Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: James Harden reminds Thunder he’s good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were calling 9-1-1 then asking police to bring you some cigarettes….

Lakers 113, Celtics 99: Dwight Howard played maybe his best game as a Laker and was a force on defense, Steve Nash was carving up the defense and making passes and shots, Kobe Bryant was leading — for a night at least the Lakers would have made Jerry Buss proud. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke the game down in more detail.

Rockets 122, Thunder 119: James Harden scored a career-high 46 points against his former team, and it took him just 19 shots to get there. That’s because he knocked down 14 of those attempts, including going 7-8 from three-point distance and 11-12 from the free throw line.

The Thunder actually held a 14-point lead with seven minutes remaining in this one, before the Rockets battled back on the strength of their defense. Harden and Jeremy Lin hit big three-pointers late to take this one home, capping a 29-12 Rockets run to end the game.

Kevin Durant had a rare off night offensively, but finished with a triple-double line of 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, despite his 4-13 shooting.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 125, Knicks 91: This was simply a game where the Knicks didn’t show up, and the Pacers were ready to lay the wood to a team sitting ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

New York managed just 18 first quarter points, and allowed the Pacers to shoot better than 61 percent in the opening period to take control from the very start. Indiana put up a ridiculous 74 points in the first half to lead by 30 at the break, and the game was never in doubt in the final two periods, where the Pacers built the lead as high as 39 points before it was all said and done.
—Brett Pollakoff

Nets 97, Bucks 94: Milwaukee led most of the way, then starting just before the start of the fourth quarter the Nets went on a 31-8 run and that propelled them to the win. The Bucks shot 2-of-18 during that stretch while Deron Williams was leading his team, on his way to 23 points.

It got interesting in the final 100 seconds — the Nets led by a dozen when a Larry Sanders dunk sparked a 9-0 run that brought the Bucks back. Monta Ellis was fouled taking a three with 2.4 seconds left and the Bucks down three. But he missed the first two free throws throw and the Bucks chances bounced off the rim with it. Brandon Jennings did have 31 points and 11 assists for Milwaukee, which falls below .500 now.

Heat 103, Hawks 90: It was a rough day for Josh Smith. After hearing his name in trade rumors all afternoon he got to go head-to-head with LeBron James at night. And LeBron torched him, scoring 19 points in the first half and keeping the Heat in the game while Chris Bosh played about as well as he did in the All-Star Game. At the other end Smith was 5-of-13 shooting and clanking his shots outside the pain but destroying the rim with dunks inside. Al Horford had 27 points (and looked far more All-Star worthy than Bosh).

Atlanta led by 10 entering the fourth quarter, but LeBron dished eight assists in the final 12 minutes and the Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the final period to win. The Hawks finished the game with 21 turnovers and that is death against the Heat, who have won 8 in a row.

Grizzlies 88, Raptors 82: Rudy Gay returned to the Grindhouse and got a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side against the Memphis defense — Toronto shot just 25.7 percent in the first half, scoring just 32 points. But they were down just 11 because it was a brick house in Memphis. Early in the fourth quarter the Raptors went on a 17-7 run and we were tied up at 77-77 and we had a ballgame. But it wasn’t to be for the Raptors as Memphis’ Mike Conley sank the dagger with a three with less than two minutes to go to seal the win. Zach Randolph had 17 points and 17 boards because he’s really good.

Timberwolves 94, Sixers 87: This was a game the Sixers could have used Andrew Bynum, as the Timberwolves just owned the paint. Nikola Pekovic was the man for Minnesota with 27 points and 18 rebounds. Derrick Williams looked like the kind of guy you might want to trade for with 17 points. Philadelphia got the lead down to four a couple times in the final minutes, but Pekovic drew a foul once and got an offensive rebound the next to set up a Ricky Rubio three.

Pistons 105, Bobcats 99: Pistons fans got the win, but should be a little concerned about Brandon Knight, who tweaked his knee in the third quarter when Kemba Walker fell into him. He left the game of his own power, came back in, but eventually had to go to the locker room and there will be an MRI Thursday.

Charlotte was pesky in this one. Early in the fourth quarter Rodney Stuckey was attacking on the drive (he had 7 points in the fourth) and that helped he Pistons create a little space. Then Byron Mullens made consecutive threes and it was close again. Like 98-97 Pistons inside two minutes to go close.

