We’ve played 20 games, let’s give out some awards

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There’s a lot of people around the league that say you don’t really know much until you’re about 20 games into an NBA season, then the patterns have established themselves.

Well, we’re about 20 games in now, one quarter of the season gone. Patterns are established. So…

Let’s give out some first-quarter awards to players and teams. Take stock of the league.

Most Valuable Player

1. Chris Paul (PG, New Orleans Hornets). This race is going to be interesting because the preseason frontrunners — Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant — are around but kind of a step back right now. They are behind Chris Paul, who is healthy and back to being one of the league’s dominant players. The rest of the Hornets roster isn’t that good, but they look it when Paul is setting the table. We’re overlooking the Hornets recent slide — for now.

2. Dwight Howard, (C, Orlando Magic). The guy gets overlooked every season, but he is the anchor in the middle on a contending team. A defensive force. And before you say, “he doesn’t have enough offensive moves” I suggest you go watch his play again this season. Best he has played in his career so far.

3. Russell Westbrook (PG, Oklahoma City Thunder). Durant who? Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad but early on this season the Thunder have been Westbook’s team. He is attacking in transition, making shots, setting up teammates and has the second best PER in the league. He’s in the mix.

Others in the mix: Kobe, LeBron, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, Al Horford and Deron Williams.

Biggest Disappointment (Player)

1. John Salmons (G, Milwaukee Bucks). This is very subjective because it is based more on expectations than anything. And Salmons is getting scapegoated here for a disappointing Milwaukee team. But the last two seasons he was the guy traded at the deadline that sparked his new team into the playoffs. Last season with the Bucks he scored 19.9 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting, this season he is averaging 12.6 points on 36.9 percent. Injuries are a part of that, but still.

2. Yao Ming (C, Houston Rockets). Again hopes and expectations dashed by injury. Not that this is his fault, it’s just disappointing.

3. Tyreke Evans (G, Sacramento Kings). His reworked jump shot is no better than his old one so far, he is attacking less, and he is at the helm of the worst team in the NBA right now. Again, injuries play a pretty big role.

Others in the mix: Joe Johnson, Terrence Williams, Brendan Haywood… really, we could go on forever here.

Rookie Of The Year

1. Blake Griffin (PF, Los Angeles Clippers). This would be a runaway right now. Not that other rookies haven’t been good, but Blake has been just a beast scoring inside, rebounding, running in transition. Oh, the highlight reel dunks are in there too.

2. John Wall (PG, Washington Wizards). We all knew he’s a blur with the ball, but Phil Jackson made a good point about him before the Lakers game Tuesday — Wall is just starting to figure out his spots on the floor in the NBA. Every scorer has his spots he wants to get to, Wall is just discovering his, and as he does his shooting numbers will improve.

3. Landry Fields (SG, New York Knicks). Steal of the draft. Out on the West Coast we saw plenty of this Stanford product and thought “he’ll make a nice rotation player in a few years” but he is starting for the resurgent Knicks, giving them 11 points and 7.5 boards a game, and is just playing smart ball. Some guys just get how to fit in the NBA faster.

Most Disappointing Rookie

1. Evan Turner (G, Philadelphia 76ers). He was supposed to be the guy with the NBA-ready game who could slide right in and play. Maybe not the ceiling of others, but he could play now. Or not. He’s not sure how to fit in the system, Doug Collins doesn’t seem to know how to use him, but if he would just make some shots (41 percent overall and 1 of 11 from three) things would look better.

Others in the mix: Nobody is really close to Turner here. Some slow starters but you see potential elsewhere that Turner has yet to show.

Most Surprising Team/Coach of the year

1. San Antonio Spurs/Gregg Popovich. We lump these two together because the coach of the year is usually the guy whose team surprised us the most by exceeding expectations. And so far that is the Spurs – we knew they would be good and solid, but so far they look like contenders. They are pressing the tempo with Tony Parker, forcing turnovers, and counting less on Tim Duncan and more on their fantastic guard play. We’ll see if they can stay healthy, but 20 games in they are the biggest surprise because they are such a threat.

2. New York Knicks/Mike D’Antoni. Hey, who knew — you can run an up-tempo offense in the East. Well, of course you can, it’s a matter of having the talent to do it, and with Amar’s Stoudemire and the fast-improving in the system Raymond Felton the Knicks now have it. Wilson Chandler and others are playing their roles well. The schedule has been soft, but they have been better than advertised so far.

3. New Orleans Hornets/Monty Williams. If one team is really going to fall from this list, my pick is the Hornets. Not because of Chris Paul or the players so much — although the roster’s limitations will catch up with them — so much as teams going through ownership turmoil just tend to crumble.

