Author: Kurt Helin

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant takes to Twitter to defend Russell Westbrook

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While Russell Westbrook has been putting up ridiculous lines and racking up triple-doubles seemingly nightly, his efficiency and the volume of his shooting has come into question.

With some reason. Back on April 1 he was 10-of-32 shooting. April 3 it was 5-of-20. April 5 it was 12-of-29. You get the idea.

So when he put up 54 points Sunday in a Thunder loss, there was some talk of his 43 shot attempts. That’s a lot of attempts. He used 51.7 percent of the team’s possessions when he was on the court. He was an unrepentant gunner, but with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out what do you expect of Westbrook?

Kobe Bryant — the patron saint of putting up a lot of shots when your teammates are questionable — came to Westbrook’s defense.

Westbrook has certainly not always been efficient in putting up big numbers, but that has gotten too much blame for the losses the Thunder racked up. The bigger issue is the Thunder defense can’t stop anyone.

Offensively, things can get a bit stagnant when Westbrook takes over for OKC. But if the alternative is more Dion Waiters or D.J. Augustin, I’m okay with that.

Shaq says trash talk “has slipped 60%” from when he played

2nd Annual Cartoon Network Hall Of Game Awards - Arrivals
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There are some real trash talkers in the new generation of NBA players. Draymond Green is the poster child, but there are guys like Lance Stephenson, Nate Robinson, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and others have their mouth going all game long.

But there seem to be fewer talkers now than there were in previous generations. Where are the Michael Jordans and Larry Birds of today?

Shaquille O’Neal agrees.

Speaking to USA Today’s For the Win, Shaq said trash talking now just isn’t the same.

Trash talking has slipped 60%. I know a lot of the players are worried about getting fined, but for me, growing up, you had to trash talk. I didn’t play against kids, I played against guys on the army base. Gary Payton — one of the world’s greatest trash talkers — grew up in Oakland, the mean streets of Oakland. But they say lot of the legends were great trash talkers. I was talking to Isiah [Thomas] once and he said Larry Bird was an unbelievable trash talker. Like Larry Bird used to say stuff like, “I’m gonna take one dribble, pump-fake you and even if you don’t go for it, I’m going to shoot it the second time and it’s going to be all net.” And he’d do it.

Where does he get 60%? Is there an advanced stat chart for this over at NBASavant.com?

Shaq said Payton and Kevin Garnett were the best trash talkers he ever heard.

Shaq also hit on a key reason — the attention paid to the game in the media, fans courtside with smart phones and Twitter accounts, all of it makes it more likely a guy gets in trouble if he talks. Not always, but in an NBA where guys are watching thinking about their brand image, they are scaling it back.

That doesn’t mean we have to  like it.

Georgia police will not file charges against Dwight Howard for child abuse

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets
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Back near the start of the season, reports came out that Dwight Howard was being investigated for abusing one of his children, a charge leveled by the child’s mother. It was something Howard’s attorney said was baseless at the time.

After a six-month investigation, no charges will be filed against Howard. Mark Berman of Fox News in Houston has the story.

The Atlanta, Ga. Police Department declined to press charges of child abuse against Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard…

“I can confirm we are not moving forward with charges in this case,” said Sgt. Gregory Lyon, in an email to FOX 26 Sports….

“We are gratified that the Atlanta Police Department, after fully examining the frivolous allegations against Dwight Howard, has closed the case and decided not to proceed with charges,” said (Howard’s attorney David Oscar) Markus in a statement to FOX 26 Sports. “Dwight Howard will continue to act in the best interest of his children and do whatever is necessary to protect their welfare.”

Howard did not discuss the charges.

Howard and the Rockets are gearing up for the playoffs. After a season racked with injuries, Howard has put up double-doubles in Houston’s last three games and played in the mid-20s in minutes. His play will be key if the Rockets advance out of the first round in a stacked Western Conference.

PBT Extra: Looking at key games down stretch, Bulls vs. Nets, Spurs vs. Pelicans

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans
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With three days left in the NBA season, not one playoff matchup was set going into Monday night. There are a number of key games this week, with most teams having two left.

In this PBT Extra Jenna Corrado and I look at two of them.

The first is Monday night’s Bulls vs. Nets in Brooklyn, a game both teams could use but Brooklyn may need as they are tied with Indiana for that last playoff spot.

