kurthelin

Getty Images

Three things we learned Wednesday: Giannis takes Manhattan

3 Comments

You had other things to deal with Wednesday — maybe a brick wall blocking your front door — so you didn’t watch the NBA’s offerings for the night. We’ve got you covered, here’s what you need to know.

1) The Giannis Antetokounmpo making the leap tour made a stop in New York and the Knicks paid the price. That tour will be making a stop in New Orleans for the All-Star Game next month, then will continue on to the playoffs. We’re starting to reach the “Giannis Antetokounmpo is on, stop what you’re doing and watch” phase of this season, because he just seems to be putting on a can’t miss show nightly now.

He did that in Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, leading a 32-17 Milwaukee fourth quarter charge that gave them a chance for the come-from-behind win. Down a point with eight seconds to go, everyone in North America knew Antetokounmpo would get the rock, and sure enough he did with Lance Thomas bodying him up. Antetokounmpo backed Thomas not so much down but toward the middle, spun over his preferred right shoulder, then put up an unblockable (almost uncontestable) fadeaway that gave the Bucks a 105-104 win. Antetokounmpo is shooting 35.3 percent from that area of the floor this season, but he nailed this one.

That shot handed the Knicks their sixth straight loss. New York’s defense in the fourth quarter — although not on that shot, there was nothing Thomas could do with that step back — let it down again.

Antetokounmpo has made the leap this year from “he has a lot of potential” to an All-Star level, must watch player leading his playoff-bound team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Jason Kidd has unleashed him as a point guard and he is now a force of nature — and one with plenty of room to improve, when he develops a reliable jump shot he will be unstoppable. For now, from New York to Los Angeles, just sit back and enjoy the show from Milwaukee because it is one of the NBA’s best things going.



2) LeBron James and Cavaliers have 2009 flashback, fall to Jimmy Butler and Bulls.
Remember how LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland ended? Every night it was him against the world, with little to speak of as a supporting cast (Mo Williams was the next best player on those teams) and the Cavs were doomed to failure despite how great LeBron played? (And you all were shocked he left that situation… really?)

Wednesday night was a flashback of that. Kevin Love is still too sick to play, he shouldn’t have had the fish. Kyrie Irving tweaked his hamstring and the Cavaliers are, for obvious reasons, going to take it easy and slow with getting him right before bringing him back. That left LeBron — who has been under the weather himself of late, then tweaked his ankle in this one — to take on Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and the Bulls. This ultimately ended about like those 2009 campaigns — 31 points on 21 shots, eight rebounds, and seven assists was not going to be enough to get the win.

The Bulls had six players in double digits led by Butler’s 20 — 14 of those points in the fourth as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers for the win. That win that matters more to the Bulls — it pulled them up to .500 and is the kind of win that helps them in the tight playoff race in the bottom of the East. The Cavaliers will be the top seed and just fine whatever happened in this game.

If you want to hear more in-depth Bulls talk — such as what’s the future of Rajon Rondo, and are they going to trade Taj Gibson? — check out the new PBT Podcast with myself and Sean Highkin, who covers the Bulls for The Athletic.

3) Russell Westbrook tries to give the ball back to the referee, gets a technical. There’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and too often it seems people with power like to focus on the former and ignore the latter. Which leads to foolish decisions.

Russell Westbrook got a first-hand example of that Wednesday night. The Thunder’s Mr. Everything was making a standard NBA play — dribble the ball up the court and get over half court, near the bench, and call the timeout the coach wants. Westbrook then tries to toss the ball to referee Sean Corbin on the baseline, but Corbin turns away and doesn’t see it coming, so the ball just nails him in the head.

Westbrook got a technical for it. He shouldn’t have. I get why you want a rule on the books about hitting the official in the head with a ball — that rule should exist. But there are times to enforce it and times to let it go. Watch the video and it’s obvious Westbrook is just trying to get the ball to the ref during a timeout, like he’s supposed to do, and things accidentally went bad. But nobody was injured, so have a laugh and move on.

In the last week the league rescinded two of the technicals Westbrook got earlier in the season, it should do the same here.

