Author: Kurt Helin

Dwight Howard

The Extra Pass: Five quick ways to improve the league; plus Monday’s Recaps



Five ideas that could help make the NBA even greater:

Offensive Goaltending: Let’s get rid of it. The “in the cylinder” call is routinely one of the toughest for refs to get right on the floor, and we know how the subsequent huddle and review process can suck the life out of a game. If it bounces off the rim, it’s fair game.

The D-League, FIBA and Olympic competition all play that way, and no one says, “oh man, I’m tried of seeing all these putback dunks!” or thinks it has ruined the sanctity of the game. Let’s allow the world’s best athletes to play the game in a different dimension and remove all the pattycake played by rebounders in the air.

Hack-A-Tactic: Probably the best solution to ending the intentional fouling that forces us to watch very large men miss free throws over and over again came from Tom Ziller at SBNation:

“(…) the league could end the practice in one fell swoop by giving teams in the bonus the option of free throws or an inbounds play on non-shooting fouls. In other words, make the bonus optional.”

Brilliant. If Dwight Howard gets intentionally fouled without the ball while in the bonus and there’s more than two minutes left, Kevin McHale can simply opt to take the ball out. The offending player is still charged with a foul, the shot clock resets, and the game moves on.

Coaches decline penalties in football. Why not give them the same option in basketball? Keep the game moving and kill off this strategy in the simplest of ways.

Divisions: Let’s get rid of them, too. The best eight teams in each conference should go to the playoffs every year, no questions asked. If we removed divisions today, it wouldn’t change rivalries or anything else — it just makes playoff seeding simpler and easier to understand. Change that simplifies a needlessly complicated thing? That should be embraced. Here’s hoping the Atlantic Division teams keep this up to spur the switch.

Tanking: There have been many great solutions suggested over the years, particularly by the guys at TrueHoop with their HoopIdea series. Here’s mine: create a minimum win requirement.

No team can fall below the line of 50 combined wins in back-to-back seasons. If a team wins 30 games one year, they must win at least 20 in the next season.

The punishment for teams that fail to win a combined 50 games in any back-to-back seasons? They automatically get assigned the worst odds in the lottery of that year’s draft. If multiple teams fail to meet the 50-win two-year minimum, the team with the worse two-year record will receive the lowest odds.

At the least, this would provide some incentive for general managers not to completely tank over multiple years and for coaches to try and play their best players towards the end of the season. It would make fans of bad teams stop rooting so much for incompetence, at least over multiple seasons. The lottery system would stay intact as is with just a little tweak.

This would make tanking punitive over multiple years, much in the way the luxury tax punishes repeat offenders. This wouldn’t stop tanking like some suggestions, but it would at least put some limitations on it and give teams the incentive to at least be reasonably respectable over a two-year period.

Make the D-League a true minor league: 30 teams, 30 D-League affiliates. It would require a big investment by the league and by owners, but creating a real minor league system that feeds directly to the big club would create an interest in the D-League that hasn’t previously been there.

Exclusive affiliates could make events like the D-League draft and trades actually mean something, and following the happenings of your team’s D-League club would be worth doing. One of the best parts of being a baseball fan is knowing your team’s prospects and getting to say “I remember him when…” once he reaches the majors. That level of familiarity should happen more in basketball.

-D.J. Foster



Clippers 94, 76ers 83: This was a professional win by the Clippers — they are the better, more talented team and they just used that to make it an easy night for themselves. Of course Chris Paul is playing so well this season that he can make a 25-point, 13-assist night look professional and routine. The Clippers defended well (Blake Griffin on Spencer Hawes in particular, but the Sixers as a team shot just 35.9 percent) however as part of that the Sixers just missed some good looks. It’s not like the Clippers were perfect, they were just better and never let up.

