Game of the Night: John Wall vs. Evan Turner turns out to be about Andray Blatche

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We tuned in to see John Wall matched up on Evan Turner — and we got a little of that late in the game.

But it ended up being about a lot more. It ended up being about Andray Blatche finding the guy from the end of last season. It ended up being about whether or not to foul when up three late. It ended up being one of the more entertaining games of the young season — Wizards won 116-115 in overtime.

It even started out entertaining, with Wall doing the dougie out to the other starters before the game. Washington is all about Wall.

Then for the first six minutes of the rookie’s home opener, Jrue Holiday took Wall to school. On one of the first possessions, Holiday just stepped behind a screen and knocked down a two. Two possessions later he was coming off the baseline out to the wing, felt Wall overplaying and denying the pass so Holiday went backdoor and just lost him and got a dunk. On a Wizards possession a couple plays later Wall gets the handoff coming off a wing screen and tries to drive but Holiday catches him and ties him up. At least Wall won the tip. A little bit later, Holiday with a long two over Wall.

Wall is going to be very good, but nerves and another good point guard gave him a wake up call.

Then Wall settled down Lou Williams came in for Holiday. Wall was too quick, too strong for Williams and he started getting in deep, getting good looks or getting fouled. Wall ended up with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Meanwhile Wall just seemed to go off: Half of Wall’s 16 shots came at the rim (dunks and layups) and he was 7-8 at the rim, 2-8 on jump shots (both deep twos). Wall also was fouled a lot and got to the line 14 times. He was aggressive at both ends, getting nine steals.

Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick of the Sixers, doesn’t bring the dynamic play of Wall, but you can see him starting to find his way through and around the NBA game and the Sixers play.

Well, you didn’t see that in the first half. He really just floated through the half, playing but not really impacting the game at all. But in the second half he started to find his spots, he got to play a little point guard late, he seemed able to assert himself more that way. He got all his points in the midrange — he cannot explode to the rim like Wall.

While Wall was a star, tonight saw the return of the Andray Blatche from the end of last season that carried the Wizards — because he stopped settling and started just attacking the rim. Something he said he would do before the game — 7 of his 17 shots came at the rim. More than that he drew contact and got to the line for 14 free throws.

Nowhere was that aggression more evident than the game-winning basket in overtime, where Blatche set a down screen for Al Thornton, then popped to 12 feet, got the pass, jab stepped then went by Elton Brand like he was a statue to get to the rim. Brand had to foul, Blatche drained the free throws. Blatche has so many skills — he’s not always efficient with them but he has the skills — and when he just goes at it and attacks those skills are hard to stop.

The one other interesting thing was something Sebastian Pruiti wrote about at NBA Playbook — the Sixers fouling at the end of regulation up three. Pruiti and I disagree about whether or not to foul in that situation. I think you do it at the six second mark or less. But I agree with Pruiti on this — the first last foul, on Wall was too early and in a bad spot. They fouled Wall while he was dribbling early and not in a dangerous spot on the floor. The second time — Cartier Martin’s tying shot, they did not foul when a quick foul was what they needed.

The Sixers did not execute the late fouling strategy well, extended the game and gave the opposing team a chance. And lost.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.