ball — that rule should exist. But there are times to enforce it and times to let it go. Watch the video and it’s obvious Westbrook is just trying to get the ball to the ref during a timeout, like he’s supposed to do, and things accidentally went bad. But nobody was injured, so have a laugh and move on.

In the last week the league rescinded two of the technicals Westbrook got earlier in the season, it should do the same here.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.