Weekend Observations 1.14.12: The Nightmarejao Effect

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Each weekend we bring you 25 random observations from the NBA week that was. 

1. Gregg Popovich’s talk about defense isn’t just his usual grousing. The Spurs were brilliant the first handful of games defensively but their regression has seemed very emblematic of last year’s team. They are slipping further and further away from what won them a championship. And the regression seems to be a tendency for this roster and not a philosophical divide.

2. While you were reading this, Ivan Johnson burned your village down and dunked on you.

3. I said after the loss to L.A. that for Memphis to win consistently with Zach Randolph out, Rudy Gay would have to average 25 points or more. In the next game, he scored 26 points. The Grizzlies won. I am clearly a genius. But in reality, it’s just that the Grizzlies need a versatile scorer who can force the defense to react and create opportunities for other players.

4. Andre Miller should not be starting and definitely not in Denver.

5. I a choosing not to be frustrated by the lost potential of Dwight Howard’s free throw shooting and instead focus on the fact that he is not going through the motions despite his trade demand, and instead murdering teams inside and on the glass.

6. Some things just say it all about the truncated season’s impact on shooting percentages.

7. There isn’t a player in the league who simultaneously has a poorer level of self-awareness off the floor than LeBron James, and there isn’t a player who has a higher level of self-awareness on the floor than James. Any writer who’s profiled him will tell you how much he pays attention to basketball 24-7. He always has it on at his house. He’s always studying it. That same self-awareness has something to do with his fourth-quarter foibles, no matter how you choose to interpret them. Too far in his own head.

8. MOAR JEREBKO.

9. Modern NBA defense is built around preventing perimeter penetration with help defense. Derrick Rose is faster than help defense. You know the old idea that you can outrun the cop car but you can’t outrun the radio? Rose can outrun a sattelite array.

10. It’s probably time to start wondering if Ian Mahinmi shouldn’t start for Mavericks, even if the learning experience would be painful for a while.

11. Beating bad teams get you very little credit in this league. But considering that Philadelphia is absolutely obliterating them, maybe if you add it all up it amounts to credit.

12. When James Harden winds up starting for the Thunder, Al Harrington should move into the top 6th Man of the Year spot.

13. It’s true that the Lakers can’t lean on Kobe Bryant this much when the playoffs start. But isn’t it nice for the Lakers to know they can?

14. It might be time to go ahead and abandon the Bucks ship. I know it’s early, but it’s so difficult to see a scoring dynamic developing there that will allow them to win consistently.

15. This is your weekly reminder that Antawn Jamison, well-intentioned, total professional that he is, still shouldn’t be playing.

16. We will miss your efficiency and crafty play, Al Horford.

17. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams already have such great chemistry. Williams needs more minutes.

18. Both Denver and the Clippers employed a tactic against the Heat this week that the Mavericks used in the Finals. It’s just a slight full-court press, just enough to stop the ball momentarily, which allows the other defenders toset the transition defense and force the Heat up against the clock. And it still works.

19. If you’ve seen the real Kevin Garnett, please call Boston. They’re worried.

20. Anyone who sees the Raptors’ record and really thinks they’re “bad” isn’t really watching their games. Same goes for the Bobcats. Losing to bad teams on good nights and good teams on bad nights doesn’t put you in New Jersey or Washington’s class.

21. Kyrie Iving is doing more to help his team compete every night than any rookie in the league. He likely will not get enough attention, but it should be noted how good Irving has been this year. He’s really come alive this week. He’s playing smarter with every game.

22. Anthony Morrow has rediscovered his offensive game, and that’s a really good thing for all involved.

23. I’d be so much more forgiving of DeMarcus Cousins’ inconsistency and immaturity if he gave anything resembling a passionate approach on defense. Samuel Dalembert ate his lunch this week, among others.

24. Utah’s frontcourt is one of the most fun to watch in the league. Versatile, relentless, and confident. It’s starting to mesh in Utah after a horrific start to the year.

25. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert. OK, maybe not as much Iman Shumpert as the Memphis game. But still.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.

Rockets survive gut punch from Warriors, even Western Conference Finals at 2-2

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The Houston Rockets can only win against the Golden State Warriors in one way: ugly.

