What the Hornets should do if the lockout ends

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It’s a crucial year for the Hornets. Chris Paul can opt out of his contract with New Orleans after this season, and it goes without saying that the franchise would be devastated if Paul left the team. Here are a few ways that the Hornets can build on their spirited first-round performance against the Lakers last season:

– Get Healthy:

After battling injuries for the better part of two regular seasons and seeing his PER drop from 30 in 08-09 to 23.75 in 09-10 and 10-11, Chris Paul used the first round of the playoffs to show everybody that when CP3 is on his game, he’s as good as anybody in the league. Paul is almost unquestionably the league’s best ballhandler and one of its best passers, and he’s turned himself into one of the league’s best outside shooters as well.

If his knees can stay healthy for a full season, he could give the Hornets a fighting chance at getting into the playoffs and winning a series or two all by himself. He’s that good.

David West is CP3’s sidekick on the court, but a torn ACL suffered late in the year kept him out of the playoffs and could cause him to miss a significant portion of this season. If Paul and West both have healthy knees coming into the playoffs, the Hornets could make some noise. If they don’t, it’s hard to envision them as serious contenders.

– Get Players:

It’s not a state secret that the Hornets’ roster is incredibly thin. Outside of Paul, Jarrett Jack, Emeka Okafor, West, and Trevor Ariza, the Hornets don’t have much, and the team desperately needs to stock the roster with some quality role players and veterans (in other words, not Marco Belinelli), who can knock down the open shots that Paul creates and play some defense.

– Stay Defensive:

The secret of the Hornets’ return to the playoffs was their improved defense. Under Monty Williams, the Hornets were a top-10 team in defensive efficiency last season. If the Hornets can maintain their commitment to defense and become the best defensive team in the Western conference (only the Lakers and Mavericks had a higher defensive efficiency in the West than the Hornets did last season), and simply let a healthy CP3 do his thing on offense, they could end up being a very tough out in the playoffs.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid out at least a week, Sixers shift focus to getting healthy

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Joel Embiid will be out at least a week, Philadelphia shifts focus to getting healthy. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was asked about this Monday night, in the wake of his team having a rash of injuries this season while also making sure guys got to rest during the 82. If forced to choose, Rivers wants his team fully healthy entering the playoffs and would give up good seeding to get it.

That’s where the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves now. Coach Brett Brown may not want to have to choose, but ultimately he and his Sixers need to get healthy before the playoffs start. That has to be the priority.

Joel Embiid will be out at least a week with a sprained shoulder, although the MRI reportedly showed no structural damage. As much as Embiid will push to get back on the court, he’s been playing through a few minor injuries and this is the time the Philly staff should make sure he is right before the physicality of the playoffs comes.

Embiid being out is on top of Philly’s other All-Star, Ben Simmons, being out weeks with a pinched nerve in his lower back. The timeline on Simmons’ return is harder to predict because backs and nerves are more unpredictable. He could miss more than a couple of weeks getting this right.

The Sixers responded well on Thursday with a 115-106 win over lowly Knicks, behind Tobias Harris’ 34 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The Sixers are now 28-2 at home.

Next up is a stiffer test: Doc Rivers’ Clippers out in Los Angeles, the start of a four-game road trip through the West.

2) Anthony Davis steps up with LeBron James out, the Lakers rout the struggling Warriors. For Golden State, the cavalry — in the form of Stephen Currycould ride over the hill as soon as Sunday to help save the day.

Thursday night, however, the Warriors looked every bit the worst team in the NBA going against one of the best in the Lakers.

Things went frustratingly poorly for Steve Kerr’s squad: Draymond Green got ejected in the second quarter, the Warriors turned the ball over 27 times, the Lakers won the third quarter 40-17, and after that there was a lot of garbage time on the way to a 116-86 Los Angeles rout of Golden State.

For the Lakers, this was the kind of win they need to keep a cushion on the top of the West (they currently have a 5.5 game lead over the second-seeded Nuggets, six games in the loss column). It’s the kind of cushion that lets them rest key players down the stretch before the playoffs — LeBron and company will call it something other than load management, but they shouldn’t worry about the semantics and just make sure guys get fresh before the postseason. That’s going to be a tough grind for everyone.

3) The NBA fines Minnesota $25,000 for resting a healthy D’Angelo Russell. Minnesota shrugs. The NBA knew that when it came to flopping, warning players and then, after three violations, fining them $5,000, was not the kind of financial hit that would get players to stop doing it. The hope was that making it public every time would shame them into doing it less. In the aggregate, it worked.

It’s not going to be the same with fining teams $25,000 for resting healthy players. It’s just going to lead to a semantics dance.

