Sunday night NBA grades: Kevin Love makes his All-Star statement against Griffin

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while reading about how Charles Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carroll” almost didn’t get published…

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Love is not going to own up to it, but this came off as a “are all of you really voting for Blake Griffin as an All-Star ahead of me?” game. Love was about 20,000 votes back of Griffin for the last starting spot in the West as of a week ago, with that motivate Love came out looking to dominate the power forward matchup Sunday — 45 points on 15-of-23 shooting, plus he pulled down 19 rebounds. (To be fair, Griffin had 32 points and 10 boards, not a bad night.) Love also fouled Griffin out, getting a charge call in OT. That Minnesota didn’t get Love the ball with the game on the line late in this game (Pekovic got the shots) is a crime.

source:  Los Angeles Clippers’ frontline defense. Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 79 points on just 51 shots, plus pulled down 33 rebounds — that the Clippers won this game talks about getting some good play elsewhere and some luck (thank you Kevin Martin). The Clippers didn’t deserve this the way their front line defended but L.A. made fewer mistakes down the stretch.

source:  Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota just keeps losing close game after close game — and Martin was at the heart of this one. He had 16 points but he killed them with 6 turnovers. The big one was with 8 seconds to go in regulation and Minnesota up two — they wanted to get the ball in his hands because he is so good as a free throw shooter. Martin ran into the backcourt to recieve the pass, tried to dribble as the defense came to foul and slipped a little, when that happened he got picked clean by Chris Paul, who made a pass to Jamal Crawford for the game-tying dunk. It went to overtime and again the Timberwolves were up two with just more than three minutes left, Martin made a nice play to get an offensive rebound, then he tried a blind pass out top to get away from pressure and threw it away. Darren Collison picked it up, got the breakaway dunk and tied the game.

source:   Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. How do you get a “B” grade when you have a triple-double? When you go hunting for it — he played a spectacular game for three quarters but missed six of his last seven shots and was making plays to go after it. The result was he needed 15 shots to get the 12 points to go with his 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Still, early in the game he was just destroying all things Boston, including Courtney Lee’s ankles.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he doesn’t expect rookie Zhaire Smith to play in NBA this season

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Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.

Zhaire Smith?

A few recent 76ers first-round picks missed their entire first professional season due to injury. Smith, the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft could join them.

Smith has missed the entire season so far with a broken foot then allergic reaction. He just returned to practicing with the 76ers, but maybe not in time to play for them this season.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

If the 76ers clinch their playoff seed before the regular season ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith plays for them. But meaningful minutes seem unlikely.

Philadelphia is trying to win now, and a rookie who entered the NBA relatively raw then missed so much time is unlikely to help.

That said, backup wings James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons aren’t exactly reliable options. If everything breaks right for Smith – essentially the opposite of his season to date – maybe, just maybe, he plays for the 76ers this season.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.