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. 

Rudy Gobert says France’s bronze medal ‘means everything’

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Some countries, like the United States, don’t really care about the World Cup. The 2019 FIBA World Cup in China was perhaps evidence of that, with Team USA not even bothering to medal.

For countries like France and players like Rudy Gobert, the World Cup is a chance to show that their nation is one that is coming forth as a place to be reckoned with when it comes to basketball development.

France recently took home third place in the 2019 Cup, and for that the Utah Jazz center was grateful. Speaking to reporters after their win over Australia, Gobert said that grabbing the bronze “means everything” to him and to France.

Via Twitter:

That’s some pretty moving stuff from a guy in Gobert who we know is someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Bernie Sanders says LeBron James is the GOAT over Michael Jordan (VIDEO)

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Everyone has an opinion about who is the greatest player of all time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Most folks still seem to pick Jordan, although it’s been hard to argue with the type of player that James is in a vacuum outside of measurements like championship rings.

In any case, we now have one more person who has tossed their opinion into the ring of public consciousness. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has now said that he believes that LeBron is the GOAT thanks to his public service.

Via Twitter:

“I think LeBron has been willing to do what a lot of athletes are not and get involved in the political process, put money into education, and I respect that.”

James has certainly done a lot politically, socially, and as an activist. He’s supported things like entire schools, and he’s been on the bleeding edge of NBA activism against things like police brutality.

Jordan has also done his part, including a recent pledge for $1 million in funds to aid Bahamanian hurricane relief. Folks like to bag on MJ for his purported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment, but it’s unclear whether he actually ever said or felt that.

In either case, it appears that we know who Sanders thinks is the GOAT. Next someone should ask Elizabeth Warren if she would have taken Kobe or Shaq in 2004.

Watch Zion Williamson snap the head off a golf club (VIDEO)

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As any good golfer can tell you, the key to getting a pure ball flight is figuring out the idea of compression. Instead of scooping the ball off the ground, the idea is to hit the ball first and use the ground to compress the dimpled object between the earth and the clubface.

And while New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson probably isn’t concentrating on his golf game heading into his first NBA season, it looks like the idea of compression isn’t lost on him.

As the Pelicans held a golf event this week, Williamson was filmed snapping the head off of an iron while taking a shot off the tee box.

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Williamson has a pretty solid swing. I’m extremely jealous of the amount of lag he has at the return parallel position on the downswing.

Someone get this guy a stiffer shaft or something. I can only imagine the kind of havoc Williamson is going to inflict on NBA rims this year if this is how the man golfs.

James Harden on Russell Westbrook pairing: ‘We’ll figure it out’

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There has been some doubt that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be able to fit together with the Houston Rockets this season. Both players have matured quite a bit since their time together in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, and now there are real questions about Westbrook’s ability to fit next to just about anyone.

Like Westbrook, Harden is a ball-dominant guard, and we still don’t know the long-term plan for Coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston has real championship hopes, but they could also look much different in a year or two.

Still, Harden and Westbrook have known each other since they were 10 years old. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and are at least very good friends. To that end, Harden says that he believes they will be able to figure it out even if the first year together has bumps along the way.

Via GQ:

It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.

That’s a pretty reasonable outlook to have at this juncture. The NBA is constantly changing, and it’s possible that these two guys could have such a personal connection that their on-court conflicts end up being negligible.

It’s another new era in Houston as they try to capitalize on the Golden State Warriors’ injury issues.