Kobe had the kind of big stat line we take for granted (but that the Lakers need right now). Jose Calderon had the second triple-double of his career. But Nicolas Batum’s balanced stat line wins the night.
Honorable mention to J.J. Hickson (24 points), Nick Young (30 in a losing effort, a lot in garbage time), Greivis Vasquez (23 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds), and James Harden (28 points).
Third Star: Kobe Bryant (34 points, 6 assists, four rebounds)
Kobe Bryant won the Lakers a game in Philly Sunday not because he scored 34 points, but because he scored 34 points on just 21 shots. It’s the trend this season — efficient Kobe. He shot 43 percent last season, it’s up to 48.2 percent this season. Why? He is getting 1.5 more shots at the rim per game while taking 3.3 fewer shots from 16 feet out to the arc (needless to say, you shoot a higher percentage at the rim than a long two). Also, he’s shooting 39.8 percent from three, which is well up from 30.3 last season. Sunday once again he looked strong running the pick and roll, making smart decisions when to attack and when to pass out of it.
Second Star: Jose Calderon (17 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds)
The Rockets continue to ask a lot more of Jose Calderon while Kyle Lowry is out… and if he happens to play well and boost his trade value while he’s at it, all the better. And Calderon certainly boosted that value on Sunday. He was 6-of-12 shooting but he was doing a little bit of everything, doing a good job hitting bigs who were flashing to the post and attacking (as opposed to a Raptor big man hanging at the three point line waiting for the ball… not to mention the name of someone who is injured). Just a good all around game from Calderon.
First Star: Nicolas Batum (11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 blocks)
The 5×5 isn’t just an oversized special order at In ‘N Out Burger, it’s also a heck of an NBA stat line — the last time a guy had a 5×5 game before Batum on Sunday was 2006. The last time a guy had 10 assists, 5 steals and 5 blocks in a game was Jamaal Tinsley way back in 2001. Batum had not played well of late but broke out of it here showing the kind of all-around skills that led the Blazers to pay him $46 million over four years. It’s the kind of balance and play at both ends the Blazers need to pair in the perimeter with Damian Lillard.
Pacers’ Myles Turner shuts down Bradley Beal at the rim (VIDEO)
Turner has had a strong defensive season in the paint so far for the Pacers, a big step for him. He’s sixth among centers in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus stat (which has its flaws but is a good snapshot).
Washington learned that the hard way.
Report: Houston kicking tires on J.R. Smith trade with Cavaliers
The Houston Rockets desperately need help on the wing (among other things, but wing is the personnel focus). The Rockets would also like to have less salary on the books next season, giving them some flexibility and lowering the tax bill.
J.R. Smith fits both of those bills, so Houston and GM Daryl Morey are at least taking a look at a potential trade, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.
The Rockets have expressed exploratory interest in acquiring JR Smith, according to league sources. Smith is currently on hiatus from the Cavaliers as Cleveland seeks a new home for the veteran shooting guard via trade
While there is some logic to this, we are a long way from it being a reality. Smith does not exactly have a positive trade value, at least as a player right now.
Smith was part of the rotation that helped the LeBron-led Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals last season, but he will be best remembered for the Game 1 blunder in the Finals that deflated the Cavs. Without the playmaking of LeBron, Smith struggled to start this season, shooting 34 percent for the Cavaliers in limited minutes, before going on hiatus from the team. That said, in a better situation where he was asked to play a small and specific role, maybe he could still help.
Smith is guaranteed $18.59 million this season but only $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed.
Houston seems a logical fit. Money wise, a Brandon Knight for Smith trade works, but the Rockets will have to throw in picks or other sweeteners to get the Cavaliers interested. Cleveland also likely will be patient, hoping that as the deadline gets closer there is a little bidding war for Smith.
Still, the Rockets are active on the trade market (as always), and they need wings, so this is worth keeping an eye on.
Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery
Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.
But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”
It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.
The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.
The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.
Report: Bulls execs John Paxson and Gar Forman backing Jim Boylen
Bulls players have made clear their thoughts on new coach Jim Boylen’s abnormally frequent and lengthy practices, his harsh public critiques, his five-man substitutions:
They don’t like it.
Not every player feels the exact same way, but enough were fed up to refuse to practice yesterday – the day after a back-to-back, a time teams almost never practice. Everyone compromised on a team meeting, though players reportedly also complained to their union.
But Boylen says he isn’t backing down – and it sounds as if his superiors support him.
“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.
“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”
The fact Boylen cited ownership is telling. Phil Jackson praised Boylen to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after Boylen met with the Hall of Fame coach last summer. And according to team and league sources, executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman raved to ownership about Boylen’s message during Sunday’s meeting, which Paxson and Forman attended.
I wonder whether Paxson and Forman actually believe in Boylen or just feel as if they have no choice but to support him. Their last coaching hire, Fred Hoiberg, flopped to the point questions emerged about Forman’s job security. Paxson already declared a plan to keep Boylen for next season. Maybe Paxson and Forman can’t dump Boylen without bringing too much scrutiny upon themselves.
But the status quo isn’t sustainable. Boylen can’t keep belittling his players and running them into the ground without inciting a rebellion. He must ease up at least a little.
A theory that gives the Bulls the benefit of the doubt (that they don’t necessarily deserve): They already know this is a lost season, and playing for a higher draft pick is their best strategy. Boylen’s harsh practices will both help them lose and instill good long-term habits. Plus, his presence ensures players will welcome Chicago’s next coach. Even someone more demanding than Hoiberg would now suddenly be a reprieve.