Artest still regrets “bailing out” on Pacers

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Ron Artest was once the most infamous player in the NBA. Now he’s a world champion, a fan and media favorite, and a philanthropist. However, none of the good things that Artest has done on and off the court in the last few years have made him feel any better about how things ended for him in Indiana. Bob Kravitz of the Indiana Star has the story:

Even as he continues to bask in the glory of his first NBA championship, Artest lives with deep remorse over how it all came down in Indiana.

“A coward, I was a coward,” Artest said before Wednesday night’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Pacers. “When you do coward stuff, you feel like a coward. I don’t care if it was done intentionally or by mistake, you’re still a coward. I don’t care how young I was. That’s not an excuse.”

Artest admits that his mental health issues were a major cause of the problems he had in Indiana, and is trying to help other people, especially kids, get the kind of help he needed to fix his problems:

What Artest wants is for kids, troubled kids, to have the same access to necessary therapy he has been blessed to receive.

“It’s cost me $75,000 to fix my problems,” he said with a laugh. “How many people have 75 grand? I want more therapists and counselors in the schools. I want people, especially our kids, to get the help they need, and to be properly diagnosed by professionals.”

It’s great that Artest has gotten to such a good place, both personally and professionally. It’s just a bummer for Indiana fans that Artest had to go through rough times with the Pacers before getting his life together while playing for other teams.

Rumor: Could Tyronn Lue step away from Clippers after season?

Oklahoma City Thunder v LA Clippers
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images
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Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has clearly been frustrated this season.

It’s been the things out of his control — injuries and load management forcing constant lineup shuffling, and with that difficulty in building continuity — that have left Lue exasperated at points. However, is that enough to make Lue walk away from the Clippers this summer? That rumor is out there, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports said during the new No Cap Room podcast with Dan Devine. (Hat tip Hoopshype.)

Ty Lue, as respected head coach as they come, but there has been chatter, let’s say about potentially him, in theory, removing himself from the situation at a certain point in time. So there’s a lot I think, at stake on the other side of L.A. where the Lakers get all the attention and LeBron’s quest for a fifth ring is always soaking up the headlines, the Clippers could end up becoming a super buzzy team in the postseason and but again, that could be a situation for a lot of organizations.

This is the fourth year of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era with the Clippers, with iffy results at best. It cost a lot of money — not to mention draft capital and talent like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — to bring this roster together and they have one Western Conference Finals trip to show for it (2021, Lue’s first year as coach). This season they will head into the playoffs with an injured George trying to get back on the court (the good news is he doesn’t need knee surgery, but it may be closer to the second round before he can play).

Both Leonard and George are locked in for next season — at a combined $91.3 million — with player options for the season after that, but there is a sense around the league that if these Clippers don’t make a run in this year’s wide-open West playoffs there could be changes. Steve Ballmer has money to spend, but he wants results for all the checks he’s writing and there is real pressure on this organization to make that happen.

Lue could have had enough and choose to step away from that situation. Or be told to step away. Lue is in the third year of a five-year contract he signed to take over from Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, but it may be decision time for both sides.

What happens over the next couple of months will have a lot of influence over what comes next for these Clippers, but there could be changes coming to this Los Angeles team. They will be one of the more interesting teams to watch this coming off-season.

Three things to Know: Clippers find blueprint to win without Paul George

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LOS ANGELES — Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Clippers find blueprint to win without Paul George

What do the Clippers need to do if they are going to hold on to a top-six seed — and be a threat early in the playoffs — without the injured Paul George?

It starts with Kawhi Leonard if you ask coach Tyronn Lue: “We need him to be in attack mode all night, you know, can’t ease into the games.”

Leonard scored 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting in the first quarter Thursday night. Box checked.

All night long the Clippers were following the blueprint Lue laid out to win without George, and the result was a comfortable 127-105 victory against the Thunder.

Leonard, maybe motivated by the lock-down defense Lu Dort played on him at the end of Tuesday’s game (although Kawhi denied that), Leonard had one of his best games of the season, scoring 30 points on 13-of-15 shooting. Leonard also will have to take on tougher defensive assignments early (something George had done) and the result was Leonard with four steals on the night.

What else was on Lue’s blueprint?

“Play with more pace, more pace in the half court getting to our spots, not walk around,” he said pregame. “Attack the basket, attack the rim, don’t just settle for jump shots.”