Nuggets 75, Wizards 74: Much lower scoring game than anyone expected —but we did get drama. The Nuggets hung around in a gritty fashion then just made plays with the game on the line. Washington will regret this because had their chances at the end. First Wall had one driving layup blocked by Kenneth Faried. It was then Faried that provided Denver with the margin of victory with :32 seconds left in the game when he threw down a powerful dunk after his man slid over to stop a Nate Robinson drive and Robinson slipped a pass to Faried. Still the Wizards had chances. For example with 22 seconds left the Nuggets had bad inbounds pass stolen by Glen Rice Jr., who in turn passed to a slashing Wall who just missed a driving layup. Next possession Trevor Ariza had a good look at a three and missed it. Still after Faried missed some key free throws Washington had one last chance, they got the ball to Wall out top who made a nice move to create space at the elbow… then just fumbled the ball away as he went up for the shot. Wall finished with 20 points and 8 assists but will just have regrets over how this one ended.

Bobcats 115, Warriors 111: Charlotte is no pushover this season — they can be beaten but you’re going to have to work for it. These Bobcats will not roll over and Golden State learned that the hard way when they once again came out flat (it has been a trend for a couple weeks now). Charlotte led by 12 at the half but Golden State’s offense woke up behind Stephen Curry, who had 32 of his 43 points after halftime. Golden State fought back to tie the game 88-88 in the fourth quarter, then promptly turned the ball over on three straight possessions and never got the lead back. Credit Kemba Walker for that — he scored the Bobcats final 15 points (he finished with 31) and Charlotte held on for a quality win.

Grizzlies 94, Magic 85: Memphis took control of this game thanks to a 14-0 run by their bench in the second quarter and they never surrendered the lead again. Orlando struggled against the Grizzlies defense shooting just 40 percent, but they did make a little run in the fourth quarter and made it interesting enough Dave Joeger had to put his starters back in to preserve the win. Zach Randolph had 19 points but the real key was the Grizzlies shot 10-of-17 from three in this game.

Trail Blazers 105, Jazz 94: This game was close for a quarter and a half until a 15-6 Portland run late in the second quarter gave them a little lead and they never looked back. Much like the Clippers this was a professional win where Portland didn’t have to bring it’s best and didn’t, but it brought enough to win this. LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Damian Lillard 18. Alec Burks led Utah with 20 points on 11 shots off the bench.

Kings 112, Mavericks 97: The Kings were shorthanded — Rudy Gay will make his debut in purple Wednesday against Utah — but the Sacramento front court was on fire. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 19 rebounds, Derrick Williams had a career high 31 points while Dallas seemed to coast. Sacramento took the lead with a 13-0 run in the second quarter then pulled away in the third not to look back. Isaiah Thomas looked good as the starter with 24 points and 12 assists. Monta Ellis (21 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (18) played well but the rest of the Mavs shot 33.9 percent. That didn’t get it done.

The Extra Pass: The shot that won’t fade away, and Thursday’s recaps

Dirk Nowitzki, Mike Scott


Over the years, Dirk Nowitzki has cemented his status as one of the most unguaradable players in NBA history. There have been better scorers, and there have been better shooters, but Nowitzki is second-to-none when it comes to getting his shot off.

It would be easy to peg Nowitzki’s 7-foot frame as the sole reason for that, but that’s selling him short. Nowitzki’s ability to shift his weight back to create the proper trajectory for that high-arcing jumper requires an unreal amount of coordination and balance. It’s a move born from an unusual training regimen based around taking shots from less than ideal angles and situations, and there’s nothing textbook about it.

And that’s fine. Dirk Nowitzki didn’t create the fadeaway, and he didn’t master it. He changed it.

This isn’t a move that’s easily adapted or stolen. Go try it in your driveway, and you will travel and airball your way to a frustrating time.

There’s a reason why this particular iteration of the fadeaway jumper has been unique to Nowitzki all these years, but there is one player in the league with the right chops to forge Nowitzki’s signature move. And he might be the only guy who can do it justice.

This is sort of the circle of life in the NBA. Iconic moves only belong to a player for so long, and then someone else takes it and changes it or improves it. Michael Jordan’s turnaround jumper became Kobe Bryant’s turnaround jumper. It’s just the way these things work.

That learning curve on Dirk’s unique one-legged fadeaway is a steep one, but here’s what Kevin Durant said about trying to adopt it for his game in a recent interview with The Oklahoman:

“It was rougher than I thought it was going to be (early on),” Durant said. “Took me some time to figure it out, but I think I’m doing all right with it.”

