So, the Thunder big men, the Stache Brothers, are back at it.
And this time Andre Roberson joins the fun.
The wheels have come off in New York, and now we watch the wreckage of the Knicks season for the same reason we stare at car accidents as we drive past. There is infighting about the triangle offense, the future of the team’s biggest star with the organization is in question, the future of the first year head coach is in question, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The one thing worth pointing to with the Knicks’ future? Kristaps Porzingis.
He realized, even back when the Knicks started 14-10, that things were going to go sideways, he told Al Iannazzone of Newsday.
“I think it was pretty easy to tell from the inside that we’re not that good of a team,” Porzingis said after Sunday’s practice. “We can win games based off of our talent, but that’s not going to last long, and that’s exactly what happened.”
“Just more work, attention to details, keep growing as a team,” he said. “Obviously, a good team needs some time to play together. This was our first year for most guys playing together. It never happens like that: You trade a couple of players and there you go, you’re a championship contender.
“It’s understandable that we weren’t going to win the championship, but I could tell that we weren’t there yet where we wanted to be.”
There seems to be a “we’re the Knicks, we can’t rebuild” mentality in Madison Square Garden that leads to poor short term moves (Derrick Rose, the Joakim Noah contract). Most Knicks fans I talk to would be good with a couple of years of losses and missing the playoffs if there was a plan long-term to build around Porzingis. Right now it’s hard to discern any long-term plan they are going to stick with.
This summer expect changes to come to New York. The only question is which ones?
While you were watching Villanova and Duke screw up your NCAA bracket (I had Villanova in the title game), the Golden State Warriors found their footing and three-point touch again and move back to the top of the rankings. The Lakers have been so bad we even put Brooklyn ahead of them now.
1. Warriors (55-14, Last Week No. 3). All they needed to get right was some time at home (three games at Oracle) against softer competition. Stephen Curry was back to draining threes (6-of-8 Saturday vs. Milwaukee) and they played much better defense. The competition picks up this week (at Oklahoma City Monday, Memphis later in the week) but the Warriors seem to have their footing back. Also, Kevin Durant is shooting jumpers again, working his way back.
2. Cavaliers (46-23, LW 5). They went 7-6 without Kevin Love, got him back, and won both games he played (Clippers game obviously excluded). Notice, by the way, that the day after LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Love rested they combined to score 101 (granted, against the Lakers). Coach Tyronn Lue said he plans to keep starting Iman Shumpert and bringing J.R. Smith off the bench until Kyle Korver returns (possibly this week) because he likes what Smith brings with the second unit.
3. Spurs (53-16, LW 1). Great news that LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart issue was not that serious, plus Kawhi Leonard is now back from his concussion, and Tony Parker’s back is strong enough that he shot 8-of-10 Sunday night. However, they got Aldridge back and quickly dropped two straight games, which is not like them and has them a couple games out of the No. 1 seed (and with a slightly tougher schedule than the Warriors the rest of the way).
4. Rockets (48-22, LW 2). James Harden is the frontrunner among the media for MVP (the media votes on the award), and he is strengthening his case with four straight triple-doubles. There’s an MVP showdown Sunday when the Rockets play the Thunder. Houston beat Denver on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday, they are now 13-1 this season on the second night of those. That’s damn impressive.
5. Thunder (40-29, LW 10). OKC is just half a game back of the Clippers for the five seed in the West (and a much easier first round matchup in Utah, compared to Houston). However, Los Angeles has a much softer schedule the rest of the way. Russell Westbrook won our fan poll for MVP; however a media poll done last week had Harden well in front — a showdown on Sunday with the Rockets could be a chance for Westbrook (but the Thunder need to win, no matter what numbers Westbrook puts up). Also, Westbrook had the assist of the year last week.
6. Jazz (43-27, LW 6). They solidified home court in the first round by beating the Clippers last Monday, the Jazz seem locked in as the four seed. Coach Quin Snyder has some interesting lineup options when it gets to the postseason — with Derrick Favors out, Utah has started Joe Johnson at the four going small, and that lineup has shown some promise, particularly on offense. Favors probably starts in a playoff matchup with the Clippers for defense, but Snyder knows he has Johnson as an option.
7. Celtics (44-26, LW 7). If you’re a Celtics fan holding fast to your dreams of catching the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed (Boston is 2.5 games back), here is the good news: Boston has one of the easiest schedules in the East the rest of the way, Cleveland one of the toughest. That said, dropping games like Sunday against Philly is not helping the cause. Big showdown with the Wizards Monday in the battle for the 2/3 seed.
