Kurt Helin

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Jimmy Butler does his best Jordan impression

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The holidays are over, you’re almost recovered from New Year’s Eve and ready to start hitting the gym (that should last three weeks, admit it) — and it’s time to get back into the flow of the NBA as we run up toward the All-Star break. Here is what you need to know from around the league Sunday:

1) Jimmy Butler did his best MJ impression Sunday. Butler’s first reaction when the breaking of a Michael Jordan record came up was the one Chicago fans want to hear: “Don’t compare me to him. That’s exactly what I said. I don’t want to be compared to him.”

Jimmy Butler is no Michael Jordan, but for one half Sunday he did a good imitation of the legend. Butler started slow then had to leave the game to get stitches after an elbow from Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll. When he came back in the second half, he couldn’t miss on his way to 40 second half points. Toronto helped out; Butler was able to drive to the hoop to cleanly or get open looks, he shredded Toronto’s pick-and-roll coverage. Once he started feeling it he did not miss, check out his second half shot chart.

Jimmy Butler shot chart

Butler was scoring, but he was doing it in the flow of the offense, he was sharing the rock off the pick, too. He helped spark a comeback in the fourth quarter — Toronto led by 15 in the third, but the Bulls ended up with the 115-113 victory on the road. For Toronto, it felt like the playoffs two years ago when Joe Johnson destroyed them. I thought Carroll was brought in to defend strong/hot wing players, but he didn’t seem to have the regular assignment (and Butler scored on him, too). And Toronto’s rim protection needs to improve as well.

2) The Phoenix Suns are a mess. The Los Angeles Lakers are tied for the worst defense in the NBA this season (via NBA.com), and the Phoenix Suns put up just 22 points on them in the first half Sunday, shooting 0-of-10 from three. The Suns shot 21 percent in the first half. For the game, the Suns shot 30.2 percent on uncontested looks (and more than half their shots were uncontested). It was ugly Sunday.

A lot of things around the Suns are ugly right now. Coach Jeff Hornacek has run out some, shall we say, interesting lineups all season trying to find combinations that work. It happened Sunday going very big with Alex Len and Tyson Chandler playing together. But nothing worked, on either end of the floor. Turns out the problem wasn’t the assistant coaches. Now, this team is spiraling down, having been outscored by 11.4 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games.

Phoenix owner Robert Sarver said on Sunday the blame for the Suns starts at the top. It certainly does. His impatience with the rebuilding process, the lack of consistency within the organization are at the heart of Phoenix’s issues. And by the way, it’s not the millennials that are the problem, the Warriors seem to be doing okay with them. It’s the older guys, and not just the ones on the roster.

On the other side, that three wins in a row for the Lakers.

3) Lakers’ fan nails half-court shot to win $95,000.
Nobody around the Lakers could miss on Sunday, and that includes the fan taking the half-court shot for big cash. I wouldn’t call his form pretty, but results are what matter.


4) Kenneth Faried back on the court just one day after scary neck injury.
This was good to see. One day after a neck injury that had him being taken off the court on a stretcher, Faried was back on the court and starting for Denver against Portland. He played nearly 28 minutes and had 13 points in the Nuggets’ loss, but what mattered was that he was back out there.

5) Knicks’ Arron Afflalo drops 38 on Hawks. He was 14-of-17 shooting overall and 7-of-8 from three. This was all about Afflalo getting open within the triangle offense then hitting his jumpers (only three of his shots were within eight feet of the rim, he hit two). This was the smoothest the Knicks offense may have looked this season, with fantastic ball movement, and Afflalo benefited (10 of his 17 shots were uncontested, according to NBA.com’s player tracking). That’s a quality win for New York and the kind they need more of if it plans to climb back into the playoff race in the East (the Knicks are currently three games out of the final playoff slot in the East).

Lou Williams scores 30, Lakers beat Suns 97-77 without Kobe

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lou Williams scored a season-high 30 points, and the Los Angeles Lakers sent Phoenix to its ninth straight loss with a 97-77 rout of the cold-shooting Suns on Sunday night.

The Lakers, coming off victories over Boston and Philadelphia, have won three in a row for the first time since Feb. 22-27 against Boston, Utah and Milwaukee. Rookie Larry Nance Jr. had 15 points and tied a season high with his second straight 14-rebound game.

Kobe Bryant sat out his second straight game because of a sore right shoulder, the same one he had surgery on last January to repair a torn rotator cuff.

The league’s third leading career scorer, who turned 37 in August, is averaging 17.2 points in 29 games. Bryant announced on Nov. 29 that this would be his the final season of his 20-year NBA career.

Brandon Knight had 25 points, nine assists and three rebounds for the Suns, who shot 36 percent from the field and trailed by as many as 38 points en route to their 21st loss in 27 games since beating the Lakers at Phoenix on Nov. 16.

Phoenix center Tyson Chandler, who was ejected midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s 142-119 loss at Sacramento, played only 19 minutes in this one and missed his first five shots before finishing with two points on 1 for 6 shooting.

The Suns were playing their fourth game in five nights and looked tired, making only nine of 46 shots in the first half (19.6 percent) and scoring just 10 points in the opening quarter before the Lakers built their lead to 43-22 – the lowest total in Suns history – by intermission.

Williams ended his 11-point second quarter with a buzzer-beating 3 off an inbounds pass after the Lakers took a 20-second timeout with 1.1 seconds on the clock.

The Suns had won nine of their previous 10 meetings with the Lakers. But despite this loss, they still have a three-game lead over Los Angeles in the race to stay out of the Pacific Division cellar.

