Dan Feldman

Report: Rockets drop protest of loss to Clippers

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The Rockets protested their loss to the Clippers last month, because what should have been Jawun Evans‘ sixth and disqualifying foul was assigned to Lou Williams. Evans stayed in the game and drew a couple key charges on James Harden.

But the NBA apparently won’t rule whether the final 3:10 of that game should be replayed.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets have withdrawn their protest of the Dec. 22 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, an individual with knowledge of the decision said

The Rockets paid $10,000 to file that protest. By rule, the money is returned only if the challenge is successful. I’m not sure why they dropped their appeal now.

It was unlikely to be upheld, anyway. The only chance was seemingly if a scorekeeping error gave Williams the foul, and it seems more likely the referees on the court just whistled the wrong player.

Isaiah Thomas on tribute video: ‘I don’t know why they’re so mad about it. I’m not taking nothing from Paul Pierce’

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Isaiah Thomas asked the Celtics not to show a tribute video for him Wednesday, when he visited Boston with the Cavaliers for the first time. Thomas, who starred for the Celtics the last couple seasons, wanted to wait until a game he was playing and with his family in attendance.

Fair enough. Except the only other time the Cavs play in Boston this season is Feb. 11, when the Celtics will retire Paul Pierce’s number.

Pierce said he didn’t want to share his spotlight with Thomas, which was also fair. Though Pierce’s main ceremony is for after the game, teams frequently show highlights of and tributes to a player getting his number retired during stoppages. Using one for a Thomas video is one less opportunity to celebrate Pierce.

Thomas, via NBC Sports Boston:

That’s Pierce’s night. But the video tribute ain’t the whole night. I just wanted my family to be here to see it. That’s what it came down to. I wanted to be able to play. And I wanted my family to experience the love and appreciation this city and this organization was going to give me on that night. And when my representatives reached out to these guys, they were all for it. They agreed on it. I know people. I don’t know why they’re so mad about it. I’m not taking nothing from Paul Pierce. He did 15 years here, so there’s nothing that I can take from him. But if they choose to do it that night, that would be great, and I would be honored, and my family and friends can see how much they appreciated me here.”

The Celtics should have handled this behind the scenes (and perhaps they tried). Tell Thomas Feb. 11 was already filled with Pierce tributes, and maybe Thomas would have relented on showing his video a couple days ago. Ask Pierce beforehand about briefly sharing his night with Thomas, and maybe Pierce would have begrudgingly agreed.

Instead, two former Boston stars are engaged in this public back-and-forth over a relatively inconsequential – but quite sentimental – matter. It’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Kyle Kuzma shedding Lakers’-other-rookie label

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LOS ANGELES – Kyle Kuzma was effectively trapped.

Dozens of media members surrounded Lonzo Ball – who wouldn’t even play that night – at the adjoining locker. The swarm extended so far, it blocked Kuzma in his chair in the corner of the Lakers’ locker room.

Later that night, Kuzma scored 31 points, the most by a rookie on Christmas since LeBron James.

Ball is the Lakers’ highest-profile rookie. Kuzma is their best rookie.

Slowly but surely, Kuzma is claiming the credit he has earned.

Ball joined the Lakers with a headline-grabbing father, a thrilling up-tempo skill set, a signature shoe, overlapping fans from UCLA and the pedigree of the No. 2 pick. He was immediately tabbed Rookie of the Year favorite. His summer-league debut was an event. Lakers president Magic Johnson hyped Ball, still just a teenager, as a leader.

Kuzma, by contrast, grew up in Flint, Mich. – a city known for its high crime rate and poverty until it became known for its poisoned water. According to his mom, the family moved nine times in 16 years. He played for small high schools in the city’s suburbs then transferred out of state to a couple prep schools. At one in Philadelphia, he became a major recruit. But his grades were so poor, he had to take the GED in Denver just to get eligible.

He spent his first year on campus at Utah gray-shirting, not allowed to practice or even join team meals, let alone play in actual games. He worked his way up Utah’s rotation over the next three seasons, peaking with an All-Pac-12 selection last season (an honor shared with Ball, who, of course, got more attention for it).

Kuzma declared for the NBA draft, but was commonly viewed as a second-round pick. He aced the combine and individual workouts, and the Lakers took him No. 27. After his torturous journey, he had finally made it to the big time.