8. Wizards (42-27, LW 4). They have lost three of four and need to get it together Monday when they play the Celtics in Boston, that is if the Wizards have dreams of the No. 2 seed in the East. They need that win. Seven of their next 10 are on the road, and to hold on to the three seed (with Toronto lurking) spot the Wizards need to play better defense — they have given up 112 points per 100 possession in their last 10 games, 27th in the NBA.
9. Clippers (41-29, LW 8). Los Angeles lost three in a row, but caught a break when Cleveland decided to rest their stars for a night on Saturday. The good news for Clippers fans is they have a soft schedule the rest of the way, which should help them hold off sixth-seeded OKC. The Clippers are two games back of the Jazz for the four seed and would need to beat them Saturday night in Los Angeles to have a shot at catching them and getting home court in the first round.
10. Raptors (41-29, LW 9). Winners of three of their last four, and with a soft schedule coming up the Raptors have their eye on the No. 3 seed belonging to Washington (it’s the race to avoid Cleveland in the second round, and the Raptors are just 1.5 games back of the Wizards now). Toronto has played great defense since acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, it’s easy to see how this becomes a dangerous playoff team once Kyle Lowry returns.
11. Grizzlies (40-30, LW 16). Chandler Parsons was lost for the season to injury, and Memphis rattled off four consecutive wins. Coincidence? Memphis now heads out on the road for four straight games, and that includes facing Golden State and San Antonio. The seven-seed Grizzlies are just half a game back of the six seed Thunder and one back of the fifth seed Clippers, but Memphis has a considerably tougher schedule the rest of the way than either of them.
12. Heat (34-36, LW 13). One of the more interesting stories on the NBA this week came from Mike Prada at SB Nation about the value Erik Spoelstra and the Heat put on conditioning — part of the reason for their surge the second half of the season is they are in better shape. That said, talent still matters, and the loss of Dion Waiters for a stretch due to an ankle injury means Goran Dragic needs to play better than he did Sunday night in a loss. Dragic and Hassan Whiteside needs to carry this team for a while.
13. Hawks (37-32 LW 11). Losers of three in a row, and now Paul Millsap is going to miss at least two more games (knee) and Kent Bazemore at least four (also a knee). Atlanta isn’t climbing into a top four seed, and they need to worry about blowing their two-game cushion over sixth-seed Indiana and falling further down the standings.
14. Bucks (34-35, LW 12). Milwaukee is 9-2 when Kris Middleton starts, and he is averaging 18 points per game shooting 52% when he does start. The Bucks are 2-2 through a tough six-game road trip then return home later this week to face the Hawks and Bulls. They need wins, fivethirtyeight.com still has them with just a 62% chance of making the playoffs.
15. Trail Blazers (32-37, LW 18). A little desperation — and the addition of Jusuf Nurkic — has the Blazers as winners of eight of their last 10 games. They’ve done it all with offense — such as Damian Lillard’s 49 points Sunday — as their defense is still 23rd in the NBA in that stretch. Portland has a much softer schedule than Denver the rest of the way and fivethirtyeight.com has them at a 71 percent chance to make the postseason.
16. Nuggets (33-36, LW 17). Denver maintains a one-game lead over Portland for the eighth seed, in large part thanks to Nikola Jokic — the Nuggets are 5-0 this season when he has a triple double. The bad news in the Rockies is Denver has the toughest schedule in the West the rest of the way, while Portland has one of the easiest. This week’s games include the Rockets and the Cavaliers.
17. Pacers (35-34, LW 14).. Maybe the toughest playoff landing spot to predict: Indiana is just two-games back of a banged-up Hawks team for the five seed, but also just 1.5 games out of falling out of the playoffs entirely. Paul George is doing his part this month averaging 27.5 points on 51 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game.
18. Pistons (34-36, LW 15). . Detroit’s next five games could well determine if they make the postseason. First there are four games on the road, but against weak teams (Nets, Bulls, Magic, Knicks). Then they come home to take on Miami next week. To get wins they are going to need a lot more consistency out of their guard play, particularly the up-and-down Reggie Jackson.
19. Mavericks (30-39, LW 19). When you get blown out by Philadelphia, your playoff dreams take a hit — Dallas is three games out of the eighth seed in the West and fivethirtyeight.com has them at a one percent chance of making the playoffs. So yes, I’m saying there’s a chance. But Dallas has a brutal four-game homestand — Warriors, Clippers, Raptors and Thunder — followed by six-of-seven on the road.