At this point, with such a diverse offensive toolbox, it’s a move Durant doesn’t typically use more than once every game.

But it’s clearly one of his favorites.

“Just the space it gives you and how it looks,” Durant said. “It just frees you up when you’re kinda pressured. You don’t think you have a shot, then you just step back and knock it down.”

Nowitzki probably won’t be in the league too much longer. He’ll be hanging his sneakers up in a few years, and the league will miss him desperately.

But we’ll still have Durant. And even though it will never look exactly the same, we’ll always remember the player who once owned that beautiful fadeaway whenever we see him unleash it.

-D.J. Foster


Generally not a fan of proposing to your lady at a sporting event (trust me, she’s not either) but if you’re going to do it, the inflatable mascot trick is a good one.


Knicks 113, Nets 93: Who’s a laughingstock now? You figure at some point one of the New York teams is going to figure it out and go on enough of a run to win the Atlantic Division (getting to .500 should do it) and Thursday night it looked like the Knicks will be that team. They played with energy — I swear Carmelo Anthony was hustling on defense — and they exposed the Nets league-worst defense for being old and slow. Carmelo Anthony had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Iman Shumpert had 17 points on 8 shots, and the Knicks cruised.

Clippers 101, Grizzlies 81: This was close through a sloppy first half, then Los Angeles went on a 22-5 run in the third quarter and pulled away for a comfortable win. The Clippers played much better defense than the night before, holding Memphis to 37.7 percent shooting, although a chunk of that was execution errors on the part of Memphis (which really misses Marc Gasol). Chris Paul and Jordan Crawford each had 15 points to lead a balanced attack.

Bulls 107, Heat 87: When the Bulls play aggressive defense like they did Thursday they can beat anybody. They hadn’t played this well since Derrick Rose went down but the defense was back and drove Chris Bosh to a terrible 4-of-11 game, held LeBron James in check and stymied he Heat offense. On the other end Carlos Boozer (27 points) and Joakim Noah (17 points, 15 rebounds) led the attack on the inside that the Heat could not stop.

The Extra Pass: A Google goggle revolution dream, plus Wednesday’s recaps

Kirk Hinrich


I have this odd vision for the future of the NBA, and in it everyone looks like Kirk Hinrich.

Well, everyone doesn’t actually look like Kirk Hinrich, but all the players are wearing goggles nonetheless. That’s not just because they look cool and I think Hinrich is the undisputed king of accessorizing, and it’s not just because I’m a proponent for eye protection. These goggles are being used for information.

Let me backtrack.

A few years ago, I was in a locker room postgame, hopping from scrum to scrum, mining for quotes. I was hoping to pick up on a conversation more interesting than the standard fare of canned media responses and questions like, “talk about your game tonight” that tend to fill up most of the airspace in that setting.

I was in luck. I hopped in on a reporter asking Eric Bledsoe if he knew what his plus/minus number for the season was.

Bledsoe, who was then just a rookie, didn’t know the answer because he didn’t know what plus/minus was.

As the reporter halfway incredulously explained what that number entailed, it dawned on me that a stat like that, at least for Bledsoe’s purposes, was completely useless.

Sure, his agent could use it in negotiations. His coach could make more informed lineup decisions based on it. His general manager could keep it in mind when mapping out the future of the team. But Bledsoe? What did he need it for?

Great advancements have been made in the NBA when it comes to analytics. Player tracking and injury tracking services are potential game-changers, but a lack of data isn’t necessarily the issue at hand. The focus of any analytics movement should be on how to make that data digestible and useful for those who need it most, and perhaps no one could better apply the information gleaned from the data than the players themselves.

But let’s get back to my goggled utopia.

Let’s say that Eric Bledsoe, now in Phoenix and fully aware of the fact that all reporters are scum (except for Brett Pollakoff, who is lovely), is going heads up against James Harden.

Bledsoe’s coaching staff lets him know that Harden likes to drive all the way to the rim when he goes left, but if he goes right he prefers the pull-up. The eyes and the numbers support that.