The other is Wednesday night, San Antonio vs. New Orleans. What that game means to the Pelicans we will not know until after Monday’s contests, but it likely will be a game the Spurs do need to win. And that could be trouble for the Pelicans if they need it, too.

PBT Weekly NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Spurs, Cavs finish season in top slots

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors
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This is the final PBT Power Rankings of the season, and the goal is to put them in the order they have a shot at winning the NBA title. San Antonio moves in front of Cleveland because I believe today the Spurs are the better team. As for the bottom, it’s the Timberwolves who get the “honor.”

 
source:  1. Warriors (65-15, Last Week No. 1). Steve Kerr has not given his young charges a game off down the stretch, although some have seen their minutes shrink a little. We’ll see if that changes. They have taken their foot off the gas a little of late but will still finish first in defensive rating and second in offensive rating for the season.

 
source:  2. Spurs (55-26, LW 3). They have won 11 games in a row, and may need to make it 12 on Wednesday against the Pelicans to ensure they get the No. 2 seed out West (and in theory they could still miss it). As noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, during this win streak the Spurs have outscored opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions. That’s insane.

 
source:  3. Cavaliers (51-29 LW 2). Cleveland resting all it’s stars Sunday made it far more likely they get the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Coincidence? I wouldn’t bet on it. Boston’s young team will be just happy to make it, a nice, soft first playoff experience for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

 
source:  4. Hawks (60-19, LW 4). There are a lot of questions about how it happened off the court, but the Thabo Sefolosha injury really hurts the Hawks in a potential matchup with the Cavaliers. He would have seen a fair amount of time on LeBron James, plus his defense was key to their stingy second unit.

 
source:  5. Clippers (54-26, LW 5). They come into the postseason the second hottest team in the league (behind San Antonio) but there is not a lot of faith in them coming out of the West. It all comes down to their lack of depth and the lack of versatility/flexibility that comes with a short rotation. That’s Doc Rivers the GM tying the hands of Doc Rivers the coach again.

 
source:  6. Rockets (54-26, LW 6). They lost both ends of the home and home with the Spurs and that saw them fall to the six seed in the West (although they still could finish as high as the two seed). Even with Dwight Howard playing better of late this seems to symbolize the limits of how far this roster can really go.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (51-29. LW 7). They will be the four seed in the West but will not have home court in the first round. The foot injury (sprain) LaMarcus Aldridge suffered could be big trouble if it lingers into the postseason and limits Portland’s best player.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (54-26, LW 8). Injuries make this team very vulnerable in the first round — Mike Conley has a foot issue, Tony Allen is not yet back, and Saturday Marc Gasol rolled his ankle. Two tough games for seeding issues, at Golden State then Indiana. The good news is they have a lot of tiebreakers in their favor in the middle of a crowded West.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (48-31, LW 10). In his last 15 games, Rajon Rondo is shooting a respectable 47.5 percent. That doesn’t matter. All those teams battling for the 2-6 seeds in the West covet the two seed most of all, they see Dallas as the softest first-round matchup.

 
source:  10. Bulls (48-32, LW 9). Go ahead and make the case that when all of their starters are there — Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah — they are 17-5. Yes, they have played much better at the United Center of late. I still haven’t seen consistent enough defense from the Bulls this season to think they can flip the switch. They are the third best team in the East but well back of the Hawks and Cavs.

 
source:  11. Pelicans (43-36, LW 11). They control their own destiny, a win on the road against the struggling T-Wolves Monday night puts them in a strong position. But if OKC beats Portland Monday the Pelicans may have to beat the Spurs the final game of the season and that will be a tall order and the Spurs likely need that win, too.

 
source:  12. Thunder (43-36, LW 13). Russell Westbrook is trying, but the Thunder defense is the reason they need help to get in the postseason. Huge game Monday, they need to beat the Trail Blazers (because the Pelicans will beat the Timberwolves). Their final game against the Timberwolves should be a win, if they are still in the playoff mix.

 
source:  13. Raptors (48-32, LW 14). As division winners — while the Bulls are not — they have the tiebreaker over Chicago for the 3/4 seed race. They will be home for the first round of the playoffs and may win 50 games. That said, their Swiss cheese defense has them being pretty average since the All-Star break. The Raptors should beat the Bucks if if they are the three seed, but a matchup with the Wizards (who do defend) could be a challenge).

