Nets notch fifth straight win over frustrated LeBron, banged up Heat

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NEW YORK — LeBron James fouled out of a game for just the sixth time in his career on Friday, and with the Heat entering the game in Brooklyn already down three of their starters, losing him for the second overtime session proved to be too much.

Behind big games from Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston, along with some gritty and physical team defense, the Nets remained undefeated in 2014 by notching their fifth straight victory, a thrilling double-overtime triumph against a depleted Miami team and an admittedly frustrated James.

LeBron seemed irritable from the jump in this one, partly because he would have to do so much to carry his team on the second night of a back-to-back without Dwyane Wade, and partly because of the way the Nets defended him. Brooklyn was allowed to play physically against James, and as often happens to the more aggressive team, the Nets got the benefit of the doubt on many calls that could have gone either way.

“I thought I was a little frustrated in the first half, and I apologized to my teammates at halftime, telling them that my frustration and my body language was all wrong,” James said afterward. “I changed that in the second half, tried to be aggressive and put us in a position to win, but just came up short.”

It was a lackluster effort from the Heat through three quarters, who simply didn’t have the energy level to match what the Nets brought, and have been bringing during this recent stretch of winning basketball. But a play that occurred early in the fourth quarter helped to change that.

The Heat entered the fourth trailing by 12, but had already been chipping away at that deficit in the period’s first three minutes, and cut it to five by the time Mirza Teletovic grabbed LeBron around the neck to stop him on a fast break, right after James used a forearm to remove Andrei Kirilenko from his path to the basket.

LeBron was whistled for the offensive foul, and Teletovic received a flagrant one for his actions.

“He went around the neck, that was my take,” James said. “It’s not a basketball play.”

LeBron also accused Kirilenko of exaggerating contact that occurred on more than one occasion.

“I thought Kirilenko flopped a few times,” he said. “To be honest about it, he flopped a few times and he got the call. The last one that fouled me out, that could’ve been a charge for sure. But he kind of put his hands on me as I drove, and that got him off balance, and he was able to get the call. But Kirilenko definitely flopped on me a couple of times and got the call.”

Livingston was the one who took that last charge on James, but the point remains. And with James forced to watch the entire second overtime from the bench, his team was outscored for all but 16 seconds of the final five minutes, before a meaningless layup from Ray Allen was made to end the scoring for the night.

The Nets are coming together as a team, and the effort and energy they’ve been bringing on the defensive end has been the difference. Paul Pierce said as much afterward, pointing to the way his team defended James on the night as the primary example.

“We did a great job on him,” Pierce said. “The good thing I thought we did today, we attacked him too. You never see LeBron foul out. I can’t even remember. The last time I’ve seen him foul out was in a Boston playoff game actually, and that was like three or four years ago. When you get a player that caliber out of the game who hardly ever fouls out, it’s a tribute to what we’re doing on that end too. We’re attacking him as well as playing good defense on him.”

Pierce wasn’t entirely correct, as James fouled out of a playoff game as recently as last season against the Pacers in the Conference Finals. But his remark shows just how rare the occurrence is.

For Miami, these are the dog days of the regular season, even though we’re not even at the halfway point just yet. The injuries and the schedule caught up with them these past two nights, which ended a rough span of six games in nine days that left the Heat with a record of just 3-3 during that stretch.

The Heat have four days off until their next contest, and the break couldn’t come at a better time as far as James is concerned.

“We’re banged up right now as a team,” he said. “We’re not an excuse team, but right now, we have three starters that didn’t play. Even though we’ve got a lot of depth, it’s hard to make up for three starters being out. So we could all use this break for sure.”

Jerry West on NBA Draft: “I don’t know how you could pass Zion Williamson”

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A rumor started buzzing around NBA Twitter last week, a second-hand report that NBA legend and Clippers’ consultant Jerry West was praising Murray State guard Ja Morant, saying he would take him in front of the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson.

The source of that rumor: comedian Jeff Garlin, saying it on the Dan Patrick Show.

Jerry West himself went on the Dan Patrick show Thursday and shot that down saying “it Would Be Like Passing Jordan in the draft.”

Two players were picked in front Jordan in the 1984 Draft. The Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon, and while Jordan went on to be Jordan nobody can fault the Rockets for how this picked turned out — two titles and a Hall of Fame big man in your organization is an amazing draft.

The one everyone talks about was Portland at No. 2, when executive Stu Inman and coach Jack Ramsey decided they were set on the wing in Clyde Drexler and needed a big man, so they selected Sam Bowie out of Kentucky. Bowie might have had an excellent NBA career if injuries had not plagued him, but he was no Jordan. It’s the ultimate NBA cautionary tale — draft the best player on the board, not according to need.

Williamson is projected by teams as the best player on the board. By far. Even the Morant fans have him a clear second. Plus, Williamson comes in hugely popular and a brand unto himself — he will sell tickets and sponsorships. Not drafting him would be a stupid business decision, not to mention a basketball one.

Whoever lands second in next month’s draft lottery will do well with Morant. Whoever is third will likely get R.J. Barrett out of Duke and… let’s just say that’s where it gets interesting.

Likely top-10 pick Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech makes it official, declares for NBA Draft

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We all knew this was coming, but on Thursday he made it official:

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 pick. He made the announcement at a rally on the Tech campus Thursday, then took his message to social media.

Culver, a 6’6” wing player, passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (he only hit 30.4 percent from three this season, but it was 38 percent the season before and his stroke looks good), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he may have the best feel for the game of any wing prospect in this draft. The only question is athleticism — he’s not a classically explosive, and the NBA is loaded with freak athletes on the wing.

Still, Culvert looks like a rotation wing player with the potential to be more, and that should land him comfortably in the top 10 in this draft (likely 5-8).

Nuggets take 13-game losing streak in San Antonio into Game 3

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In 2009, Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Jazz’s win over the Spurs. Paul Millsap backed him up.

A couple months later, Boozer had 31-13 in another Jazz win over the Spurs. Again, Millsap backed him up.

Late in the 2012-13 season, rookie Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers to a blowout of the Spurs. Will Barton played three minutes in garbage time.

Those are the only three times current Nuggets starters have won in San Antonio.

After splitting the first two games of their first-round series in Denver, the Nuggets must win at least once in San Antonio to advance. The first opportunity comes in Game 3 tonight.

Denver has lost 13 straight road games against the Spurs – a drought longer than the careers of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. The Nuggets’ other starters didn’t fare much better before joining Denver. Barton went 1-5 in San Antonio with Portland. Millsap went 2-20 in San Antonio with Utah and Atlanta.

Even several notches below their dynasty status, the Spurs remain especially tough at home.

The Spurs went 32-9 at home and 16-25 on the road this season. Maybe that’s an aberration in a limited sample. But they also went 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road last season.

That’s a 79% win percentage at home and 37% on the road. The last time a team had such a large disparity over a two-year span was the 2008-2009 Jazz.

This might just be San Antonio’s post-Kawhi Leonard identity.

Here are the largest home-road win percentage differences in the last decade:

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There’s another possibility: It’s not that the Spurs are that good at home. It’s that they’re that bad on the road.

But San Antonio trailed only the Nuggets, Bucks and Raptors in home record this season.

The Spurs also won Game 1 in Denver, where the altitude has historically given the Nuggets a strong homecourt advantage. If Denver dropped that game to a lousy road team, that’d be its own problem.

Either way, the Nuggets have a real challenge on their hands.

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.