Bledsoe is aware of this, but things get crazy during the game. Staring down one of the best players in the league leaves very little time for planning ahead or remembering something your coach said hours ago.

So here’s Harden in the triple-threat, where he’s one of the most dangerous players in the league. Bledsoe readies himself, his hips sunk, his feet ready to slide.

And in the bottom corner of his vision in clear print, the tendencies for which way Harden will go are right there for him: L 75% R 25%.

Bledsoe sees this and remembers, and he jumps on Harden’s left hand and gets a steal. There are 39 seconds left. In his vision, “2-for-1, find shot in 11 seconds” pops up and a timer starts to tick down. Bledsoe races the ball up the floor. He knows exactly how many timeouts he has, and he knows Houston has a foul to give. To avoid a Chris Webber situation, all he needs to do is have his eyes open.

So now I ask you: could an invention like Google Glass one day change the NBA as we know it?

Better yet, as fans would we want our players to have those capabilities? Seeing athletes play smarter and come closer to actualizing their full athletic potential is almost always welcomed, but would it make the game less human?

Would a league that prohibited Dwyane Wade from wearing tinted goggles because opponents couldn’t see his eyes even consider this for a second? I mean, baseball just adopted instant replay, for goodness sake.

And there’s this: would the players even want all that information?

It’s hard to say. In that same year with the Clippers and Bledsoe, it was Ryan Gomes who quickly established himself as the guy to talk to when you needed to know what was going on the floor.

Gomes knew it all. He could recount every situation. He could tell you how the defense countered and what the right play to make was. But even though Gomes knew all those things, he wasn’t able to apply it, and he suffered through the worst season of his professional career. It was painful to watch him think on the court instead of play.

It was a classic case of what’s called “paralysis by analysis”, and there’s a real concern that overloading players with too much information could cause this. Ignorance can be bliss for an athlete. Confidence can be irrational and yet completely required.

Bledsoe didn’t need to know about plus/minus, so he didn’t. And that’s the question that should be asked for new player data: is this useful for the player? If it’s not, what would be?

Should Trevor Ariza be aware of the fact that he’s shooting 57.4 percent from the corner 3 but 21.8 percent from above the break? Yes. Should he know how many times he touches the ball a game compared to the rest of his teammates? Perhaps not.

Maybe it won’t be the super goggles I’ve imagined, but technology and innovative data collection will continue to heavily impact the NBA. If the focus shifts more on what the players can actually use, the impact will only be that much greater.

-D.J. Foster


Kyle Korver has now hit a three in 89 consecutive games, tying the NBA record.



Cavaliers 98, Nuggets 88: If you’re a Denver fan, this game is the argument for shortening the regular season schedule. The Nuggets looked like world beaters Tuesday night in Brooklyn after disposing of the depleted Nets by 24 points in a game that wasn’t even that close. But playing on the road again on the second night of a back-to-back against a rested Cavaliers team, it was a very different story. Timofey Mozgov had maybe his best game as a pro in a 20 rebound effort on Tuesday, but managed just three boards in this one. Denver as a team had tired legs, and shot 39.1 percent from the field while finishing on the wrong end of a 15-rebound differential. The Nuggets are better than the Cavaliers at this point in the season; scheduling circumstances made that reality impossible to showcase. — Brett Pollakoff

Hawks 107, Clippers 97: When the Clippers lose, it isn’t because of their offense. The defense was rough in this one, as evidenced by the fact that they let Kyle Korver connect on 6-of-9 three-point attempts to finish with 23 points. That’s like, what he does, and L.A. allowed him to get loose for those looks nonetheless. Paul Millsap had a huge all-around game in finishing with 25 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Atlanta finished the game shooting 51.2 percent from the field. — BP

Suns 97, Rockets 88: The Suns bounced back from one of their most disappointing efforts of the season on Tuesday to rip the shorthanded Rockets. Houston was without Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith due to injury, and Phoenix took control early to ensure victory. The Rockets shot just 35.2 percent as a team, and James Harden had one of his worst statistical performances in Houston, finishing with just 14 points on 3-of-17 shooting while missing all 10 of his attempts from three-point distance. — BP

