Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Durant’s return to D.C. all about Westbrook

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Wednesday night is the night everyone had circled on their NBA calendar — LaMarcus Aldridge returns to Portland, and DeAndre Jordan comes to Dallas to hear the wrath of spurned Mavericks fans. But Tuesday night provided some real entertainment, here is what you missed on a Tuesday night around the league:

1) Kevin Durant’s return to D.C. overshadowed by his hamstring injury, Russell Westbrook. Durant got his wish — Washington fans didn’t try to recruit him with fawning cheers and over-the-top adoration Tuesday. Instead they booed him. Not in the full-throated, lusty way DeAndre Jordan will be greeted in Dallas Wednesday, but there were some boos. And a lot of fans not quite sure how to treat him now. As you would expect, KD played well in the first half, putting up 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 17 minutes.

But Durant didn’t play the second half due to a strained hamstring. He will have an MRI on Wednesday, and while this is likely not serious hamstrings can linger and Durant could miss a little time. Him leaving at the half took some of the air out of the “KD is in DC” balloon, that storyline felt tired by the end of the night.

As we saw last season, with Durant out it was the Russell Westbrook show. OKC led by 18 at the half and cruised home to the 125-101 win. Westbrook had a triple-double —22 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in 28 minutes — while Dion Waiters had 25 points on 10 shots to lead the Thunder in scoring.

2) Memphis trades for Mario Chalmers. We have our first trade of the season. Memphis has looked stagnant on offense, in need of shooting to space the floor and more playmaking. The fact that Mario Chalmers has struggled with both those things in the past year — he is 1-of-11 from three this season — didn’t slow Memphis from thinking he could be the guy to help them turn things around.

Memphis acquired Chalmers and Long Beach State’s own (and PBT favorite) James Ennis for Beno Udrih and Jarnell Stokes in a deal consummated Tuesday. The Grizzlies tried to get a third team involved in the trade, but when nobody materialized it went through straight up. We’ll see how Chalmers fits in behind Mike Conley in Memphis. Chalmers struggled without LeBron James next to him in Miami (a lot of Chalmers’ threes used to be open catch-and-shoots off LeBron passes) but he’ll have to find that stroke again to help the Grizzlies because he’s not a great defender, and while he can put the ball on the floor he’s not a great finisher in traffic. And right now, because of the lack of floor-spacing shooting, there is a lot of traffic in the paint for the Grizzlies. 

For the Heat this is a great deal as they save cash against the luxury tax.

3) Robin Lopez is in midseason “hating the mascots” form. Lopez may be playing on another coast this season, but that doesn’t mean the Knicks’ center has had a change of heart about mascots. Just ask the Raptors’ mascot.

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4) The Pelicans finally get a win — and lose Anthony Davis to injury. Somebody in New Orleans has angered the basketball gods because they continue to rain down injuries on the Pelicans like no other team in the league. New Orleans took control of their game against Dallas with an 18-0 run in the second quarter, in part sparked by Anthony Davis who had 13 points in that quarter alone. But then Davis didn’t play the second half due to a “hip contusion” the team announced, saying that X-rays were negative, but he was held out as a precaution. After the game coach Alvin Gentry said Davis would undergo more tests to see exactly what the issue was, and Davis’ status for Wednesday when the Pelicans take on the Hawks is not known. This doesn’t appear to be serious, but the 1-6 Pelicans can’t afford another injury with key players such as Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole already out and point guard Jrue Holiday on a minutes limit. 

5) Kobe Bryant sits out first game of season, D'Angelo Russell joins him on the bench in the fourth quarter. Kobe had said he wanted to play in all 82 games this season. He knows it’s likely his last go around, and he knows a lot of people pay to see him play, he wanted to live up to that. But his back tightened up on him before the Lakers took on the Heat in Miami and Kobe was scratched from the game, his first of the season. It’s unfortunate, but seemingly unavoidable as well — at age 37 and with a ridiculous amount of mileage on his body, Kobe is just going to have to miss some games. Hopefully not many, however, he is officially listed as questionable for the Lakers’ game in Orlando on Wednesday. What will his film crews shoot now?

More interesting in this game may have been Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s decision to bench rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell for the fourth quarter. For a team that should have player development as its top priority this season — even above wins right now — taking minutes away from a rookie trying to adjust to the NBA games is counterproductive. He needs to be in fourth quarters and learn from those situations — Nick Young played the entire fourth quarter. Scott said after the game he didn’t put Russell back in because the game got blown open, but as noted by Baxter Holmes of ESPN it was a three-point game when he left the court. More troublesome, after the game Russell was asked if Scott talked to him about why he was benched and the answer was no — smart move or not Scott has to teach, not let the kid figure it out for himself. Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times suggested this was a tough love response to Russell, who is not putting in the extra time working with coaches that Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are. I say teaching a guy to put in that effort is part of developing a player, and the tough love approach doesn’t work for everyone. We will see in this case. But to me this is another sign that Scott and the Lakers organization as a whole are not practiced nor adept at player development, something they haven’t had to do until recently. And it’s something they had better figure out. 

Dwight Howard will join Lakers for restart, donate check to social justice cause

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“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction… I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families? This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our unity starts. At home! With Family!!”

Those are the words of Dwight Howard, who was among the players questioning the NBA’s restart in Orlando.  He was grieving the loss of Melissa Rios, the mother of his 6-year-old son, David, and was looking at his family as the biggest priority in his life. As it should be. Howard also is committed to the Black Lives Matter movement and, as he stated, saw the NBA’s return as a distraction.

In the end, he has decided to play in the NBA restart and donate his checks the rest of this season to charity, something Howard announced on CNN (hat tip Dave McMenamin).

