Zaza Pachulia

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Energetic and blossoming Kelly Oubre injecting life into Wizards

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Jerome Williams – who played for the Pistons, Raptors, Bulls and Knicks during a nine-year NBA career – scrimmaged his high-school players a few days per week while coaching Findlay Prep, a basketball factory near Las Vegas. As assistant then head coach, Williams worked with several future NBA players, including Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. In those scrimmages, Williams often wanted to show his young charges what it was like to play against a professional.

But as he neared 40, Williams needed advantages. So, he subtly steered practices toward sprints before entering scrimmages.

Kelly Oubre Jr. was the first to notice Williams’ trick.

“Kelly would be like, ‘Yeah, you’re just trying to wear us down, because you know you’re getting ready to get it,'” said Williams, now 44. “He’d always come back with something to just let me know he’s seeing what I’m doing and it wasn’t going to work. He was intense.”

Then, the games started, and Oubre again separated himself from all the future pros who passed through Findlay Prep. He went hard at Williams, unafraid to foul or even play with anger toward his coach.

“Kelly was, by far, the most intense,” Williams said. “Other guys would have it in spurts. But for a whole season, every day, he was looking forward to the challenge.”

Oubre has carried that attitude to the Wizards, who badly need it. He’s a young, athletic, energetic, feisty, developing bright spot in Washington’s malaise of a regular season.

He’s also the Wizards’ most valuable trade chip with the deadline approaching. And he’s eligible for a contract extension next summer, though his new deal would begin in 2019-20, when John Wall, Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi are already due a combined $107,593,645.

Does that leave room for Oubre long-term? Short-term, in a year the Wizards hold lofty playoff aspirations, would they prefer someone more polished?

Those overlapping questions will dictate the forward’s future in Washington.

“If I worried about the money, man, my heart wouldn’t be in it,” Oubre said. “So, I’m not worried about anything about the money. I’m just happy I’m on this team.”

The Wizards are happy to have him.

The story of their season: With an established core, they’re coasting. Washington is an underwhelming 26-21 with numerous disappointing showings against bad teams. Effort ebbs and flows, particularly rankling coach Scott Brooks, who stuck a decade in the NBA as a hustle player.

In this environment, Oubre stands out.

“He brings it every night,” Brooks said.

Oubre’s teammates appreciate the spacing his improved 3-point shooting provides. After making less than 30% of his 3s his first two seasons, Oubre is hitting 40% this season. That’s the biggest improvement from prior years to this year in the NBA. Here are the leaders with prior 3-point percentage on the left, current 3-point on the right and difference in the middle (minimum: 100 attempts in both prior seasons and this season):

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That plus incremental improvement elsewhere could land Oubre on some Most Improved Player ballots. His defensive awareness has gotten better, but he’s still prone to getting lost. He attacks closeouts more often, but running him off the 3-point arc lowers his efficiency considerably. He looks to make more plays for his teammates, but that has led to more turnovers.

Oubre has certainly improved, but there are still too many rough edges in his game for me to call him one of the NBA’s three most improved players. However, the growth he’s showing appears to be part of the messy process of a player pushing his boundaries as he develops into a genuinely good player.

For now, Sixth Man of the Year votes could be more attainable. Oubre is tied for seventh among eligible players:

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That’s plenty of potential accolades for someone who seems to appreciate the attention. Oubre has described his eye-catching fashion style as, “I think I’m a rock star.”

“When he wears his clothes and outfits, he swears he’s the swag champ,” Wall said.

Wall said he usually doesn’t see Oubre’s game outfits until arriving to the arena, because Oubre is always on the first bus – going early to put in extra work.

Even his fashion flows into someone who plays with an edge. Oubre’s fiery has already shown several times during his fledgling career.

“He’s not satisfied. He’s not content. He doesn’t feel entitled. He wants to get better,” Brooks said. “I like that about him.”

Brooks also likes Oubre’s fit with Wall, Beal and Porter.

That four-man unit has outscored opponents by a whopping 19.2 points per 100 possessions. Only a Warriors foursome (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia) has performed better while playing so much (315 minutes).

The Wizards’ quartet has excelled with Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris or Ian Mahinmi at center. The lineup is stretchier and switchier with Morris, but it’s just a matter of degree. Wall and Beal are Washington’s best players, and they belong on the court. As versatile, semi-interchangeable forwards, Oubre and Porter spread the floor offensively and allow more switching defensively.

“It’s just a matter of helping the big out on the boards,” Beal said. “We’re all tough and take pride in our defense.”

The Wizards might sometimes be lethargic, but these players take pride in their toughness. It’s almost as if these lineups bait the idle players into a higher gear.

For Oubre, it’s the opposite challenge. Many of his mistakes are born of over-aggression. That’s why he started meditating 5-10 minutes daily.