Pistons 105, Bucks 98: As a frame of reference, the Pistons now have the same record as the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10) after winning their third straight over the Bucks, In the East that means a guaranteed playoff spot, so we’ll go with the assertion that Detroit is playing well as of late. Brandon Jennings had a sub-par shooting night, but still managed to light up his former team for 17 points and 11 assists in almost 42 minutes of action, despite shooting just 4-of-16 from the field and committing six turnovers. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe continued to batter their opponents on the boards with 36 rebounds combined, and Ersan Ilyasova had a nice 22-point, 10-rebound performance off the bench for the Bucks in the losing effort. — BP

Mavericks 100, Pelicans 97: This game was won inside out — Dallas limited New Orleans to 48 percent shooting in the paint on the night, meanwhile Dallas was 11-of-24 (45.8 percent from three). It also doesn’t hurt to have Dirk Nowitzki on your side. Nowitzki had 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and he had four blocks in the game. Jrue Holiday had 26 points and 9 dimes for the Pelicans.

Pacers 95, Jazz 86: Credit the Jazz who took the lead with a 12-0 first quarter run and led through the first half. Trey Burks had 8 of his 13 points in the first quarter to help spark that. Still, you just knew it wasn’t going to last. In the second half the Pacers brought out the grinding defense, which held the Jazz to 38.2 percent shooting over the final 24 (while the Pacers shot 52 percent) and the game ended pretty much as you expected. Derrick Favors did have 22 for Utah to lead all scorers.

Spurs, Timberwolves, game postponed: It looked like someone flipped on the arena lights during a Snoop Dogg concert — the arena in Mexico City where the game was supposed to take place had a generator fire near an elevator and it filled the arena with smoke. The arena had to be evacuated. No way the game could be played, the game was called off and will be replayed in Minnesota later this season. Feel bad for the fans in Mexico City, but no way the game could go on.

Trail Blazers 111, Thunder 104: How about those Trail Blazers? First Indiana and now Oklahoma City fall this week — and in both cases it’s a come-from-behind win for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge was the best player on the court and finished with 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting, plus he pulled down 13 rebounds. His play forced Scott Brooks to put Kendrick Perkins back in the game (it was the right move, Aldridge was abusing Serge Ibaka and Perkins at least got some stops, but he’s an offensive black hole) and once again the isolation ball of the Thunder down the stretch could not get it done. Kevin Durant had 33 and 8 points in the fourth. Portland is a jump shooting team but when those shots are falling they can hang with anyone.

The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps

Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat


Believe it or not, we’re nearly at the quarter mark of the NBA season already. That means it’s time to start believing a little more in what we’ve seen so far, and maybe even time to dish out a few awards.

Remember, these aren’t predictions for what will happen at the end of the season. These awards are based solely on performances thus far.

MVP of the Quarter: LeBron James, F, Miami Heat

I almost went with Chris Paul or Paul George here, but it all felt a little too Karl Malone for my taste. Maybe we’re just a little bored by LeBron’s dominance at this point, but once again he’s been the best player in the league.

James is shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, he has a true shooting percentage of nearly 70 percent (which only two players in NBA history have ever achieved over a full season), he’s first in the league in PER and the Heat are 14-3. There are trendier choices out there, but this is LeBron’s award.

Coach of the Quarter: Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers

This one is a no-brainer. The Portland Trail Blazers have been the surprise of the league thus far, as most pundits didn’t even have them pegged to break .500 or make the playoffs. Stotts has built one of the best offenses in the league, and the incorporation of multiple new players off the bench has been seamless. Frank Vogel and Gregg Popovich deserve praise at every turn, but Stotts trumps everyone right now.

Rookie of the Quarter: Michael Carter-Williams, G, Philadelphia 76ers

This hasn’t been much of a race. Victor Oladipo is the only competition at this point for Carter-Williams, but he’s averaging more turnovers per game than assists.

Carter-Williams has been the better distributor and has the higher PER on the year, and it’s also pretty impressive that he currently leads the league in steals per game. He’s been a great fit in Philadelphia’s uptempo offensive system, and believe it or not, the 76ers are only one game back of a playoff spot.

