Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis all pad MVP resumes

11 Comments

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 thinking photos of people covered in honey are pretty cool

1) It’s not always pretty, but James Harden gets the numbers, a little help, and the Ws. James Harden’s game is to attack and put pressure on everyone — the defenders to stop him and the referees not to call the contact he creates. It works. After a slow start to the game Sunday for Houston, Harden took over the final six minutes of the first half, putting up 18 of his 34 points in the quarter. It all started after Matt Barnes picked up a flagrant for throwing Harden down. It changed the flow of the game. Chris Paul did a solid job defending Harden late — Harden was 1-of-5 for four points in the fourth — but then the Clippers were undone by their own sloppiness with the game on the line. The Clippers had six fourth-quarter turnovers and seemed to go hunting for calls rather than shots. Harden forces contact, but he’s looking for his shot the whole time and finishes through that contact well.

Plus Harden got a little help.

Clippers/Rockets may a playoff series preview. I hope not. It would just be a lot of free throws and complaining to the officials from both sides. I prefer basketball.

2) Russell Westbrook keeps getting numbers — and getting his team wins they need to have. New Orleans lost to Denver Sunday, so Oklahoma City’s win Sunday moved them back into the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West. They got it because of Westbrook. He scored 36 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. But more than that, as he has done through this entire stretch of basketball, he just puts pressure on the other team. He does it attacking in transition. He does it with his defense. Sometimes it is both.

He is just a force of nature right now. He’s also getting a lot of help — Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for 32 points and 29 boards against Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah.

3) Anthony Davis puts up numbers to rival anyone else, can we get the man some help? Check out Anthony Davis’ final line from Sunday: 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks, and seven assists. According to Basketball-Reference.com, no other player in the last 30 seasons has posted a line with at least those numbers. Nobody. Still the Pelicans lost 118-111. There are a couple things at play in that double-overtime result. First, sometimes it’s about when you catch a team on the schedule, and interim coach Melvin Hunt has Denver playing well again. However, the Pelicans have issues. With Ryan Anderson down they lack three-point shooting (Tyreke Evans was 4-of-11, every one else on New Orleans was a combined for 2-of-11). When they beat the Nuggets recently, Evans and Eric Gordon had success posting up Ty Lawson, but the Pelicans went away from that Sunday. The Pelicans’ defense is inconsistent and while Davis blocked everything he could the Nuggets still had 64 points in the paint. Finally, the Pelicans were just sloppy with the ball in stretches. This was the kind of game they needed to get into the playoffs, and they lost. Even with Davis doing things like this.

4) LeBron tweaked knee and could sit out second return to Miami Monday. LeBron put up impressive numbers — 21 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists — pretty quietly Sunday as the Cavaliers had little trouble against the Magic. But things got scary for Cleveland in the third quarter when LeBron tried to block Dewayne Dedmon’s shot, landed awkwardly and tweaked his knee. LeBron played through it, but after the game wondered if he would need to sit out a game or two to rest it, just to be safe. The Cavaliers travel to Miami Monday night, and while that game loses some luster without LeBron Cleveland should be able to beat slumping Miami. Maybe even Kevin Love will get to play.

5) Manu Ginobili can still make plays, which is why the Spurs will miss him for the next week. Manu Ginobili is showing his age this season. The Spurs’ fan favorite is shooting just 43 percent, and he’s been more of a solid role player than guy you lean on (Kawhi Leonard has taken over his spot in the Spurs big three). But give him the chance and Ginobili can still make plays, just ask Kevin Martin.

Which is why the Spurs will miss him — Ginobili sprained his ankle in the win over Minnesota and will be out a week to 10 days.

Pacers’ Myles Turner says it’s “blatant disrespect” he didn’t make All-Defensive Team

Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA’s All-Defensive Teams were announced on Wednesday. When it came to the center position, Utah’s Rudy Gobert was named to the first team, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid the second team.

That left Indiana’s Myles Turner, the league’s leader in total blocked shots last season, off the list. He took to Twitter to vent about that.

His teammates and GM had his back.

The NBA puts players, and by extension voters (selected members of the media), in a box by the use of rigid positions for this award. In an increasingly positionless league, voters for the All-Defensive Teams have to choose two guards, two forwards, and one center for each of the First and Second teams. It’s unlike All-Star voting, for example, where two backcourt and three frontcourt players are chosen, which allows some flexibility. In the attempt to make the All-Defensive Teams (and, also, All-NBA Teams) look like the kind of lineups teams would put on the floor 25 years ago, voters are limited.

Because of that format, Turner got squeezed out. (Note: In an effort at transparency, that includes on my ballot for these awards.)

Two centers only. Gobert is the defending — and soon likely two-time — Defensive Player of the Year, and is the anchor of a great Utah defense. Embiid’s impact on the defensive end is critical for Philadelphia, something evident in the Sixers second-round playoff series against Toronto when he was +90 in a series the Sixers lost (voting took place before the playoffs, but Philadelphia’s defense was 5.8 points per 100 possessions better with Embiid during the season, Indiana was 1.2 better with Turner).

