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NBA Draft Watch: 10 players to keep an eye on Friday/Sunday in NCAA Tournament

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For a lot of NBA fans, the NCAA Tournament is when we get a first good look at guys who will fill up the NBA draft boards next June. For the record, that’s not the case for NBA GMs and scouts. If they think they may take a player they have watched all (or most) of his play this season, they have formed their opinions, and what happens in the tournament doesn’t move the needle as much as fans think.

Who should you be watching this first Friday/Sunday of the Tournament? PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson broke it down by regions for Rotoworld, listing a lot of players to watch. We have culled that into lists of players to watch (here is the Thursday/Saturday version). They are listed in current projected draft order (although that certainly will change).

• Jaylen Brown, Freshman, California, Forward – The 6’7”, 225 wing was a consensus top five high school recruit last year, and though he has had typical freshmen rough patches this year, he didn’t disappoint. Solidly built, Brown loves to use his body to attack the basket, often leading to an above-average amount of free throw attempts. He relies on his physical ability more than skill right now, but once he has some momentum on the way to the rim, he is hard to stop. His shooting, both mid- and long-range, isn’t particularly strong right now, but it’s not like his shooting form and motion are broken. With his body, Brown is also able to move to the low post in the right match-ups, using his strength to bully his way to the rim. Brown has improved as a defender this year, and is capable of guarding multiple positions, though he still needs some work on the basics.

• Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma, Guard – Hield, the two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, was also one of the top two players in all college basketball this past season. Last year, when writing about Hield, I noted that he wasn’t a strong perimeter shooter, but he took care of any problems over the summer, emerging as one of the top long-range shooters in the country, hitting 127 threes at a near-47 percent clip. He can hit his jumper in a variety of ways, and it doesn’t matter how closely he is guarded, Hield is confident he will knock it down. While jumpers are much of Hield’s offense, he is also capable taking the ball off the dribble to the basket, showing a quick first step and a nice speed burst, though he can have some troubles finishing. On the defensive end, Hield has the potential to be good, though the focus and effort aren’t always there.

• Demetrius Jackson, Junior, Notre Dame, Guard – Jackson shared the backcourt a year ago with Knick first-rounder Jerian Grant, but he took over the sole point guard duties this season, and the results have been almost as good as expected. At 6’1”, Jackson doesn’t have great speed, but he has a solid build, and he uses his quickness and body well to attack the basket. He does a very good job running the Irish offense, and he is an excellent distributor in the pick-and-roll offense. Jackson’s shooting has been inconsistent this year, but in prior years, he did show the consistent ability to knock down the long-range shot as well as the mid-range jumper off the dribble. His decision making still needs some work, including in transition, but he has the playmaker gene. Defensively, Jackson has some lapses on the ball, but he has improved each season, and larger point guards don’t cause a significant problem for him.

• Deyonta Davis, Freshman, Michigan State, Forward – A long, athletic freshman, Davis became a major piece for the Spartans as the season went on. He has been effective in the low post, using his good footwork and length to create some easy looks around the rim. Davis is also great working along the baseline, cutting to the rim off of penetration and using his reach to get the ball and finish up around the basket. He has a nice feel for hitting the offensive boards. Defensively, Davis has been solid defending in the post, but he has been very good as a rim protector, again showing a nice feel for being able to get into position quickly and extend to get at the shot.

• Ivan Rabb, Freshman, California, Forward – Another heralded freshman in Berkley, Rabb made steady progress throughout the season to become an important part of the Bears’ rotation. While his low post offense is decent at this stage, he uses his long frame to hit the offensive glass to create extra possessions and easy second-chance opportunities. Rabb hasn’t shown much offensive ability stepping away from the basket area yet, but he hasn’t looked terrible on his few opportunities shooting the mid-range jumper. Rabb has the potential to be a force on the defensive end with his long frame and 7’2” wingspan, though he can get pushed around in the post by stronger offensive players.

• Diamond Stone, Freshman, Maryland, Center – As the season went on, Stone became a force in the middle for Maryland, giving them strong play on both ends of the floor. 6’11” and 255 pounds, Stone can be an imposing figure in the post, and he showed impressive skill and footwork for his age. He uses his body well to make his way to the basket, and he has no problem getting physical when hitting the offensive boards. Stone built a good on-court rapport with point guard Melo Trimble, and the duo became very tough to stop in pick-and-roll situations, as well as Stone getting open space around the basket off of Trimble’s penetration. Defensively, other than what seemed like normal freshman lapses, Stone more than held his own in a conference with some quality big men.