Sixth man of the Quarter: Isaiah Thomas, G, Sacramento Kings

DeJuan Blair has done a fantastic job off the bench in Dallas, but there’s a reason this is an award traditionally reserved for scoring guards. Thomas has legitimately been Sacramento’s best player next to DeMarcus Cousins, as he’s putting up 17 points a game and a gaudy PER of 21.2.

Thomas’ PER and 5.9 assists per 36 minutes is higher than J.R. Smith, James Harden, Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry in their Sixth Man of the Year winning seasons. Thomas may not have the benefit of playing for a winning team, but so far he’s been one of the best bench players we’ve seen in years.

Defensive Player of the Quarter: Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers

Blocks are generally a bit overrated as a stat, but it’s hard to overstate just how good of a rim protector Hibbert has been. Hibbert’s ability to remain vertical and stay out of foul trouble has made Indiana even stingier defensively than last season, which is no easy feat.

It’s hard not to reward the anchor of the league’s most dominant defense here, particularly because Hibbert’s ability to man the paint allows everyone else on the floor to stay home and defend one-on-one. He’s been a complete game-changer.

Most Improved Player of the Quarter: Arron Afflalo, G, Orlando Magic

There’s a tendency to hand the Most Improved Player award to a young player who has received a spike in minutes or opportunity, but I find that to be a little silly. This should be an award that recognizes a player who improved their game and didn’t just benefit from outside factors, more exposure or a natural maturation process.

Afflalo fits my criteria as a 7th year player who is posting career highs in PER (20.7), points (21.4), rebounds (4.4), assists (4.4) and three-point percentage (48.1%) even though he’s playing close to the same amount of minutes as he did last year. Afflalo has turned himself into a post-oriented guard who is also a dead-eye spot-up shooter from behind the arc, and that’s proven to be a deadly combination.

—D.J. Foster



Wizards 98, Magic 80: With the win the Washington Wizards are 9-9 — they are at .500 for first time since Nov. 3, 2009. The reason they won this game is the reason after a slow start to the season they are even now — coach Randy Wittman is just leaning on his starters. There isn’t much depth for the Wizards’ starting five Monday played 20 minutes and they were +18. Trevor Ariza was red hot for Washington with 24, Arron Afflalo had 21 for the Magic.

Pelicans 131, Bulls 128 (3OT): No Derrick Rose. No Anthony Davis. This game was supposed to be a disappointment and it turned into one of the more epic clashes of the season. Despite the stars being out both teams got plenty of offense on the night (Chicago had 109.4 points per 100 possessions, the Pelicans 115, via Luol Deng had 37 points and Taj Gibson 36 for Chicago. For the Pelicans Ryan Anderson had another big game with Davis out and had 36 points, Eric Gordon had 23. But the Bulls had a big defensive breakdown on the final play of the game, a clever design from Monty Williams that had Jrue Holiday getting to the rim for an and-1. Quality road win for New Orleans.

Spurs 102, Hawks 100: Mike Budenholzer has seen Tim Duncan rip the hearts out of teams for years as a Spurs assistant, I don’t think he liked it as much from the other bench. The Spurs were a bit sloppy in this one and the Hawks almost made them pay with a balanced attack — Jeff Teague led the way with 19 including an amazing pull-up three to tie the game at 100-100. But Duncan was too much and rescued the Spurs, finishing with 23 points, 21 rebounds and one dramatic game winner.

Jazz 109, Rockets 103: Gordon Hayward had 17 first quarter points, Trey Burke added 10 and it was everything that has been wrong with Houston’s perimeter defense this season in one shining quarter. And it cost them, Utah was up 36-23 after 12 minutes. The Rockets battled back, even took the lead for a stretch, but they had given the Jazz confidence by that point. Houston couldn’t get stops. James Harden did finish with 37 points and 8 assists. Hayward had 29 on the night, Burke is finding his groove and had 21, as did Alec Burks. Quality win for the 3-15 Jazz. Houston should feel sick.

