The Extra Pass: Boxed out and Thursday’s Recaps

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You probably already know what I’m going to say about Shane Battier before I even say it.

For 12 seasons, Battier has largely defied conventional box scores by doing all the things that don’t show up there.

It’s been a long-standing feud between Battier and the box score, really, but it’s a feud that Battier is on the brink of losing.

Battier is maturing. Box scores are not. Box scores, actually, have stayed almost exactly the same over the last 12 years. They’re pretty much unaffected by time.

We are in the midst of the sport’s biggest analytic movement. Great strides are being made. Fantastic information is out there. But for the stat lines most commonly seen by 99 percent of fans? The best we can do for an advanced stat is a plus/minus number that is almost completely worthless on an individual game basis and borrowed from another sport, no less.

So why haven’t we seen any changes on the front lines, despite all the progress? Basketball takes its cue from baseball in this regard: keep things consistent, simple, and easy to digest. It doesn’t matter that there’s better information out there. RBI’s will be listed because RBI’s have always been listed, and also, how dare you try to sully RBI’s.

A changing sport with changing statistics requires change in representation and consumption. Would Dean Oliver’s Four Factors be nice to have available? Sure. Team efficiency numbers? Great. But I’m not asking for the world. We can walk before we run.

Tonight provided a perfect example for why things should be a little different.

Shane Battier was an afterthought on paper with 7 points in 22 minutes. But on the court? He completely changed the game.

Battier’s mobility allowed him to trap Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls, and the Clippers offense was completely stifled once the ball was forced out of Paul’s hands.

We’re still working on how best to convey that sort of thing, but there was something else Battier did in the Miami Heat’s 102-97 win that we could start listing tomorrow.

Battier drew three huge charges in the second half. Momentum shifting, backbreaking, gamechanging charges. But guess what — the stats give him no credit. That’s nowhere on his “line” for the night.

Isn’t that a problem?

It makes no sense. Blocked shots lead to a change of possession roughly 57 percent of time, but we’ll record that, we’ll base awards on that, and we’ll form opinions on that while a play that results in a change of possession 100 percent of the time only gets recorded by a few websites and never sniffs a box score.

Battier was unquestionably one of the most important players on the court Thursday night, and there’s been plenty of nights just like this one throughout his career. This particular one will be forgotten, unmarked and deemed unremarkable statistically like all the others. How many more times does that have to happen before something changes?

-D.J. Foster

 

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Heat 102, Clippers 97: We covered this in greater detail, but the short version is that there was too much Dwyane Wade for the Heat and not enough Chris Paul for the Clippers. On a night where LeBron James was far from dominant, one more big time performance on the opposing team might have been enough to steal one in Miami, but the Heat’s strategy of making sure to key the defense on the game’s best point guard ended up being enough on a night where Wade was simply sublime when it mattered most.

Nuggets 109, Hawks 107: Denver held on for its first win of the season, but it was anything but easy and the team has real issues to work through if it’s going to once again make it to the playoffs. Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, and Nate Robinson did the bulk of the damage offensively, while new head coach Brian Shaw continued to shuffle his lineups, going 11 players deep while trying to find the right combination. Atlanta’s frontcourt of Paul Millsap and Al Horford was too much for the Nuggets’ starting unit inside, but three of Denver’s six players who scored in double figures came off the bench in this one to secure the team’s victory.

Lakers 99, Rockets 98: Steve Blake hit a three-pointer off of an out of bounds play with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Lakers the victory, and despite the fact that the Rockets will be better over the course of the long regular season, it’s a comforting victory for L.A. nonetheless. The Lakers blew a big lead in this game, but it’s to be expected given the gap in talent between the two teams’ rosters. Plenty of Lakers fans wanted this one badly given the way Dwight Howard spurned the team in free agency over the summer, and they largely got their wish. Howard’s numbers were fine, but he was fouled intentionally throughout the final period and finished just 5-of-12 from the line in under six minutes of fourth quarter action. L.A. won this game on the strength of its three-point shooting and because the Rockets simply didn’t convert a high percentage of their shots. James Harden was an inefficient 9-of-24 from the field in scoring his 35 points, and Houston as a team shot just 37.7 percent from the field. Wes Johnson and Jodie Meeks were the stars for the Lakers on this night, which makes you wonder if this performance was at all repeatable under reasonably similar circumstances.

-Brett Pollakoff

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”