The Piston passing was impressive much of those final two minutes. Greg Monroe found a cutting Jose Calderon who was fouled and hit is free throws. Later Monroe got the ball back on a pretty pick-and-roll with Will Bynum and Monroe scored two of his 10 fourth quarter points on the play (19 points, 7 boards for the game). Kemba Walker kept it close with some free throws (he finished with 24 points), but Calderon hit his free throws them made a steal after pressure was put on Walker and he turned it over late. He and Monroe were key at the end.

Warriors 108, Suns 98: Nothing helps stop a six game losing streak like playing Phoenix. Just ask he Warriors. Golden State had an early 7-0 run and pretty much led the entire way, although never really by that much (12 was the max). Golden State got big games from its stars — Klay Thompson had 28 points, Stephen Curry 20 points and 11 assists, and David Lee had 19 points and 11 rebounds. The Suns made runs late, led by Goran Dragic who had 20 points and 10 assists, but it was Curry who took control of the offense late and led a 10-2 Warriors run with a couple threes to seal the win.

Cavaliers 105, Hornets 100: This was a tight game throughout, until Kyrie Irving decided it was time to put it in the win column for his Cavaliers.

Irving finished with 35 points, but scored 20 of those in the fourth quarter while playing just over seven minutes. We’ve seen him do it a few times this season, and it’s getting to the point where as long as Cleveland keeps it tight heading into the final period, the team can expect some late-game heroics from Irving to make sure they come away with the victory.
—Brett Pollakoff

Mavericks 111, Magic 96: This was a close game through the second half until a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter sealed it up for Dallas. Brandan Wright scored six points in that run, It was a really balanced Dallas attack all night with six guys in double figures, but Shawn Marion and Elton Brand led the way with 17 a piece. It didn’t feel like it would be close at all after Dallas put up 42 points in the first quarter on 64 percent shooting, but they returned to earth with 17 points on 23.8 percent shooting in the second quarter. And we had a ballgame. Until the fourth. Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 21.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery

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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

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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.

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“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.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

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.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘It’s going to be rough for a while’

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For the past few years, as the lead assistant to Fred Hoiberg with the Bulls, Jim Boylen got to be the “bad cop” to Hoiberg’s more mild personality. When Hoiberg was fired and Boylen moved into the big chair, he ramped up that old-school style — he called out the team’s conditioning and had them running suicides and doing pushups in practice (things rarely seen at the NBA level). Boylen was running long, grueling practices — including one the day after the team got back from a four-game road trip. He had film sessions right after games when guys were still emotional. Boylen did hockey substitutions a couple of times, taking out all five starters at once.

When he called for a practice the day after a back-to-back that ended with a 56-point loss to the Celtics, players pushed back. There were team meetings called by the players (and coaches, there’s a lot of people trying to spin this). Boylen said this is how he coached and he learned from Greg Popovich, the players had to trust him, and the players said you’re no Gregg Popovich and that trust is not there yet. It’s earned, not given.

The day after a series of meetings, the tone was a little softer, although Boylen was not about to back down. He said that it was only a couple of players who pushed back against the practice, not all of them, and he is clearly frustrated in this NBC Sports Chicago video.

Boylen also admitted things would not be easy, but he wants the players to trust him, as several Bulls writers Tweeted.

Boylen feels he’s in the right place. Will the players learn to trust him? One day after the meetings, things appeared better.

That’s easy to say at practice, we’ll see what it’s like when adversity hits.

Warriors named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of Year

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The three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the fourth team to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year .

The Warriors join the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer squad and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the other team honorees.

Sports Illustrated announced the winner Monday, and editor-in-chief Chris Stone said they have been thinking of some way to honor the Warriors during their run of three titles in four years. He also acknowledged that there were a couple years where Steph Curry has been in the conversation.

“There is something transcendent about the team where the sum of their parts was apparent from the beginning,” Stone said. “What they have built into a dynasty is a function of empirical success. They’re really a generational team. I don’t know if, in my lifetime, there has been a team where the pieces have blended so beautifully together.”

Stone also said that the Warriors’ honor is more about the celebration of the organization doing something unique over an extended period while the other teams were honored for what they did in a certain year.

Alexander Ovechkin, who led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title, Tiger Woods and LeBron James also received consideration, but Stone said the Warriors felt like the favorite when they repeated as NBA champions.

“In the same way they play, they seem to speak in a single voice,” Stone said. “The unity of message with the Warriors is the same way we refer to LeBron and his answering some of the hard questions. They did it forcefully, but also civilly, in a way that helps advance conversations.”

The Warriors will receive the award during a ceremony in Los Angeles on Tuesday that will air on NBCSN on Thursday.

“This is an incredible honor and one that certainly signifies our Strength in Numbers philosophy as a team and organization,” Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers said. “Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special.”