20. Bulls (33-37, LW 21). Dwyane Wade is now out the season and the Bulls are 3-7 in their last 10, yet their playoff dreams are not dead for a couple of reasons. First, the Bulls have been 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Wade is out this season. Second, Chicago has a much easier schedule than Miami or Detroit the rest of the way, and the Bulls are just a game back of those two (tied for the eighth seed). Fivethirtyeight.com gives Chicago a 48% chance of making the playoffs still.
21. Pelicans (29-41, LW 23). Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are still playing next to each other not with each other, and the Pelicans have been better with one of them off the court, but they are starting to figure things out and have won four-of-five (including wins over Portland and Houston). Still, no way New Orleans will catch both Denver and Portland for the eighth seed, which makes you wonder what coaching/front office shakeups we could see this summer.
22. Timberwolves (28-41, LW 20). Since the All-Star break, Ricky Rubio is averaging 16.1 points, 10.8 assists, he’s taking jumpers, hitting 48% of them, and just being aggressive. Maybe Tom Thibodeau finally got through to him, and if so they may not want to trade him this summer. That said, the Timberwolves dropped three games last week because their defense went AWOL after being strong for a few weeks.
23. Hornets (30-39, LW 22). It’s Kemba Walker vs. the world on offense for the Hornets, and while he’s been impressive — 24.2 points per game and shooting 41.9 percent from three since the All-Star break — it’s not enough. Rich Cho and the front office in Charlotte needs to find some playmakers this summer, someone to help take the load off Walker
24. 76ers (26-43, LW 26). Dario Saric continues to come on strong — 23 points against Boston Sunday — and he may now be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year because he is averaging 19.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game in March. And because voters are looking for ways not to cast their ballot for Joel Embiid and his 31 games played. Quietly, the Sixers have won three of four.
25. Knicks (27-42 LW 25). How bad are the Knicks right now? They have lost twice to the Nets in a five-day span. The offense they are playing looks more like a rhombus than anything Phil Jackson wants, and everyone seems to be waiting to see if they can move Knicks can find a deal to trade Carmelo Anthony this summer.
26. Kings (27-43, LW 28). Skal Labissiere is showing real promise, including a breakout 32-point, 11-rebound performance against Phoenix. There were plenty of positive signs before that, though — he had four blocks against the Magic on Monday. I don’t know that Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Buddy Hield are the answer, but this team is far more entertaining than it was to watch before the trade.
27. Suns (22-48, LW 24). Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are both shut down for the season as Phoenix goes into full on tank mode to run out the string. That means a lot of Devin Booker, although to his credit T.J. Warren has stepped up of late and put up some numbers (he thrives when the game gets less structured).
28. Magic (25-45 LW 27). Five years ago the Orlando Magic traded away Dwight Howard, and they have not made the playoffs since. There is a sense around the league that GM Rob Hennigan is going to pay the price for that (it won’t be just-signed coach Frank Vogel). That said, don’t buy into the rumors of Doc Rivers making a return to save the day in Orlando.
29. Nets (13-56, LW 30). They beat the Knicks twice in five days, they are getting outscored by just two points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games (which is a huge improvement over the entire season) and that is enough to get them out of the cellar in these rankings for a week. Brook Lopez has been a beast of late, but Jeremy Lin rolled his ankle again and will miss time, which could kill Brooklyn’s momentum.
30. Lakers (20-50, LW 29). After the backcourt combo of Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell showed some promise on Sunday against the Cavaliers — Russell had 40 points, and the pair showed some chemistry — coach Luke Walton said he would stick with it to see if there is something real to it. There hasn’t been much of the season — the Lakers have been outscored by 22 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together this season, and they were -14 as a pair against Cleveland. The questions for them are on the defensive end, Russell has to be able to cover two guards to make it work, and right now he can’t.
Saturday night all three of them were out against the Clippers in a nationally televised game.
That rekindled a debate that has flared up all season and took on extra heat just a week before when Steve Kerr rested his four best Warriors players in a nationally televised game on Saturday night. Fans were pissed, you can be sure some suits at ABC/Disney were upset, and the league office called up the Cavaliers to complain.
Sunday, the Cavaliers to a man said that the rest mattered and they made the right call.
“It’s stupid,” coach Tyronn Lue said of the controversy, emphasizing he wasn’t going to play two guys coming off injuries in a back-to-back. “Because Kyrie didn’t come back the game before because of knee soreness, Kevin just had his first game back and he needed two games between these games. But whatever. It’s stupid.”
Elite teams resting key players, particularly on road games, is a growing pattern in the NBA — and with good reason. Studies have shown that players perform much better on the court when rested, and also they are 3.5 times more likely to be injured in the second game of a back-to-back (when muscle fatigue sets in). Coaches like Lue are paid to put their teams in position to win a title, and rest helps that cause.
