Three Things We Learned in NBA Thursday Night: Kyrie Irving went Neo in the Matrix on Spurs

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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 trying to get that damn Narwhals song out of your head

1) Kyrie Irving was in video game mode. Or he was Neo in the Matrix. Or whatever other internet exclamation of the superhuman you want to go with. Irving set a career high — and scored more than any player has in a game this season — when he dropped 57 on the Spurs. It’s hard to use words and stats to do him justice Thursday. For example, according to the NBA’s player tracking stats the Spurs contested 30 of Irving’s 32 shots, but he still hit 19 of them. He had 35 of his points in the second half, drained two threes (he was 7-of-7 from deep) with the game on the line, then scored 11 in OT to secure the Cavs 128-125 win. The Spurs were the better team on this night — they shared the ball, took advantage of mismatches, defended smartly — and in the end got another loss because Kyrie was not to be stopped.

2) Washington does not care how many Grizzlies were resting, they will take the win. In baseball, when a batter is in a slump, he’ll take any kind of hit to snap out of it — broken bat blooper that falls in, seeing eye grounder, whatever it takes to get on base. That’s where the Wizards have been, so the fact that Memphis was on a back-to-back and decided to rest Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph doesn’t change anything for the Wizards. Marcin Gortat feasted inside with them out scoring 22; John Wall scored 21, and the Wizards picked up the win. That’s three of four and two in a row for Wizards, who maybe are finding their footing again.

3) Utah is 9-2 since the All-Star break and has found an identity. The Rockets found out Thursday what more and more teams are discovering — the Jazz are starting to figure it out. And they have become a tough out. The Jazz are a defensive team: Since the All-Star break they are 9-2 allowing 90.6 points per 100 possessions, the best number in the NBA in that time (five of those 9 wins come against teams above .500). Rudy Gobert was doing his thing again Thursday — 22 rebounds, four blocks, altering many other shots — but what was different against the Rockets was the 19 points. He’s been an offensive liability, if that changes watch out. He only took 11 shots but played within himself — all his shots were at the rim. Just ask Terrence Jones.

Gordon Hayward was finding space to knock down three balls and get moving toward the rim, on his way to 29. Granted, Houston was on the second night of a brutal back-to-back (they lost to Portland Wednesday then had to fly overnight and play at altitude in Salt Lake the next day) but still, Utah is taking advantage of that now.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.

Not a ‘tattooed guy’: Larry Bird wants mural changed

Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird likes the mural but not the tatts.

A lawyer for the former NBA star has asked an artist to remove certain tattoos from a large painting of Bird on an Indianapolis multi-family residence. The tattoos include two rabbits mating on his right arm and a spider web on a shoulder.

Artist Jules Muck painted Bird in a blue basketball uniform. It’s a replica of a 1977 Sports Illustrated cover when he played for Indiana State.

Attorney Gary Sallee says Bird “needs to protect” his brand and “doesn’t want to be seen as a tattooed guy.” Muck says she adds things like tattoos to her art to avoid creating a complete copy of a photo.

She says she’s trying to reach an agreement with Bird’s representatives.

Blazers will let fans ride 1977 championship parade route with Bill Walton

via Dane Delgado
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This upcoming year is the 50th season in existence for the Portland Trail Blazers, and as such the team has quite a bit in store for us.

The Blazers already released a first look at the court they will be playing on this season. It harkens back to the very first court that Portland played on back in 1970 during the first year of the team’s existence.

Now, the Blazers are offering fans a chance to relive the 1977 NBA championship with none other than Bill Walton.

In a release posted to social media on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers said that fans will be able to go on a celebratory bike ride with Big Red himself. The route will follow that of the original championship parade, going from Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the east side of the Willamette River and ending in downtown Portland at one of the several park blocks.

Via Twitter:

This is pretty incredible given that things didn’t end well between Walton and the Blazers organization. There was a lot of back-and-forth about Walton’s foot in 1978, and it ended with the San Diego native sitting out the 1978-79 season, eventually signing with the Clippers in 1979. Things have calmed since then, but this is still nice to see.

No word yet on what the Blazers plan to reveal, but my guess is that it will be some kind of retro jersey that features the vertical BLAZERS wordmark a la the kind Walton wore in ‘77.