Why can’t the Pelicans foul in a timely manner?

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Stephen Curry hit THE shot of the playoffs so far, a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 3 against the Pelicans to cap a 20-point comeback.

But why did he even have a chance to attempt it?

Up three, why didn’t New Orleans intentionally foul?

“We were supposed to foul,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “In situations like that, we’ve had that happened to us a couple times, and they shouldn’t have even had that shot take place. We just didn’t execute, and that’s on all of us. But we were supposed to foul.”

Said Anthony Davis: “I don’t know. I thought he made it very clear: We’re supposed to foul. Things happen in the game.”

Quincy Pondexter, who was guarding Curry, has taken the brunt of blame for not fouling. But I’m not sure he ever had a clear opportunity.

When Curry caught the inbound, it appeared he might immediately catch and shoot. The last thing you want to do is foul him while he’s shooting a 3-pointer.

Curry took one dribble, which would have presented a golden opportunity to foul. But Pondexter’s momentum was carrying him the opposite direction, and I’m not sure he could have immediately reached to foul while preventing a shot. By the time Pondexter shifted direction, Curry was actually shooting.

That first attempt missed – which presented the real opportunity to foul.

Marreese Speights grabbed the offensive rebound and took a dribble inside the arc – with his back turned to the basket! Tyreke Evans definitely and Davis probably had an opportunity to foul Speights, who, not for nothing, made 84 percent of his free throws to Curry’s 91 percent this season.

Fouling up three is not the airtight strategy many present it as. A lot can go wrong. Plus, when teams know they must defend just the 3-point arc, they do a pretty great job.

Many factors tilt specific situations – Curry’s 3-point ability chief among them here. His superb free-throw shooting also matters, though. So, a chance to foul Speights – especially after Williams instructed to foul – should have been executed. It wasn’t, and Curry lost Pondexter in the scramble (another problem for another day) and made the game-tying 3-pointer. Ironically, the Pelicans fouled Curry on that attempt, though it wasn’t called.

Troublingly, this was far from New Orleans’ only issue with when to foul in this game.

The Warriors had the ball and the lead in overtime with the game clock and shot clock practically in sync. To any well-trained team, this is an auto-foul situation. But the Pelicans let about 10 precious seconds run off before actually fouling, even as Williams appeared to call for a foul:

Later in the extra period, Davis missed a potential game-tying shot and Golden State got the rebound. Again, this is auto-foul territory. Instead, Davis made a halfhearted effort and then gave up on the play, and Jrue Holiday retreated a half step before going for a foul. That allowed the Warriors to call timeout:

In the clearest must-foul situation of all – and the others were pretty clear – Tyreke Evans squared up to guard Curry for a couple beats before fouling after the ensuing inbound:

Curry made both free throws to ice the game, but had he missed one, every fraction of a second would have helped the Pelicans’ final possession.

This seems to be a systematic problem with several players not understanding when to foul, which points to a coaching issue. Maybe Williams is doing everything he can, but the players aren’t listening. Maybe the coach isn’t drilling these situations often enough. It’s an impossible diagnosis to make from afar.

But if Williams isn’t going anywhere, the Pelicans must handle these instances better. Davis will get them into a lot of big games, and like last night, some of them will be close. New Orleans can’t keep putting itself at a disadvantage down the stretch like this.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”

PBT Podcast: Lakers, Clippers, and Nikola Jokic as Beethoven

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Anthony Davis has played at an MVP level for weeks now, outdueling even Giannis Antetokounmpo recently in a Lakers’ win. LeBron James is still a force at age 37, Russell Westbrook has accepted the role and has been a game-changer as a sixth man, and the Lakers’ role players are hitting their 3-pointers.

It’s been an impressive run, but can the Lakers keep it up and be a genuine threat in the West? Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and I discuss all that, plus whether the now-healthy Clippers can find a groove and become a threat.

In Corey’s Jukebox he dances a little salsa and explains how Nikola Jokic is like Beethoven. Then there is talk of the Kyle Kuzma trade rumors, and what exactly are the long-term plans in Washington.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.