“There’s a lot of adversity within Flint, just growing up there,” Kuzma said. “So, I feel like, if I can get out of there, I can do anything.”

Kuzma hasn’t faced much adversity this season – not individually, at least.

He flourished in summer league (though Ball won MVP). A strong preseason only raised expectations higher in star-hungry Los Angeles.

Somehow, Kuzma is meeting them.

He’s averaging 17.5 points per game. Most rookies who scored so much over a full season won Rookie of the Year.

Kuzma probably won’t. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is scoring even more (18.3 points per game), and the 76ers’ Ben Simmons has outplayed both.

But for Kuzma to even enter the conversation is remarkable, considering where he was – even as recently as draft night. As long as he averages at least 16.1 points per game, Kuzma will break the rookie scoring record for someone drafted so low (currently held by John Long, whom the Pistons drafted No. 29 in 1978).

The 6-foot-9 Kuzma is quick and agile. His 7-foot wingspan only enhances the amount of ground he can cover. Advanced footwork shows his basketball intelligence.

But what really separates Kuzma is outside shooting.

Kuzma made a blistering 24-of-50 (48%) of his 3-pointers at summer league – an eye-popping mark considering he shot just 30.2% on 3s at Utah, including 32.1% his final season. On one hand, regression to the mean seemed inevitable. On the other hand, his stroke looked good.

While taking a healthy 5.3 3-point attempts per game in the regular season, Kuzma is making 39.6% of them. No rookie has ever matched that combination of volume and efficiency over a full season.

Kuzma said NBA distance agrees with him because it forces him to use his legs more.

“The college 3 is so short, it’s like, in reference, shooting a pop-a-shot,” Kuzma said. “It’s a different motion.”

Kuzma shoots well in part because he’s so confident. And as he converts from distance, he becomes even more confident.

The idea of a gradual adjustment to the NBA sounds practically foreign to him. He might not have been able to predict all this, but he sure won’t admit it surprises him.

“He believes he’s the best player on the court all the time,” said Ball, who has developed a friendship with Kuzma.

Kuzma has ascended so quickly, his playing time can now be taken for granted. While most players drafted in his range are just trying to claw their way into the rotation, Kuzma has earned big minutes.

That means the Lakers aren’t just relishing in his successes, but focusing on his flaws – chiefly defense. Kuzma has the size and fluidity to defend better, but he sometimes loses focus on that end.

“There’s no rookies that are elite defenders in the NBA,” Kuzma said.

There aren’t, and Kuzma won’t come close to breaking the mold. Still, there are glimpses of potential.

After Kuzma became the first Lakers rookie since Jerry West to score 25 points in three straight games, Lakers coach Luke Walton texted Kuzma, “great job defensively” with no mention of the offensive output.

“It’s important for him to know, one, that we’re watching that,” Walton said, “and, two, that we need him to be a really good defender for our team to have success.”

The Lakers haven’t had much of that. They’re a Western Conference-worst 11-26 and have lost eight straight. After the latest defeat, Kuzma scolded his team for giving up.

It’s the latest example of Kuzma coming to the forefront.

Kuzma’s dinner with Kobe Bryant became a fascination of fans. Kuzma addressed the home crowd before the Christmas game, a responsibility usually given to a veteran. He gets MVP chants at the free-throw line. The rookie even cracked the initial All-Star-voting leaderboard, getting more votes than John Wall, Chris Paul and, yes, Ball.

Though Kuzma is outperforming his acclaimed rookie teammate on the court, Ball can authoritatively offer praise in one area.

“He,” Ball said of Kuzma, “does good with the spotlight, as well.”

Devin Harris throws nasty forearm at Jordan Bell (video)

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Jordan Bell agitated the Mavericks with a late showoff dunk earlier this season.

In the the Warriors’ win over Dallas on Wednesday, Bell remained a pest by brushing Devin Harris.

Harris responded by winding up as if he were going to punch Bell, but connected with only his forearm, not his fist.

Bell was called for a personal foul, Harris a technical foul.

I would have thought Harris would be in line for an additional penalty from the NBA, a fine or maybe even a suspension. Then again, I also thought he would have gotten more than a technical foul within the game.