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5 Up, 5 Down: It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the Balls are at it again

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There are many happy things happening in the NBA. Gerald Green is here and playing for the Rockets, something I never thought I would see. His hair is incredible, and the fact that Houston has things together and is somehow sort of likable despite combining Chris Paul and James Harden together is sort of unbelievable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love CP3 and Harden is a genuine talent, but their games can be sort of grating to watch night in and night out thanks to their flair for trickery. That’s a nice way of saying it.

In any case, much has gone on since we last talked over the holidays, so without further ado.

5 Up

Gerald Green shows the Rockets are serious

You could have laughed all you wanted to about Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey admitting that the team is obsessed with beating the Golden State Warriors. Because SECRECY and STOICISM helps keeps your opponents in the dark, right? Just ask any football coach locking down practices and turning on cell phone jammers.

But the Warriors are the big target, not only out West but in the NBA. It was always obvious. That’s why it sort of made sense that Gerald Green was a big hit for Houston after he signed with the team in late December. A complete shot in the dark showed that, yes, Morey was serious about being obsessed with beating the Warriors, even if it meant grabbing a former dunk contest champion off the couch to shoot a bunch of 3-pointers. Plus, it just might work.

The continued development of Kyle Kuzma

Our very own Dan Feldman wrote a nice piece about Kuzma recently as we continue to track his progression. Kuzma has stepped out of Lonzo Ball‘s shadow, and is no longer just the Lakers’ “other rookie”. Lakers fans have even become — gasp — reasonable in their All-Star voting, and at last count Kuzma was ahead of Ball and at 9th place in the All-Star ballots.

Gerald Green’s hair

Seriously, this deserved it’s own item on this list. Just look at this masterpiece that reportedly takes two hours to complete:

Y’all know I had too! @sandrasbraids

A post shared by Gerald Green (@g.green14) on

The Spurs tried to trade for Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has been great for the Boston Celtics this season, and he’s a legitimate MVP candidate. But originally it was the San Antonio Spurs, not the Celtics that came calling for the All-Star guard.

Keep your skeptical hat on, but if Irving really wanted to play for Gregg Popovich that’s a maturation that would be in line with what we’ve seen in short work for Boston. As Kurt pointed out in the article linked above, it’s unclear how the Spurs would have been able to grab Irving and that it would be fascinating to watch a high-maintenance star like Irving play for Pop.

That time Kyrie responded to coaching feedback by saying “that’s No. 23’s job”

OK, let’s hope that maturation thing for Irving has legs to it because if not … yeesh. Irving manages to somehow be one of the most interesting boring dudes in the NBA. He’s an elite scorer and dribbler, but doesn’t have the kind of magnetic personality you expect to go along with the top player on a championship team with those traits. If he didn’t start espousing about the non-spherical nature of the planet Earth we’d probably pay a lot less attention to him.

But now this comes out? My ears are perked.

5 Down

LaVar Ball is at it again

Lonzo Ball’s dad says some dumb things as a means to market screen printed Gildan shirts that apparently have a high rate of never coming to your doorstep should you order one.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have asked LaVar Ball to tone down his criticism of Luke Walton, which Ball failed to do recently in an interview with ESPN. Ball again criticized Walton, and those comments actually made Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle so incensed that he fired back at ESPN for following Ball around.

An interesting conversation has sprung up regarding journalistic responsibility — especially when Ball says so many things that are blatantly untrue — and the fact that simply publishing Ball’s quotes devoid of context, factual rebuttal, or opposing comments from those involved is likely not the best choice.

These jerseys

Refs not realizing this was a basket by Manu Ginobili

In case you missed this one, here’s what happened. Manu Ginobili attempted an alley-oop against the New York Knicks. The ball promptly went through the basket, and then Michael Beasley tried to take off and start the fastbreak.

Refs didn’t realize what had happened, and had to be convinced by Gregg Popovich yelling at them (even though Pop admitted he didn’t see the play, either) to take a look at the replay. Come on, man. Casual NBA fans already have enough referee fodder.

Ron Baker‘s got a broken face

Uh huh. Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.