“I’ve slowed down,” Oubre said. “I’ve been moving at my own pace. I’ve kind of just taken everything that came at me.”

But make no mistake: Oubre isn’t losing his edge.

“That’s who I am,” Oubre said. “I have a lot of energy 24/7. I’m just blessed that I do.”

Clippers’ Lou Williams drops 50 on Warriors (video)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Lou Williams scored 27 of his career-high 50 points in the third quarter and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors for the first time in more than three years with a 125-106 win Wednesday that spoiled a milestone night for Kevin Durant.

Williams shot 16 for 27 with a career-best eight 3-pointers and made all 10 of his free throws. His 27-point third quarter was the NBA’s highest-scoring quarter this season.

Durant became the 44th player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points, finishing with 40 as the Warriors had their five-game winning streak snapped along with a 12-game unbeaten stretch in the Clippers rivalry.

Durant reached the milestone on a pull-up jumper from the left wing at the 1:41 mark of the second quarter. The Warriors announced his accomplishment on the main scoreboard and Durant received a standing ovation, shaking his head in acknowledgment while still very much in game mode.

By late in the fourth quarter, that crowd was making its way for the exits with the game out of reach.

The NBA Finals MVP returned from a three-game absence due to a strained right calf and scored 25 points in the first half against the Clippers – KD’s biggest half of the season and the exact number he needed for 20,000.

Durant, who had a four-point play during the second quarter on the way to 14 points in the period, is at 29 the second-youngest player behind LeBron James and first to reach the 20,000 mark as a member of the Warriors.

He shot 14 for 18, including 6 of 7 from deep, and Zaza Pachulia added 12 points on a night when the Warriors were without their starting backcourt. Stephen Curry re-sprained his right ankle during the morning shootaround, and Klay Thompson also was out for rest that had been previously scheduled.

Williams also dished out seven assists and rookie Tyrone Wallace added a season-best 22 points off the bench for the Clippers while returning to the Bay Area, where he starred in college at California.

Nick Young started in place of Thompson and had seven points but shot 3 for 11 and missed six of his seven 3-point tries. It was Young’s first start with the Warriors. Shaun Livingston played in place of Curry and contributed eight points and four assists.

Draymond Green missed his first five shots before connecting late in the third.

“We still have two All-Stars. It’s an embarrassment of riches,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said of Durant and Green. “I’m not going to shy away from that.”

There were 13 lead changes in the first quarter alone. Golden State went on a 10-0 run midway through the second during which Durant scored eight points.

CURRY’S ANKLE

Curry has the same injury that recently sidelined him for 11 games, though Kerr said: “I don’t think it’s serious. … He tweaked it.” No MRI or X-rays were scheduled for now, though Curry was sore and the Warriors won’t take any chances.

“I didn’t see anything,” Kerr said before the game. “We just had a normal shootaround and he was in his usual game-day routine with Q (Bruce Fraser) and he just rolled his ankle somehow. Just kind of a fluke thing, kind of caught us off guard, but obviously he won’t play. … It’s unfortunate. Hopefully it’ll clear up in the next couple days.”

The Warriors are 10-2 without Curry.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Los Angeles hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas Day 2014. The Clippers also had lost 11 straight on Golden State’s home floor since a 105-86 win on Dec. 25, 2011.

Warriors: Durant notched his seventh 30-point game this season. … Thompson had played in all 41 games this season. … C JaVale McGee played for only the second time in five games as Kerr struggles to use all his players in a deep, talented rotation. … Young earned his 194th career start as Golden State used a 14th different starting lineup this season – matching the team’s total from last season.

UP NEXT

Clippers: At Sacramento on Thursday, looking for a fourth straight win in the series.

Warriors: At Milwaukee on Friday to begin a five-game road trip featuring tough stops at Cleveland and Houston.

 

Three Things to Know: Paul George loves Los Angeles, playing there is something else

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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) Paul George loves Los Angeles, but after his current team sweeps city does he want to go there? It’s the siren song of leading your hometown franchise vs. a team built to win right now. Paul George has a decision coming up this summer, and both sides made their case in the last 48 hours.

There was plenty of fodder for the “George wants to play for the Lakers” camp this week — buzz that started with his agent telling the Pacers exactly that last summer. (George seemed disinterested in the Clippers when it was brought up.) The best example of what playing in L.A. could offer was George draining a three against the Lakers Wednesday then running over to hug his mom courtside. Also, there was no shortage of quotes from George about how much he loves his hometown.

“It was awesome,” George said of his welcome in L.A. after his current team, the Thunder, thrashed the Lakers by almost 40. “For one, just being home, being in front of friends, family, and then just the respect, the love, the recruitment. It was awesome. It was awesome to get that love.”