Trail Blazers 106, Pacers 102: Great win for the Trail Blazers, who were able to come from behind on Indiana (who was on the second night of a rough back-to-back after facing the Clippers). LaMarcus Aldridge played like an All-Star despite Roy Hibbert being in his path all night, scoring 17 of his 28 points in the second half. Damian Lillard had 14 of his 26 in the fourth quarter and hit a lot of big shots. Paul George almost turned the fortune of this game himself, scoring 43 points on 30 shots and looking like an MVP candidate.

Portland did it again with offense, scoring at a 107.6 points per possession pace on the best defense in the league.

The Extra Pass: The Wild West, can Portland last, and Sunday’s Recaps

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets


Let’s jump around the Western Conference with a few observations:

Portland: 20 percent of the regular season is in the books, and the Trail Blazers hold the pole position in the Western Conference. It’s a great accomplishment and something absolutely no one expected, but the Blazers should come back down to earth soon enough.

Wesley Matthews is just one of the reasons why this run at the top should be short-lived. Matthews is posting a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 70.5 percent, a number that’s only been reached over a full season (at least 1000 minutes) by Artis Gilmore and Tyson Chandler, who never shot anything that wasn’t from point-blank range.

For context sake, the highest true shooting percentage posted by Ray Allen, unquestionably one of the greatest shooters ever, was 62.4 percent. One would assume that Matthews will become human again at some point this year.

When the offense inevitably slows down a bit, will the defense compensate?

Portland is 20th in defensive efficiency despite their hot start, and there are tough matchups on the horizon. Just in this month, Portland will be tested with games against Indiana, Houston, Miami, LAC and the Thunder twice. Add in three sets of road back-to-backs to that tough slate, and this is probably the last we’ll see of Portland at the top of the standings, even though it’s been one fun ride.

Oklahoma City: It’s pretty clear that Scott Brooks is attached to Kendrick Perkins and that Sam Presti won’t send him to Belize, so maybe it’s time for armchair coaches to take up a new campaign for the Thunder.
While you can understand the desire to have a bigger perimeter defender next to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant so that they can conserve energy for offense, should Thabo Sefolosha really be playing more than Reggie Jackson?

I realize I’m cherry-picking after Jackson’s 11-point fourth quarter explosion against the Timberwolves, but the ball really seems to move better and more spot-up chances seem to be created for Durant and Westbrook’s way with Jackson’s penetration and speed on the floor. Sefolosha is a nice role player, but the ball dies in hands far too often.

According to, Oklahoma City has six lineups that have played over 15 minutes together and produced a positive net efficiency rating. Jackson has played in five of those lineups, and the only one he hasn’t played in has been a garbage time unit. Sefolosha, meanwhile, is only in two of those positive net rating lineups.

Jackson is getting around 22 or 23 minutes a night compared to Sefolosha’s 28 minutes, so it’s not a huge deal. The Thunder need Jackson to lead the second unit, and he’s done a nice job of that so far. All that said, keep an eye on what lineups OKC closes games with going forward. We know who Brooks is starting, but the finishing groups could get interesting.

Utah Jazz: They didn’t get as much hate/love for their tanking job, but the Jazz made one clinching move where other franchises messed up: keep a lame duck coach on the bench.

Jeff Hornacek (PHX), Brett Brown (PHI) and Brad Stevens (BOS) have all been able to squeeze varying degrees of production from their teams in their first seasons, but Ty Corbin is just sort of sticking around and really helping the Jazz pull off this Bad News Bears vibe they have going on. Utah can’t possibly see him as the coach of the future, but it doesn’t appear that Corbin is ready to resign. This is organized ugly.

New Orleans: Sad news on Anthony Davis fracturing his hand. He was having a monster season, and now the “injury prone” murmurs will only grow louder, fair or not.

While I like Jrue Holiday, this is precisely the reason you keep your dealt pick lottery protected instead of top-5 protected. Everyone knew what direction 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie wanted to go, so you’d like to think that Dell Demps could have held out for a slightly bigger safety net in the draft day deal that landed Holiday in exchange for a 2014 first round pick. Now Davis is out indefinitely, Tyreke Evans is struggling mightily and sapping up all the future cap space, and a pick that could be in the 8-10 range in slated to go elsewhere.

