While the NBA world is watching the Bay Area to see if Stephen Curry will make his return (it seems likely, however Steve Kerr will not return yet), a couple of other returns to the NBA could happen on Saturday worth noting.
In Sacramento, it appears rookie Willie Cauley-Stein is ready to return from the severe finger dislocation he suffered earlier this season (as CSN Kings insider James Ham told us in the PBT Podcast, it wasn’t a break but a dislocation so severe it broke the skin).
The Kings’ defense improves when Cauley-Stein is on the floor, 2.3 points per 100 possessions (he still misses a lot of reads, but his athleticism covers some mistakes), but that does not make up for the 8.1 points per 100 the offense drops when he is on the floor. Cauley-Stein can only score at the rim, every team helps off him on the other Kings’ shooters, and he isn’t comfortable in the offense and often just seems more in the way than anything. Getting him back is good for his needed development, but it’s not a huge “here come the wins now” kind of boost for the Kings.
The bigger boost may be in Denver, where Jusuf Nurkic is back. That word comes straight from the man himself.
Last season Nurkic contributed more than expected as a rookie, particularly with physical play around the rim. The Nuggets were 3.4 points per 100 better last season when he was on the court than sitting (and he got a lot of run after the Timofey Mozgov trade). He is a beast of a player inside, but he has to learn to pick his spots defensively (his aggression led to seemingly constant foul trouble). He can defend the pick-and-roll fairly well for big man, which the Nuggets can use.
Denver needs to get Nurkic and rookie Emmanuel Mudiay working together. These two can be two parts of the Nuggets future, and they need to start letting them develop pick-and-roll chemistry and see how they fit together.
Even after Kobe Bryant walks away from the game at the end of this season, it’s easy to picture him as the guru on the mountaintop that many future players seek out for advice. Sort of like Hakeem Olajuwon has become for anyone wanting to work on post moves.
That has started out already, and not just with the young players on the Lakers.
Boston’s dynamic guard Isaiah Thomas wanted just to meet and talk with Kobe for a minute before the Lakers took on the Celtics this week, but as Thomas told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, it became much more than that.
Thomas hoped to simply say hello and perhaps have him sign a jersey.
“But he came and sat down and talked, just me and him, for like 20 minutes,” Thomas said Friday. “It was probably the best talk I’ve ever had….
“He told me this story about how a lion seeks food, whatever he’s gonna kill and eat,” Thomas said. “And you know how many bugs are on the lion’s eyes and gnats on his body? He’s so locked in on that zebra that he doesn’t get distracted by anything else. He said if you get distracted by little things, then you’re not as locked in as you think you are. He said for me to be a lion, and that’s gonna stick with me the rest of my life.”
Thomas has some lion in him already, or a 5’9″ guy drafted 60th wouldn’t have become a 20 point a game scorer in the NBA. Also, that lion story is about the most Kobe story there can be — the hunter ignoring distractions to focus solely on his prey.
Thomas had 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the game, but Kobe had the strong fourth quarter and sunk the dagger into the Celtics one last time in the Lakers 112-104 win.
Around the NBA, a player being out with “flu-like symptoms” sometimes is code for “too hungover to play.”
So when Dwyane Wade didn’t start for the Heat on New Year’s Day due to flu-like symptoms but came off the bench after receiving some IV fluids, rumors swirled. Wade heard them and took to Twitter to try to squash them.
Way to get the plug in for your brand even in a denial. That’s a pro.
Wade was more detailed in speaking to the media, as reported by Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post.
“I was out there warming up and was just a little weak,” he said. “I decided to take a seat and I started shaking a little bit and got extra weak, so I decided to come back (in the locker room) and have the trainers try to see what was the problem. Got a couple IVs in me. The doc thought I was a little dehydrated, but it was all good.
“The doctors did a good job making sure that’s all it was — a lot of technical, blood pressure, trying to take your temperature and everything. But it was all good. I felt a lot better when I got the fluid in me.”
My default position is cynical, but in Wade’s case I tend to believe him. He’s not a 24-year-old partier, he’s been around the block. Plus he has kids, and anyone with kids will tell you they alter your New Year’s plans forever.
Wade scored 10 points in 19 minutes as a reserve, including eight in the third quarter after starting the second half. Miami cruised to a 102-86 win over a flat Mavericks team.
Stephen Curry might balk at taking that three.
Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic floated out above the three-point line as an outlet for Jimmy Butler after his drive stalled and he needed to give up the ball. Notice that there is still :09 on the shot clock when Mirotic decides this is a good 30 footer to take and launches it. And drains it.
For Bulls fans, it was a “no, no, no, yes!” shot.
Mirotic was hot, shooting 4-of-6 from three on his way to 17 points in the Bulls 108-81 thrashing of the Knicks.
You know the Knicks had a bad night when they missed their first 10 shots of the game and that wasn’t their worst stretch of play.
The Knicks saved that for the fourth quarter, when they scored just eight points on 2-of-19 shooting. The Bulls’ Doug McDermott outscored Chicago by himself that quarter (11-8). Chicago won that quarter 31-8 and the game comfortably.
After the game, Knicks’ coach Derek Fisher was understandably pissed, as reported by the New York Post’s Marc Berman.
“We don’t want to be front-runners — guys who can play hard when things are going well,’’ Fisher said. “We don’t want to be a team when it starts to rain a little bit, we give in. I thought we gave in a little bit there in the fourth quarter.
“We had shots that didn’t go in in the fourth quarter, and I thought we got discouraged and the energy turned around the other way and it snowballed from there. There should’ve been enough left in the tank.’’
Fisher is trying to motivate the troops — that’s what he’s there to do. The team seemed distracted, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise in the wake of the Cleanthony Early situation. Fisher wants to get their focus back — but don’t dance around the word “soft” if you want to use it, Derek.
This is a team with playoff aspirations that is now four games out of the final playoff spot in the East and has a couple of decent teams to pass (Detroit, Charlotte) if they are going to make it. The Knicks should be playing with some desperation right now, they have work to do, and instead they came out and played like J.R. Smith on an early Sunday start time. Knicks fans were pissed, and they had every right to be.
For all the hope Kristaps Porzingis provides for the future, there are still a lot of questions about this roster that need to be answered. And dealt with.