Three Stars of the Night: An Odd Scoring Battle

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With 22 teams in action, you’d expect the usual suspects to be the big scorers of the night. Guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. The guys battling Kobe Bryant for the scoring title. Those guys.

Nope! Saturday was a little bit wild and crazy, and as a result we had Luis Scola balling out and dropping 33 and 10 on the Timberwolves while Nikola Pekovic smashed his way to 28. We saw David West (29 points) continue to do his share of the scoring while Roy Hibbert (21 minutes, zero points) went missing yet again. The Jrue Holiday show raged on with 29 points and a near triple-double, but actually, Holiday’s 7 turnovers almost gave him the rare quadruple-double-trouble, which really would have set the evening off nicely.

Instead, it seems like we’ll have to settle for a scoring battle between an awkward 7-footer who loves comic books and shoots a set-shot and a reserve forward who averages 8.5 points a game on his career. It’s weird, it’s hard to explain, and it’s Three Stars:

Third Star: C.J. Miles – (33 points, 8-for-10 from 3-point land)

Look, guys, I don’t know either. C.J. Miles is a career 41 percent shooter from the field and a career 33 percent shooter from behind the arc. This should not be happening, but Miles has a really weird habit of getting hot and then suddenly morphing into this unstoppable offensive force. You either believe in the hot hand theory or you don’t, but everyone watching tonight knew Miles was hot. He was catching passes and firing away like he was Ray Allen whenever he had a look at the basket, never hesitating once to think, “I’m C.J. Miles.” It got to the point where the announcers were preaching the importance of keeping the ball out of the hands of C.J. Miles, which feels absurd to even type. Whatever it was, Miles and his 33-point explosion kept the shorthanded Cavs in it, even with Luke Walton on the floor for 30 minutes. While this may come as surprise to exactly no one, eight 3-pointers is indeed a career high for Miles. He was stupid good tonight.

Second Star: Russell Westbrook – (28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists)

Ah, a nice return to normalcy, both for Westbrook and for Three Stars. With Kevin Durant unable to get it going early on, Westbrook took the scoring load on his shoulders and blew past Houston’s defense all night. Westbrook may get criticized for taking an inordinate amount of jumpers off his own dribble, but when he’s scoring at the rim and those jumpers are falling, he instantly morphs into one of the more unstoppable players in all of basketball. Westbrook’s jumper has sort of abandoned him to start the season, but it was certainly falling tonight.

First Star: Brook Lopez – (35 points, 11 rebounds)

Lopez was an absolute monster against the Varejao-less Cavs, as he scored a whopping 11 field goals in the paint and went to the free-throw line 11 times as well. While Lopez may not be considered fleet of foot, he’s a load on the low block and around the rim, especially against a rail-thin big man like rookie center Tyler Zeller. That’s not to take anything away from Lopez — he showed his usual soft touch and he gobbled up some offensive rebounds, something he doesn’t always do. Perhaps it’s because of the time he missed due to injury this year or because of the other distractions in Brooklyn right now, but Lopez has been posting some pretty incredible numbers with very little fanfare. His rebounding percentages are back to respectable levels, his PER is really solid at 24.5, and he’s averaging 22 points per 36 minutes on 51 percent shooting. Lopez probably isn’t regarded as a player you would build an offense around, but he’s a better option for that than Deron Williams is right now. That’s something to keep in mind, especially if post-oriented coaches like Phil Jackson or Mike Dunleavy do end up in Brooklyn. Lopez, even with that hideously effective set-shot off the glass from 18-feet, is the best bet for consistent offensive production the Nets have.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.