It wasn’t a very competitive night of NBA games with blowouts littering scoreboards all across the league. But many of those games wouldn’t have seen the wide margins they did if it weren’t for some fantastic performances from guys who really went above and beyond what they’d normally provide on any given night. Without further ado, let’s get to the difference makers from tonight’s games…
Third Star: Gerald Henderson (35 points, 12-12 FT’s, 3 assists)
Henderson isn’t your typical high volume scorer, but he brought the points in bunches tonight in leading the Bobcasts to a 26 point win over the Celtics. Henderson used his typical hustle to move well off the ball and run the floor for easy baskets but was also able to create (and make) shots for himself in isolation. Henderson’s aggressiveness not only earned him shots at the rim, but also trips to the foul line where he was perfect on 12 attempts. Overall, he was simply too much for any of the Celtics’ wings to handle defensively and the key difference maker in this one.
Second Star: Ricky Rubio (21 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists)
We all know that Rubio can pass. His feel for the game is once in a generation level and every night he has at least one pass that makes you hit rewind on the DVR to watch again and again. And, against the Spurs, Rubio had several remarkable passes that will make the highlight reel. But Rubio was so much more than a passer tonight in racking up a triple double while taking advantage of a Spurs team missing Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Rubio was all over the floor in this one, grabbing rebounds and pushing the ball to get good looks for himself and teammates. Plus, his 21 points was his first 20+ point game of the season and included one finish that was as great as any pass he made all night:
First Star: Dwight Howard (39 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks)
Off the floor, Howard was the center off attention coming into the game as he was returning to Orlando for the first time since his trade to the Lakers last July. But his activity on both ends of the floor and Magic coach Jacque Vaughn’s hack-a-Dwight strategy ensured that he’d also be the center of attention on the floor. Howard flashed the athleticism that’s made him the league’s premier big man, finishing in the lane with dunks and nifty hook shots, hitting the glass hard on both ends, and defending the rim with vigor. But what made his night special was his ability to knock down his free throws and turn Vaughn’s strategy into an epic fail. Dwight hit 25 of the 39 FT’s he took (64% compared to his season average of 49%), including 16 of 20 in the 2nd half. As Vaughn continued to call for his team to foul, Howard calmly stepped up to the line and knocked down his shots, only drawing out the loss he’d lay on his former team. Quite the homecoming for Mr. Howard.
The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.
Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.
The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.
People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.
From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.
Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.
We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.
The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.
The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.
NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.
James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”
Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.
The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.
Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.
For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.
Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.
After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.
Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.
Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.