John Calipari comes to defense of John Wall

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Kentucky coach John Calipari is a consummate recruiter — a combination coach and father. A guy who in private might be tough on his guys, but in public will defend them. Even after they are flown from his nest.

Like John Wall.

The former Kentucky point guard and former No. 1 overall pick is about to enter his third season in the NBA and while he’s been good, he hasn’t been great. He hasn’t been the franchise anchor everyone expected. He was above average with a PER of 17.7 last season, but that is not the 20+, lock All-Star kind of level everyone expected.

Calipari had Wall’s back in a radio interview on ESPN 980 in Washington DC (which Mike Prada quotes at the fantastic Bullets Forever).

“What’s happened is, you took a 19-year old and put the weight of the world on him, saying to him, ‘We’re expecting you to drag this team to another level.’ Well, there are no young guys [who can do that]. [Even] Anthony Davis isn’t that guy,” Calipari said.

“Now, if you have a good team, Anthony and John will make you better. If you remember, I had Derrick Rose. But the way the [ping pong] balls dropped, he ended up playing on a pretty good team. So, all of a sudden, he’s an All-Star in two years, and all of a sudden he becomes the MVP of the league. But he’s on a good team. So, what’ll happen is, as [the Wizards] build that team, John will come out more.”

Um, yes and no.

I agree that Wall was thrown into a tough situation, coming into the Wizards in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas guns-in-the-locker room mess. Flip Saunders is a good coach of professional veterans, but the Wizards locker room was not that and the result was undisciplined play on the court and no focus off it. Asking Wall to walk in, change the culture and lead that team was too much.

But Wall also didn’t take a step forward last year — if anything, his jump shot regressed. He averaged 4.4 long two pointers (16 feet out to the arc) last season and shot 29 percent on them. He shot 7.1 percent from three and only took one every other game. Even with his quickness Wall can be defended in the half court.

Calipari admitted that Wall needs to step up his game. This season the excuses go away — Washington has brought in quality veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and on down the line. Guys who understand about being a professional, about preparation.

Calipari isn’t totally wrong about Wall, but the excuses are now gone. This is the season we really learn about Wall, about how good he’s going to be. His time is now. Calipari knows it, too.

Patrick Beverley injures calf, Clippers say they will be cautious with return

Patrick Beverley injury
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Injuries and not having their whole team together at once — allowing little chance to build real chemistry — was the story of the pre-hiatus Clippers. Nothing changed once they got inside the bubble.

The latest news: Point guard Patrick Beverley left the Clippers’ loss to the Suns Tuesday with calf tightness and did not return to the game. How serious is it?

“I don’t think it’s bad,” Doc Rivers said to reporters postgame. “We’re going to be very cautious, I can tell you that.”

The Clippers are always cautious with the return of players. Don’t expect to see much of Beverley for a couple of games.

Los Angeles sits as the two seed in the West, one game up on three-seed Denver. However, what really matters in a restart without home-court advantage is both Houston and Utah (the four/five seeds) are three games back. It’s improbable the Clippers give up that much ground in the five remaining seeding games.

Los Angeles now just needs to make sure it’s ready for the playoffs.

The Clippers had six players in-and-out of the bubble during training camp and are just now getting close to whole. Los Angeles did get Lou Williams back from quarantine on Wednesday — he addressed his chicken-wing fueled absence — but remain without Montrezl Harrell, who is grieving the loss of his grandmother.

Now Beverley will miss some time. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble, but both losses were tight ones (to the Lakers opening night and on Devin Booker‘s game-winner Tuesday). The Clippers are playing good defense but still look like a team that just needs to get healthy, and develop a little chemistry, before we know just how good they really are. It’s just a question of if and when they get the whole roster together.

Rajon Rondo returning to Florida to continue injury rehab

Rajon Rondo injury
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Rajon Rondo is coming back to Floria to continue his injury rehab — but not inside the bubble. Yet.

The Laker point guard fractured his thumb during practice before the season started, requiring surgery expected to sideline him 6-8 weeks, the team announced at the time. Three weeks into that, he is coming back to Florida for rehab, coach Frank Vogel told the media (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

Rondo is likely a few weeks from being back on the court. So long as he tests negative for seven consecutive days before returning to the NBA’s “bubble” campus, he will only be in quarantine for four days. While he can do some conditioning work during his rehab he’s still going to need some time to work back into game shape.

Rondo came off the bench for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and five assists a game. More importantly, he was the guy running the offense when LeBron James was off the court. Dion Waiters has stepped into that role, and the pairing of him with Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma has looked good so far (small sample size alert).

The Lakers have locked up the top seed in the West, they don’t need Rondo for the seeding games. However, when the playoffs start, Vogel and the Lakers will need all hands on deck to get through a deep and talented West.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic, Devin Booker show bubble is for the young

Luka Doncic Devin Booker
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Devin Booker drains game-winner, bubble Suns undefeated

Devin Booker desperately wants to be mentioned among the best guards in the league — and he puts up the raw numbers to be in that club. It has been his defense and the fact his team is still woeful that has kept him from getting membership.

