Kurt Helin

Kevin Durant, Anthony Morrow

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Thunder are talented, but how good?

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If you spent your Sunday starting to deal with all things Christmas — putting up Christmas lights, starting your shopping — they you probably weren’t getting to chill and watch some NBA. We’ve got you covered… on the NBA stuff. You’re on your own with the gifts; we don’t know what to get your sister either. But here are five things to know from Sunday around the Association.

1) Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant save the day for Thunder. Again. And show where the team is at right now.
The Oklahoma City Thunder had led by 17 in the third, 10 entering the fourth and seemed to be in control — then midway through the fourth quarter the visiting Sacramento Kings went on an 11-0 run, took the lead, and until the final minute looked like they would steal a big win on the road. That the Thunder blew the lead at all speaks to this team’s struggles and inconsistencies (specifically on defense), and it shows why they are not yet a real threat to the Warriors and Spurs in a seven-game series.

But Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant showed why they can be — talent wins out. In the 34 minutes those two were on the court together, the Thunder were +9, in the 14 minutes one was rested they were -6. Westbrook had his third triple-double of the season with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. But when it was crunch time the ball was in KD’s hands — and that made up for a lot. The best example: The game was tied in the final minute, the Thunder ran some actions to get Durant the ball out top but then they didn’t bring a pick, rather let him go one-on-one, and he took a 20-foot leaning step-back deep two — which he drained. It wasn’t a good shot, but Durant can hit it and did. On the other end you saw what it was like not to have Durant: The Kings ran a pick to get Steven Adams switched onto Rudy Gay then isolated Gay, but he couldn’t quite get by Adams on the drive, plus Rajon Rondo‘s man didn’t fear Rondo’s jumper and helped off him in the corner on Gay, the result ultimately being a steal and turnover. The Thunder have the talent to win games like this because they have KD and Westbrook, but they are not a team threat yet.

2) Rajon Rondo had the pass of the day, maybe the season. Rondo is playing well right now, but this pass is wicked, even for his standards.


3) The Warriors are now 22-0. Which is insane. To beat the Raptors Saturday it took the full Stephen Curry — 40 points and a lot of help from teammates. To beat the Nets Sunday, it took one quarter of Curry. He went off for 16 in the third, Golden State pulled away, and the win streak just keeps on rolling. The Warriors have the best offense in the NBA (114.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com) and the fifth best defense, and are outscoring opponents by 16.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s all historic if they can keep it up — the 72-win Bulls had two losses at this stage in the season, for comparison.

4) Jeff Green with a game-winning alley-oop dunk for the Grizzlies — the Suns find another way to lose. The game is tied, and there are 0.8 seconds left, if you’re Phoenix and defending the inbounds play the first thing you do is zone off and take away a lob pass to the rim (if someone beats you with a rushed, leaning jumper that’s one thing, but don’t give up the easy bucket). Phoenix failed at this, and Jeff Green made them pay with a Memphis win.

The Suns are not a terrible team (8-13) but they find more ways not to execute then get beat down the stretch than I thought existed.

5) Wesley Matthews is coming off a torn Achilles? He dropped 36 on the Wizards. He tied the Dallas record with 10 made threes in a game and was just phenomenal in Dallas beating the Jekyll and Hyde Wizards on the road.

Report: Rockets interested in trade for Suns’ Markieff Morris

Markieff Morris
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Markeiff Morris has struggled this season for the Suns. Shocking, I know, after he spent all summer demanding a trade (of course, he changed his tune after a fine) he has come out and played poorly. He is averaging 12.1 points per game, but is shooting just 39 percent. In previous seasons, he was strong when he got the ball at the elbow or mid-post areas, but this season Morris has struggled with his shot from those areas, he’s been inconsistent (or consistently poor) and he has a PER of 9.8 on the season.

It got ugly Sunday when a healthy Morris got a DNP-CD from Jeff Hornacek, who started Jon Leuer in his place.

The Suns were not willing to consider trading Morris this summer, but if that benching signals a change in their attitude they will have at least one suitor, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

The Houston Rockets have trade interest in Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, who made multiple trade demands this past offseason, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com the Rockets are in the market for roster upgrades in the wake of their disappointing 10-11 start and have Morris on their list of targets, amid a growing belief around the league that the Suns are indeed prepared to finally move Morris.