Stephen Curry hits the switch-hands-in-the-air reverse layup (VIDEO)

1 Comment

That was impressive.

The Warriors took on the Trail Blazers in a bet the over, late night national broadcast and they put on a show. Kevin Durant had 30 point son 16 shots, but it was a Stephen Curry night as he had 35 and a few highlight plays in the eventual Golden State win at home. The best one was the shot above, the switching hands in the air reverse lay-up.

By the way, some people on Twitter tried to compare it to MJ’s legendary switching hands lay-up — just stop that. This is a January game, not the NBA Finals. Curry made an impressive shot, but let’s not overdo the hype here.

Nicolas Batum scores 28 points, Hornets beat Thunder 123-112

Associated Press
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Nicolas Batum says there is an art to drawing a foul on a 3-point shot. Nicolas Batum says there is an art to drawing a foul on a 3-point shot.

“It’s not easy,” Batum said with a wide smile.

Batum twice drew whistles on 3-pointers en route to a season-high 28 points in the Charlotte Hornets’ 123-112 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Batum was a regular at the foul line Wednesday night, converting 13 of 15 free throws. As a team, the Hornets made 40 of 49 foul shots to snap a two-game losing streak.

Batum said he watched others like Kevin Durant and Reggie Miller work to perfect that art of drawing the foul, which includes reading the defender’s movements.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes you throw up a really bad shot,” Batum said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Batum just has a good feel and understanding on how to play the game.

“He subtly, very calmly impacts the game,” Donovan said. “He lets it come to him. He has a great pace and tempo to his game. Obviously, he’s very, very crafty in terms of understanding how to draw fouls. He’s a really good passer.”

Russell Westbrook had 33 points and 15 rebounds, but fell two assists shy of his 17th triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City.

The MVP candidate was assessed a technical foul in the first half after he hit a referee in the head with a ball. After the Thunder called a timeout Westbook was retreating toward the bench and tossed an overhead pass toward the referee, who wasn’t looking as the ball hit him in the side of the cranium. Another official came running into the Thunder huddle and called a technical. Westbrook reacted in utter disbelief, putting his hands over his face.

Donovan said it was “unintentional.”

Enes Kanter added 22 points, and Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams each had 18 for the Thunder.

The Thunder led by one after Kanter hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter. But they couldn’t sustain the momentum after erasing a double-digit deficit.

The Hornets took control with about six minutes left, outscoring the Thunder 22-11 the rest of the way.

Kemba Walker, who scored 34 and 37 points in his last two games while making an All-Star push, had nine points in the decisive final quarter. Frank Kaminsky carried the Hornets early, scoring all of 17 points in the first half as Charlotte took a 60-55 halftime lead.

TIP INS

Thunder: Had beaten the Hornets 11 straight times before Wednesday night. … Westbrook has 28 double-doubles on the season.

Hornets: Marco Belinelli returned to action after missing the last five games with a sprained left ankle. … Roy Hibbert was called for a technical foul in the third quarter after exchanging words with Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams.

A BETTER FINISH

Before the fourth quarter, the Hornets gathered together in a huddle making sure they were all on the same page heading down the stretch.

“The fourth quarter has been an issue for us defensively and we really wanted to play as well as we can,” Walker said. “We did a good job. We wanted to clamp down as best as we can. And we have to continue to be that way.”

DEFENDING WESTBROOK

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he felt Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a solid job defending Westbrook. Even though he had 33 points, Westbrook shot just 10 of 31 from the field.

“There weren’t a lot of easy (shots),” Clifford said. “I thought Mike played with great discipline and I thought our guys off the ball were great.”

Clifford called Westbrook “the MVP of our league right now.”

 

LeBron can’t do it alone as Jimmy Butler, Bulls down Cavs 106-94

Associated Press
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James was reminded what it’s like to be Cleveland’s only star.

Lonesome and no fun.

