Dallas moves into title contender status with addition of Rajon Rondo

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This says everything about the Western Conference:

Dallas just pulled off a brilliant trade for Rajon Rondo, one that improves their defense and gives them a big upgrade at the point guard spot. Yet the best you can say about them now is “this makes them one of the five or six teams that could make the Finals out of the conference.”

However, at least now they are in that conversation now.

Thursday Dallas traded Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, a future first (heavily protected) and a future second round pick to Boston for Rajon Rondo. The deal became official Thursday night.

It was a smart move by Dallas, the kind of aggressive move you should expect from a Mark Cuban team.

Dallas has been one of the teams in the West that was very good — they are 19-8, which is a 58 win pace for the season — and yet was clearly a notch below the elite in the conference. They were 0-5 against the rest of the West’s Top 7 and even Dirk Nowitzki admitted they didn’t really look like contenders.

Rondo can change that.

I can hear the critics now — but he can’t shoot! The Mavericks just traded for a point guard who can’t consistently knock down jumpers and three pointers. You go under the pick on Rondo, you let him shoot (except from the left elbow. Here’s his shot chart for this season.

source:

All of that is moot — Dallas doesn’t need him to shoot.

This situation is a lot more like the 2008 Celtics for Rondo — he has three guys around him who can shoot and space the floor, including a 7-footer who will draw other bigs out of the paint. Like with those contending Celtics all he needs to do is draw in the defense and set them up, and that’s what Rondo does well. He is a fantastic ball handler who can get in the lane but when he does he looks to pass first — now he has legit options.

Look at it this way: Rondo leads the league in assists setting up Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, what is he going to look like setting up Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons? Plus he loves to probe and pass off the pick-and-roll, and now he gets great picks and a good roll-man in Tyson Chandler with real shooters spreading the floor for him. All this makes Rondo just that much more dangerous on offense. He’ll get points but he doesn’t have to carry the scoring load, just orchestrate those who can. And he’ll be getting play designs from the best Xs and Os coach in the game in Rick Carlisle (with all due respect to that guy in San Antonio).

Dallas already has the best offense in the NBA this season — that’s not the end of the court Rondo really helps the most.

Rondo is also a massive defensive upgrade over Nelson. Rondo is long, athletic and a fantastic on-ball defender that gives Dallas a real stopper on the perimeter. Pair that with Chandler as a rim protector and Dallas will move from its current 20th in the league defensively closer to the top 10.

Is it enough? Who knows in the West. Golden State is legit (if Andrew Bogut is healthy). Memphis is legit. The Spurs will likely be back to being the Spurs by the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Thunder are themselves again. The Clippers have holes but also boatloads of talent at key spots and are in the mix if they defend.

Now Dallas can sit down at the big-boy table, too — Rondo puts them there. They have a chance.

As a Mavericks fan, that’s all you can ask.

Jaren Jackson Jr. out for at least two weeks for Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gordon Hayward
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The Memphis Grizzlies announced that Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a sprained left knee late during the second quarter of Friday’s game vs the Los Angeles Lakers:

Memphis says Jackson will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his second year, Jackson has been a big part of the Grizzlies surprising success. Memphis is currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 28-28. Jackson has proven to be an ideal running mate for rookie point guard Ja Morant, as the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone expected.

With Jackson out, Memphis will need to replace 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Jackson also regularly functions as the Grizzlies backup center, sliding over to play the pivot when starter Jonas Valanciunas is out.

With Jackson out for at least two weeks, and potentially longer, Memphis will lean on Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke at the four. The trickle-down impact may be more minutes for backup center Gorgui Dieng, who was acquired at the trade deadline, up front behind Valanciunas. In addition, Josh Jackson, who spent the first few months of the season in the G-League, has had a bit of resurgence in recent weeks. With Anderson likely to play more at power forward, Jackson may see even more minutes on the wing.