Just missing out: Indiana Pacers/Jim O’Brien.

Most Disappointing Team

1. Milwaukee Bucks. How does a team with Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Andrew Bogut and Corey Maggette have the worst offense in the NBA? Yes there have been injuries but this team has been flat out ugly to watch.

2. Portland Trail Blazers. Injuries are the reason here — another season lost for Greg Oden and Brandon Roy’s knees will never be right — but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Hopes were high.

3. Houston Rockets. Again injuries, to Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks have hurt. But even when they have played this team just has not molded together well.

Some quick hits on my other votes (well, if I had a vote):

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. (Kevin Garnett is close behind.)

Sixth Man of the Year: Wilson Chandler, New York Knicks. (Jason Terry will probably win it, and he has earned it, but I wanted to vote for someone different).

Most Improved Player: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers.

Report: Danuel House apologized to Rockets before leaving bubble

Rockets forward Danuel House
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Rockets forward Danuel House left the bubble after the NBA determined he “had a guest” – reportedly a female coronavirus tester – “in his hotel room over multiple hours on September 8 who was not authorized to be on campus.”

House reportedly maintained his innocence.

At least to NBA investigators.

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

From what I understand, House apologized to the entire team before exiting the bubble.

I wonder what exactly House apologized for. An apology isn’t necessarily an admission of wrongdoing. But this at least implies he came clean in the end.

Houston missed House, who had been playing very well off the bench. The Rockets split the first two games of their second-round series against the Lakers then dropped three straight without him.

Was that slide all because of House’s absence? No. Would Houston have beaten the Lakers with House? Probably not.

But the Rockets had a chance at a championship this year, and their odds shrunk sans House. With James Harden, Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker aging, these opportunities won’t keep coming around forever.

House – who has two more seasons left on his contract – might need to regain trust of this team. He’s not good enough to get preferential treatment. Role players must do their part to fit in.

Anthony Davis on sprained ankle: “Rolled it pretty bad… I’ll be fine”

anthony davis ankle
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Anthony Davis has been the best Laker throughout the playoffs, particularly in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets. Davis averaged 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and the Los Angeles Lakers are outscoring the Nuggets by seven points per 100 possessions when Davis is on the floor.

Behind the play of Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and now just have to do what the Jazz and Clippers couldn’t: Get one more win.

Which might be harder to do after Davis rolled his ankle midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night.

Davis stayed in the game after that, but could it impact him in Game 5?

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Laker coach Fran Vogel noted that with ankles it is often the next day when there is a sense of the severity.

“We’ll see how it responds overnight, responds to treatment,” Vogel said. “Yeah, there’s always concern with an injury like that. It was good for him to play through it, but we’ll see how he responds overnight.”

With the Lakers just one win from the NBA Finals, if Anthony Davis can walk he will play on Saturday in Game 5. The Lakers want to close this series out, they have seen what happens to teas that let the Nuggets hang around.

 

LeBron James speaks more on Breonna Taylor, power of Black women

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The decision not to prosecute the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor in her home has frustrated and angered NBA players. A number of them have spoken out, including Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who played his college ball in Louisville, Taylor’s home town.

LeBron James also has spoken out, saying the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Asked about it after the Lakers Game 4 win on Thursday, LeBron spoke about justice.

LeBron also had taken to social media to talk about the challenges Black women face.

When asked about that Tweet after Thursday’s game, James was more than willing to open up on the topic.

“You just look at the history of America and the disrespect that Black women have gotten for the last 400 years. You can’t turn a blind eye to that,” James said. “When I look at my household and see my daughter, who is five on her way to six, my wife and my mom, rest in peace my grandmother, so many Black women have done so many things for me. Seeing the sacrifices they made, especially my mom when I was growing up. They were disrespected along the way and it’s still like that today.

“In the case of Breonna Taylor’s case, it’s just shown once again that the walls of the neighbor is more important than her life.

“So not only did I want to acknowledge all the queens in this world, all the Black queens in this world, but the ones in my life, the personal ones, too. I just kind of had a moment yesterday. I mean, I have a lot of moments, but felt like it was important to let Black women know that you’re not alone. No matter the disrespect or what they may feel, don’t stop. Because that’s exactly what they want you guys to do. They want you guys to stop. They want you guys not to be as powerful as you guys are, not as strong as you guys are, as determined as you guys are. They want you all to be at bay. They want you to accept what’s going on. For sure, I won’t allow that.”

Powerful words from LeBron, who once again is using his platform to speak for a lot of others with these sentiments.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Los Angeles Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.