Not in the bubble.

Phoenix is 3-0 at the NBA restart after Booker drained a turnaround game-winner over Paul George — giving Booker 35 points on the night — to beat the Clippers.

The Clippers helped beat themselves. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers — Kawhi Leonard in particular — defended them well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Ivica Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot. Then, on that shot, Zubac came out high to double, giving a lane to Booker to drive, and the rest is history. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble and not impressing anyone.

The Suns and Booker are impressing everyone.

2) Luka Doncic‘s historic triple-double reminder Mavericks are playoff threat

Those stumbling Clippers mentioned above most likely will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs — and that has upset potential. In part because the Clippers have yet to find the chemistry and cohesion in the bubble — or have their key players all together — that they had the weeks before the league was shut down.

And in part because Luka Doncic can take over a game — and maybe a series. Doncic put up a ridiculous line of 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists, leading the Mavericks to an overtime win against the Kings. Doncic, at age 21, became the youngest NBA player ever with a 30-20-10 stat line, beating Oscar Robertson (23).

Doncic will be an All-NBA player this year (first or second team) and will get bottom-of-the-ballot MVP votes — he is an elite, franchise cornerstone player. Dallas is building a dangerous team around him (Kristaps Porzingis as the pick-and-pop partner, Tim Hardaway and Seth Curry as shooters, Dwight Powell doing the dirty work, and more) that seems a year or two away. But if youth is being served in the bubble, maybe not.

3) Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s injury changes feel of race for eighth in West.

The Memphis Grizzlies entered the restart with huge advantages — a 3.5 game lead for the eighth seed in the West, plus only having to win one-of-two games in a play-in series.

However, Memphis has started 0-3 in the bubble, and now this — young star center Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. It’s a blow to the Grizzlies, who have been competitive in those losses but now have lost their second-best player.

Memphis suddenly doesn’t feel safe as the eighth seed, not after Carmelo Anthony‘s dagger helped Portland beat Houston Tuesday night.

Portland is now just 1.5 games back of ailing Memphis for the eighth seed, with San Antonio (2 games behind Memphis) and New Orleans (2.5 back) lurking. Portland has three tough games coming up — Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers — while New Orleans has Zion Williamson playing more minutes and a soft schedule ahead. The race for the eighth spot in the West — the only real race in the bubble — feels wide open with five games to play.

And youth may be served.

Carmelo Anthony sinks dagger into Houston, Portland gets win

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 21 points and Carmelo Anthony hit a big 3-pointer late to help the Portland Trail Blazers to a 110-102 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

The Blazers led by one before Lillard made one of two free throws. Anthony’s three then extended the lead to 107-102 when less than a minute to go.

Lillard raved about the contributions of Anthony, who found a home with the Trail Blazers after spending several months without a team last year following a brief stint with the Rockets.

“I think it’s more disappointing that people are surprised by it,” Lillard said. “He’s a Hall of Famer … he’s a great teammate and that’s what we expect from him.”

Coach Terry Stotts loves how Anthony has evolved to help his team.

“Earlier in his career, the ball would have been in his hands to start with,” Stotts said. “He has assimilated to his role and this team. He loves the game. He loves the camaraderie, he loves being in the NBA.”

Lillard added two free throws and Anthony, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, made one in the final minute to secure the victory for Portland, which is fighting for a playoff spot.

“We understand what’s on the line and we know what we got to do to to give ourselves a chance in the postseason,” Lillard said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

James Harden led Houston with 23 points and nine assists on a night he was slowed by foul trouble.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to being in foul trouble,” he said. “But we had a lot of open shots that if we make those those it’s a different ballgame.”

Jeff Green added a season-high 22 points as the Rockets lost for the first time in the bubble after winning their first two games.

The Blazers were up by six midway through the final quarter after CJ McCollum and Lillard made consecutive baskets. But Green scored all Houston’s points in a 7-1 spurt that tied it at 98 a minute later.

McCollum finished with 20 points as the Blazers pulled within 1 1/2 games of eighth-place Memphis.

“Our biggest problem with the whole game is first of all we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and our defense was pretty slow to start,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The game was tied again later in the fourth when Gary Trent Jr. made a 3-pointer to put Portland up 103-100. A driving layup by Harden cut the lead to one with about 2 minutes to go.

Danuel House made a 3-pointer to get the Rockets within two midway through the third quarter. Lillard then scored all of Portland’s points in a 9-3 run that pushed the lead to 82-74 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third.

Lillard had a three-point play and then sank 3s on consecutive possessions to allow the Trail Blazers to build the lead. Harden spent the last five minutes of the third quarter on the bench after picking up his fifth foul on the three-point play by Lillard.

Hassan Whiteside had four points for the Trail Blazers late in the third, but Austin Rivers capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to get Houston within 86-80 to start the fourth.