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

Adam Silver likes NBA teams moving away from term ‘owner,’ prefers ‘governor’

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Warriors star Draymond Green has objected to using the term “owner.” The 76ers use “managing partner,” not “owner,” as Josh Harris’ title.

Does NBA commissioner Adam Silver like teams moving away from the term owner?

Silver, via TMZ:

I do. I don’t want to overreact to the term because, as I’ve said earlier, people end up twisting themselves into knots avoiding the use of the word owner. But, we moved away from that term years ago in the league. We call our team owners governor of the team and alternate governors. So, I think it makes sense. As I’ve said, I don’t want to overreact, and you’ll find the word throughout memos over the past decade in the NBA. But I’m sensitive to it, and I think to the extent teams are moving away from the term, we’ll stick with using governor.

Players have gone both ways. I think a few players have actually spoken out and said the greatest thing that ever happened was when Michael Jordan was able to call himself an owner. But, of course, Draymond Green has been very public about the fact that we should be moving away from the term, and I completely respect that.

The elephant in the room: Slavery. The history of white people owning black people is the subtext to this entire discussion. Slavery looms over a league where most owners are white and most player are black.

However, the term “owner” here doesn’t refer to owning the players, but owning the team. “Ownership” has far wider historically usage than slavery. In most fields, “owning” companies – which NBA teams are – doesn’t generate backlash.

Are we too loose with the term “owner” in sports? Perhaps. It’s common to say something like, “Players should strongly consider their potential owners in free agency” rather than “players should strongly consider their potential team’s owners in free agency.”

But there are power differences between players and owners/managing partners/governors/whatever you want to call them. Unless addressing the actual underlying issues, changing terms will accomplish nothing.

Those power dynamics are why the Warriors referred to Mark Stevens as “Mr. Stevens” and Kyle Lowry as Kyle Lowry after Stevens pushed Lowry during the NBA Finals. Those power dynamics are why Donald Sterling took guests into the Clippers’ locker room to ogle players. Those power dynamics are why LeBron James is remembered as the bad guy from The Decision despite Dan Gilbert’s wild letter.

There will always be differences between players and owners. Owners have more money and staying power. But the NBA can create a better, fairer environment for its players.

It’ll just require deeper consideration than a simple word change.

Report: Knicks will roll over cap space if they don’t sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard

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The Knicks are chasing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. New York will reportedly get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard.

But Irving appears headed to the Nets, and Durant might follow. Leonard appears to favor the Raptors in a two-team race with the Clippers.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

New York still believes it’s in the hunt for Kawhi Leonard, Irving and Durant. But, according to a source, the Knicks will punt their $70 million-plus in cap space if they can’t land one of those Tier A free agents.

This plan would require patience Knicks owner James Dolan has rarely shown. The Knicks have missed the playoffs six straight years. Twice during that span – including last season – they posted their worst record in franchise history (17-65). Dolan publicly proclaimed confidence New York would sign major free agents this summer.

He’d really allow the Knicks to delay winning even further?

New York is positioned to wait until 2020 free agency (though Joakim Noah‘s cap hit will remain on the books after an avoidable error). R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox will still be on relatively cheap rookie-scale contracts. As a second-round pick, Mitchell Robinson is even lower-paid. If they sign players to only one-year contracts this offseason, the Knicks will once again have massive cap room.

But good players generally want multi-year deals. So, New York would be choosing among a far more limited pool of free agents. Another gloomy season would likely await.

And then the 2020 free-agent class looks weak. Especially with Anthony Davis already on the Lakers, there probably won’t be an attainable superstar for the Knicks. There might not even be an attainable star.

Then what? Sacrifice the 2020-21 season to gear up for 2021 free agency? Maybe Barrett, Knox and Robinson develop and send New York on a different track, but that’s far from assured.

The genius of this plan is it allows Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to keep their jobs while the team continues to stink. There would be no expectations of winning anytime soon – as long as Dolan abides.

Report: Kyrie Irving doesn’t like living in Boston

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Has Kyrie Irving been in contact with the Boston Celtics about his free agency? We have reports that say that Irving has “ghosted” the Celtics… and of course we have counter reports that say just the opposite.

It’s hard to believe anything that swirls around Irving, one of the more enigmatic and tiring personalities in the NBA. At the very least, Irving has appeared to send signals that he is looking to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Chief among them being that Irving recently fired his longtime representation and signed with Roc Nation, which has a close partnership with the Brooklyn front office.

Boston has had a hard time getting free agents to come to play for the franchise, and that’s before they had a standing beef with Klutch Sports. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, one of our Irving’s problems with the Celtics was that he simply didn’t like living in Boston.

Via ESPN:

“Kyrie Irving didn’t like Boston. I’ve been told this by many people. He didn’t like living in Boston — he just didn’t. By the end he had issues with Brad, by the end he had issues with Danny… by the end he had issues with pretty much all of us.”

We have heard rumors that things started to go wrong in the Celtics locker room when coach Brad Stevens seemed to openly favor injured star Gordon Hayward a bit too heavily (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler in college).

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge has the propensity to rub folks the wrong way. He makes whatever decision he thinks is the best from a basketball perspective, relationships be damned. We learned that with the Isaiah Thomas trade.

At this juncture it seems unlikely that Irving will return to the Celtics. Meanwhile, we will probably continue to get stories like this out of Boston.

Chris Paul: “I never asked for a trade” and says he’s happy to be in Houston

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With Golden State laid low by injuries (and maybe a defection), Houston should be the team stepping to the front of the line saying “it’s our turn” in the West.

Instead, the Rockets two stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — are feuding, ownership is turning coach Mike D’Antoni into a lame duck, and everyone without a fantastic beard hears their name in trade rumors.

The Harden/Paul feud is real, but Paul tried to downplay it at a charity event in Los Angeles over the weekend, denying a trade request and saying he was happy to be in Houston, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.”

“I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”

The report goes on to note Paul was asked if he had to work things out with Harden and he kind of danced around that question but said the issues were around a season-ending loss. Certainly, two straight years of being bounced by the Warriors has the Rockets frustrated. However, there is also a style issue: Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul can’t be as efficient that way anymore and prefers a more fluid offense (and more pick-and-roll for him). Coach D’Antoni gives a lot of leeway to Harden.

Harden and Paul need to work their issues out because Paul is nearly untradable (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener with a pick or young player). Paul still has value on the court — a master floor general he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. There simply are not teams interested in trading for Paul.

Houston could head into next season the favorites in the West. Part of that depends on how things shake out in free agency (does Kawhi Leonard come West, for example), but a lot of it is just the Rockets getting their act together. I expect Paul and Harden to figure things out, at least well enough to make it work. Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Paul isn’t going anywhere, whether he asked to leave or not.