On the other side, there’s the game on the court. The Thunder are winning, and the young Lakers look years away from contending even with a superstar. George got a view of that firsthand this week. Oklahoma City kept up its hot streak — the win over the Clippers Thursday 127-117 was the team’s eighth in 10 games — which should lead to plenty of optimism in the “George is going to stay with the Thunder” camp.

Or there’s this quote:

“If (the Thunder are) trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation — it would be kind of clueless, just stupid on my behalf to up and leave.”

George hasn’t made his call about next summer yet, he seems torn and is being patient. Westbrook is all in for Oklahoma City, having signed his max extension. Carmelo Anthony almost certainly opts into his $28 million final year (that money isn’t out there for him as a free agent). Meanwhile, George is playing it LeBron style, keeping all his options open and waiting until the summer. (The financial dance for the Thunder to keep George is a tough one for GM Sam Presti and ownership — they maxed out Westbrook, they would need to max out George, and everyone expects Anthony to opt in, sending the Thunder deep into the luxury tax, maybe too deep for a small market. No matter what ownership says.)

It’s not championship or bust to keep George in OKC, but the Thunder’s slow start dug them a deep hole. OKC is currently the fifth seed in the West and may well climb up to fourth, but they are four games back of the three-seed Spurs who just got Kawhi Leonard back, and the Rockets are out of reach. If the Thunder are the four seed it means a challenging first-round series (likely against the Timberwolves), then in the second round would be the Warriors. If Oklahoma City gets spanked by Golden State in that series it sends a message, if OKC pushes the defending champs hard it’s another.

George is going to wait and see. But we do know he loves Los Angeles.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of LeBron James in first fan All-Star voting returns. It is a testament to what a superstar the Greek Freak has become: He, not LeBron James, would be one of the two captains to pick All-Star teams if All-Star voting ended today. In fan voting so far, Antetokounmpo is just 7,336 votes ahead of LeBron (with more than 85 million votes cast for each), but it’s a lead.

Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant would be the captains, although Duran’s lead in the West over just-returned Stephen Curry is only 32,287 votes.

Just as a refresher: The NBA has thrown out the stale old East vs. West All-Star format for this year’s game — Feb. 18 in Los Angeles — and gone to a playground-style picking of teams format: The top vote-getters in each conference will be the captains and they will make the picks (from a pool of All-Stars). They can choose anyone from either conference — Durant is free to pick LeBron instead of Curry. Fan votes combined with select media will choose the starter pool of two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference (consider those media votes Zaza Pachulia insurance, fans almost voted him as a starter last season). The coaches will pick the seven reserves from each conference.

If the voting ended today (and the media agreed) the frontcourt players from the East would be Antetokounmpo, James, and Joel Embiid, paired with guards Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan. Kristaps Porzingis is not far behind Embiid, and Victor Oladipo is close to taking DeRozan’s spot as a starter.

Out West, the starters voted into the pool would be Durant, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins (yes, two Pelicans). The guards are Curry and James Harden. Draymond Green and Paul George are within striking distance of Cousins, while Russell Westbrook is third in the guard voting.

Voting is open through Jan. 15.

3) Warriors without Kevin Durant beat Rockets without James Harden. Do I even need to write “don’t read anything into this?”

No Durant or Harden throws a preview of playoff defensive matchups largely out the window (although overall the Rockets did a good job sniffing out the Warriors backcuts and floppy actions that usually lead to easy buckets). Aside the missing stars, Gerald Green went off for 8-of-15, and while that may give the Warriors something to think about it’s also not sustainable for Green (although someone on the Rockets always seems to step up).

Plus, we are more than four months away from a playoff series between these squads — both teams will evolve between now and then.

Basically, this game felt like a one-off. It was familiar only in Golden State’s pattern of owning a game late — the Warriors took over the final nine minutes to win 124-114. Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 57 points. With that the Warriors keep their perch on top of the West secure. But that’s about it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant top early All-Star voting

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If voting ended today (and the media votes agreed, which it likely would with these two), Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant would be the captains picking the All-Star teams.

Those two are the top vote-getters in their conferences as the first round of fan All-Star voting was released by the NBA. However, both of them have a second-place person very close behind them: LeBron James in the East (7,336 votes back) and Stephen Curry in the West (32,287 votes back).

For this year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles Feb. 18, the NBA has thrown out the old East vs. West All-Star format that had gotten stale and went to a schoolyard drafting of teams format: The top vote-getters in each conference will be the captains and pick the teams. They can choose anyone from any conference — if Durant wanted to pick LeBron instead of Curry, he could. First, the captains will choose from the pool of eight other starters voted in by fans and select media (consider those media votes the Zaza Pachulia insurance, fans almost voted him as a starter last season but the media did not). The coaches will pick the seven reserves from each conference, and the captains will move on to picking from that pool.