During their Game 2 blowout against the defending champions, Houston’s 22-point victory was ugly for the Warriors. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win, it was ugly for the Rockets despite the 95-92 score in their favor.

Golden State came out of the gates hot, scoring the first 12 points of the game as it was clear that the Warriors were drawing off of the home crowd back in Oakland. Houston eventually settled, coming back with a massive 34-point second quarter. Mike D’Antoni, using an abbreviated rotation, found a way to up his team’s defense on the Warriors, clamping down on Golden State from the 3-point line.

The Rockets took a 53-46 lead into the half, and needed to brace for the coming changes from Steve Kerr’s squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors answered with a 34 point quarter of their own to open the second half. Golden State found their range from 3-point land as — guess who — Stephen Curry started to go nuclear. Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points but shot a woeful 37.5 percent from the field, started to slow even as he got open looks off jumpers above smaller defenders.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Houston remained resolute, and full of energy as PJ Tucker and Chris Paul jumped for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Meanwhile, Golden State appeared to slowly run out of gas. Steve Kerr said as much after the game, intimating that his own shortened lineup without Andre Iguodala could have played a role.

D’Antoni, who obviously had a game plan to better defend Durant, then focused his attention toward Curry. The Warriors point guard finished the game shooting 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter, including a miss on the final shot of the game.

Curry scored 28 points with six rebounds and two assists. Durant added 12 rebounds and three assists to his scoring total. Draymond Green contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

For Houston it was Harden who led the way with 30 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Paul had 27 points to go with four assists and two rebounds. PJ Tucker, who scored just four points, grabbed a whopping 16 boards. Clint Capela was much the same, scoring eight points while grabbing 13 rebounds.

This season’s Western Conference fighters has been both puzzling and Expected. Well the variants of victory margin has been much greater than any of us anticipated for both sides, the fact that the coaches on each bench are trying to out dual each other each game Runs with the idea we have of some of the best playoff series in NBA history. In fact, the back-and-forth battle between two teams as they trade winds is perhaps what makes be later rounds of the NBA playoffs so worth watching.

Houston’s victory was gritty, and defensive, and not much to look at. True to his persona, after the final horn Rockets point guard Paul called it, “A fun game.”

While we finally got ourselves a close conference finals game out West, the question now turns to what the teams will do for Game 5 back in Houston. Will this series become more competitive? Or will Houston and Golden State continue the back-and-forth, big-margin victories we’ve seen thus far?

No matter what, there’s no doubt the Rockets will be trying to recapture the defensive aura they held in Game 4 as Golden State tries to find a way to break through it.

Report: Suns could have traded for Kristaps Porzingis last season

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I’m going to need New York Knicks fans to read this one with their eyes closed. Ready? Here we go.

The Phoenix Suns recently won the right to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. That means they will be adding a player like Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, or Marvin Bagley to their young roster. Last season, Phoenix selected fourth and picked Josh Jackson. It’s a rebuilding process, to be sure.

But a new report says that if Phoenix would have decided to instead trade the pick they used on Jackson, they could have had Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis.

Seriously.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Phoenix had an opportunity to put together a package that would have sent Porzingis to Arizona. That anything the Suns had, plus the No. 4 pick, would have made that happen is just another testament to why Phil Jackson had to go in New York.

Via the Ryen Russillo show:

The Knicks actually hit on Porzingis, and although he may be out for the entire year next season, he’s a keeper to build around, not to trade. On the other side of things, why the Suns didn’t include that pick and pull the trigger is a head scratcher, although we don’t know the full details of the proposed package.

No doubt New York fans are glad the Suns didn’t decide to accept the offer without that pick.

Watch James Harden dunk all over Draymond Green (VIDEO)

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Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals started off hot for the Golden State Warriors. The defending champs scored the first 12 points of the game, but the Houston Rockets rallied before the half was over to take the lead, 53-46, at the break.

One of the biggest highlight plays from Houston came courtesy of James Harden late in the second quarter.

The play came with 6:06 left to play in the half and with the Rockets pushing on the Warriors in transition. Harden found himself with the ball at the top of the key and with an open lane. That forced Draymond Green to slide over as a help defender, and the result was a thunderous dunk for Harden over the Golden State defensive stalwart.

We’ll forget that Chris Paul probably either travelled or double-dribbled before Harden got the ball on the play.

Golden State leads the series, 2-1.