Ben Simmons out at least through Monday

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons‘ troublesome back will keep him out at least through Monday reports NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Winters reports that Simmons went through testing upon the Sixers return to Philadelphia on Sunday and will have further testing done on Monday:

Simmons missed the first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday due to back soreness. He then exited Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks after playing less than five minutes.

Simmons went to his second-straight All-Star game last week. He’s averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game through 54 games this season.

An up-and-down season sees Philadelphia currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are an equal 1.5 games behind Miami for fourth and ahead of Indiana in sixth. The Sixers would love to climb to fourth for homecourt advantage in the postseason, as they’ve been dominant at home with a 26-2 record, while underwhelming on the road at just 9-20.

With Joel Embiid continuing to suffer from injuries, while also having his minutes managed, Philadelphia can’t afford to be without Simmons for long. The 76ers added depth on the wing at the trade deadline with Alec Bucks and Glenn Robinson III, but have little behind Simmons at point guard. Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place on Thursday, but did not play on Saturday until the game was well in-hand for Milwaukee.

Lance Stephenson hopes strong season in China springboards him back to NBA

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The Chinese Basketball Association season is up in the air because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The season is postponed and, while there is talk of restarting it on April 1, there are more questions than answers about that plan right now.

Lance Stephenson was in China playing for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and — as many American scorers can do against the soft defenses in the CBA — put up impressive numbers. Stephenson is hoping to use that as a springboard back to the NBA, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Will it work for Stephenson? Maybe. It only takes one GM looking for a little scoring punch down the stretch to buy-in.

However, GMs also know the numbers are inflated in China and it doesn’t translate to being able to do the same thing in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette is example 1A. Or, here are the top five scorers in the Chinese league so far this season:

1. Dominique Jones (Jilin Northeast Tigers) 37.8
2. Joe Young (Nanjing Monkey Kings) 35.9
3. Darius Adams (Qingdao Eagles) 34.9
4. Tyler Hansbrough (Sichuan Blue Whales) 32.3
5. Jonathan Gibson (Jiangsu Dragons) 31.2

All of those guys, and a lot more, would like to use China as a springboard back to the NBA. That, however, is proving to be a long leap.

Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen unapologetic about late-game timeouts in decided games

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Saturday night, Chicago was about to lose its eighth straight game, down 112-102 to Phoenix with 30.2 seconds remaining, when Bulls coach Jim Boylen called a timeout. Boylen extended a decided game, and the Bulls’ embarrassment at home, and it apparently did not sit well with Zach LaVine.

Why call the timeout? Here is what Boylen said postgame, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

“We were just trying to get a 3, execute an action we’ve been working on,” Boylen said. “I think their pressure on our inbounds hurt us all night. We had a hard time getting the ball into actions.”

Boylen sees a teaching moment. Whether the players are tuned into him and he can effectively teach anything at that point in the game is another question entirely, one Boylen does not care about. LaVine was asked about it postgame but just laughed it off as Boylen being Boylen, but noted that’s not a good time to make a point.

“That’s what he do, man,” LaVine said, laughing. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not the coach. He told me he likes working on things we do in practice and things like that. He’s the coach. He can call timeout if he wants to.

“I just wish we were in the game. We played a really good game throughout the game and then we lose control. It’s just frustrating. Obviously, you never know what can happen type thing. But you’re down by 10 with 30 seconds left, it’s tough to stay locked in at the end of that.”

This is far from the first time Boylen has called a late-game timeout in a decided game. Darnell Mayberry counted four times he has done it — in February.

This speaks to the tension within the Bulls organization, something that will make a rebuild even more challenging. Boylen has never been popular with the players — something that can be overcome to a degree if the team is winning, but the Bulls are 19-38 and have lost eight in a row. Evidence shows the players are not responding to the coach, but team president John Paxson LOVES Boylen’s old-school attitude and has his back.

Right now, any free agent of note is going to look at the team, its coach, and if they have good options, take a pass. The team needs to be built up internally, and it’s fair to question if the GarPax front office (which is far more Pax than Gar right now) and Boylen are up to that task. Especially if the players are tuning out the coach.