The Extra Pass: The Wild West, can Portland last, and Sunday’s Recaps

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Let’s jump around the Western Conference with a few observations:

Portland: 20 percent of the regular season is in the books, and the Trail Blazers hold the pole position in the Western Conference. It’s a great accomplishment and something absolutely no one expected, but the Blazers should come back down to earth soon enough.

Wesley Matthews is just one of the reasons why this run at the top should be short-lived. Matthews is posting a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 70.5 percent, a number that’s only been reached over a full season (at least 1000 minutes) by Artis Gilmore and Tyson Chandler, who never shot anything that wasn’t from point-blank range.

For context sake, the highest true shooting percentage posted by Ray Allen, unquestionably one of the greatest shooters ever, was 62.4 percent. One would assume that Matthews will become human again at some point this year.

When the offense inevitably slows down a bit, will the defense compensate?

Portland is 20th in defensive efficiency despite their hot start, and there are tough matchups on the horizon. Just in this month, Portland will be tested with games against Indiana, Houston, Miami, LAC and the Thunder twice. Add in three sets of road back-to-backs to that tough slate, and this is probably the last we’ll see of Portland at the top of the standings, even though it’s been one fun ride.

Oklahoma City: It’s pretty clear that Scott Brooks is attached to Kendrick Perkins and that Sam Presti won’t send him to Belize, so maybe it’s time for armchair coaches to take up a new campaign for the Thunder.
While you can understand the desire to have a bigger perimeter defender next to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant so that they can conserve energy for offense, should Thabo Sefolosha really be playing more than Reggie Jackson?

I realize I’m cherry-picking after Jackson’s 11-point fourth quarter explosion against the Timberwolves, but the ball really seems to move better and more spot-up chances seem to be created for Durant and Westbrook’s way with Jackson’s penetration and speed on the floor. Sefolosha is a nice role player, but the ball dies in hands far too often.

According to NBA.com, Oklahoma City has six lineups that have played over 15 minutes together and produced a positive net efficiency rating. Jackson has played in five of those lineups, and the only one he hasn’t played in has been a garbage time unit. Sefolosha, meanwhile, is only in two of those positive net rating lineups.

Jackson is getting around 22 or 23 minutes a night compared to Sefolosha’s 28 minutes, so it’s not a huge deal. The Thunder need Jackson to lead the second unit, and he’s done a nice job of that so far. All that said, keep an eye on what lineups OKC closes games with going forward. We know who Brooks is starting, but the finishing groups could get interesting.

Utah Jazz: They didn’t get as much hate/love for their tanking job, but the Jazz made one clinching move where other franchises messed up: keep a lame duck coach on the bench.

Jeff Hornacek (PHX), Brett Brown (PHI) and Brad Stevens (BOS) have all been able to squeeze varying degrees of production from their teams in their first seasons, but Ty Corbin is just sort of sticking around and really helping the Jazz pull off this Bad News Bears vibe they have going on. Utah can’t possibly see him as the coach of the future, but it doesn’t appear that Corbin is ready to resign. This is organized ugly.

New Orleans: Sad news on Anthony Davis fracturing his hand. He was having a monster season, and now the “injury prone” murmurs will only grow louder, fair or not.

While I like Jrue Holiday, this is precisely the reason you keep your dealt pick lottery protected instead of top-5 protected. Everyone knew what direction 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie wanted to go, so you’d like to think that Dell Demps could have held out for a slightly bigger safety net in the draft day deal that landed Holiday in exchange for a 2014 first round pick. Now Davis is out indefinitely, Tyreke Evans is struggling mightily and sapping up all the future cap space, and a pick that could be in the 8-10 range in slated to go elsewhere.

Losing Davis is unlucky, but everything else was about pushing the chips in far too early.

—D.J. Foster

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Nuggets 112, Raptors 98: Nate Robinson was the story here, taking control like we saw him do more than once with the Bulls last season. He scored 18 fourth quarter points on seven shots to put this one in the win column for the Nuggets. Denver’s bigs got whatever they wanted for most of the game, especially Timofey Mozgov and Darrell Arthur who combined for 30 points and 18 rebounds off the bench.

Pacers 105, Clippers 100: The Clippers are not a team that’s particularly deep in terms of overall offensive talent, so losing J.J. Redick and his 15.8 points per game for a while with a fractured hand injury is going to sting. Willie Green got the start in redick’s place against the Pacers, but managed just two points in 15 minutes of action. L.A. battled back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit to tie it and make it a possession-by-possession contest down the stretch, and while the Pacers didn’t hit a field goal in the final 4:25, they did score their final nine points of the game from the free throw line to seal it. With the victory, Indiana improved to a league-best 16-1 on the season.

Pistons 115, Sixers 100: Andre Drummond was absolutely dominant, and made history by finishing with 31 points, 19 rebounds, six steals, and two blocked shots. It’s the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990 that a player has finished with a stat line like that, and it could have been worse — Drummond played less than 33 minutes because of how out of hand the game was.