Jimmy Butler took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 straight points during a critical stretch and leading the Chicago Bulls to a 106-94 win Wednesday night over the Cavaliers, who had a less-than-100 percent James and were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Butler, who was coming off a 52-point game against Charlotte, scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth as the Bulls held off Cleveland’s rally and ended the Cavs’ 13-game winning streak with James in the lineup.

Butler said Dwyane Wade, who returned to his hometown this summer, encouraged his new teammate to take control.

“The guy who wears No. 3 on this team came to me and was like, `Win the game,”‘ Butler said. “So I guess a switch cut on. I knew I was going to have to do that in the fourth anyway, but with him telling me that, you can’t let D-Wade down.

“He’s been doing it for years. It was my time to step up.”

James, who has been battling a head cold for several days, was questionable until about 20 minutes before the game, when the Cavs announced he would be the one – and only – member of Cleveland’s “Big 3” in uniform. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes.

James was forced to go it alone as Irving missed his third straight game with a hamstring issue that appears to be more serious than first diagnosed and Love is still recovering from a nasty case of food poisoning.

James said there was never any question he would play.

“If I can walk, I can go,” he said, “unless coach tells me to sit down. My plan was to play.”

But without Irving and Love, the Cavs didn’t have enough firepower to slow the Bulls, who got 17 points from Doug McDermott and made a season-high 13 3-pointers.

The Bulls made just 1 of 8 3s in the first quarter before finding their range. They dropped 11 of their next 14 and built a 15-point lead when James went to the bench with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

But Cleveland’s reserves cut Chicago’s lead to four when James returned with 8:49 remaining. He made two straight layups to pull the Cavs within 89-88 and was driving for the go-ahead bucket when Butler stepped in front of him in the lane and drew a charge.

“He’s coming at you full speed, that’s the right play to make,” Butler said. “It could go either way, obviously. You’ve got to brace yourself. I got all my pads here somewhere. We’ve got all of that for a reason.”

James didn’t argue about the foul.

“It was a good call,” James said.

Butler then hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, and Cleveland never got closer than eight and had its home winning streak ended at nine.

ROAD AHEAD

The Cavs are set to embark on a season-long, six-game road trip. James was asked if it’s coming at a good time with the injury and illnesses.

“I don’t know until we know who’s active,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a good time or not until we know who’s active and who’s playing. See what happens.”

WADE’S KNEE

Wade scored 10 points in 27 minutes after missing Monday’s game with a swollen left knee. He said it feels better but the team will monitor him closely.

“This is a grueling month,” Wade said. “We have four back-to-backs. We want to play it smart, find gaps, find days to get through it.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Starting PG Rajon Rondo didn’t play for the third straight game amid talk that he could be traded. … Chicago came in leading the league with 13.7 offensive rebounds and grabbed 12.

Cavaliers: Cleveland fell to 18-3 at home. … James played in his 724th game with Cleveland, passing Danny Ferry (723) for the second most in franchise history. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (771) is the career club leader. … Love received several IVs during his recovery from food poisoning, which the team said came from eating sea bass on New Year’s Eve. Lue said the forward lost 10 pounds and had not gotten his strength back. “He couldn’t keep food down,” Lue said, adding Cleveland’s training staff felt he needed another day to recuperate. … Even before the flu bug bit Cleveland, the Cavs were already without J.R. Smith (thumb surgery) and Chris Andersen (ACL tear). … Indians free agent prize Edwin Encarnacion received a loud ovation when he was introduced during the first quarter.

 

Quincy Pondexter to have another knee surgery, miss another full season

Leave a comment

The last time we saw Quincy Pondexter on an NBA court, it was the first round of the playoffs — in 2015. He brought something to that team after joining them via trade, the Pelicans were 27-18 in games the “3&D” forward played because he is the kind of floor spacer and veteran they need around Anthony Davis.

Since those playoff games he has had two knee surgeries, missed all of last season plus the start of this one… and now the news has gotten worse.

The Pelicans announced that the sweet-shooting forward would undergo another knee surgery that will have him out for the rest of this season. He had worked hard toward a return.

New Orleans had said before the season it hoped to get him back this month, but clearly that is not happening. He is under contract with the Pelicans for next season for $3.9 million.