Thursday night NBA Winners/Losers: The injury gods show Thunder no mercy

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while watching Kendrick Lamar perform before the Cavs game…

source:  Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City Thunder. I don’t know what the Thunder players did in their past lives to bring this kind of injury Karma with them this season, but it must have been nasty. They key for the Thunder is they are now 0-2 on the young season and the next month or so is going to be rough. Russell Westbrook hurt his right hand in the second quarter, going up for a rebound he seemed to catch his hand in the jersey of Kendrick Perkins (or somehow make contact) and after that he took himself out of the game not to return. Not sure how long he’ll be out but with Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb among others the Thunder are getting short of bodies. Bottom line if you have to play Sebastian Telfair 37 minutes you are in trouble in the NBA (although to their credit the Thunder fought hard to stay in it and were not blown out).

source:  The New York Knicks. I’ll take some crow. Thursday afternoon I wrote the Knicks were the sacrificial lamb to the LeBron James homecoming show. New York was simply a role player. Except they refused to be. Carmelo Anthony led the way with an efficient night on the second game of a back-to-back — 26 points with a true shooting percentage of 62 percent (he was 7-of-10 on uncontested looks, that he got 10 clean shots speaks to the Cavs defense), plus ‘Melo dished out 6 assists, and he hit the dagger with LeBron James in his face. They moved the ball, with assists on 3o of their 37 buckets. The Knicks as a team had an offensive rating of 110.6 on the night. Give credit where it’s due, the Knicks refused to play the role of patsy and picked up a nice win.

source:  LeBron James. He was tight. He clearly felt the expectations and the hype in Cleveland — they had street parties going on in downtown, there were concerts, the stars were out, Nike had a new ad, and the city was there for a coronation. LeBron clearly felt the weight of all of it. He was 5-of-15 shooting, he had four assists and eight turnovers. Look at this shot chart:

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It doesn’t mean anything going forward. He’s still the best player on the planet, the Cavaliers are still title contenders. But for one night, a big night, LeBron simply was not good.

source:  City of Cleveland. Sure, the Cavaliers lost when nobody expected them to. So what? Good teams lose to bad teams (remember the second game of last season the Heat lost to the 76ers). The fact of the matter is Cleveland is back — on the court and off. Thursday was more than a celebration of LeBron, it was a celebration of home. Of Cleveland. LeBron returned and brought energy and excitement with him. This is going to be a great season and this one game means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

source:  John Wall, Washington Wizards. While everyone else was watching Cleveland, Wall went out and put up elite point guard numbers — 30 points on 21 shots, with 11 of those points coming in a strong third quarter for Washington (one where Wall was active on defense and took a charge). Down the stretch is was Wall and Paul Pierce making plays to get Washington another win. If Wall keeps playing like this they will pick up a lot of them.

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.