There were three deserving centers — Turner was fantastic this season, he made a huge leap and anchored the NBA’s third-best defense — but two spots and no flexibility. So when the music stopped, Turner was the guy standing without a chair. It sucks, but that’s the way it went.

Turner will use this as motivation for next year. Keep playing like he did last year and his time will come.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert on Kyrie Irving trade: “We killed it in that trade”

Associated Press
1 Comment

The Cleveland Cavaliers had no choice but to trade Kyrie Irving back in 2017. Irving asked to be moved, and if he hadn’t been there were threats of knee surgery that would have sidelined him much or all of the next season (he didn’t get that surgery, but then missed the 2018 NBA playoffs due to those knee issues).

The trade they took was with Boston: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 1st round draft pick (which became Collin Sexton) and eventually a 2020 2nd round pick. At the time that didn’t seem bad because we didn’t yet grasp the severity of Thomas’s hip surgery — but the Celtics did. Once Cleveland’s doctors got a look at Thomas the trade was put on hold until more compensation was added, which proved to be the second-round pick.

Looking back now, the Cavaliers didn’t fare well, with all due respect to Sexton (who made the All-Rookie second team). Although that’s to be expected, nobody gets equal value back when trading a superstar.

That’s not how Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sees it, speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” said Gilbert. “We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves Koby made, we killed it in that trade.”

“Killed it?” I didn’t think the kind of stuff Gilbert must be on was legalized in Ohio yet.

This is a matter of semantics. Was it about as good a deal as GM Koby Altman was going to find at the time? Yes. Again, at the time we thought Thomas would return midway through the next season and be closer to the guy who was fifth in MVP voting the season before than the guy we ended up seeing (which is still a sad story, hopefully Thomas can get back to being a contributor next season somewhere). Crowder was in the rotation on a team that went back to the NBA Finals. Sexton showed some promise as a rookie, maybe not as much as some Cavaliers fans think but he can play.

But “killed it?” To quote the great Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Mike Budenholzer no fan of Drake’s free run on Toronto sideline

Getty Images
9 Comments

Drake is the Mayor of Toronto.

Actually, he does fewer drugs than some former mayors of Toronto, and Drake was not elected, but he’s The Mayor in any meaningful way. The man can do whatever he wants.

Such as walk up and down the sidelines of a Raptors game with impunity, and give Nick Nurse a massage during the game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has much bigger things to worry about — such as were Eric Bledsoe misplaced his shot — but somehow during his conference call with the media on Wednesday, before a critical Game 5, Drake was the topic of discussion. Budenholzer is not a fan of Drake getting to patrol the sidelines. Via ESPN:

“I will say, again, I see [Drake talking to Raptors] in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach,  I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court. I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

Drake responded on Instagram, first with a post that had a series of emojies, and then during an Instagram Live post where he liked a comment to his post where part of it was: “If you don’t want the opposing team to celebrate and dance, prevent them from scoring, winning, or achieving their objective.”

My guess is the league (and maybe the referees before Game 6 in Toronto) will reach out to Drake and tell him he can’t go Joe Biden on a coach during the game, and to stay near his seat. This is precisely the kind of distraction from the game that fans love to talk about and annoys the league office, which wants the focus on the court.

Personally, the more personality around the game, the better. It’s entertainment people, enjoy the show.

Knicks president Mills says Porzingis threatened to return to Europe if not traded in seven days

Getty Images
4 Comments

If you thought the Knicks thrashing or Kristaps Porzingis on his way out the door was over, well, you haven’t been paying attention to the Knicks.

Team president Steve Mills was at a Knicks fan forum on Wednesday and was asked about the Kristaps Porzingis trade and dropped this bomb: Porzingis gave the Knicks the ultimatum of “trade me or I’m going back to Europe.”

“When he walked into our office, my office, and Scott [Perry, Knicks GM] was sitting there with me, and point blank said to us, ‘I don’t want to be here, I’m not going to re-sign with the Knicks, and I’ll give you seven days to try and trade me or I’m going back to Europe.'”

To be clear, Porzingis had to mean going back to Europe to work out and hang out, he could not have played professionally this season. European clubs honor commitments to NBA contracts — they will not sign and play a guy under an NBA contract — the same way the NBA does with European clubs (as well as China and all FIBA leagues).

Saying he wasn’t going to re-sign makes things clear for New York, it’s one of the reasons the NBA touted the “super-max” contract extensions because teams would find out earlier about player intentions. The Europe part, he could have signed there this summer, but the most a European team would pay him would still be more than $20 million less his likely next NBA contract (the top Europeans players make less than $3 million annually). But sure, go ahead and believe Porzingis would leave that money on the table.

For the Knicks brass, speaking in front of Knicks fans, this was the chance to make themselves look good — “see, we already had a good trade in place” — and thrash the guy they had been selling as the franchise savior a year before. It’s all about perception.

The Knicks have a lot of cap space this summer and their perception as a front office will hinge on what they do — or do not do — with it.

Porzingis landed in a good spot with Luka Doncic in Dallas, and the Mavericks will give Porzingis a max contract. Then it’s on him to earn it.