Warriors 115, Kings 113: Remember that time Mark Jackson said that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best shooting backcourt combination of all time? It’s games like this one that he was talking about. The pair combined to hit 13 of their team’s 15 three-pointers on the night, with Curry finishing with 36 points and 10 assists while Thompson ended up with 28 points of his own. Sacramento was up to the challenge on this night, however, and had DeMarcus Cousins performing at an unstoppable level in the game’s final minutes. Andrew Bogut blocked a shot from Isaiah Thomas at the rim in the closing seconds to seal the win for the Warriors, while the Kings fell to just 4-11 on the season.

Heat 99, Bobcats 98: Charlotte had a legitimate chance to get this victory in theory, taking a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter and leading by 11 with under 7:30 to play. In the least surprising news of the day, Miami rallied to make a game of it, and then Chris Bosh gave the Heat the lead by hitting three straight shots from three-point distance. Kemba Walker was huge for Charlotte and finished with a game-high 27 points, but Miami’s experience simply won out over the game’s final few possessions.

Thunder 113, Timberwolves 103: Not to be outdone by Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant finished this victory with an historic stat line of his own, and it was somehow even more ridiculous than the one put up by the big man of the Pistons. Durant’s triple double of 32 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, four steals and four blocked shots hasn’t been done by anyone since 1985, via Royce Young. Durant awesomeness aside, OKC turned the pressure up defensively in the fourth, and held the Timberwolves to just 26.1 percent shooting in the final period while outscoring their opponent 35-20 to seal it.

Pelicans 103, Knicks 99: This seemed to be a prime opportunity for the Knicks to snap their eight-game losing streak, but even after Anthony Davis went out with a broken hand injury, the team couldn’t come up with enough key plays late to prevent it from reaching nine. New Orleans put together a 10-0 run that lasted almost four minutes to take a five-point lead with 2:30 to play, and while the Knicks had their chances, they couldn’t execute or get any ket shots to fall in the closing moments. New York got a bit of a bright spot with the performance of rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who came off the bench to score 21 points on 10 shots in under 25 minutes of action. The Knicks have a few days to try to figure things out, and will try to avoid losing their 10th straight game when they head to Brooklyn on Thursday to face the Nets.

Trail Blazers 114, Lakers 108: This win makes the Blazers 14-3 and the No. 1 seed in the West right now. Didn’t see that coming. You have to give the Lakers this: They are resiliant. They fight back and do not give up. Portland raced out to a 21-4 lead but the Lakers clawed back to make it a three-point game at the half. Portland’s ball movement was great in the third quarter and they put up 41 points, then the Lakers stormed back behind Xavier Henry (11 in the fourth quarter, 27 for the game) to get within one in the fourth quarter but it just wasn’t enough. LaMarcus Aldridge had 27, Damian Lillard 26 for Portland.

NBA in London: Wizards vs Knicks in January

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LONDON (AP) — The NBA will return to London next year with a regular-season game between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks.

Tickets for the Jan. 17 game at the O2 Arena will go on sale in the fall.

It will be the NBA’s ninth regular-season game in London, all sellouts. The Knicks have played there twice, facing the Detroit Pistons in 2013 and the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. This will be the first game in London for the Wizards.

International players on the rosters include Wizards center Marcin Gortat of Poland, Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia and Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina, who was born in Belgium to Rwandan parents and grew up in France.

The game will be shown by the NBA’s broadcast partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and on NBA League Pass International.

 

Adam Silver of some fans’ distaste for Warriors: “I get it” but adds team drafted well

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As the Warriors were sweeping past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, the lack of competitiveness of that series became a talking point. LeBron James, for all his greatness (especially before punching that whiteboard, which was asking for it) could not get this team a win. Superteams like the Warriors are not good for the NBA, the league needs more competitiveness, the argument goes.

Adam Silver feels your pain.

To a degree. He said he gets concerns, but added that the NBA has always been a league of dynasties, and that while Kevin Durant was a free agent the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Silver was on ESPN radio’s Golic and Wingo show Wednesday and said this:

“I get it in terms of Kevin Durant going [to the Warriors in 2016]. It was a bit of an aberration in our system; we had a spike in our cap, it enabled them to have additional cap room. The Warriors will tell you they would have figured out a way to get it done anyway,” he said….

“I’ve said repeatedly, let’s also celebrate excellence. Ownership, the job Bob Myers has done as a GM, Steve Kerr, of course, one of the great coaches in our league. Steph Curry, drafted; Klay Thompson, drafted; Draymond Green drafted 35th by Golden State Warriors,” Silver said.

Silver said the NBA doesn’t “want to go about breaking up teams just to break them up, just to force some sort of parity that is kind of unnatural,” but he said the league and its players can talk about changes to the player-movement system.

First, player movement is good for the league — why do you think the NBA offseason is so compelling? Shorter contracts, players willing to shift teams, it is why the NBA wins the offseason every year. Fans love it. Why would the league even consider cutting that off? Even small market owners are not that short-sighted.