But it does create problems for an entertainment product when the best players are not performing. Fans pay a lot of money to see LeBron or Curry the one time they come to town. Also, broadcast partners just signed a new deal that backs up the Brinks truck to the NBA, and then they are handed an inferior product to show.
“It sucks,” LeBron admitted Sunday, noting he can see that dilemma. “There are some times guys have to rest, and some guys need rest. It’s a long, strenuous season, and the NBA does the best it can putting the schedule together but you’re going to have back-to-backs, and you’re going to have certain games where certain things fall on certain nights.
“But coach’s job is to figure out a way to get a team to compete for a championship, and not compete for a game. And it sucks at certain times because you only play in certain cities once, or you only play certain teams once on their home floor. Me personally, I want to play in every game, I wanted to play last night but my coach said he felt it was best I didn’t play last night so I didn’t and I’m going to go with my coach.”
As for the concerns of broadcast partners, they make a lot of their value back come the playoffs, when guys are not rested.
“I’ve been part of six straight Finals, and every season the Finals is bigger and bigger and better and better, and more people are tuning in. So I don’t see a problem with people watching,” LeBron said.
While players often take the brunt of the criticisms — as with Karl Malone’s comments over the weekend — they rarely ask out. This is almost always a decision by management (the GM, team trainers, and the coach) and the players are informed they are sitting.
The NBA is going to start a week earlier next year, in hopes of stretching out the schedule and getting players a little more rest and have fewer back-to-backs.
“I can’t stress enough how important rest is, man,” Irving said. “You’ve got guys who have come before us and played 82 games and they have their opinions. We’re just in a different time now, a different way of taking care of your body and understanding what the goal is at the end of the season. It’s in the forefront of our minds — we’re playing for a championship run, a playoff run. We all want to play, I want to be a part of that as much as possible, but when our coaching staff and medical staff rests us I’m not opposed to it. I know fans all across the league want to see us at our best and they got to see a show tonight (against the Lakers). I would have loved go against the Clippers and go against a veteran team like that, but I have to respect the coach’s wishes.”
That said, Irving gets why fans are ticked. Like most around the league he’d like to reduce the games he is rested, but the answers are not easy to come by. That said, it all starts with the schedule — if the NBA wants to promote Saturday games like they are playoff games, then they need to schedule them like they’re playoff games with rest on either side for teams.
“I’m 100 percent with (fans concerns),” Irving said. “Hopefully we can spread (the schedule) out a little bit more and get guys a little bit more rest. When you go from West Coast to East Coast, and this is our sixth game in eight days — I don’t think anyone realized that — and we’re not hear to complain about it, but honestly playing basketball for six games in eight days is a lot.”
Really? How is this a thing?
When Golden State played in Oklahoma City back on Feb. 11, any sane person knew there was going to be a cathartic unleashing of venom on Kevin Durant by fans — and a city — who felt betrayed by him. “Cupcake” chants were going to rain down on him. Fair or not, betrayal was the sentiment in OKC and it doesn’t take much empathy to understand why.
The Thunder organization didn’t acknowledge Durant in game with a tribute. Somehow, that angered the Warriors organization, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.
The Golden State Warriors organization was furious and bewildered about the inactivity from Oklahoma City Thunder leadership leading up to that first Durant return contest on Feb. 11, league sources told ESPN.
Sources say the Warriors were of the mindset that someone from ownership or management should have addressed the media on Durant’s behalf to help ease the tension upon his return….
The Warriors’ belief, according to sources, is that the Thunder’s silence contributed to the raw emotions, outrage and indignation that created an unsettling, hostile atmosphere for a player many consider to be the franchise’s all-time best. The Warriors felt, according to sources, that for a player who meant so much to a city — a small-market city at that — a courtesy greeting was in order from top brass, who should have issued their fans a reminder and proper perspective on Durant’s role in elevating the Thunder into a perennial championship-contending team.
First off, the Thunder did have someone from management say that.
Second, so long as proper security measures were in place to prevent fan violence, they Thunder should not get in the way of their fans expressing their anger. Getting out of the way seemed the smart move.
Finally, the Warriors organization just comes off as petty and overly sensitive in this article (which was probably not the writer’s intention). This is the kind of thing both Durant the Warriors had to know was coming and just should rise above. Instead, they sound like Draymond Green searching out straw man slights to motivate themselves.
Monday night Durant and the Warriors are back in Oklahoma City, although Durant will not play due to injury. He is with the team but is not expected to leave the Warriors’ locker room.
Then can we all just move on from this?