• Melo Trimble, Sophomore, Maryland, Guard – Trimble burst onto the scene as a freshman last year, and while there were some rough patches throughout the season, he showed decent growth. Trimble has good size, 6’3”, and great speed. He is a strong pick-and-roll ballhandler, both as a scorer and passer, though his decision-making can be questionable at times. Trimble is a better shooter than his numbers show, especially from long-range, with poor shot selection being a big culprit. He has the speed to beat defenders off the dribble in isolation, and while a creative finisher around the rim, he isn’t afraid to take some contact, drawing fouls at a good rate. On defense, Trimble can be a pest with his activity, though he can be prone to taking risks, and as a result, can find himself out of position. Still, don’t get sloppy with the ball around him.

• Tyrone Wallace, Senior, California, Guard – Wallace, the senior leader for the Bears, battled injuries this season, but came up big down the stretch as the team made a big run towards the postseason. The 6’6” point guard doesn’t dazzle you in any particular area, but he does a great job running the California offense, while adding a scoring punch when needed. Wallace uses his size well against opposing defenders, especially when looking to get to the basket, where his long strides are an advantage. Perimeter shooting has never been a strength, but he is capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers consistently, especially off the dribble. Defensively, Wallace’s size and long arms can cause problems for opponents’ passing lanes, and while he doesn’t have great speed, he has very good instincts.

• Gary Payton II, Senior, Oregon State, Guard – Payton, the son of the NBA Hall of Famer, made an immediate impact last year after moving to Oregon State from junior college, and he followed it up by leading the Beavers to the tournament this season. At 6’3”, Payton has decent size, but he has good speed and control, which allows him to knife through the defense almost at will. He is at his best as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, using great pace to beat primary and help defenders, and either getting to the basket or finding an open teammate. Payton can have some problems finishing around the basket, so he relies on angles to try and find his shots. His jumper is a problem for him, even though he does a great job clearing space for good looks, and he’ll often hesitate on open looks because he’s not confident in the shot. Payton can be a very good defender, though he is better off the ball than on. .

• Prince Ibeh, Senior, Texas, Center – Used sparingly in his first three seasons, Ibeh stepped up as a senior to become a defensive force for the Longhorns. 6’11” and 265 pounds, Ibeh showed the ability to defend the low post well, while also being able to protect the rim as well as anyone in the country, averaging two blocks per game in just 18 minutes per. Ibeh moves well for his size, evident in his improvement defending the pick-and-roll, and he is a quality rebounder on both ends of the floor. There isn’t much to say about him on the offensive end other than he still needs work. He doesn’t show many moves in the low post, and his touch isn’t very good, but he does a good job scoring when a couple of feet from the rim.

Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Spurs now 34-0 at home after beating Trail Blazers

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You weren’t watching NBA games Thursday, admit it. You were watching Providence beat USC, Yale beat Baylor, and your bracket go up in flames. Here’s what you need to know from a Thursday around the Association:

1) Spurs now 34-0 at home after beating Trail Blazers. Warriors up next.
Portland is a good team and a quality test for the Spurs at home — and nobody wanted to talk about that. Everyone was looking ahead to Saturday when the Spurs host the Warriors in a showdown of the two best teams in the NBA. Not that getting Golden State on the second night of a road back-to-back is exactly a fair test, but it’s only the second test we’ve gotten between those teams. (They play a late-season home-and-home, but by then both coaches will be resting players and not tipping their hands.)

Thursday was a potential trap game for the Spurs — they could have been looking ahead, while you know Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum would not be. Portland is no pushover. But Tony Parker wasn’t looking ahead either — he had 18 points, 16 assists and controlled the flow of the game. Parker has been up and down a bit, both this season and of late, and come the playoffs the Spurs are going to need a lot more of this Parker. The first half of this game was fairly close, but the Spurs opened the second half with a 10-0 run and never looked back.

Now Saturday can’t get here fast enough.