That pace especially came from a bench unit led by Bones Hyland (16 points), Terrence Mann (14 points) and Nicolas Batum (4-of-6 from 3). The bench plus Leonard unit changed the game, it was +25 early in the fourth quarter thanks to pace, player movement and shots falling.

The Clippers have also gotten more out of Russell Westbrook than the Lakers did earlier this season, the fit has been better, and he had 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting on the night.

“Just having a Hall-of-Fame point guard on the floor,” Leonard said of what Westbrook has brought to the Clippers. “He brings energy to the team, he brings pace… He plays both ends of the floor, he rebounds the ball… He’s been doing a great job.”

The Clippers are going to have to follow this blueprint for a while. George will be re-evaluated in three weeks and the good news is it appears he has no ligament damage that will require surgery. As Lue said, that’s as good of news as the Clippers could have gotten, considering how nasty the injury looked when it happened. Still, reports suggest George could be out until the second round of the playoffs. If the Clippers are still playing at that point.

They will need a lot more nights like Thursday to get to that point.

2) Isaac Okoro drains game-winner, Cavaliers stun Nets

Donovan Mitchell missed the free throw with 11.6 seconds left that would have tied the game, but his hustle (and a lack of fundamental boxing out by Brooklyn) let him get in the lane and keep the ball alive. It caromed around out to Caris LeVert out near mid-court, he drove and could have thrown up a leaner, but instead he whipped a pass to Isaac Okoro in the opposite corner for a 3.

Ballgame.

The Cavaliers beat the Nets 116-114 Thursday night, sweeping a two-game set from Brooklyn.

The Cavaliers stars stepped up. Mitchell had 31 points, Evan Mobley continued his run of impressive play with 26 points and 16 rebounds, and Jarrett Allen reminded his former team what they are missing inside with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team.

Mikal Bridges led Brooklyn with 32 points, while Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists. But the Nets have dropped five straight games and with that fell half a game behind the idle Heat for the No. 6 seed (and avoiding the play-in) in the East. The Nets and Heat play Saturday in a game that could decide who gets that sixth spot.

3) Brandon Ingram gets first-ever triple-double, Pelicans get much-needed win

How tight is the bottom of the West? From the Timberwolves at No.7 through the Jazz at No.12, every team is tied in the loss column at 37 wins. In that mix, the Mavericks, Lakers, Thunder and Pelicans are tied at 36-37.

The Pelicans are part of that bunch thanks to Brandon Ingram, who had his first triple-double Wednesday night and would not let the Pelicans lose at home to Charlotte.

Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points and 19 rebounds for New Orleans, while CJ McCollum added 19 himself. P.J. Washington led the way for the Hornets with 18.

It will be a wild final couple of weeks out West, and the Pelicans will need more of this Ingram with Zion Williamson out.

Watch Isaac Okoro drain game-winning 3-pointer, Cavaliers top Nets

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NEW YORK — Isaac Okoro hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.7 seconds remaining and finished with 11 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Brooklyn 116-114 Thursday night and closed in on their first playoff berth since 2018 with a two-game sweep of the Nets.

“It was a lot of pressure put into the shot, of course,” Okoro said. “You always feel good with a game-winner. For me, it was my first one.”

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points, Evan Mobley had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Jarrett Allen finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team. Cleveland, which beat Brooklyn 115-109 on Tuesday, won for the eighth time in 10 games and reduced its magic number to clinch one of the Eastern Conference’s top playoff spots to two.

“It was ugly at times,” Mitchell said. “There’s just so much going on (in the playoff race), and at the end of the day all we can do is control what we can control and winning these games instead of praying that other teams lose or win, we just gotta go out there and do what we do, and it’s great to have a win like this tonight.”

Mikal Bridges scored 32 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists and Joe Harris hit five 3-pointers and finished with 15 points as the Nets lost their fifth straight game.

“It’s frustrating,” Bridges said. “Obviously, we’ve got to keep the energy and morale high, but it’s devastating losing like that.”

Cleveland trailed 112-104 with 2:13 left before closing the game on a 12-2 run, with the help of three crucial Nets turnovers. Trailing by one, Mitchell missed a second free throw that would’ve tied the game, then he missed a put-back, and three different Nets had their hands on the ball for the potential rebound before it bounded to Cleveland guard Caris LeVert.

“I thought we did a great job of getting some stops to put ourselves in that position,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You miss the free throw, we had multiple opportunities at it, but guys didn’t quit on the play, and we talk about winning 50-50 balls and winning the scrap.”

