The Extra Pass: Should Indiana be worried about its offense? And Tuesday’s recaps.

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LOS ANGELES — Indiana is the best team in the NBA right now — they have the best record in the league (by percentage points over Oklahoma City) and they have the best point differential in the league. The Pacers are legitimate title contenders.

They have done all that in spite of their offense.

The Pacers are scoring 102.8 points per 100 possessions this season, which is 18th best in the NBA. That pedestrian number is masked by their top ranked defense, and with that they still have the best point differential in the league per possession. While there have been stretches where the offense has been above average, it has at no point been elite.

Is that something to worry about?

“Yea, a little bit, we want to be in the Top 10,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before his team took on the Lakers Tuesday night — and struggled for a half on offense against one of the league’s worst defenses. “With where our defense is, we feel if we are in the top 10 we are where we want to be. It’s probably not as high as we want to be.”

“We’ve got to get back to being consistent on the offensive end, sharing the ball, moving it, setting guys up, getting guys open and continuing to play for one another,” Paul George said.

Tuesday night the Pacers looked like a team with tired legs at the end of a road trip —George was 4-of-21 and didn’t have the lift we are accustomed to. Danny Granger was 3-of-10 shooting. As a team the Pacers were 2-of-11 from three in the first half.

Once again, as it has been for much of the season, it was left to Lance Stephenson to create offense, particularly on the perimeter in the half court. He responded, as he has much of the season — but Vogel admitted this was not the vision he had starting the season.

“I wanted to expand his role,” Vogel said of his plans for Stephenson going into training camp. “What I envisioned was getting him out early, bringing him back to play with the bench unit and running offense through him. That sort of expanded when he started producing with the starting unit. So obviously, we’re a balanced team and we’re going to go to the hot hand so to speak, or to whoever is making the most efficient plays. With the second unit that’s who we’re going with, but a lot of times with the first unit he’s been great too.”

The second unit is becoming a little more about Granger, who is in a sixth man role that he willingly has accepted. But Granger is not yet his old self.

“He’s coming, he’s coming,” Vogel said of Granger. “He’s not there yet, he knows that. There’s going to be good nights and not so good nights, good plays and not so good plays. When you come back from a major knee surgery like that you’re not really yourself until the second year. He’s only 18 or 19 games. But he’s got four months to play before we start the playoffs, and that’s where we think he will be the biggest factor for us.”

Against the Lakers — who want to run but don’t really bother to play transition defense — the Pacers got 17.4 percent of their attempts in transition. That’s part of the plan, Vogel said, describing what he wants the Pacers to play with is “intelligent tempo.”

“We want to explore for early strikes every time we get the ball, we don’t want to do it at the cost of turnovers, low turnovers, and (we want) great shots — not good shots, or average shots, or bad shots. Great shots and low turnovers,” Vogel said.

Come the playoffs, there will be less of that — which is fine by Indiana. The game slows down in the playoffs and that means the Pacers can get back and set their fierce defense.

But they are still going to have to score in the half court, and do it a bit more efficiently than they have to this point. At least they’ll need to against Miami and it’s aggressive defense (the rest of the East, it won’t matter). The Pacers have time to get back to what Paul George seems to remember them doing better.

Their offense isn’t really something to worry about, but a little concern is not out of order.

—Kurt Helin
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source:  Pelicans 100, Cavaliers 89: Anthony Davis put up a monster stat line of 30 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots for the Pelicans, who had little trouble with a Cavs team playing without Anderson Varejao due to injury. On the Cavs’ side, Kyrie Irving was average and Dion Waiters was slightly above, but the bright spot was rookie and number one overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who cracked double figures scoring for the first time with 15 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes of action. — Brett Pollakoff

Knicks 114, Celtics 88: The Knicks got their third straight victory, and got a small measure of revenge in the process. Boston handed New York two of their worst losses of the season, but this time the result was never in doubt for the Knicks. New York led by as many as 35 points in this one before the game came to its merciful conclusion. Kenyon Martin returned to action, but left with another injury that appeared to be related to his chronic ankle issues. Iman Shumpert also left in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return, and his status moving forward remains unknown. It was an easy win for the Knicks, but a potentially costly one. –BP

Rockets 97, Spurs 90: Each team was missing one of its key players, but the game remained largely competitive nonetheless. The Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard due to a foot fracture, and the Rockets were without James Harden due to a bruised left thumb. San Antonio squandered a 15-point first half lead, and Houston rallied with a 33-18 third quarter that put them in command. Jeremy Lin hit some clutch shots late to seal it, and Dwight Howard finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds, but shot just 5-of-15 from the field. Howard shot a ridiculous 25 free throws, making 13 as part of San Antonio’s strategy to intentionally put him on the line. As punishment from the gods for employing this soul-crushing strategy, Boris Diaw led the Spurs with 22 points. Houston is now 3-0 against San Antonio on the season, the first time since 1997 where they’ll win the season series. — BP

Pistons 103, Magic 87: Detroit snapped a four-game losing streak thanks to a big performance from Andre Drummond, who finished with 13 points, 17 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. The Pistons had a 22-point advantage in the paint, and Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo finished with a team-high 19 points off the bench in the losing effort. — BP

Grizzlies 98, Trail Blazers 81: Memphis plays good defense and that was able to turn ever Trail Blazer not named LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points) into a poor shooter — Blazers besides Aldridge shot 29.7 percent. On the other side, Portland is not a strong defensive team and the Grizzlies took advantage racing out 10-0 to open the game, going on to put up 61 first half points on 56.5 percent shooting and hit 4-of-8 threes, Mike Conley had 16 of his 19 in the first half, Zach Randolph had 23 on the night (but needed 22 shots). Damian Lillard was 2-of-9 from three leading a 4-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc night for Portland, and they need those buckets to fall for their offense to click. — Kurt Helin

 Wizards 88, Warriors 85: It felt like this game was played with those just-a-little-to-small carnival basketball rims — the winning Wizards shot 37.8 percent, the losing Warriors 37.5 percent. Stephen Curry had 23 points but needed 23 shots to get there, while Klay Thompson was 5-of-17 and David Lee was 2-of-10. Bradley Beal had 20 points, John Wall was just 6-of-19 shooting but he hit a three with 1:28 left that proved to be the game winner. –KH

 Pacers 104, Lakers 92: Indiana looked like a team on the end of a 10-day trip — they had no legs and it showed with Paul George shooting 4-of-21 and Roy Hibbert was 5-of-11 shooting. That’s why this was a tied game at the half. But the Pacers win with defense — they held the Lakers to 39.4 percent shooting — and by limiting their own mistakes, such as only giving up 4 turnovers all game. Those things and a deeper bench had the Pacers pulling away to win in the second half. Lance Stephenson led the way with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, plus he had 14 rebounds. Pau Gasol kept his run of strong play going with 21 points and 13 rebounds. –KH

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.