TIP-INS

Suns: The Suns (12-25) are 0-15 when scoring fewer than 100 points. … C Alex Len, limited to 6 1-2 minutes of playing time on Saturday because of a sore left hand, came off the bench for the third straight game and had six points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. “They’ve taken X-rays and it’s not broken, but it’s really sore and he has a hard time squeezing his hand,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He’s going to continue to play and try to be a presence out there – at least on the defensive end and spell Tyson in some of those minutes. With all the traveling, every time he goes up in an airplane, it swells up again. So it probably won’t calm down until we get back home.” … The Suns are 0-10 when an opposing player has scored 30 or more points against them. … Phoenix is 0-5 since point guard Eric Bledsoe‘s season-ending injury to his left knee and subsequent surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Lakers: A fan won a $95,000 for hitting a halfcourt shot after the third quarter. … Nance made seven of 10 shots in his first start against the team his dad starred for during his first 6 1-2 NBA seasons. … C Roy Hibbert, the only Laker to start all 35 games, had 13 points and six boards. … Bryant’s highest-scoring game without a 3-point basket was against the Suns, when he scored 48 points on Jan. 10, 2012, at Los Angeles. … The Lakers snapped a nine-game home losing streak against Western Conference teams.

 

Kobe Bryant with insight into why Luke Walton succeeds as coach

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Luke Walton had a solid 10-year career as an NBA reserve where he won a couple of rings as a cog in Phil Jackson’s triangle, but he may be catching a few more eyes now as the “interim” coach of the 28-2 Golden State Warriors. Walton continues in that position Saturday, the rumors that Steve Kerr was going to be back and take over in the big chair turned out to be false.

Looking back, a lot of the people around Walton through his playing days saw a future coach, something Diamond Leung lays out beautifully in a story for the San Jose Mercury News.

Kobe Bryant threw out maybe the most interesting comments.

“I used to tease him when he was playing here about he’s destined to be a much better coach than a player,” Bryant said. “I used to rib him all the time. He didn’t want to hear it because he didn’t have the coaching bug yet, but I could see it in him. It was there. It was just a matter of time.

“He’s extremely smart. He always saw the game in combinations and sequences. … I kind of just chuckle a little bit at it, because I see he’s thinking in threes. Most coaches think in combinations of twos, but he’s thinking in threes. This pass leads to that pass is going to lead to that one. And I remember sitting in the locker room and going over this stuff with him.”

Walton will get a long look by a couple of teams making a head coaching change around the league. The buzz that I heard (and a lot of others have as well) is that Phoenix has interest if/when they move on from Jeff Hornacek. Walton will be in a position to decide whether that organization is one he wants to join — he will have options.

And he will be the only coach in the league with a Grateful Dead tattoo. Well, as far as we know. Nobody has ever asked Gregg Popovich about it.

Watch Paul George score Pacers’ final 21 points in win over Pistons

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Paul George was having a rough night, he was 2-of-11 shooting and the Pacers were in a fight with the Pistons. Well, not literally until the final seconds, and even that was more shove than fight. But the game was tight.

And then George dropped the final 21 points for the Pacers as they pulled away and got the 94-82 win.

George was 7-of-7 shooting in the quarter, and only one of the shots came at the rim. He was 3-of-3 on long twos from the right side of the court, plus he nailed all his threes. He got to the line four times, hitting them all. It was an impressive showing.

Aldridge has 24 points, Spurs beat Rockets 121-103

San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) drives around Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Kawhi Leonard added 22 and the San Antonio Spurs made a season-high 13 3-pointers, avenging an earlier loss to the Houston Rockets with a 121-103 victory on Saturday night.

San Antonio extended its franchise record home start with its 20th straight victory, but this was among its toughest despite the lopsided score.

Dwight Howard had 22 points, including 10 for 17 on free throws, and 11 rebounds. James Harden had 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting for Houston (16-19).

The Rockets’ 88-84 victory on Christmas Day is the Spurs’ only loss in their past 12 games. San Antonio has won four straight since that game while Houston is winless.

The Rockets bullied the Spurs early by pushing them out of their sets and keeping them from cutting to the basket.

Patrick Beverly dug an elbow and shoulder into Tony Parker in the first half while awaiting an inbounds pass, prompting Parker to give him a two-handed shove that did not yield a call.

San Antonio was able to counter that aggression at different points with long-range shooting, quick passing and Aldridge’s own hard-nosed play.

Spurs guard Danny Green said his New Year’s resolution was “to make more shots,” and he fulfilled that promise early. Green opened the game 4 for 5 on 3-pointers, including his first 3, and finished with 18 points on a season-high six 3-pointers.

Aldridge assisted with his most forceful game since signing with the Spurs in the offseason. He was 10 for 16 from the field, including spinning away from Terrence Jones and hitting a fadeaway jumper after absorbing a couple of hard bumps.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Rockets guard Marcus Thornton missed the game following the birth of his daughter, Maleia, with fiancee Lyndsey Duplessis on Friday. Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff was unsure if Thornton would be available for Monday’s game in Utah. … As a 13-year-old, Bickerstaff attended a Spurs camp conducted by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford in Aspen, Colo. David Robinson and Sean Elliott were among those assisting at the camp.

Spurs: Tim Duncan had no points, four rebounds, and two assists in 13 minutes in his return from a three-game absence. Duncan had not played since San Antonio last faced Houston. He missed the ensuing game for rest, but missed the following two due to right knee soreness. … San Antonio tied Houston for the second-best home start to the season in the Western Conference. The 1978 Portland Trail Blazers hold the conference record with 26 straight home victories to open the season. … San Antonio’s previous high for 3-pointers was 10, which they had in four previous games, most recently against Minnesota on Dec. 23.