2) John Henson ejected after block on Matt Barnes, then Barnes chases him down the tunnel to the locker room.
Fines and suspensions are coming for this one. It started with Matt Barnes (who had 18 first quarter points) deciding not to dribble it out and going for a bucket in the final 10 seconds of a decided game. The Bucks’ John Henson — who had almost gotten into it with Lance Stephenson earlier — decided not to let that happen and rejected Barnes’ shot. Then Henson stared down/mean mugged Barnes, which earned Henson an ejection for taunting. One that was deserved. Not that Henson cared, he played it up to the crowd and threw his jersey into the stands as he was sent back to the locker room.

All this was too much for Barnes, who soon enough chased Henson down the tunnel, and according to reports went into the Bucks’ locker room looking for Henson. Security followed Barnes down the tunnel, and it’s unclear if there was another altercation. What is clear is Barnes is going to get a healthy suspension for this.

3) Raptors get big nights from Lowry, DeRozan, Biyombo and beat Pacers in OT. If the playoffs started today, this would be a first round matchup — Toronto vs. Indiana. It speaks to the depth and parity of the East (behind Cleveland, anyway) that this would be a close, fascinating series. It was for a game (although in a playoff series Toronto would have Jonas Valanciunas who was out, and likely DeMarre Carroll). Toronto went into Indiana and needed overtime, but they got the win 101-94. They did it for a few reasons. One is Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were a handful and combined for 56 points.

But also, with Valanciunas out Bismack Biyombo stepped up with 25 boards.



4) Kyle Lowry drops Myles Turner with just pure speed.
Also, from the Raptors win, the dagger bucket in overtime ended up being a lesson for a Pacers’ rookie. Turner is having a good season and showing a lot of potential as part of the Pacers’ future, but he is still adjusting to life in the NBA after a season at Texas. Kyle Lowry shows him that the speed of NBA players is unlike what he saw in college, and if you’re not balanced that speed will just knock you to the floor.


5) Hornets beat Heat, remain the hottest team in The East.
Atlanta, Boston, Miami, and Charlotte are all within half-a-game of each other for the three through six seeds in the East — and teams want that three seed to stay on the side of the bracket away from Cleveland for as long as they can. When any of those four teams square off, the game matters. Charlotte is 9-1 in its last 10 and quietly has been the hottest team in the East — and it showed on Thursday when they beat Miami 109-106 on the road. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson each had 21 points, while Nicolas Batum had nine of his 19 in the fourth quarter to help secure the win.

Portland’s Ed Davis shows off his hops, gets denied by the rim (VIDEO)

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Veteran Ed Davis has had a solid season in Portland. He’s an efficient player (shooting 60 percent this season, as he did last season) who plays within himself and is solid at both ends, and after trying to showcase his talents on a struggling Lakers team last season he has shown in Portland how he can be used to boost a good team with 20 quality minutes a night.

But he’s not going to put on a dunking exhibition.

He went up to throw down a huge one against the Spurs Thursday and…. that’s not how it worked out.

That’s also how the entire game went for Portland, who watched the Spurs pull away in the second half to go 34-0 at home this season.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard lead Spurs to 34th straight home win

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge each had 22 points and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Portland Trail Blazers 118-110 Thursday night to secure the second-best home start to a season in league history.

The Spurs have won 34 straight at home to open the season and only trail the 37 wins by the Chicago Bulls during their historic 72-victory season in 1995-96. The Orlando Magic won 33 straight to open the season that same season.

A dominant third quarter enabled San Antonio to sit its starters for much of the fourth quarter in advance of Saturday’s showdown with Golden State. The Warriors and the Spurs have both clinched playoff berths and division titles and are on pace to finish with two of the three best single-season records in league history.

Tony Parker had 18 points and a season-high 16 assists. The Spurs shot 52 percent while committing seven turnovers, which was one off its season low.

C.J. McCollum had 26 points and Damian Lillard had 23 for Portland.

San Antonio only had two turnovers in the first half while shooting 50 percent from the field but had trouble gaining any separation from Portland.

But as they have done throughout their home winning streak, the Spurs dominated the start of the second half to take command of the game. San Antonio opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run, with Aldridge scoring seven points and Leonard igniting the run with a 3-pointer. The Spurs had 14 assists on 16 field goals in the third quarter.

