10 players without household names who can swing a series

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It’s not all about Kobe and LeBron and KG.

Part of the beauty of the playoffs is the little guys (not used literally in the NBA) who don’t get the national media spotlight but often enough suddenly show up and blow people’s doors off. People that couldn’t have picked Tony Allen out of a one-man lineup suddenly love him like a long-lost uncle.

Here are 10 players who are all-too-often overlooked but could swing a playoff series.

Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers. The forward was in the All-Star game in 2010, but playing for a bad Bobcats team then being traded to Portland seemed to take him out of the spotlight. However, he has played maybe the best ball of his career since the trade, averaging 15.8 points per game. He could key a Trail Blazers first round upset of the Mavericks. Wallace is a versatile player, can defend and is an offensive force, plus can rebound. He’s tough, he gets under your skin (he did with Ron Artest recently). He’s going to get a lot of time on Dirk Nowtizki and if he can keep the German in check Portland has a chance. .

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia. If the 76ers are going to push the Heat, it’s because Young will be having a great series. He is a hard working defender who slashes to the rim. He has given the Sixers 12 points and 5 rebounds a game off the bench, and big production from the Philly bench will be key for that team against the top-heavy Heat.

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies. He is a hard-nosed, old school defender who got a lot of playoff experience in Boston. Now, Memphis needs him to shut down Manu Ginobili (well, when Ginobili gets back from his injury). He was shooting 60 percent the last 6 games of the season, and if they get offense out of him their chances of pushing the Spurs goes way up. The Grizzlies need the perimeter production.

James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s always has been important to the Thunder, but since the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade he has stepped up his game, averaging 15.8 per game since the All-Star break. A fun player to watch, he just always seems to make the right play. He will be key in the second round and beyond.

Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets. He is key to any chance the Nuggets have against the Thunder. The quick point guard averaged nearly 16 points per game on 57 percent shooting against the Thunder this season. He needs to break down the Thunder defense, and if he can get a couple fouls on Kendrick Perkins that would help.

Ronny Turiaf, New York Knicks. New York’s chances of knocking off Boston will hinge on getting some stops — the Knicks have some guys who can put up points, but can they keep Boston from scoring? Turiaf will be key here, he was their best defensive center with the four starters after the trade. They need him to protect the rim and rebound.

Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic. He’s a big man with a sweet stroke, hitting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, 41.1 percent in his last 10 games. A real stretch four. He will create matchup problems and if he can wear out guys like Al Horford of Atlanta his team will be a lot better for it.

Jason Collins, Atlanta Hawks. It’s this simple — if he can hold Dwight Howard in check this series, doing so in man-on-man coverage without a lot of help, the Hawks have a chance. During the regular season he was able to single cover Howard and that allowed the other Hawks defenders to stay home on the Magic’s many shooters. He is key to the Hawks chances.

Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets. He has stepped up big for the Hornets since David West went down injured — in the team’s last 10 games he has been the leading scorer at 14.9 points per game on 51.8 shooting. He will be matched up with Pau Gasol and for the Hornets to have a chance of beating the Lakers he’s got to win that battle.

George Hill, San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs count on their bench guys to come in, play the system, defend and knock down shots. Hill does it beautifully. He shot 37.7 percent from three and gave the Spurs 12 points a game, getting big minutes (28 a game). The Spurs bench has been their undoing (well, part of it) in recent seasons and Hill will be key to changing that this time around.

Pelicans Elfrid Payton returns, starts, injured again

Associated Press
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) —The New Orleans Pelicans say point guard Elfrid Payton has a fractured finger on his left hand.

Payton injured his finger in the first quarter of his first game back on Friday night after he’d missed New Orleans’ nine previous games with a right ankle sprain.

Soon after, Payton was ruled out for the remainder of the game against the New York Knicks.

Acquired as a free agent this past offseason, Payton has played in six games for New Orleans. He entered Friday night’s games with averages 11.6 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games, but did not have a point or assist in eight minutes against New York before his latest injury.

 

Kyrie Irving scores 43, Celtics beat Raptors 123-116 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 11 straight Boston points down the stretch and scored 17 in all in the last 8:06 of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime, he really turned it on.

The Celtics guard made or assisted on every basket in the extra period, finishing with 11 assists and a season-high 43 points on Friday night to lead Boston to a 123-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

“Man, he made some shots tonight where you’re just like, `Wow,”‘ forward Gordon Hayward said. “You catch yourself being a fan. When he gets into that mode, the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors. They just couldn’t stop him.”

It was the first time Irving has scored at least 40 points with 10 or more assists in a game. He was the first player do it in the NBA this year, and the first Celtics player since Antoine Walker in 2001.

“Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. “We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”

Jayson Tatum had 21 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who evened the season series at one game apiece against the only team to finish above them in the Eastern Conference last season. The home team has won nine straight matchups.

Serge Ibaka scored 21 and Pascal Siakam had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost three straight since opening the season with 12 victories in their first 13 games. Toronto never led in overtime.

“It was just a veteran game out there, just great competition for a Friday night in the NBA,” Irving said. “You’ve got to appreciate that, two great teams going at it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see them down the road.”

 

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.