There’s a simple old coach’s axiom in basketball: Tall and good beats small and good. So tonight we look at the tall guys and give them their due with the three stars.
There were other candidates big and small who were worthy but just missed the cut: Carmelo Anthony (27 points 7 rebounds), Brandon Jennings (19 points, 19 assists), Amir Johnson (22 points, 14 rebounds), Stephen Curry (29 points, 7 assists) and Deron Williams (22 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds).
Third Star: LaMarcus Aldtridge(33 points, 11 rebounds)
This was the kind of performance that made you say, “maybe this guy should be an All-Star again this year.” On a night when Oklahoma City showed they can play great defense and smothered most Blazers players (Damian Lillard was 3-of-14 with Russell Westbrook hounding him) but Aldridge kept Portland in the contest. When he got the ball on the left side mid-post (or out farther but backed his man down) the Thunder had no answer. His 33 points came on 15-of-26 shooting.
Second Star: Dwight Howard (22 points, 14 rebounds)
Dwight Howard’s back has clearly been an issue this season, he has not been the same explosive player that dominated for Orlando. It felt like he may have come back too early following off-season back surgery.
That idea may have gotten a boost Sunday — after missing three games because of a torn labrum (shoulder), he returned with an extra bounce in his step. He had 10 points in the first quarter and set the tone for the game. Defensively he patrolled the paint and had the Cavs players adjusting shots or settling for jumpers. On offense he drew double teams (even when just rolling to the rim) that opened up the rest of the offense. That is the Howard the Lakers need.
First Star: Kevin Durant(33 points, 6 assists)
This was a “Kevin Durant is the MVP” kind of game. Oklahoma City does not beat Portland Sunday night without Durant. He pretty much carried them. You can kind of say a lot of nights, but Sunday it was ridiculously evident. On the night he scored 38 percent of his teams total points, and in the second half that jumped to 49 percent (he had 22 of his points after halftime). He has improved as a playmaker, as a ball handler and as a defender this season. It all showed Sunday.
Kyrie Irving, teammate of 12-year-veteran Al Horford: Celtics need 14- or 15-year veteran for leadership
Looking at this locker room, me being in my eighth year and being a ‘veteran’ as well as Al [Horford] and [Aron] Baynes. Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint, when you want to play, when you want to do what you want to do.
Al Horford is in his 12th season. His team, the Hawks then Celtics, have made the playoffs every season of his career.
I’m not sure Irving intended this as a slight of Horford. Irving certainly didn’t forget about Horford, whom Irving mentioned the sentence prior.
But I’d definitely understand if Horford felt slighted. He’s experienced enough to provide that veteran leadership. So is Irving for that matter.
Ultimately, these comments might prove benign, just more weird words from Irving. Still, they’re potentially significant enough to keep an eye on Boston’s leadership situation.
Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns: ‘I’m not one of the most important [players on the team]. I’m just a piece on this team’
Jimmy Butler made the Timberwolves his team. He willed himself into being their best player despite having teammates with more talent and physical skills. He took a leadership position by talking over everyone (for better or worse). He even asked for top-contract status with a renegotiation-and-extension that would have required gutting the rest of the roster.
With Butler traded to the 76ers, who takes up the mantle in Minnesota?
Karl-Anthony Towns is the logical candidate. He’s now the Timberwolves’ best player. He just signed a max contract extension that will hit super-max salaries if he makes an All-NBA team this season. He’s even already one of Minnesota’s longest-tenured players.
Karl-Anthony Towns took issue with the idea that, with Butler gone, he had to become the team’s leader.
“First of all, I’m not one of the most important [players on the team],’’ he said. “I’m just a piece on this team. Everyone is just as important as the next. So if everyone’s doing their job and everyone is working hard, doing the little things, we make a great product.
Somewhere, Butler is cackling, assured his doubts about Towns were correct.
But leading isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t make non-leaders bad people. The world needs followers, too.
That said, things generally flow much more smoothly on teams where the best player is the main leader. It creates an orderly culture. If Towns doesn’t want that role, it’ll be something for the Timberwolves to overcome.
Maybe Towns, 22, will grow into it. There’s still plenty of time left for him to develop both as a player and person.
But Butler’s exit created a natural entrance for Towns into leadership. Towns could have seamlessly seized the reigns right here. That he isn’t shows how far he is as a leader.
Warriors: Stephen Curry to miss at least five more games
But Golden State’s best player and someone who has demonstrated his willingness to place team goals ahead of his personal agenda – Stephen Curry – continues to miss time with a groin injury.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who has missed the team’s last three (3) games after suffering a mild to moderate strained left groin on November 8 vs. Milwaukee, continues to be monitored and evaluated by the team’s training and medical staff, as indicated initially last week. He will travel on the team’s upcoming three-game road trip to Texas—but will not play—and will be re-evaluated again in 10 days.
In the next 10 days, Golden State plays:
vs. Trail Blazers
That’s not an easy stretch.
Remember, this latest Green-Durant feud started only because the Warriors were in a tight game against the Clippers. Green and Durant disliked the other’s strategy on the final play of regulation and argued about it. In a blowout win, that never would have happened.
Handling those high-pressure situations can be good for teams in the long run. But Golden State needs a break. This is already too much adversity all at once.
But the positive vibes that come with winning will be harder to attain with Curry out.
Report: Jimmy Butler won’t ‘coddle’ Markelle Fultz
"Somebody that's close to Jimmy Butler told me Markelle Fultz is done. Jimmy is not going to sit there and coddle him. Jimmy is going to be like, 'I was homeless at one point in my life. … You're a No. 1 pick, and you can't get your shot right?'" — @Chris_Broussardpic.twitter.com/LA9fJTHLc3
If this is someone who knows how Butler treated Towns and Wiggins and is just assuming how Butler will treat Fultz, this is worthless. Anyone who knows even a little about Butler could make that guess.
But if this is someone who spoke to Butler about Fultz specifically, this would carry massive significance.
Fultz is unique. He shot well in college then had his form completely fall apart before his rookie year. He doesn’t need tough love. He needs someone to help him assess the underlying trauma beneath his problems. He needs to be built up and develop confidence.
That wasn’t at all Butler’s approach with other teammates. Maybe Butler will adjust to Fultz’s atypical circumstances. I hope he does.
But the possibility of Butler worsening Fultz’s issues can’t be overlooked.