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Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert quietly excels offensively, too

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Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy raved about Jazz center Rudy Gobert earlier this season:

“There’s a couple things with Gobert. I think, obviously defensively, he’s really, really good. He’s got great timing. He moves his feet well on pick-and-rolls. He protects the rim. And then offensively, I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, too. He plays exactly the way they want him to play and exactly the way he needs to play for them to be successful. And if you watch, he is always in pick-and-rolls. So, they lead the league in pick-and-rolls per possessions, and a great majority of them are him. And he’s content to play that and role and just keep running pick-and-rolls. You don’t see him stopping down in the post and bringing the offense to a stop. He doesn’t get many post touches at all. But he’s content to play that way, and so their team plays really well. That guy is a winning basketball player. Quin and has his staff have done a great job developing him. He was obviously a great pick for them. And you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, because all he’s concerned about –.”

Van Gundy suddenly stopped himself.

“I don’t know the guy at all,” Van Gundy said.

But then the coach kept rolling.

“Just watching from the outside, all he’s concerned about is playing the way he needs to play for them to win,” Van Gundy said.

To watch Gobert is to believe you know him. He plays hard and selflessly with little fanfare. He’s the type of player coaches love and casual fans too often overlook.

This is the time of year someone like Gobert tends to get more credit. Everyone gets caught up in offense during the season, for the draft and in free agency. But even cursory consideration of Defensive Player of the Year or All-Defensive teams forces people to evaluate the other end of the floor, and Gobert shines there. He is – or at least should be – running neck and neck with Draymond Green for Defensive Player of the Year.

But don’t discount Gobert’s offense. Even though he averaged a modest 14.3 points per game, he contributes mightily on that end. He’s a compete player.

Just two players have ever surpassed Gobert’s 14.3 win shares in a season while averaging fewer than 15 points points per game: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

“I wish more fans would know much more than just the points,” Gobert said. “But I’m happy that it makes us better as a team.”

So, let’s talk about more than just the points. Gobert helps the Jazz offensively in three primary ways:


Gobert is a relentless screener, on and off the ball. He ranks second in the NBA in screen assists, screens for a teammate that directly lead to a made shot by that teammate:


But screen assists don’t fully capture Gobert’s value as a screener. He participates in pick-and-rolls that will never see him get the ball, but his roll to the basket collapses the defense and frees someone else.

“There are some actions that we run that are literally worthless if Rudy is not screening,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

“We need to continue to reward him for his rolling.”

Scoring at the rim

It’s easier to reward Gobert for his Yeoman’s work, because he has become such an efficient scorer.

He shot 70.4% at the rim this season, up from 61% last year. And he’s doing it on a healthy seven attempts per game.

Though he has grown in many areas, this is the crux of Gobert’s Most Improved Player case.

Scoring at the rim isn’t just about field-goal percentage, because even most poor finishers are more efficient at the rim than players generally are from other areas on the court. Generating attempts at the rim is a skill, and Gobert has become stronger to get better position and developed his hands to catch passes inside.

Plotting all NBA players by shots at the rim per game and field-goal percentage at the rim shows Gobert with an elite combination:


Maybe he should shoot more often.

“I can’t say enough about Rudy’s unselfishness on offense,” Snyder said. “And like I said, I think our players are aware of it. The more we can involve him and get him touches, we want to do that, too.”

Offensive rebounding

After setting so many screens and rolling so hard, once the ball goes up, Gobert tracks it. He grabbed 13.6% of available offensive rebounds, 12th in the NBA among qualifying players:


That list contains many low-minute role players who expel all their energy chasing rebounds. This is only one of Gobert’s numerous responsibilities. And he handles them with aplomb – even if he doesn’t receive enough credit.

“People look at stats,” Gobert said. “Most people don’t watch the games. Only a few people watch the games, especially us, because national TV two times a year.”

The right stats show Gobert’s two-way effectiveness. His defense has become appreciated, but his offense remains underrated. The Jazz scored 4.1 more points 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor than off.

Part of that is Utah’s rotation. Gobert often plays with the Jazz’s talented other starters, including Gordon Hayward and George Hill (another underrated player).

But if you watch, Gobert wasn’t merely along for the ride. He helped plenty offensively.

Utah’s playoff games will be nationally televised. Watch and find out.