Detroit — where the Suns had sent Marcus Morrisreportedly has interest as well.

Houston needs help at the four; they have been starting Clint Capela, although they just got Donatas Motiejunas back and Terrence Jones is still there. One of them, likely Jones, would be moved in a deal for Morris. And Morris, in theory, could come in and give them help at either forward position, depending on what lineup combos Houston threw out there. That said, the Rockets reportedly have some chemistry issues, and they may want to question bringing in Morris, who has the reputation of being hard to deal with.

Morris is making $8 million this season and is under contract for three seasons after this one (this is the first year of a four-year, $32 million extension for Markieff, which he thought was below market value, but he took to play with his brother Marcus, who was traded this summer to Detroit in Phoenix’s efforts to clear out cap space for a potential LaMarcus Aldridge signing).

Don’t expect any trades before Dec. 15. That’s the first day any player signed this summer can be moved, and it puts a lot more players and contracts in play to make something happen.

Another day, another Blake Griffin to DeAndre Jordan alley-oop reverse slam

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This play is just a bread and butter part of the Clipper offense at this point, but it works because Blake Griffin is such a great passer and it’s hard to defend all the options.

Griffin sets a screen out high for Jamal Crawford (in this case, Chris Paul and others fill that role as well) then while the ball-handler probes and draws defenders Griffin half-rolls to the free throw line, where Griffin gets an easy bounce pass back. DeAndre Jordan is lurking around on the baseline and when his big man rotates over to take away the lane so Griffin can’t throw down his own monster dunk (and the help has to come way out because Griffin can knock down that jumper, too), Jordan makes a cut to the rim, takes the alley-oop pass and throws it down.  Today they did it with a reverse jam, just to add to the degree of difficulty.

Everyone knows it’s coming, but stopping this play is just not simple. Orlando couldn’t come close on this play, but they came close in the game falling to the Clippers 103-101.

Paul George scores 48, but Jazz beat Pacers 122-119 in OT

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Derrick Favors scored a career-high 35 points, and the Utah Jazz rallied for a 122-119 overtime win against Paul George and the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

Favors converted a three-point play to help send the game to overtime, and then added six more points in the extra period. Favors had a layup off a pick-and-roll with Trey Burke with 17.1 seconds left, and George Hill missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Indiana wasted career-high 48 points from George, who carried the offensive load for much of the night. But two missed jumpers down the stretch of regulation helped Utah come back.

Favors also grabbed 13 rebounds, and Gordon Hayward had 22 points, five rebounds and five assists. Burke added 19 points and seven assists.

The Jazz jumped to a 24-12 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 10-0 run and some cold shooting from the Pacers. They started the game shooting 27 percent from the field and 1 for 6 from behind the arc.

Indiana chipped away thanks to 20 first-half points from George, but a turnover and a Burke layup seconds before halftime lifted the Jazz to a 57-52 lead at the break.

The Jazz started the third quarter with a 14-2 run, but George continued to hit shot after shot. The teams were tied at 84 heading into the fourth quarter.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Monta Ellis started despite being questionable with a right shoulder contusion. … C.J. Miles scored 12 points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field. … Indiana was outrebounded 54-44.

Jazz: Utah fouled a 3-point shooter four times in the first half. … Rookie Trey Lyles made his third start of the season and played just under 20 minutes. … Rodney Hood fouled out in the fourth quarter with six points.

 

Donatas Motiejunas returns to Rockets Saturday night

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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The Rockets have won four-of-five, and their next seven games are against teams below .500. — they have a chance to get above .500 and go on a little run.

It helps that they are getting healthy — Donatas Motiejunas returns to the Rockets lineup Saturday night.

The backup big man had been out since April due to back surgery, a long recovery that had seen multiple setbacks. But they could use him off the bench behind Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones (Motiejunas was more successful last season at the four, but can play the five).

Motiejunas took a big step forward from last season. He has the ability to score inside with hook shots, or he can knock down threes (and the Rockets could use the floor-spacing shooting). He’s not a great defender, but when paired with Howard last season the Rockets were a lock-down team.

Things are setting up well for the Rockets, we’ll see if they can take advantage of it.