LeVert, who spent his first four seasons with Brooklyn, found Okoro in the corner, and he drained the 3-pointer to give Cleveland the lead.

“The ball goes out to Caris, and I’m just running to the corner and going to my spot, and Caris trusted me,” Okoro said. “Once it left my hand, I knew it was going in.”

Bickerstaff said Okoro had no fear of taking the big shot.

“But I think what was most important is Caris saw that he was open and got him the ball, and that speaks to this team,” Bickerstaff said.

A heave from half court by Bridges at the buzzer fell short.

Bridges secured his eighth 30-plus point game as a member of the Nets through three quarters with 14 points in the third quarter. Then Harris heated up with four fourth-quarter 3-pointers in a sub-five-minute span, helping Brooklyn build a 10-point advantage.

“I felt like we deserved to win that game because we did a lot of good things throughout the course of the night,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “This is an opportunity for us to learn who we are.”

The Cavaliers rank first in the NBA in points-against per game and defensive rating, but had no answer for the Nets offense, which shot 56% in the first half. Dinwiddie had 19 points, including 11 in the second quarter, and seven assists, helping Brooklyn take a 61-60 lead into the break.

Mitchell and Bridges each scored in double figures in the first quarter, seeming to trade baskets in the early going. Mitchell scored 12 in the first, including nine in the first 2:17. Bridges had 10, helping the Nets build a 33-31 lead after one.

Malone says Jokić turned off by ‘ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation’

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There has always been some element of “if you don’t see things the way I do you’re an idiot” in the NBA MVP conversation. Between sports talking heads and fevered fans on social media, there have always been some pushing the edge in the MVP debate.

However, something about Nikola Jokić looking like he would win a third-straight MVP around the All-Star break — fueled by Tim Bontemps straw poll at ESPN — turned the conversation much more intense much earlier this season. And it got nasty — again driven by ESPN on-air personalities. Some past MVP votes were re-litigated through the lens of this season, while other fans and media equated backing their guy with tearing down someone else (often Jokić, but sometimes Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo, the other frontrunners). That has turned Jokić off from the conversation, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after his team beat the Wizards Wednesday.

Here’s the full quote:

“I think this year unfortunately has just taken a really ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation, and I think it’s really turned a lot of people off, including [Jokić]. And what’s happening now is there’s so many guys that could win the MVP this year. Great candidates. Joel Embiid is a great candidate, Luka Doncic is a great candidate, Jayson Tatum, whoever you want to put in that mix, those are all deserving. But what happens in today’s society is that everybody, it’s like when I was a college coach and all the negative recruiting. It’s not promoting my guy, it’s ripping down every other guy. And that’s just ridiculous.

“This game, as Adam Silver told us at the All-Star break, the game is in a great spot. The league’s in a great spot. We have great players. Celebrate them. Don’t criticize, don’t tear them down. Build them all up, and whoever wins it, good for them. And that’s one thing that’s been really disappointing this year with the whole MVP conversation and all the hot takes. It’s really just gotten ugly and nasty, and I really don’t care for it.”

Malone isn’t the only person saying this. Jeff Van Gundy talked about this on the Lowe Post Podcast.

“Can we stop trying to put people down?” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said recently. “We should be celebrating our guys in the league. Giannis, Jayson Tatum, Joker, all of them are great. We don’t need to push one down to elevate the other guy. They all are completely different players.”

The NBA may not always like the tone but it LOVES the debate — it does not want everyone hugging it out. They want drama and tension. They want an argument. And in an online world where tearing someone down gets more clicks/eyeballs than lifting someone up, the debate was always going to get ugly at times.

[Side note: What grates on voters (*raises hand*) is when people jump in our mentions or timelines saying that this stat or style of play – clutch points, defense, some advanced stat, head-to-head play — makes it clear and obvious that it has to be Player X. The NBA goes out of its way to get a very diverse group of voters in terms of background, and everybody brings their own criteria to the table. As it should be.]

There is no single NBA-sanctioned definition of MVP for a reason — the league wants the arguments.

Which this race is providing. You can make a legitimate argument for Jokić, Embiid and Antetokounmpo. It’s boring (and bad sports talk) to say there is no bad choice among them… but there is no bad choice among them.

That said, some passion and a little edge are welcomed in the conversation. Ideally, people just know where the line is.