 
source:  14. Wizards (45-34, LW 12). Washington will be the five seed starting on the road in the playoffs, but they are the second best defensive team in the East (behind Milwaukee). That plus John Wall’s attacking style means they can get out of the first round, they will not be an easy out.

 
source:  15. Jazz (37-43, LW 15). The Jazz and their fans need to consider this season a success — they found a front line that might really work for them in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. They need to find more offense, but if history is an indicator expect patience from the Utah front office this summer.

 
source:  16. Celtics (37-42, LW 19). Cleveland gave the Celtics a gift Sunday sitting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and pretty much every other Cav you can name. Of course, that likely means they get the fully-loaded Cavaliers in the first round. Nonetheless, just making the playoffs is a big step for the Celtics and will be a good experience for their young team.

 
source:  17. Bucks (39-40, LW 17). The win over Brooklyn on Sunday secured the six seed for Milwaukee (meaning they face Toronto or Chicago). The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was 2001, and that streak likely continues, but just getting in will be a good experience for a young, growing Bucks team.

 
source:  18. Nets (37-42, LW 18). They should be able to get the eight seed, especially since they have the tie breaker over the Pacers. However, a win over Chicago Monday night would be a big boost to their chances.

 
source:  19. Pacers (36-43, LW 20). They likely need to beat Washington and Memphis — no small feat — and get some help to make the postseason. Paul George did his best to help and even dunked for the first time this season on Sunday, it just may be too much of a slow start to overcome.

 
source:  20. Heat (36-43, LW 21). Obviously there were major roster shifts followed by major injuries, still it is odd to see the four-time NBA Finalists missing the playoffs all together this season. The last team to lose in the Finals then miss the playoffs was the Lakers the year after Shaq was moved.

 
<source:  21. Suns (39-41, LW 16). Would they have won the eight seed if they had not made their deadline trades? It’s moot, they might have been the eight seed and got smacked down in the first round. Better to think and plan long term.

 
source:  22. Pistons (31-49, LW 22). It’s another losing season in Detroit, but at least one where we started to see Stan Van Gundy play a foundation for the future. A future without Josh Smith. Also likely one without Greg Monroe, who will bolt as a free agent this summer. But likely one with Reggie Jackson in the fold.

 
source:  23. Hornets (33-47, LW 23). Their defense went from top five to top 10, a slip that hurt their chances for a return to the playoffs. That and the Lance Stephenson acquisition not working out, look for the Hornets to try and move him this summer.

 
source:  24. Magic (25-55, LW 24). There are moments you see a potential future with Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Nikola Vucivic. Then there was the second quarter against the Knicks, when the teams combined to score 15 points, when you are reminded just how far they have to go.

 
source:  25. Nuggets (30-50, LW 25). If you’re looking for a positive, Danilo Gallinari looked much improved at the end of the season. Nuggets management needs to decide what kind of team it want to build then go get a coach to fulfill that — then stick with it for a few years.

 
source:  26. Kings (27-53, LW 26). They made their moves — George Karl is in and Vlade Divac is the big voice in the front office. Now let’s see if those guys can put a team that will take advantage of the force of nature that is DeMarcus Cousins.

 
source:  27. 76ers (18-62, LW 27). They developed a foundation on defense and will add Joel Embiid (plus their own lottery pick) to the mix next season. They could take a nice step forward. But they also may not get any of those conditional picks they have (Lakers, Heat and Thunder picks all have protections).

 
source:  28. Lakers (21-59, LW 28). Jordan Clarkson can play at the point. They get Julius Randle back. They will have whoever they draft Top 5 (they have an 82 percent chance of keeping the pick). That plus Kobe Bryant makes the Lakers more interesting next season — and we haven’t even talked about Rajon Rondo or other potential free agents.

 
source:  29. Knicks (16-64, LW 29). Let the Greg Monroe watch begin. He would be a good get, but what they really need is some lottery luck and a top pick who can be a foundational player to pair with Carmelo Anthony (and just take the best player, don’t worry about position).

source:  30. Timberwolves (16-64, LW 30). Andrew Wiggins will be the Rookie of the Year. Pair him with a healthy Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine next season — with Kevin Garnett mentoring — and they shouldn’t end the season this low on the list. Well, if Flip Saunders can get these guys to defend.