Thursday the league slapped a $25K fine on Minnesota for “violating the league’s player resting policy.” The league is very sensitive to the “load managment” PR issues.

The Timberwolves’ response was essentially a shrug.

The new management team in Minnesota is very focused on modernizing the health and player development programs in the organization. Resting Russell was part of that, and if they felt the need to make sure Russell was good to go for future games they were not going to be dissuaded from sitting him.

Especially if the cost is just $25,000.

Every other NBA team is going to feel the same way. At this point in the season (and much earlier than this, in reality), every NBA player has bumps/bruises/strains/aches that could use a little rest to get healthy. It is not a stretch for teams to say, “Player X is out due to a sore ankle” (or whatever body part they choose) as opposed to listing him out for rest. It’s a loss for transparency, but teams aren’t going to do things differently. Nor should they. Player health — and, in some cases, making sure they are rested and right for the playoffs — should be the priority.

Frustrated Steve Kerr vents a little after Warriors loss to Lakers (VIDEO)

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Nothing that happened should have been a surprise: The Lakers are one of the NBA’s best teams this regular season and even without LeBron James should have had little trouble with the worst team in the league this season, the Warriors. They didn’t. Draymond Green got ejected in the second quarter, the Warriors turned the ball over 27 times, the Lakers won the third quarter 40-17 and from there cruised to a 116-86 rout of Golden State.

After the game, Kerr was frustrated with his team’s effort in its eighth straight loss. Via Logan Murdoch of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“We understand where we are record-wise,” Kerr said. “But we still have a standard that we need to play to and we didn’t do that…

“Tonight was a step backward in the second half,” Kerr admitted. “I was very disappointed with all of the turnovers. We just let things slip away from us…

“For the most part, this year has gone well in terms of our level of competition and energy,” Kerr said. “But that second half was not up to our standards…

“I think you can probably attribute the lack of continuity to that,” Kerr said. “We’re putting some lineups that haven’t been together all year. Having said that, a lot of careless one-handed passing, cross-court, right into the defender’s arms. A lot of plays that just had nothing to do with continuity and everything to do with fundamentals.”

The Warriors have some hope on the horizon in the form of the return of Stephen Curry, which could happen as early as Sunday against the Wizards. That is what Curry wants, Kerr is being a little more cautious, but it should happen soon.

That should bring a few more wins. Not enough to move the Warriors far up in the lottery, but enough to keep Kerr sane.

 

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis has 20 and 11, leads Pacers past Blazers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 106-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds while T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points each for the Pacers, who have four of their last five.

CJ McCollum had 28 points and eight assists, Gary Trent Jr. had 20 points, and five rebounds, and Hassan Whiteside had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of six.

The Pacers were able to hold off the Blazers’ late push.

After Brogdon made a jumper to give Indiana a 103-93 lead with 1:54 remaining, Portland went on a 7-0 run. McCollum’s floater made it 103-100 with 30 seconds to go.

Myles Turner drilled a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to seal it.

The Trail Blazers went on a 10-1 run late in the first half to push ahead.

McCollum made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 42-40 lead with 3:13 to go in the second quarter. After a free throw by Oladipo, McCollum made another three and then a fadeaway to put the Trail Blazers in front 47-41.

Portland led 49-43 at halftime.

Report: Magic and Pistons talked trading for Nets Spencer Dinwiddie

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Leading up to the NBA trade deadline, at least two NBA teams talked about making a trade for Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. SNY’s Ian Begley reports that the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic had internal discussions about trading for Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie started his NBA career with Detroit before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. After being waived following his only training camp with the Bulls, Dinwiddie signed later that season with the Nets.

That signing has proven to be one of the best finds of Sean Marks’ diamond mining process in Brooklyn. With the Nets, Dinwiddie has become a key rotation player. Last December, Brooklyn inked Dinwiddie to a three-year contract extension that started with this season.

This past summer, Dinwiddie was a key part of the recruiting process to bring free agent Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn. Dinwiddie did that recruiting even though the addition of Irving cost him a spot in starting lineup.

Oddly enough, it’s the presence of Irving on the roster that could lead Marks to consider trading Dinwiddie. With Irving, Durant and Caris LeVert, that’s three players who need the ball a lot. And there is a lot of overlap in position there as well. With a hole at power forward, Begley posited that a Dinwiddie for Aaron Gordon swap might make sense for both Brooklyn and Orlando.

While no trade agreement was reached prior to the deadline, it’s possible that either Detroit (who projects to have $34 million in cap space this summer and needs to add talent) or Orlando (who needs offensive creators) could engage Brooklyn in trade talks this summer. It’s much easier to make a deal that involves big salaries in the summer when teams have more roster flexibility.