Three Stars of the Night: Digging the long ball

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How important is the long ball to the modern NBA offense? If the season ended today, four teams would place in the all-time top-40 for best team 3-point percentage – the Spurs, Knicks, Thunder and Heat. The best offensive teams seem to manufacture plenty of looks from behind the arc, and in that spirit, we’re honoring some of the best individual 3-point displays from Wednesday night’s action. And James Harden, because, well, you’ll see. To the stars!

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Dorell Wright – (28 points, 5-for-8 from 3)

It’s not easy to drop 28 points on the Grizzlies – it’s even tougher if you’re a perimeter player. Dorell Wright has been more down than up this year (he’s shooting 35 percent from the field on the season), but tonight he found his stroke when the 76ers needed it most. With Evan Turner scoring just a single point in 41 minutes of play and Jrue Holiday missing everything around the basket, Philadelphia got five huge 3-pointers from Wright and a few freebies from the line. The 76ers may not have very many consistent contributors offensively, but guys like Nick Young and Wright can heat up in a hurry.

Corey Brewer – (27 points in 24 minutes, 6-of-7 from 3)

Anytime you can tie a career-high for points in just 24 minutes, you’re doing something right. When he wasn’t cutting backdoor and baffling a Lakers defense that played both stupid and lazy, Brewer was spotting up in the corner to hit 6-of-7 from behind the arc. Brewer practically had enough time to check the weather on his spot-up attempts, but give him credit for knocking them down. Brewer’s 27-point scoring barrage spoiled a really strong offensive effort by the Lakers, but also epitomized all of the real struggles the Lakers have on the defensive side of the ball.

James Harden – (30 points, 15 of the last 17 in the 4th quarter)

This is exactly what you want from your star in a clutch situation – no 21-foot fadeaway garbage – just assertive drives straight to the front of the rim. Harden scored 15 of the last 17 points in the fourth quarter for the Rockets just by putting his head down and blowing past Minnesota’s big men to score in the paint. Whether it was in a pick-and-roll or in straight isolation, Minnesota had no answer for Harden’s aggressiveness off the bounce. This was the good kind of hero ball.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

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.