There are three frontcourt and two guard starters for each conference. Here is where the first round of voting stands:

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Frontcourt
1 Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 863,416
2 LeBron James (CLE) 856,080
3 Joel Embiid (PHI) 433,161
—————–
4 Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 359,459
5 Kevin Love (CLE) 221,969
6 Al Horford (BOS) 120,016
7 Jayson Tatum (BOS) 98,586
8 Andre Drummond (DET) 85,374
9 Enes Kanter (NYK) 83,102
10 Dwight Howard (CHA) 57,730

Guards
1 Kyrie Irving (BOS) 802,834
2 DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 259,368
—————
3 Victor Oladipo (IND) 251,886
4 Ben Simmons (PHI) 210,085
5 John Wall (WAS) 175,990
6 Dwyane Wade (CLE) 165,163
7 Isaiah Thomas (CLE) 87,680
8 Kyle Lowry (TOR) 85,070
9 Bradley Beal (WAS) 71,079
10 Jaylen Brown (BOS) 51,562

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Frontcourt
1 Kevin Durant (GSW) 767,402
2 Anthony Davis (NOP) 393,000
3 DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 356,340
—————
4 Draymond Green (GSW) 325,612
5 Paul George (OKC) 291,495
6 Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 212,650
7 Carmelo Anthony (OKC) 194,239
8 Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 188,240
9 Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 184,338
10 LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS) 153,599

Guards
1 Stephen Curry (GSW) 735,115
2 James Harden (HOU) 602,040
———–
3 Russell Westbrook (OKC) 438,469
4 Klay Thompson (GSW) 359,442
5 Manu Ginobili (SAS) 231,460
6 Chris Paul (HOU) 174,343
7 Damian Lillard (POR) 148,622
8 Lonzo Ball (LAL) 120,817
9 Devin Booker (PHO) 91,562
10 Jimmy Butler (MIN) 88,009

Both Pelicans’ big men Davis and Cousins would start with the Warriors’ Green and the Thunders’ George on the outside looking in. With the West guards, Westbrook would be the guy coming off the bench with Curry and Harden starting (hard to go wrong with any order there). In the East, Sixers rookie Embiid would get the nod over the Knicks’ Porzingis.

Voting runs through midnight on Jan. 15. Fans can vote on the NBA.com voting page, through the NBA app, on Facebook (post the player’s first and last name along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE on your personal Facebook account, Twitter (Tweet, retweet or reply with an NBA player’s first and last name or Twitter handle, along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE, or even on Amazon Alexa (say “Alexa, open NBA All-Star,” and then vote for whoever you want).

Stephen Curry returns from injury, drops 10 threes on Grizzlies (VIDEO)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry made a sensational return from injury by scoring 38 points with a season-high 10 3-pointers, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 141-128 on Saturday night.

Curry shot 13 for 17 and 10 of 13 from deep in 26 minutes for his ninth 30-point game this season after missing 11 games with a sprained right ankle. His mere presence brought an energy to the Warriors and all of Oracle Arena, and he spent much of the fourth quarter pacing, gesturing in delight while cheering his teammates with a towel draped over his head.

Kevin Durant added 20 points, nine assists and five rebounds, and Klay Thompson scored 21 points as the Warriors wrapped up nearly three weeks at home in California. Zaza Pachulia scored a season-best 17 points and also had eight rebounds and six assists.

Marc Gasol led six Memphis players in double figures with 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting.

With his parents, wife and two daughters in attendance, Curry got his first points on a layup at 10:27 that put the Warriors out front 7-0 and led to a Memphis timeout. He hit a 3-pointer at 9:52 before Memphis scored its first points.

Curry received roars from the sellout crowd during pregame introductions, and Durant threw his right arm into the air to cheer his pal’s comeback.

Curry pounded his chest after a 3-pointer late in the second that put the Warriors up 64-57.

In the game’s closing minutes, he hit a 3-pointer, held his follow-through and jubilantly hopped up and down on his left foot. This marked Curry’s ninth career game with 10 or more 3s, most by any player in NBA history.

“Sometimes the absence of a month of basketball gives you a little more excitement and energy, and I know he feels that way and it’ll probably do the same thing with our crowd and with our team, too,” coach Steve Kerr said before the game.

Curry was all smiles during pregame warmups. He hoisted his signature tunnel shot, signed a few quick autographs when daughter Riley arrived to greet him and briefly held his arm around her before turning around to do his customary hallway sprint. His little girl cleared the way, and off her dad went to the locker room.

“Solid,” Curry said with a grin of his sprint.

He’s healthy at last – and it showed immediately.

Kerr had hoped to play his two-time MVP 20-25 minutes, and Curry conferred with the coaching staff during a timeout with 4:36 left in the third before staying in the game to hit another 3 just 30 seconds later. Curry sat down to cheers with 2:55 left in the third his team up 103-87.

Memphis lost here 97-84 on Dec. 20, then watched the Warriors match their season high for points in a half this season by leading 78-67 at the break.