D.J. Foster

Maurice Cheeks says Josh Smith will remain Detroit Pistons starting small forward

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When the Detroit Pistons tipped off against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, Josh Smith was on the bench. This, naturally, raised all kinds of questions.

Why wasn’t Smith starting against his former team? Had Maurice Cheeks given up on the Pistons’ big frontcourt of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond after just 11 games? Was this a reaction to the team’s poor start?

The questions didn’t exactly stop once the game got going, as Kyle Singler, Smith’s replacement in the starting unit, dropped 22 points and seemed to mesh much better with the starters.

Meanwhile, Smith continued his struggles this year with an 0-for-7 scoreless night in just 20 minutes.

Was this enough to start a small forward controversy? It doesn’t appear so.

As it turns out, Smith came off the bench for disciplinary reasons, not “basketball reasons”, as David Stern would say.

While this may calm some nerves in Detroit, the Pistons are still 4-8. The defense is a disaster, and the offense remains starved for space. There are major issues here, and lineup changes of some sort will likely need to happen at some point if things don’t turn up soon.

That change probably won’t be moving Smith, who signed a 4-year, $54 million dollar deal this offseason, to the bench in favor of Singler. But moving him back to power forward? That might not be a bad idea. Smith is attempting 5.2 three-pointers a game, and he’s posting the lowest true shooting percentage and PER of his entire career. He’s just not a perimeter threat.

We’ll see what Cheeks does to try and turn this thing around, or we’ll see if Joe Dumars gets active on the trade market. But for right now, at least, it appears Smith will remain the starting small forward.

Marcin Gortat hulks up and rips towel in half (VIDEO)

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The frustrations in Washington are beginning to set in. Despite having one of the most talented starting lineups in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards have completely stumbled out of the gates this season.

On Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, the Wizards battled back from a 16-point deficit behind John Wall, but faltered down the stretch to put their record at just 4-8 this season.

While surely it’s tough on everyone in the locker room, the poor start might be hitting Marcin Gortat the hardest. After dubbing the Phoenix Suns a “sinking ship” last season and generally looking miserable for most of last year, Gortat had to be looking forward to playing for a legitimate playoff contender once again.

That certainly isn’t out of the question, particularly with the shaky state of the Eastern Conference, but it must be frustrating to see Phoenix rattle off wins while his team struggles.

When an average-sized human loses his cool and needs to take his frustration out on an inanimate object, maybe they go punch a pillow a few times. But when Gortat gets angry, things like this happen:

It’s a little unnerving how easy that looked, right?

We’ll see if the Wizards can get things turned around, but if not, Gortat’s stoic Hulk Hogan impression should suffice from an entertainment standpoint, at least.

Report: Marc Gasol suffered Grade 2 MCL sprain and is out indefinitely

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We had an inkling this would be bad.

In a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol clutched his left knee and suffered what appeared to be a non-contact injury. Those types of injuries can be awfully scary, and the fears of it being serious were only amplified when Gasol failed to return to the floor.

According to Sam Amick of USA Today, word is that Marc Gasol has suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

This is bad news for the Grizzlies, to be sure, but it could have been much worse. As we’ve seen, an ACL tear can sideline players for up to a full year, and it’s a good sign that Gasol won’t need surgery to repair his knee.

Of course, it’s the “out indefinitely” part that is the most troubling, but we can reasonably predict a time frame in which Gasol will return.

New Orleans Pelicans center Greg Stiemsma, a player with a similar body type to Gasol, recently suffered a Grade 2 MCL Sprain and was diagnosed to miss 6-8 weeks. That’s obviously a big chunk of the regular season, but Gasol should be back in plenty of time for the playoffs, provided the Grizzlies can survive without him.

The question is, can they? Gasol is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and we know about his contributions on that end, but he’s also the key cog in Memphis’ offense. Gasol’s distributing ability at the high post is unparalleled, and this will undoubtedly cause rookie head coach Dave Joerger to have to change some things.

Gasol was averaging career-highs in points and assists per game early on this season, and the Grizzlies looked primed to storm back from a slow start with a home-heavy slate of games on the horizon.

While the starting job will almost certainly fall to Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s absence, Ed Davis should also have a much larger role as well.

Koufos is averaging 12.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes this season, and he’s looked good next to both Gasol and Zach Randolph. He’s a more skilled player than he gets credit for, but it’s obviously still a massive downgrade in that department from Gasol.

Randolph will have to assume more of the scoring responsibility, but he’ll have less space to work without Gasol spreading the floor and providing perfect entry passes.

Davis has played just 12 minutes a game this season, which may have been part of the plan to keep him under wraps and not let his value get too high in restricted free agency this offseason. With Gasol likely out somewhere in the range of 6-8 weeks, the Grizzlies won’t be able to hide Davis any longer.

While it’s important to remember that every body is different and recovery times can vary wildly player to player, it sounds like we’ll see Gasol back in action in early 2014. We’ll see if the Grizzlies can hold on to a playoff spot without him.

Players around the league react to Derrick Rose’s injury

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When Derrick Rose went down with an injury to his non-surgically repaired knee on Friday night in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, it sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. It’s not hyperbolic to say this could end up being one of the most important injuries in the history of the league, and the gravity of the situation was not lost on players around the league.

While the NBA is chock full of some of the most competitive people on the planet, it’s also a very tight-knit fraternity. These are players that have experienced injuries, maybe avoided severe ones, and these guys know just how quickly everything can be taken one with one wrong step.