Losing Davis is unlucky, but everything else was about pushing the chips in far too early.

—D.J. Foster



Nuggets 112, Raptors 98: Nate Robinson was the story here, taking control like we saw him do more than once with the Bulls last season. He scored 18 fourth quarter points on seven shots to put this one in the win column for the Nuggets. Denver’s bigs got whatever they wanted for most of the game, especially Timofey Mozgov and Darrell Arthur who combined for 30 points and 18 rebounds off the bench.

Pacers 105, Clippers 100: The Clippers are not a team that’s particularly deep in terms of overall offensive talent, so losing J.J. Redick and his 15.8 points per game for a while with a fractured hand injury is going to sting. Willie Green got the start in redick’s place against the Pacers, but managed just two points in 15 minutes of action. L.A. battled back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit to tie it and make it a possession-by-possession contest down the stretch, and while the Pacers didn’t hit a field goal in the final 4:25, they did score their final nine points of the game from the free throw line to seal it. With the victory, Indiana improved to a league-best 16-1 on the season.

Pistons 115, Sixers 100: Andre Drummond was absolutely dominant, and made history by finishing with 31 points, 19 rebounds, six steals, and two blocked shots. It’s the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990 that a player has finished with a stat line like that, and it could have been worse — Drummond played less than 33 minutes because of how out of hand the game was.

Warriors 115, Kings 113: Remember that time Mark Jackson said that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best shooting backcourt combination of all time? It’s games like this one that he was talking about. The pair combined to hit 13 of their team’s 15 three-pointers on the night, with Curry finishing with 36 points and 10 assists while Thompson ended up with 28 points of his own. Sacramento was up to the challenge on this night, however, and had DeMarcus Cousins performing at an unstoppable level in the game’s final minutes. Andrew Bogut blocked a shot from Isaiah Thomas at the rim in the closing seconds to seal the win for the Warriors, while the Kings fell to just 4-11 on the season.

Heat 99, Bobcats 98: Charlotte had a legitimate chance to get this victory in theory, taking a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter and leading by 11 with under 7:30 to play. In the least surprising news of the day, Miami rallied to make a game of it, and then Chris Bosh gave the Heat the lead by hitting three straight shots from three-point distance. Kemba Walker was huge for Charlotte and finished with a game-high 27 points, but Miami’s experience simply won out over the game’s final few possessions.

Thunder 113, Timberwolves 103: Not to be outdone by Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant finished this victory with an historic stat line of his own, and it was somehow even more ridiculous than the one put up by the big man of the Pistons. Durant’s triple double of 32 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, four steals and four blocked shots hasn’t been done by anyone since 1985, via Royce Young. Durant awesomeness aside, OKC turned the pressure up defensively in the fourth, and held the Timberwolves to just 26.1 percent shooting in the final period while outscoring their opponent 35-20 to seal it.

Pelicans 103, Knicks 99: This seemed to be a prime opportunity for the Knicks to snap their eight-game losing streak, but even after Anthony Davis went out with a broken hand injury, the team couldn’t come up with enough key plays late to prevent it from reaching nine. New Orleans put together a 10-0 run that lasted almost four minutes to take a five-point lead with 2:30 to play, and while the Knicks had their chances, they couldn’t execute or get any ket shots to fall in the closing moments. New York got a bit of a bright spot with the performance of rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who came off the bench to score 21 points on 10 shots in under 25 minutes of action. The Knicks have a few days to try to figure things out, and will try to avoid losing their 10th straight game when they head to Brooklyn on Thursday to face the Nets.

Trail Blazers 114, Lakers 108: This win makes the Blazers 14-3 and the No. 1 seed in the West right now. Didn’t see that coming. You have to give the Lakers this: They are resiliant. They fight back and do not give up. Portland raced out to a 21-4 lead but the Lakers clawed back to make it a three-point game at the half. Portland’s ball movement was great in the third quarter and they put up 41 points, then the Lakers stormed back behind Xavier Henry (11 in the fourth quarter, 27 for the game) to get within one in the fourth quarter but it just wasn’t enough. LaMarcus Aldridge had 27, Damian Lillard 26 for Portland.