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.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.

Kris Humphries retires

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At one point, Kris Humphries was one of the NBA’s most-hated players. Because he married Kim Kardashian, I guess. I’m not sure his critics could articulate precisely why they loathed him.

Now, two years after last playing in the NBA, Humphries is retiring.

He announced his decision in The Players’ Tribune, also elaborating on his relationship with Kardashian:

Look, I should have known what I was getting into. I was definitely naive about how much my life was going to change. But the one thing that really bothers me is whenever people say that my marriage was fake.

There’s definitely a lot about that world that is not entirely real. But our actual relationship was 100% real. When it was clear that it wasn’t working … what can I say? It sucked. It’s never easy to go through the embarrassment of something like that — with your friends, with your family…. But when it plays out so publicly, in front of the world, it’s a whole other level. It was brutal.

I didn’t know how to handle it, because I never thought I was going to be famous in that way. I remember having this moment when I was getting booed so hard in Philly, and I thought to myself, “Why exactly are they booing me, though? Is it just because I’m That Guy from TV? Do they think I was trying to be famous? Is it because they think I disrespected the game of basketball?”

The last one killed me, because all I’ve ever wanted to be known for was basketball.

Humphries’ playing style was built for anonymity. He was a rebounding journeyman who spent 13 seasons with the Jazz, Raptors, Mavericks, Nets, Celtics, Wizards, Suns and Hawks.

But he had a knack for drawing attention.

As a kid, he swam faster than Michael Phelps. As he shifted attention to basketball, he tried to take on Michael Jordan’s persona (as detailed in his essay) and came across like a jerk. Then, he hooked up with Kardashian.

Their 72-day marriage will be the lasting memory of his career. It’s what exposed him to a far wider audience.

Maybe that’s not what he wanted, and he still had a successfully long NBA career. But that’s what he got.