If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while having a hippo charge your river boat…
1) The Oklahoma City Thunder are .500 and coming on fast. Phoenix is not going to roll over — they still have a three game lead over the Thunder and are making moves to add talent to the roster. But the Thunder are coming on — they reached .500 on Sunday with an emphatic win over Orlando. This game was a blowout from the opening tip — OKC opened on a 13-0 run and took off from there. The Thunder led by as many as 38 before winning by 28, 127-99. Kevin Durant had 21 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists and only played 28 minutes. Russell Westbrook did this.
The Thunder are on an Eastern road swing — Miami, Washington, Atlanta and Cleveland — and if they are going to catch a Suns team that has a home-heavy schedule the rest of the way these are the kinds of games the Thunder need to win most of.
2) Alexis Ajinca isn’t Anthony Davis, but he can pretend to be for a day. The Pelicans went into Toronto and sat Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis (that’s two games out in a row for Davis with a toe injury), but nobody noticed because Ajinca came off the bench for 22 points. Okay, that’s not true, Davis was still missed, but Ajinca had a quality game filling in, scoring 10 of those in the decisive fourth quarter when the Pelicans came from behind to beat the Raptors in dramatic fashion.
3) The Toronto Raptors failed at defending a final shot. The game was tied and with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday sidelined it was obvious what the Pelicans would lean on Evans here here… oh, who are we kidding, Evans would have taken this shot even if Davis was on the court, they ignore AD down the stretch anyway. It’s a nice shot by Evans, but watch the Raptors defend this poorly.
First off, if you know Evans is going to take this then why is Greivis Vasquez guarding him? Especially since James Johnson is actually in the game. Everyone knows Evans wants to get to his much preferred right hand, but Vasquez doesn’t really try to force Evans right at all. Why is Jonas Valanciunas so late on his rotation? Why is Amir Johnson chasing Ajinca out to the three point line?
That is just not how one should defend a final shot.
Jayson Tatum was one of the young Celtics who struggled to find his space this season with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the mix. Tatum wasn’t shooting the three as well, was taking more long twos, and just seemed to plateau from last season rather than take the leap forward that was expected.
Playoff Tatum has looked more like what we expected, 19.8 points per game, 58 percent shooting from three, and impressive shot creation. That, of course, has rekindled the “are they going to trade him for Anthony Davis” talk. To which Tatum just shrugs, speaking to the New York Times.
“Trade rumors don’t bother me,” he said in his deep monotone. “They’re talking about trading me for guys like Anthony Davis. So, I mean, I must be doing something pretty well.” When pressed on whether this bothered him, he didn’t budge: “I love the game of basketball. Being traded is part of the game. I’ll play for whomever. It’s something I can’t control.”
That echoes what Tatum has said all year. This wasn’t the Laker locker room (which was a different circumstance), Tatum was unphased by the rumors that swirled around him and felt management would be upfront with him.
New Pelicans head man David Griffin has said in the past what he would look for in a Davis trade is one young All-Star player, other good young players or picks, and a veteran role player or two to stabilize the locker room. Tatum would be the young likely future All-Star. The guy who did this to LeBron James just a year ago.
Whether Tatum is traded or not depends on a lot of things — what direction Pelicans’ ownership wants to go with the trade, whether Kyrie Irving remains in Boston this summer, what other surprise offers for Davis or other stars come in — and none of it is within Tatum’s control. So he’s going to do his thing.
In the playoffs, that thing has been impressive.
Jimmy Butler, Jared Dudley ejected after scuffle following Joel Embiid block
It started with Joel Embiid making a hard block on a Jarrett Allen dunk attempt. Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley — who started for the Nets and has been huge for them this series — came in to protect his man and shoved Embiid. Then Jimmy Butler decided to protect his guy and ran in and shoved Dudley. Then it all broke loose, including D'Angelo Russell moving the pile with his shove.
After the official reviewed the video (and consulted with the official video center), Butler and Dudley were ejected as instigators — that is a win for Brooklyn, the 76ers lost the better player in that trade.
Embiid was given a flagrant 1 for a foul with contact to the head. For my money that’s over the top in this case, he got the ball and blocked the shot, and this is the playoffs. That was not an intentional blow.
The Nets got a couple free throws and the game moved on, but you can be sure this is going to linger.
The playoffs are just more fun when there is bad blood between the teams.
Joel Embiid playing, starting for 76ers in Game 4 in Brooklyn
Embiid, battling a sore knee, has averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, and he’s been a defensive presence, but he has not been his same, explosive self. He has missed some bunnies around the rim and just has not been right. It’s clear watching him.
Still, Philly is better with him on the court (as long as the aggressive Ben Simmons still shows up). With him in the paint and a quick end to the series, Philly may be able to get some rest for Embiid before the second round. But Brooklyn will not make that easy on Saturday or the rest of the way.
Missouri’s Jontay Porter announces he will enter NBA Draft
Jontay Porter — the younger brother of Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., who did not play all season as he recovered from back issues — was impressive as a freshman, the one season he played at Missouri. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game (mostly off the bench), showed a shooting touch from three, he plays a high IQ game, and at 6’11” he has NBA size and a strong frame.
But since then Porter has been a story of injuries. A lot of them. He did not play this past season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee back in October. By his own admission he tried to rush back and tore the same ACL again in March.
Now, Porter is declaring he will enter the NBA Draft.
Porter has legitimate potential as a stretch five in the NBA, but the knee injuries and questions about Porter’s athleticism (he’s not athletic by NBA standards) makes teams hesitant. That’s why Porter is projected as a second-round pick, a big man with potential but one who needs time to get healthy and develop.
A couple other draft notes:
• Charles Bassey, the 6’11” big man out of Western Kentucky, will test the draft. He is projected as a late second rounder, if drafted at all.
WKU freshman center Charles Bassey will declare for the NBA Draft without signing with an agent in order to receive evaluation, while retaining his NCAA eligibility and the option to return to school. #GoTopspic.twitter.com/jr7Vb71VBp
• Mike Daum, who averaged 25.3 points and 11.7 rebounds a game this past season for South Dakota State, has entered the draft and signed with Octagon Sports. He needs to impress at combines and workouts to make sure he gets drafted.
• Two European big men, Louis Olinde (6’10” out of Germany) and Aleksander Balcerowski (7’1” center from Poland) both have put their names in the NBA Draft pool. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony announced both of the Euros looking to come to the NBA.