Three Stars of the Night: Almost Perfect

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You never know when it’s going to be one of those nights. You know, when regardless of what you do the shots just fall. It doesn’t matter if it’s a twisting drive to the rim, a deep three pointer, or your standard pull up from the elbow. Some nights the rim just seems bigger. Tonight, we honor three guys who really had it going; three guys who whenever the ball left their hands, you thought the ball was going in. Let’s get to it…

Third Star: David West (29 points, 11-18 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks)

When we talk about all-star snubs, it’s a wonder David West’s name doesn’t come up more often. Maybe it’s because his numbers don’t jump out at you or the fact that he doesn’t play a flashy game. Or maybe it’s just because his consistency is just a bit…boring. Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t let it distract us from the fact that West is really very good. Against the Bulls, West showed why scoring from all over the floor with his patented arsenal of mid-range jumpers and power post ups. West’s presence became so forceful that the Bulls started to send a second defender his way and he ended up just passing to open teammates for assists (or making the pass that led to the pass that became the assist). Other Pacers may have had the more highlight worthy plays, but it was West that was the catalyst for their win over their division rival.

Second Star: LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 12-17 shooting, 13 rebounds, 5 assists)

Aldridge once again showed why he’s an all-star with a fantastic two way performance against the Timberwolves. He dazzled with his typical array of made jumpers, making minced meat of any defender that was tossed at him with either a face up shot or a post up that turned into a turnaround (that he sunk over either shoulder). At the end of the game, when the ‘Wolves made a fantastic run to get the game within a single point, it was Aldridge who sunk a deep two from the right wing to give the Blazers a 3 point cushion. On top of his shot making however, it was his defense that really saved the day. On back to back possessions, he snuffed out two Minnesota scoring chances, once contesting a Ricky Rubio short jumper that would have tied the game and again on the Wolves last possession by contesting a Dante Cunningham shot that would have tied the game at the buzzer.

First Star: LeBron James (31 points, 13-14 shooting, 8 rebounds, 8 assists)

What more can really be said about LeBron at this point? He truly is the most dominant force in the game today. Against a game Bobcats team, LeBron dominated the paint by relentlessly attacking the rim via post ups, drives, and in transition. No defender could stay between LeBron and the rim and continuously made the ‘Cats pay by not settling for anything less than a high percentage look. The best part about his game, though, was the fact that he dominated late in a game that was close down the stretch. LeBron scored 10 of his 31 points in the final period, while also dishing out 3 key assists when the defense tried to collapse on him. When it was winning time, it was LeBron that took over and made it so his team would leave the arena victorious.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUHvI2LwUUw?rel=0%5D

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.