That dunk that Anthony Davis slammed down on Ron Baker — who was valiant both in his attempt to stop Davis’ dunk and for taking a forearm to the face — resulted in a fractured orbital bone for the Knicks wing. We like to see big dunks but we don’t want to see people get hurt. Wait, is this a football blog?

Isaiah Thomas came back and then a bunch of dumb stuff happened

It’s nice that Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas came back recently after a hip injury kept him out for most the season thus far. He’s played well, and the Cavaliers will definitely benefit from having him on the floor — if they don’t trade him before the deadline, of course.

The main issue is everything that happened after Thomas had his first game back against the Portland Trail Blazers. In playing that game, Thomas had to skip the second night of a back-to-back and thus miss a return game against the Celtics on the road. At his request, the Celtics didn’t run a highlight tape they had planned to put on the video board before the game, instead moving it to the next time the teams play in February. Boo hoo.

But if the hubub about that wasn’t enough, then Paul Pierce decided to jump in with conflicting opinions about whether he wanted the video shown at that Feb. 11 matchup. Pierce is having his jersey retired by the team that night, and initially said he didn’t mind if some attention was given to Thomas. The next day, Pierce was on a preview show and said that he actually did mind it, and would prefer if Boston gave him the Kobe treatment instead.

Thomas said he felt the whole thing was pretty stupid (my reading) and I suppose we will have to wait another month to see if emotions rise high again. Boston fans have to stop flaming IT, man.

Matthew Dellavedova steals pass, hits wild scoop shot at buzzer (VIDEO)

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Matthew Dellavedova is a hustler. Everybody knows that. Well, unless you want to argue he’s more about grit. It’s really your call.

But against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Dellavedova came through with whatever you want to call it — hustle, grit, moxie, gumption.

As the first quarter wound down and the Celtics tried to inbound the ball, Dellavedova spied his opponents rolling the basketball in order to save time on the clock.

That allowed the Australian native to fly in and do this:

That’s a steal, a scoop, and a score all within 1.2 seconds.

Milwaukee won Game 4 and evened the series with the Celtics, 2-2.

Cavaliers tie series with Pacers in Indiana, 2-2

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Sunday night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was raucous. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking, and despite Indiana’s best effort to put back seemingly every offensive board it encountered, LeBron James‘ 32 points was just too much to overcome.

Facing the possibility of going down 3-1 in the first round, the Cavaliers pulled out the win, 104-100, and sent the series back to Ohio for Game 5.

The game came down to the final period following a surge by the Pacers to end the third quarter. The teams were tied several times midway through the fourth, but a tip shot by Thaddeus Young wth 6:13 left gave the Pacers the lead as fans in Indiana went wild.

Cleveland then came roaring back. At the three-minute mark, James drove to the basket and scored. Thirty seconds later, Kyle Korver hit a big-time 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up by four points, a mark the Pacers couldn’t recover from.

LeBron scored again with 1:52 left, and despite some weird late-game antics — featuring none other than Lance Stephenson — the Cavaliers were able to remain resolute down the stretch.

James finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. Kyle Korver added 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting from deep, and Kevin Love had five points with 11 boards.

Victor Oladipo struggled for Indiana, scoring 17 points but shooting just 25 percent from the floor. Seven Pacers finished in double-digits, with Young notching an impressive double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Game 5 will be played in Cleveland on Wednesday, April 25.

Wizards beat Raptors in Game 4, tie series at 2-2 heading to Toronto

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The Toronto Raptors were far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference this season. The Washington Wizards were … well, very Wizard-y.

So considering their regular seasons, the fact that Washington was able to tie the first round series between the two teams at 2 games apiece on Sunday is pretty astonishing.

Bradley Beal had 31 points and five rebounds for the Wizards while teammate John Wall added 27 points to go along with a whopping 14 assists. Washington shot an impressive 41 percent from 3-point range as four of five starters finished in double-digit scoring.

Despite Beal’s performance, it was Wall who saved the day for the Wizards. Beal was disqualified after fouling out with around five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Beal didn’t agree with the call, and could be seen throwing a towel near the Washington bench.

For his part, Wall either scored or assisted on 10 of the Wizards’ final 14 points of the game. That helped stave off the likes of DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 35 points.

The series heads back to Toronto for Game 5, which will be played on Wednesday, April 25.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.