Reports: Stephen Curry targeting Friday return to Warriors

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For the second half of Monday’s loss to the Spurs, the Warriors were without Kevin Durant (ribs), Stephen Curry (ankle), and Klay Thompson (thumb), and Draymond Green (hip contusion) — all four All-Stars sidelined with injuries.

That’s about to change — Curry is expected back Friday night against Atlanta. Chris Haynes of ESPN was first with the story, and Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area fills us in with the details.

Curry could, however, return as soon as Friday when the Atlanta Hawks visit Oracle Arena, multiple sources disclosed to NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday night. ESPN, citing league sources, was first to report the team’s plan.

The two-time MVP’s right ankle is scheduled to be re-evaluated Tuesday, after which time a firm return date is expected.

Curry was physically able to play — and actually pushed to return — last weekend, according to league sources. But the Warriors, looking ahead to the playoffs and seeing diminished value in the remaining regular-season games, opted to continue rehabilitation in hopes of maximizing support for the area around his ankle.

If this were the playoffs, Curry would have been back three games ago. However, the Warriors have all but conceded the No. 1 seed to the Rockets and the focus now is on getting Curry and the other All-Stars back and healthy for another deep playoff run.

Curry has played at a first-team All-NBA level when healthy this season, averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three. The other three All-Stars are needed for the Warriors to be the team to beat in the NBA, however, Curry is the guy the system was built around and they need him right. It’s his gravity to draw defenders out — whether he has the ball or not — that opens up everything in the offense. When Curry is on the court, the Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season, and when he sits their offense tends to be about league average.

The Warriors expect to have all their stars healthy are ready for the postseason, but it’s something to watch as we move through the final weeks of the season.

Three Things to Know: Kevin Love is back, but it’s still all about LeBron in Cleveland

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kevin Love returns, but it’s still LeBron James’ night in Cavaliers win. Kevin Love is back — and he didn’t look bad considering the time off. Love had 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting, and seven rebounds (two offensive), but most importantly he was aggressive on the glass and worked hard on defense. He had four assists and the Cavaliers offense is just more dynamic with him because of his passing and ability to space the floor.

That said, Love needs to work on his form getting back on defense.

Love’s return is nice and all, but Cleveland goes as LeBron James goes — and he went off on Milwaukee. He always seems to get up for Giannis Antetokounmpo the Bucks. LeBron had 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists — all while guarded by Antetokounmpo (one of the leagues better defensive forwards because of his length). Take a moment on that: That’s three triple-doubles in four games, and LeBron became the third-oldest NBA player to have a 40-point triple double (Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Elgin Baylor are the two ahead of him). What LeBron has done this season at age 33, with 15 seasons of miles on him, is stunning.

The win has the Cavaliers back as the three seed in the East.

Antetokounmpo had a good night of his own, 37 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but the Bucks continue to stumble, losing 8-of-12. Milwaukee appears destined for the eight seed in the East and a trip to Toronto to start the postseason.

2) Tyronn Lue is out as Cavaliers coach for “a while” in an effort to get control of health issues. There are things — frankly, a lot of things — more important than NBA basketball. Health is certainly one of them — for an NBA coach the long hours, stress, travel, eating on the go, all combine to form a far from a healthy lifestyle.

All of that caught up with the Cavaliers’ Tyronn Lue this season, who is stepping away from the team temporarily to get control of health issues.

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby (Altman, Cavs GM) and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season,” Lue said in a statement.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.”

That’s scary (and the reports from people close to the team are worse — like coughing up blood worse). Reports out of Cleveland are that Lue will return before the playoffs, in fact, he’d like to be back on the sidelines in a week, but someone needs to slow his roll a little. Lue needs to prioritize himself and his health above a playoff run. Steve Clifford, the Charlotte coach to missed 21 games this season to get a handle on severe headaches and issues related to sleep deprivation, and Clifford has already reached out to Lue and the pair are expected to talk. That is a good start.

As for what happens to the Cavaliers while Lue is out… probably not that much. Assistant coach Larry Drew takes over, but this team’s systems and coverages are not about to change. The Cavaliers are who they are, the challenge is integrating all the new bodies — that includes Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and the rest coming off injuries — and to get some cohesion before the playoffs start. Right now, the Cavaliers are nowhere near that on the defensive end, and they don’t have a lot of time to sort it out.

