Josh Smith takes ‘real offense’ to Maurice Cheeks benching him

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When Maurice Cheeks removed Josh Smith from the starting lineup for missing a practice – called at the last moment, for the day following a back-to-back, after Smith had decided to stay in Atlanta to tend to his ill father – Smith bit his tongue.

But now that Cheeks benched Smith for the entire second half of the Pistons’ 106-82 loss to the Wizards on Saturday, Smith isn’t remaining quiet.

Smith, via David Mayo of MLive:

“It’s an honor for me to play, you know what I’m saying?  So when anybody challenges — or anything about the fact that, you know, about me not wanting to play — then I take real offense to it,” Smith said.

Smith shouldn’t feel offended. He played lousy in the first half, scoring four points on seven shots – a night after the Pistons slumbered through a blowout loss to the lowly Magic.

But he should feel singled out.

Every Detroit player struggled against Washington. Smith didn’t strike me as any worse than his teammates. And though starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also began the second half on the bench, he eventually returned to the court. Smith never did.

It’s not clear why Cheeks chose Smith to bench, but the coach at least considered going further. Mayo:

He admitted he would have liked to bench the entire starting five to begin the second half.”If I could have, yeah,” Cheeks said, when asked that question.  “The way the first half went, yeah.  But the way the first half went, I really couldn’t.”

Why didn’t Cheeks just bench everyone? Especially after the Orlando loss, nobody would have claimed the starters didn’t have it coming.

If there were a reason to single out Smith, the team’s highest-paid player, it’s because he once singled himself out as the model for game-day focus. Smith after a November loss, via Mayo:

“When I prepare for a game, it starts during shootaround,” Smith said after the Pistons let a six-point halftime lead get away.  “And I think everybody needs to have that same mentality.”

Yet, Smith reached the Verizon Center just 82 minutes before Sunday’s game, according Kyle Weidie of TruthAboutIt.net:

Is that enough time for Smith (and Chauncey Billups, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum) to prepare for a game? Maybe, but that late arrival does not set a good example for the same teammates he previously chided for not following his lead.

If Smith and Cheeks aren’t an impasse, they’re heading toward one. Will either change their ways?

Smith, via J. Michael of CSN Washington:

“I’m an aggressive person. I’m not passive. So maybe a passive person that takes life that way won’t understand an aggressive person. I really can’t worry about what people perceive of me because they don’t know me on a day-to-day basis so I’m really not concerned about what people perceive about me at all.”

“To me it is over with. But you know some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I’m not saying he does. I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in coach’s office and have a one-on-one sitdown. I’m more of a team morale guy.”

Cheeks has frequently defended his laid-back demeanor, saying he’s not going change his personality to conform to anyone’s view of what a coach should be. And good for him. But he has to find a way to meet Smith in the middle. Previously, Cheeks has. Smith returned to the starting lineup one game after the Atlanta incident. Cheeks has also tried to push Smith into more post-ups offensively and blamed his own scheme when Smith drifts to the perimeter. But this incident goes beyond those more-minor disputes. The Pistons have fired coaches and shed players in an effort to build a more harmonious team. It clearly hasn’t completely worked.If there’s any solace for the Pistons in this situation, Smith has a long history of battling coaches, and Cheeks has even more experience sparring with players. These two know the terrain.And yet they’ve both avoided the big blowup that destroys teams. I doubt this flare-up will even challenge to blemish that perfect record.

Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time

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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo finished dressing, sat in front of his locker and looked up.

Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.

The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.

“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”

That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.

All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.

“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”

Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.

The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):

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Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

But Khris Middleton (20 points), Brook Lopez (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (19 points), Ersan Ilyasova (15 points), Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and George Hill (11 points) stepped up. The Bucks were +23 without Antetokounmpo – one of their best-ever marks while the superstar sat.

“It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.

For the Pistons, it wasn’t all about Blake Griffin.

Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.

In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.

But this record now falls on the franchise.

Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:

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With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.

“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.

For Detroit, a lot of them.

Nuggets beat Spurs 117-103 to tie series at 2-2

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 117-103 on Saturday night, rebounding from a flat performance tie the first-round series at two games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

The Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said prior to the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White‘s 36-point outing in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

White was limited to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Down by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio 69-45 in the second and third.

Aldridge had 13 points in the opening quarter, shooting 5 for 9. His final points of the quarter came when he grabbed a miss by Marco Belineli and slammed it back in. Denver rallied in the second, with Jokic and Murray combining for 15 points as the Nuggets outscored 34-22.

The Spurs stopped driving to the basket and the Nuggets began making their 3-pointers.

Denver finished 15-for-31 on 3-pointers.

 

Trail Blazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.

 

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan ejected after throwing ball at referee Scott Foster in frustration

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Scott Foster and his officiating crew refereed Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors Thursday night, and by the end players on both teams were frustrated enough with the tightly — but not consistently — called game they were ready to throw the ball at Foster.

San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t resist the urge.

Near the end of the Nuggets’ road win over the Spurs — which sends the series back to Denver tied 2-2 — DeRozan was given a charge call from Foster, then threw the ball in his direction out of frustration. When the notoriously short-fused Foster realized what happened, he ejected DeRozan. The league will back Foster on this, it can’t have players throwing balls at officials or making other grand gestures to show them up.

But DeRozan’s sentiment is easy to understand.

The Athletic did a survey asked about a quarter of NBA players a series of questions, including, “Who is the worst ref?” Foster came in second with 20.7 percent of the vote (Tony Brothers won the “honor,” and he is working the playoffs as well).

Expect Foster to keep working deep into the playoffs, he has officiated 18 Finals games in his career.