Leonard had 11 points in the third quarter, providing a boost on offense and defense. The 6-foot-7 forward wrapped a pass to Duncan for an uncontested dunk after drawing three defenders in the lane. Leonard then disrupted a 3-point attempt and then drained his own 3 on the ensuing possession.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Portland forward/center Meyers Leonard is expected to miss at least three games after dislocating his left shoulder in practice Wednesday. The injury occurred after Gerald Henderson swiped at his arm. Leonard dislocated the same shoulder against San Antonio on Nov. 11, leading to a seven-game absence. … The Trail Blazers have won 16 of their past 24 games. … Portland is 20-1 when leading at the half and 2-13 when trailing. … The Trail Blazers, who play Friday in New Orleans, are 12-17 in back-to-back games.

Spurs: Aldridge has averaged 17 points and six rebounds in three games against the Trail Blazers this season. The 6-foot-11 forward left Portland to sign with San Antonio in the offseason. … The Spurs have won 54 of its past 62 games. … San Antonio took a 56-54 lead at the half when Patty Mills drained a pair of free throws after being fouled near midcourt by Lillard with 0.1 seconds remaining.

 

Hornets top Heat 109-106, rallying from 15-point deficit

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MIAMI (AP) — Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker each scored 21 points, and the Charlotte Hornets overcame a 15-point first-half deficit to beat the Miami Heat 109-106 on Thursday night.

Nic Batum scored 19 for the Hornets, who split four games with Miami this season and now have the same 39-29 record as the Heat in the jampacked Eastern Conference playoff chase. The Hornets are now 15-3 in their last 18 games.

Charlotte trailed 45-30 in the second quarter, then took the lead by halftime and held it for most of the second half. Courtney Lee had 13 and Marvin Williams scored 12 for the Hornets.

Luol Deng led the Heat with 22 points. It was the 10th time this season that Miami lost a game in which it led at one point by double figures, with six of those coming at home.

Charlotte led by six with 3:24 left, but couldn’t shake the Heat.

Dwyane Wade started 1 for 10 from the floor, but made a pair of layups in the final seconds – each getting Miami within a point. Charlotte’s Jeremy Lin got sent to the foul line after each of those baskets by Wade and went 4 for 4 from the stripe in those moments, the last of those coming with 3.8 seconds left to restore the Hornets’ three-point lead.

And that would be enough, as Wade’s 3-pointer with a second left missed.

Josh Richardson scored 18, Hassan Whiteside had 17, Goran Dragic finished with 16 and Joe Johnson added 13 for Miami.

Miami used a 12-0 run to take the 15-point lead at the exact midpoint of the second quarter, and every bit of it was gone by halftime. Walker had 13 points in less than 5 minutes to fuel what became a 24-7 burst by the Hornets to close the half, including a 3-pointer that sent them into the locker room with a 54-52 lead.

The Heat briefly had the lead twice in the third, but a 13-5 run to close that quarter sent Charlotte into the final 12 minutes with an 82-73 edge.

In the fourth, Whiteside and Richardson either scored or had the assist on the first six Miami baskets. Richardson – who is averaging 15.8 points in his last five games on 66 percent shooting, including 15-for-21 from 3-point range – made a 3 to get the Heat within 91-90 midway through the fourth, but Charlotte would not lose the lead at any point in the final quarter.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Charlotte lost starting C Cody Zeller at halftime with left knee soreness. Zeller played 14 minutes before the break, scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds. He made his last three shots from the floor. Jefferson started the second half in his place. … The Hornets are now 11-3 with Lee as a starter.

Heat: Miami reached 100 points for the ninth consecutive game. … Richardson made 7 of his 9 shots. … Wade scored 11 points, getting him within 13 of 20,000 for his career. … A trio of former Miami Hurricane football standouts – Stephen Morris, Jon Feliciano and Ryan Williams – were in attendance, seated near the Heat bench.

BOSH’S TWINS

Chris Bosh, who was on the Heat bench Monday for the first time since a blood clot forced him away from the court in February, was not with his team Thursday night – for a good reason. Bosh and his wife Adrienne welcomed twin sons on Tuesday. The boys, Lennox Noel and Phoenix Avery, met their three siblings for the first time on Thursday.

DOWN THE STRETCH

Charlotte’s schedule for the rest of the season seems favorable. Of the Hornets’ last 14 games, as few as four could be against teams that actually make the playoffs. And the Hornets still have a total of four games left to play against Brooklyn and Philadelphia, the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference. That being said, nine of Charlotte’s last 12 are on the road.