Here were some of the reactions from current and former players around the league:

The Extra Pass: The All-Mesh Team and Tuesday’s recaps

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While the Golden State Warriors were giving the Detroit Pistons the proverbial business on Tuesday night, the Warriors’ announcing crew fawned over Andre Iguodala before asking, “who wouldn’t want to play with this guy?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course, but I tried to answer it anyway. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any joyless, Oscar the Grouchian NBA player who wouldn’t love playing with Iguodala.

And it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Iguodala defends the best player on the floor every night. He looks to distribute before anything else. He’s completely unselfish, yet he requires very little from his teammates in order to be successful. I’d be suspicious of any player who didn’t want Iguodala on their team.

Iguodala is just a player who meshes. It seems a little silly that he has only played in one All-Star game and been named to an All-Defensive team just once in his career, but guys who make a living by fitting in sometimes struggle to stand out.

There are other players like Iguodala out there. Maybe the individual accolades won’t come their way, but at least we can name them to the All-Mesh team.

PG: Pablo Prigioni, New York Knicks

Even if you don’t have a vested interest in the Knicks, watching guys like Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani stand around on the court is enough to make you throw things at your television. Maybe it’s the contrast that makes him so refreshing, but Pablo Prigioni is infinitely entertaining to watch.

Every assumption you probably had about Prigioni before you saw him play was incorrect. He’s 36-years-old and looks unathletic, but Prigioni plays with this non-stop motor defensively that drives opposing point guards nuts. The Knicks were 4.6 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Prigioni on the floor last year, and through six games this year, Prigioni has a true shooting percentage of 84.4 (!) percent.

Prigioni can play on or off the ball, he can space the floor and make the right swing pass, he won’t take bad shots, and he can change a game with his defensive hounding. The Knicks aren’t hard up for players who just want to score and do very little else, and so Prigioni provides some badly needed balance.

SG: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

You knew it wouldn’t be long until a Spur popped up on this team. Green is the preeminent “3 and D” guy in the league, but people will still make a funny face when you call him a top-10 shooting guard, for some reason.

While 3-point shooting is his calling card, what I like best about Green is his ability to protect the stars around him.

If Tony Parker is having a rough time staying with an opposing point guard, he has Green right there to take the assignment. Instead of having defenders swarm him in the post, Tim Duncan can jab step to his heart’s content because Green is sitting in the corner and keeping his man with glued to him.

His reputation is still attached to his name instead of his game, but Green is a guy literally every team could use.

SF: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

I’ve explained why he’s here, and the fact that he has fit in so incredibly well to a team loaded with wings is a testament to his blending abilities. Just thinking about how maligned he was in Philadelphia for not being Allen Iverson and shooting 35 times a game makes me sick to my stomach.

PF: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

We’ll cheat by listing Horford as a power forward, which he might actually prefer thanks to the long-standing tradition of talented big man (Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.) not wanting to be considered centers.

If there’s something on a basketball court that Horford can’t do, let me know. He contributes in every single facet of the game, and it’s hard to imagine a frontcourt partner that would be a truly bad fit for him given his varied and balanced skill-set. Every player looks better next to him, and that says it all.

C: Marc Gasol

Before I die, I’d like to write a 40,000 word ode to the Gasol brothers and the beautiful basketball they play, but I’ll spare you for the time being.

Marc resurrected the career of Zach Randolph and conditioned Defensive Player of the Year voters to value positioning over raw blocks totals, which were two things that I thought would never happen in my lifetime.

With Pau on the decline, we should be thanking the basketball gods (or Mr. and Ms. Gasol) that we still have Marc in his prime. There aren’t many players you can say this about, but you can build an entire defense around Marc, and then run your whole offense through him as well. He’s truly a brilliant player.

-D.J. Foster

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Miami 118, Milwaukee 95: The Heat had allowed almost 109 points per game in the team’s three losses this season, and after LeBron James came out and publicly declared that this would be a point of emphasis, you knew the Bucks would be in trouble. Miami led by as many as 28 points before this one was through, and even though Ray Allen missed this on due to illness, James made sure the final outcome was never in doubt with 33 points in just under 30 minutes of action.

Dallas 105, Washington 95: Dirk Nowitzki moved into 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in this one, passing Jerry West with a three-pointer late in the third quarter. As for the game itself, the Wizards were unable to dig themselves out of the hole they dug by scoring just 15 points in the second quarter while falling behind by 12 at the break. Fantasy basketball players have known about Trevor Ariza this season, but he’s starting to drift into the mainstream with performances like the one he put up in Dallas. Ariza finished with a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds, and four steals in the losing effort for the Wizards.

Golden State 113, Detroit 95: This one was over very early, as the Warriors led by 19 points after one and by 21 points at the half. Stephen Curry finished with 25 points on 10 shots in just 29 minutes, and the Warriors assisted on 28 of their 42 shots on the way to shooting 60 percent from the field for the game. Jermaine O’Neal scored 17 points in 23 minutes off the bench for Golden State — that’s how out of hand this game truly was.

L.A. Lakers 116, New Orleans 95: Jordan Hill got his first career start, and it resulted in a career-best 21 point performance, to go along with 11 rebounds. The Lakers shot almost 56 percent from the field for the game and 55 percent from three-point distance — quite a difference from their 85-point output against these same Pelicans in New Orleans just two games prior. Nick Young and Xavier Henry combined for 32 points off the bench on 13-of-19 shooting, and Anthony Davis was held in check this time around after dominating the contest during the teams’ last meeting.

Brett Pollakoff