That is about a $700,000 donation by Howard to Breathe Again.

Howard played a central role as a big man off the bench on a Lakers’ team that is the odds-on favorite to win it all. A ring would be the cherry on top of his Hall of Fame career.

Howard wants to be a part of that, but it means sacrificing time with family. He said it was not an easy decision, and he is putting his money where his mouth is donating his earnings to charity.

The thoughtfulness behind those decisions shows the kind of maturity Howard has grown into, even if fans never see it.

Jaylen Brown heads to restart with Boston, plans to use voice for social justice

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The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown has been one of the most active NBA players in the Black Lives Matters movement — even driving from Boston to Atlanta to lead a protest.

That’s not changing because he’s going to Orlando for the NBA restart.

Brown admitted he considered not playing in Orlando due to the pandemic, but the opportunity the NBA’s platform provided to speak on social issues was too great to pass up, Brown said in a conference call with reporters Monday, via the Associated Press.

“Once I thought about the opportunity that the organization and the NBA presented to play for something bigger than myself, I was signed up,” he said. “I plan on using my voice while I’m down there. I plan on spreading light on things that are getting dimmed and hopefully the NBA and our organization can understand.”

Brown is not alone in thinking that. Portland’s CJ McCollum is on the executive committee of the National Basketball Players Association as well and said a lot of players see the same opportunity.

“But now [the talk is] more around what impact we can make to support what is going on in the real world, to continue to support Black Lives Matter and the things we’re facing as a society,” McCollum told NBC Sports. “Those are the calls we’re having now. How can we impact? How can we spread awareness on certain things in the world that are going on?…

“The biggest thing is to take advantage of the platform [in Orlando], to coincide with the NBA and figure out productive ways we can continue to spread information, to continue to educate, to continue to put light on things that have often been behind closed doors and never been brought out to the public eye, so I think those are the conversations we’ll continue to have.”

One way players can make a statement is by replacing the name on the back of jerseys with a message pre-approved by the league. Brown, like 76ers forward Mike Scott, is not a fan of how the NBA handled it.

“I think that list is an example of a form of limitations,” Brown said. “I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more…

“The bottom line is there are improvements that need to be made,” Brown said. “The NBA has a great voice, a lot of resources and a lot of influence. We’re appreciative that they’re helping and aiding in a lot of those things that we care about. That’s really important.”

Brown understands the NBA’s voice, and he heads to Orlando planning to use his.

76ers’ Mike Scott on social-justice messages on NBA jerseys: ‘That was terrible. It was a bad list’

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The NBA approved a list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Say Their Names
  • Vote
  • I Can’t Breathe
  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Enough
  • Power to the People
  • Justice Now
  • Say Her Name
  • Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)
  • Liberation
  • See Us
  • Hear Us
  • Respect Us
  • Love Us
  • Listen
  • Listen to Us
  • Stand Up
  • Ally
  • Anti-Racist
  • I Am A Man
  • Speak Up
  • How Many More
  • Group Economics
  • Education Reform
  • Mentor

76ers forward Mike Scott, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

They gave us some names and phrases to put on the back of jerseys,” Scott said. “That was terrible. It was a bad list, bad choice. They didn’t give players a chance to voice their opinion on it. They just gave us a list to pick from. That was bad. That’s terrible. Just voice your opinion, how you feel.

“I don’t know how you can use your platform. I don’t know. Vote. Of course, vote. See what laws we can change. But I’m all about just doing, instead of just saying or posting or putting something on the back of your jersey. I don’t think that’s going to stop anything. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know.

Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, via Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“I would like to see — because I think it can still happen — more options available to put on the back of our jerseys,” Brown said Monday in a video conference with reporters. “We understand anything vulgar our league doesn’t necessarily represent, but for histories and causes such as now, I think that that list is an example of a form of limitation. I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more.

” … I was very disappointed in the list that was agreed to. I think things were tried and attempts were made to add to that list, but the NBA agreed that that list was satisfactory. Hopefully we can get some more names on that list.”

“Maybe ‘Break the Cycle,’ ‘Results’ — that’s what everybody is really playing for — ‘Inequality by Design,’ ” Brown said, “things like that I think may have a deeper impact than some of the things that were given to us. I think it was a little bit limiting.”

As far as Scott’s complaint about players not having a voice in the list, the plan was presented as developed in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. Perhaps, this is another example of union leadership not being on the same page as its members. But to be fair, it’s difficult to satisfy everyone. Scott and Brown don’t necessarily speak for players en masse.

Of course the NBA – a multi-billion-dollar company – was going to allow only sanitized phrases. The middle has shifted, but not enough for mainstream support for a sharp criticism like Brown’s “Inequality by Design.” (He’s right, though.) The NBA doesn’t want too much controversy.

However, simply by operating, the league gives players platforms and resources .

Nobody should have expected these jersey messages to be the primary means of change. They’re fine and can help draw attention.

But players can do more outside the league’s formal structure, including speaking up in interviews – like Scott and Brown did today.

Pelicans sign Sindarius Thornwell as substitute player. For whom?

Sindarius Thornwell vs. Pelicans
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Three Pelicans tested positive for coronavirus. At least.

Is one of them not playing in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World?

Despite having a full roster, New Orleans is signing Sindarius Thornwell.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Sindarius Thornwell as a substitute player for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Thornwell will wear #12 for the Pelicans.

Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune:

At this stage, only players who can’t play due to coronavirus or choose to it out can be replaced. That’s not Darius Miller, who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury.

With Zion Williamson looking fit, the Pelicans could be dangerous. They’re in a tight race to force play-in games. But they don’t have much margin for error in the playoff race.

So, keep an eye on whom Thornwell is replacing.