Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Kobe back, Curry never left

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Full night around the NBA — and some of the league’s biggest names had their biggest nights — but this time of year the schedule fills up, and it can be hard to watch all the games. That’s why we’re here. If you were busy wondering what that Elf on the Shelf has really been up to and weren’t watching, here are five things you should know from the NBA Wednesday night.

1) Kobe Bryant was back. For a night. “I would hope that he has more fun, and appears less frustrated, and also gets more appreciation.” That was what Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak wished for Kobe the night he announced he would retire at the end of the season. He sure looked like he was having fun Wednesday night. This was the kind of vintage, throwback game everyone is hoping to see from him — he was going in isolation, driving into tough shots, then hitting them anyway. Kobe finished with 31 points on 24 shots, he was knocking down some threes, and with the game on the line  he was at his best. He was at the heart of a 108-104 Laker win on the road against the Jekyll and Hyde Wizards (beat the Cavs Tuesday, lose to the Lakers Wednesday).

I don’t know how much we’ll see of this Kobe this season (his shot selection was not good, he was just making them), but it sure was fun for a night.

2) Stephen Curry never left. Curry is just not fair. On the night they honored his father Dell in Charlotte, Stephen Curry went into full video game mode. He put on a show for the fans in his hometown as he led the Warriors to a 116-99 win and a 20-0 record. Not sure how to explain how well he’s playing, so let me just give you some Curry bullet points:

• He had 40 points Wednesday on 14-of-18 shooting, including 8-of-11 from three.
• That was in three quarters, he didn’t set foot on the court in the fourth.
• Curry now has six 40 point games in the first 20 games, last guy to do that was Michael Jordan (according to the Warriors broadcast).
• Curry now has made more than 100 threes in 20 games, the second fastest player ever to 100 threes in a season was Ray Allen in 31 games.
• Curry has 640 points this season on 430 shot attempts.

3) Stan Van Gundy’s search for answers nets Pistons OT win over Suns. As his team fell behind the Suns by 12 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said he made more in-game adjustments than he ever had.

He switched matchups. He made substitutions. He used a zone.

“What we were searching for, quite honestly, was a defensive scheme that would work with a total lack of effort,” Van Gundy said. “And we couldn’t find it. So, we just went back to our normal stuff, and guys played hard. Look, I don’t want to get going, because we won, and I don’t want this to be a negative thing.”

Reggie Jackson (34 points and 16 assists) led a 15-0 run that put Detroit up, but Phoenix re-took a two-point lead. The Suns intentionally fouled Andre Drummond (22 points and 12 rebounds) with 12 seconds left, and Drummond — a career 39% free-throw shooter — sunk both to force overtime.

Marcus Morris (24 points and 14 rebounds) also made big contributions to the win over his former team. Is this one particularly special for him?

“Of course it is,” Morris said.
—Dan Feldman

4) Chris Paul is out for a couple of games and the Clippers are not the same without him. They rarely get mentioned among the best backcourts in the game, but when Chris Paul and J.J. Redick are on the court together the Clippers score 111.5 points per 100 possessions, and outscore opponents by 10.9 per 100. Replace those two with Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford and it’s not the same. Which is where the Clippers were Wednesday. CP3 is going to miss a couple games due to his “rib muscle” injury (probably and oblique), and Redick rolled his ankle early in the game and left. Without those two the entire Clipper team looked off, and if you do that against the hot Pacers you pay a price. They did. Indy won 103-91 (six straight wins for them)

5) O.J. Mayo cut his hair. For most of the season, Mayo’s hair looked like this.

Now he’s gone traditional — and you can blame his mom.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.