Kurt Helin

Paul George

Five Takeaways from an NBA Sunday: Paul George is all the way back

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The NBA season is crawling into its third week, and Sunday’s five games conveniently were spread from afternoon to evening, and featured a couple huge comebacks. If you were too busy needlessly freaking out about Starbucks’ holiday cups, here are five things you should know from an NBA Sunday.

1) Paul George looks like his old All-Star self again. But the Pacers still lost. Paul George had a couple good games this past week but Sunday he showed he is all the way back — he went head-to-head with LeBron James and held his own. George put up 32 points Sunday against James and the Cavaliers, meanwhile defending LeBron on the other end (LeBron had 29 points on 23 shots). It was an entertaining game thanks of those two, who had great clashes back in the Eastern Conference Finals and Sunday renewed that rivalry —and you could sense the mutual respect. Ultimately too much Kevin Love (22 points), a fourth-quarter 7-0 run, and a couple of LeBron free throws late sealed a Cavs win.

In the two games prior, George put up 36 and 26 points. He has shown he’s back to the All-Star, top 12 NBA player he was prior to his freakish injury playing for Team USA. What’s most interesting about this three-game run? Indiana had gone back to a larger lineup, moving George back to the three. After all the hype about the Pacers going small and George at the four (he’s spending time there still), he’s thriving back at his traditional position.

2) Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson powered the best comeback of the season. In the third quarter Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers were up by as many as 18 on the Pistons, and were still up 13 entering the fourth quarter. They seemed in control. Then Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson took over — the Pistons went on a 20-0 run at one point and won the fourth quarter 41-11, making it look like a comfortable 120-103 win when the final buzzer sounded. Drummond had 29 points and 27 rebounds in the game — that’s three 20-20 games for Drummond this season, the rest of the NBA has one. And he wasn’t even the best Piston on the floor in the fourth. After an unimpressive first three quarters (14 points on 15 shots), Jackson had 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the fourth

In limited run last season, Jackson and Drummond showed real chemistry. Last summer Stan Van Gundy bet on that giving Jackson an $80 million contract that was mocked in some quarters. Nobody’s laughing now. So far this season when Jackson and Drummond are on the court together the Pistons have an offensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions, and they are +18.8 points per 100. Late in games the Pistons’ offense is essentially a Drummond/Jackson high pick and roll with shooters spacing the floor, and those two look like one of the best P&R combos in the league. Maybe SVG knew what he was doing after all.

3) Dwyane Wade passes Scottie Pippen on the all-time scoring list. He’s not exactly at the top of this list — with this bucket Dwyane Wade is now 51st all-time in the NBA in scoring. Still, he moved past Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen on Sunday (in an impressive Heat win over the Raptors), and in the next couple weeks he will track down and pass Dale Ellis and Reggie Theus.

4) Kobe Bryant may have played his last game in Madison Square Garden. The first time Kobe Bryant stepped on the court in Madison Square Garden it was 1996, and he was coming off the Lakers’ bench as a rookie. Since then he has had some of his most memorable games there, like dropping 61 on the Knicks back in 2009. Kobe had averaged 30.7 points a game in MSG coming into Sunday. The reality of where he and his Lakers are right now was on full display Sunday — Bryant had 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting, he was 2-of-10 from three, and the Lakers lost 99-95. Sunday felt like the end of an era for Kobe and his trips to NYC (he’s not coming there as a free agent next summer, just stop talking about that nonsense).

5) Kevin Durant looked good, dropping 32 on the Suns in a Thunder win. Kevin Durant does not want to talk about his pending free agency. He doesn’t have to; everyone else will do it for him. And 29 other teams will covet him so long as he keeps scoring like he did against Phoenix Sunday.

Kevin Durant no fan of free agency talk. Especially his.

Kevin Durant
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Tuesday night, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to our nation’s capital to take on the Washington Wizards — and for many Wizards’ fans the game is almost secondary.

Ever since LeBron James chose to go back home to Cleveland, there has been hype in D.C. that Durant would choose to come back to his hometown Wizards when he becomes a free agent next summer. The Wizards have cleared out cap space to make sure it’s a possibility. Durant’s free agency next summer is the story of the NBA season, but the hype and expectations are approaching unreasonable levels in D.C.

Durant hates that.

And he hates how his trip to Washington was treated last year (where the focus was on him coming as a free agent, not the game). He doesn’t like how free agency is its own season, he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“(The Jan. 22 visit last season) was kind of disrespectful, in my opinion, because you’ve got a great team there already that deserves your full 100% support,” said Durant, who – among many other things – was featured on the Wizards’ jumbotron wearing a ‘Washington’ jersey during the game. “I wouldn’t like that if I was on that team. I didn’t like that, but it comes with it nowadays.

