The Extra Pass: Gumbo and The Brow, and Tuesday night’s recap

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The New Orleans Pelicans roster was assembled with all the care of an inebriated person making gumbo. Three ball-dominant guards in addition to the ball-dominant guard we just drafted? Sure, that will work. A stretch 4 and a stretch 5? Toss ‘em in.

The individual pieces in New Orleans are talented, to be certain, but they don’t seem to complement each other all that well. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where the Pelicans would look great individually, but a disaster collectively.

But what do we know about gumbo? It’s all about the roux – it’s all about the base. The Pelicans’ roux is Anthony Davis.

Monty Williams has yet to find a lineup with Davis that hasn’t worked. Over the season, any combination with Davis on the floor that has played more than five total minutes together has yielded a positive net rating. So long as Davis is on the floor, the Pelicans are in business.

Problem is, the rest of the roster hasn’t completely caught on to that fact yet. Davis has the biggest catch radius in the league with his mobility and arms that go on forever, but you’ll see the Pelicans’ guards ignore him on rolls to the rim, or worse yet, not even put Davis in situations where he can roll to the rim.

A good example came in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. Nemanja Nedovic, a 6-foot-4 guard, was switched on to Davis. No Pelicans player even looked Davis’ way, and the possession resulted in a traveling violation out on the perimeter.

Play-by-play man Joel Meyers summed up the sequence perfectly with one word: “Unbelievable.”

This sort of thing happens far too often. Part of that falls on Williams, who should be on the hot seat after New Orleans’ 6-8 start. Does that seem premature?

Maybe it is, but Williams has yet to live up to his side of the bargain and improve the defense, as the Pelicans have the 19th ranked defense in terms of efficiency and the 29th worst opponent field goal percentage so far this season.

The offense has been more reliable (8th in efficiency) but it typically comes and goes in relation to when Davis is featured. Perhaps predictably, Davis is just fourth on the team in usage percentage, behind Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday.

Of course, the return of Ryan Anderson just means that there are, to further beat the food analogy into the ground, more cooks in the kitchen. This is an issue, and it’s hard to see it going away without changes.

So what’s the solution? Williams has at least allowed this athletic group to get out and run more often, ending the slow crawl he usually prefers. The Pelicans are up to 14th in pace, compared to 29th last year and 30th the season before.

Maybe you’d like to see the Pelicans embrace an even quicker style to better leverage their athleticism on the perimeter.

New Orleans is the second best defensive rebounding team in the league, so perhaps there’s room to leak out a little more and get out in transition. Davis already runs the floor like a gazelle, Evans is a nightmare to stop in transition, and the thought of Ryan Anderson or Jason Smith trailing the play and spotting up around the perimeter is plenty enticing.

Davis has been flexible overall, but there’s a danger in letting the other players on the roster take advantage of that. According to the SportVU player tracking system, Davis is receiving less frontcourt touches per game than guys like Andrea Bargnani and Zaza Pachulia. That can’t happen.

Still, Davis has legitimately been one of the best players in the league this season. The only limit on his potential will come from outside forces, and New Orleans would do well to figure out exactly what those are.

Stats from NBA.com were used in this post. I was also very hungry.

—D.J. Foster

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Nets 102, Raptors 100: The Nets snapped a five-game losing streak to improve to 4-10 on the season, and it was a big win for the team considering it came without several key players. Deron Williams, Jason Terry and Brook Lopez all missed the game due to injury, and the third quarter woes which have plagued Brooklyn all season long were overcome in this one by the Nets actually winning the period, if only by a single point. The victory certainly wasn’t easy for the Nets, who led by 15 points with just over five minutes to play before surrendering a 14-0 run that made things sketchy over the game’s final few possessions. —Brett Pollakoff

Wizards 116, Lakers 111: The Lakers got a typically balanced effort with seven players finishing in double figures, but defense was the issue as they allowed John Wall and Nene to combine for 61 points. L.A. fought back from a nine-point deficit late to have a chance, and took the lead with under two minutes to play on a three-pointer from Pau Gasol. But Wall had seven points in the final 1:34 to seal it, sending the Lakers to a record of 7-8 on the season. —BP

Magic 109, Hawks 92: Orlando isn’t going to compete for a playoff spot this season, even in the woeful Eastern Conference. But take them lightly and they will jump up to bite you on any given game day, and that’s what happened to the Hawks in this one. The Magic shot 50.6 percent from the field, crushed Atlanta in the paint by a 20-point margin, and outscored the Hawks 36-20 in the third quarter to put enough separation in place to cruise to the team’s fifth win of the season. —BP

Warriors 102, Pelicans 101: Without Andre Iguodala due to injury and with Andrew Bogut sidelined due to serving a suspension, this game was a lot closer than it should have been for the Warriors. But coming off of three straight losses, they needed the win and held on in the closing moments to secure it. Jermaine O’Neal filled in admirably in the starting center spot, and finished with 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go along with eight rebounds in just 26 minutes of action. —BP

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home means the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia and Spain — not to mention Australia — have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after the USA had beaten this same team by 15 points, pulling away in the second half.

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Defensively, Australia got to the rim all night long — they scored 46 points in the paint (compared to the USA’s 26). Most of that came on cutters that American defenders lost and Utah’s Joe Ingles or Andrew Bogut found with a nifty pass.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points. The Australian team played as a unit and their off-the-ball movement was impressive.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.

 

How Dwight Howard convinced the Lakers to take a chance on him

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Laker fans Friday sounded like your friends after an ugly relationship and breakup, when you suddenly consider taking that person back. Laker nation took to Twitter screaming “ARE YOU SERIOUS? What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?”

The Lakers, however, are entering a second relationship with Dwight Howard with their eyes wide open — he will sign a non-guaranteed contract to be the team’s center (sharing duties with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee). Howard will have to prove himself, on and off the court. The Lakers have leverage and can waive Howard and move on to Joakim Noah or someone else quickly if things do not pan out.

But how did it even get to this point? How did Howard — who did his annual summer media tour saying “I have changed, I am taking the game and my conditioning seriously, I just want a chance” and league observers shrugged because they have heard the same thing for years — convince the Lakers to roll the dice on him again? Shams Charania of The Athletic laid it all out.

Howard’s message to [Laker assistant coach Jason] Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked… Kidd became convinced about Howard’s newfound awakening…

The Lakers then began setting workouts for free agents, and Howard traveled from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Wednesday. His meeting and workout with the Lakers was set for Thursday, but Howard went to the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon for his own training session. The Lakers were surprised to see him, sources said, and many key decision makers were in attendance…

League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.

Howard has said all that before. Multiple times. To multiple teams and teammates. Maybe this time he has genuinely figured things out, but whatever he did and said was enough to convince the Lakers to buy in…

To a point.

One could argue — and I would make the case — that Noah would be a better fit on the court for the Lakers’ needs in terms of passing and defense, but he comes with plenty of risks as well (health, getting along with LeBron James, and how much he liked the nightlife as a Knick in New York and what that would mean in L.A.). At least with Howard, the Lakers mitigated that risk with the non-guaranteed contract. If Howard will not accept his role and is disruptive (as he has been in recent stops), if he is still eating candy like a bingeing 10-year-old on Halloween night, if he can’t stay healthy, the Lakers can waive Howard and move on. If the Lakers brought in Noah, they would have been smart to have the same non-guaranteed contract (if Noah would have signed that kind of deal).

For now the Lakers have their man, but he’s basically on probation. Howard has to prove in deeds everything he has said in words.