In the interview, Silver then went on to mention a hard salary cap, something he brought up a few times speaking with the media at the NBA Finals. Silver works at the pleasure of the NBA owners, which suggests there is at least a faction of them that wants to go aggressively at a hard cap in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It would never get approved by the players (and the owners know that), but Silver and some owners enjoy rattling sabers.

It also would not bring parity to the NBA. It’s not the nature of the sport. If you draft/sign LeBron you are going to win more games than you lose because he is the best basketball player in the world and he gets to touch the ball 100 times a game and influence the outcome. The same is basically true of Kevin Durant and James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the games’ other handful of truly elite players. It’s as if the Nationals got to pitch Max Scherzer every night — they’d win a lot more games.

And stars have always paired up to win — Bill Russell and Cousy, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and James Worthy), Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. The NBA has always been about dynasties.

Behind Durant and the hard cap talk seems to be the real issue — owners and some fans don’t like players exercising power about where they play and who they play with. Owners who draft a player want to control his rights as long as they can, but players are not just the pawns of guys in suits in front offices anymore. They are working to control their own destiny. If Kawhi Leonard is not happy in San Antonio, he will force his way out to a place he wants to be — and take less money to do it. That is a change from the past. LeBron formed a super team in Miami (and could again this summer). Durant decided to join an organic one in Golden State. Chris Paul forced his way to play with Harden in Houston.

That dynamic is not going to change, either.

Mo Bamba really doesn’t want to go to Memphis

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It’s the time of year when agents try to influence what team drafts their client. Ultimately, the teams have the power here — if they want a player they can draft him and hold onto his rights until he agrees to play for them. (The only way out is for a player to sit out every level of basketball for a season, domestic and overseas, then re-enter the draft with a diminished status.)

That doesn’t stop agents from trying. The withhold medical information. They refuse to let their player workout for the team. Or, they just tell the team their player doesn’t want to be there. A number of players have done that with Sacramento.

Mohamed Bamba is doing that with Memphis. That’s according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony on Memphis radio.

With a “let’s make the playoffs next season/keep the status quo” mentality in Memphis, Bamba is not really a fit anyway. Bamba may have the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft, but he also has farther to go to reach that ceiling than almost anyone in this draft. He has the potential to be a defensive force, but he has to get his legs and core much stronger. He is incredibly raw on offense. Looking at a guy who was at times casual in his play in college, will he put in the work to get there?

Who would make more sense for the Grizzlies at No. 4? Jaren Jackson Jr. for one, but…

Memphis also may be more likely to trade their pick than anyone in the top five. Considering their options, the Grizzlies may see that as the best option, if they get a decent offer.

Report: Charlotte trading Dwight Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov

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When Mitch Kupchak was hired as the new general manager in Charlotte, the big question was could he convince Michael Jordan it was time to rebuild the Hornets. The Kemba Walker/Dwight Howard team won 36 games last season, and even though there seemed to be potential on the roster the team had made the playoffs just twice in the past five seasons (and been bounced in the first round both times).

It appears the answer is yes.

The first step, move Dwight Howard and his $23.8 million salary for next season, which is happening with a trade to Brooklyn, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Charlotte Hornets have agreed to send Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov, two future second-round picks and cash, league sources told ESPN…

The Hornets will receive the Nets’ second-round pick (No. 45) in Thursday’s NBA draft and a 2021 second-round pick, league sources said.

Mozgov has two years and $32.7 million left on his contract. Charlotte general manager Mitch Kupchak signed Mozgov to the four-year, $64 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago.

Technically this trade can’t be completed until July 6, when the NBA’s signing moratorium ends at the start of free agency. The Hornets will pick for the Nets on Thursday night in the second round then complete the trade on July 6.

The Hornets were a team pushing the luxury tax (yes, seriously) and this move saves money in the short term and gets them away from that tax line.

Look for the Hornets to consider trading Kemba Walker too, either around the draft or before the trade deadline next year. Or at least they should, he can walk as a free agent in 2019 and that would leave them stuck. There were rumors the other players in the Charlotte locker room were not Howard fans, this could have been a move to appease the veterans. That still does not make this team better.

The Nets will save nearly $17 million in salary for the 2019-20 season and they can open up two max contract slots. Not that they are going to land Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard or the other elite free agents of that summer, but Brooklyn will have the leverage to go after the right players (think restricted free agents they can poach) who will fit with their future.

Also, they get a big man in Howard who was solid last season for the Hornets while nobody was looking — he averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Coach Steve Clifford put Howard back in his comfort zones, didn’t ask him to do too much, and with that Howard played well, he had a PER of 20.5.

Howard’s going to love hamming it up in Brooklyn off the court.

On the court, the Nets have who they believe to be the center of their future in Jarrett Allen, who came on through his rookie season as he got more and more run. Howard and Allen will split time at the five, but will Howard handle coming off the bench?. If the Nets can get a healthy Jeremy Lin, growth from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a little more (or anything, really) out of Allen Crabbe, some throwback games from DeMarre Carrol, and the Nets could be an entertaining team to watch next season.