“Free agency is like a season now, and it shouldn’t be that big. Me, I feel, is you should focus on who you have on your team. It’s easy to get your hopes up, and expect a guy to come to your team or whatever – and I’m not talking about myself, I’m just talking about free agency in the past years and in the future – you get your hopes up as a fan, and then they let you down and you end up not liking the player. There’s a little bit too much emphasis on that type of stuff, but it’s part of the game.”

Durant is howling at the moon here, but I understand his frustration.

Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer, but the smart money is with him staying in OKC. For one, as good as John Wall and Bradley Beal are (and they can be special), they are not as good as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Sure, the Wizards have the easier path to the Finals through the East, but if KD wants to play with the most talented team, then he stays put (and that may be the best chance to make the Finals again).

One other note: Not every player wants to go home. There are more distractions, more people angling for time, and more pressure to win. That’s not for everyone.

We’ll have to see if it’s worth it to Durant.

Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson lead huge Pistons comeback win (VIDEO)

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Portland led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and were up by 11 with 12 minutes to go. The Blazers were in control at home Sunday night against the Pistons.

Then Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson took over.

The pair sparked a 41-11 fourth quarter that led Detroit to a massive come-from-behind victory, 120-103. Jackson had 26 points on 10-for-11 shooting in the fourth. Drummond finished the game with 29 points, 27 rebounds and three blocks (his defense has improved dramatically this season). Drummond and Jackson are showing some real chemistry together, and the Pistons are now 5-1 on the season.

Knicks beat Lakers, spoil Kobe’s potential MSG finale

Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony
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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points and the New York Knicks spoiled what might have been Kobe Bryant‘s last game at Madison Square Garden, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 99-95 on Sunday.

Bryant finished with 18 points, far off the 30.7 per game he had been averaging here and fewer than half the 40 or more he managed on three occasions during a series of highlights in the arena.

The 37-year-old superstar, who hasn’t said if he will retire after this season, missed two shots and twice fouled Anthony during New York’s 11-0 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 98-90 lead.

Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez and Langston Galloway all scored 14 points for the Knicks, who snapped a three-game losing streak with their first home victory of the season.

Galloway made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:01 left and Bryant missed from behind the arc about 20 seconds later. He then fouled Anthony, who made both free throws to make it 94-90, and later fouled him again on a jumper as the lead grew to 98-90.

Bryant played until the finish, waving his arm to the crowd as he exited into the tunnel to loud cheers.

He scored his first NBA point here on a free throw on Nov. 5, 1996, in his second game. He played in his first All-Star Game here in 1998, and scored 61 points here on Feb. 2, 2009, a record since surpassed by Anthony.

He slightly led Kevin Durant for the highest scoring average among active players, but in his first game here in three years, was just 6 for 19 from the field.

Bryant can’t deliver now the way he did in so many previous trips to New York as he battles his way back from a preseason calf injury, but plenty of fans wanted him to. He was serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants while shooting free throws and fans were noticeably bummed when he missed shots – which must’ve seemed strange to Anthony, who was often defending him.

Knicks coach Derek Fisher, Bryant’s friend and longtime teammate in Los Angeles, was ejected in the third quarter for arguing after rookie Kristaps Porzingis was called for fouling Bryant on a 3-point attempt.

TIP-INS

Lakers: Bryant was held below 30 points for the second time in his last nine trips to MSG. … Roy Hibbert also scored 18 points.

Knicks: Calderon came into the game shooting 25 percent for the season. … Lopez played a few possessions with only one sneaker after it fell off while he was playing defense and play didn’t stop to give him a chance to get it back. … Porzingis had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll already battling plantar fasciitis

DeMarre Carroll Nemanja Bjelica
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The Toronto Raptors are off to an impressive 5-1 start, in part due to a defensive turnaround — they are ninth in the league in defensive efficiency. DeMarre Carroll deserves credit for some of that turnaround — he gives them an elite perimeter defender, plus he has been at the heart of the mentality change on that end of the court north of the border.

Which is why this is not good news — he is already battling plantar fasciitis. He skipped practice on Saturday and talked with Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun about it.

“People don’t really know,” Carroll said, “but I’m just trying to give what I can to the team. I feel like me going out there and doing what I can to help this team and if that’s me at 70% then I’ll give them 70%. It might already be to the point where I have to start listening to my body.”

“I got to worry about 82, so I got to be smarter, but me just being who I am and being a competitor I just want to go out there and give my all to my teammates and give my all to the coaching staff.”

The only real cure for plantar fasciitis is rest. That may not sit well with Carroll, but this is something that just lingers if not given time to get healthy. It’s November, there are 76 games left on the Raptors schedule — he shouldn’t be pushing through too much now for the sake of a couple wins (which this team may be able to get without him). It’s about the next 76, and then the first round of the playoffs after that. He needs to just get healthy. Take a book out of the Popovich playbook — and almost everybody else now — and rest.

It’s not like anyone in the Atlantic Division is going to catch them anyway.