3) Draymond Green leaves Warriors loss with a hip contusion — joining Curry, Durant, Thompson on sidelines — in Warriors loss. Curry could return Friday. The Spurs looked like a team about to drop out of the playoffs a couple of weeks ago — and Kawhi Leonard’s return remains a mystery — but the Spurs playoff streak looks like it will reach 21 seasons.

San Antonio has won four in a row and moved up to the fifth seed in the West following an 89-75 win over Golden State Tuesday. Fivethirtyeight.com has San Antonio with an 89 percent chance of making the postseason now, as they are full three games clear of the nine-seed Clippers.

The Spurs took advantage of a banged-up Warriors team — Kevin Durant (ribs), Stephen Curry (ankle), and Klay Thompson (thumb) were already sidelined for this one, and in the second quarter Draymond Green left the game with a hip contusion. X-rays were negative, he’s not expected to miss much time. Without their four All-Stars, the Warriors scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter, and that allowed the Spurs to pull away for a low-scoring win 89-75.

Curry is reportedly targeting a Friday return to the court, against Atlanta. All of the Warriors injuries are not expected to linger into the postseason — it’s something to watch, if Golden State is not at 100 percent the Rockets threat grows (and it’s already very real), but as of right now the Warriors should be a fully formed Voltron by the start of the playoffs.

Wild night in Miami: Heat top Nuggets 149-141 in 2 OTs

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MIAMI (AP) — They broke the stat system. That’s how good Miami and Denver were – even modern technology couldn’t keep up with the Heat and Nuggets.

For 48 minutes, they went back and forth.

And one overtime wouldn’t decide it, either.

Finally, after three hours, the Heat said enough. James Johnson scored a career-high 31 points, Kelly Olynyk added 30 off the bench and Miami set a franchise single-game scoring record by beating the Nuggets 149-141 in double overtime on Monday night.

“There didn’t deserve to be a loser,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys probably really enjoyed playing in a game like this.”

His guys did, anyway. Olynyk became the second reserve in Heat history to score 30. Wayne Ellington had 23 points, and the Heat made 20 3-pointers – second-most in franchise history.

All that comes with a serious disclaimer. There was no official boxscore after the game, because the system crashed in the first overtime and crews were scrambling to determine official numbers long after the final buzzer. What mattered most was the score – one that moved Miami (38-33) into seventh in the Eastern Conference and left the Nuggets two games back of the last Western Conference spot.

“They just executed,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “They got some, I think, fluke plays and a little luck and they’re at home, you know. Momentum shifted a little bit.”

Miami’s point total was also an NBA season high. Houston and Oklahoma City each scored 148 in games earlier this season.

Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 14 rebounds for Denver (38-33), while Wilson Chandler added 26 for the Nuggets. Jamal Murray scored 23 and Will Barton finished with 22 for Denver.

“There’s no stats. The stat machine blew up I guess,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But the only stat I cared about tonight is that I’m proud of the way we competed, I’m proud of the way we executed, I’m proud of the fact that we gave ourselves a chance.”

Neither team was at full strength. For Miami, Dwyane Wade (left hamstring strain) missed his fourth consecutive game, and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) sat out his fifth straight contest. Denver was without leading scorer Gary Harris, sidelined again by a strained right knee that could keep him out several more days.

Denver led 16-5 after 3 1/2 minutes, and that was the only double-digit lead by either side for about the next three hours. It was airtight until the very final moments, almost to an absurd degree.

After one quarter, Denver led by one.

Halftime, Miami led by one.

After three, Miami still by one.

After regulation, tied.

After one overtime, still tied.

“That’s as playoffs as it comes,” Olynyk said.

Back and forth they went all night, two teams who played a one-point game at Denver back in November – that one not being decided until Dion Waiters‘ missed jumper as time expired sealed the Nuggets’ win. This one had even more fireworks, with the Heat missing shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime before finding a way in the second OT.

Olynyk and James Johnson had all 13 Miami points in the first overtime.

“We didn’t exactly want it to be like this,” said Ellington, who rattled home a 3-pointer to start the second OT and put Miami ahead for good. “But these are the types of games that show your character.”


LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.