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Three Takeaways from NBA Sunday: New starters, same problems in Memphis

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It was a quiet Sunday in the NBA, just four games — all with the start times spread out for our friends in Europe. If you decided to spend your day watching the NFL wild car chase — or were just fighting off people attacking you with Snickers bars — here are three things you need to know from a Sunday around the NBA.

1) Grizzlies move Zach Randolph to the bench, still can’t find a win. The Memphis Grizzlies don’t look like a bad team when you see they are 13-12 on the season, but that record overinflates how bad this team has been. Memphis is bottom 10 in both offense and defense, and it has the point differential of an 8-17 team according to Basketball-Reference.com. They recently suffered 20+-point blowouts by the Thunder, Spurs, and Hornets. It’s clear Memphis is not the same team — Marc Gasol has looked a step slow all season, and everyone around him (save for Mario Chalmers after the trade) has seemed to regress. This team needed a change.

Sunday coach Dave Joerger tried to find that jolt by sending Zach Randolph and the struggling Tony Allen to the bench and starting Matt Barnes and Courtney Lee — going small around Marc Gasol. It looked like the lineup might work, Memphis led most of the way and shot 58 percent through three quarters — until an 11-0 run by the Heat to close out the game gave the W to Miami. Despite that result expect to see that starting lineup again — it was +2 for the night and had a net rating of +8.7, and that’s despite the group being out for most of that 11-0 run late. The group shot 40 percent from three, and while the offense wasn’t great it defended well. The lineup deserves more time to see if it can work.

As for Miami, Dwyane Wade helped steal you a win, just take it and run.

2) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are magnificent, that is all Thunder fans need know. We’ve covered this before, but the OKC dynamic duo were at it again Sunday. In a game where the Thunder had to go to overtime to beat the Jazz 104-98, Oklahoma City was +17 when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shared the floor. The duo combined for 56 points, which is 53.9 percent of all the points OKC scored. Just a reminder that having two guys playing well enough both should get in the MVP discussion can erase a lot of mistakes.

3) Westbrook with the inbounds play of the year. We’ve all seen the rare “off the back of the defender” inbounds pass resulting in a layup before, but never anything quite like this — Westbrook goes off the defender for the quick turnaround jumper and nails it.

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.

 

Report: Needing depth at center, Dallas trades for Willie Cauley-Stein from Golden State

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Dallas took a big hit this week when center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles. The Mavericks’ starting center was a critical pick-and-roll partner with Luka Doncic, a roll man and vertical threat that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor (along with other Dallas shooters), plus Powell was a solid team defender.

Willie Cauley-Stein is going to get a chance to fill that role.

Golden State is trading Cauley-Stein to Dallas for a second-round pick.

Dallas just made a trade for Justin Patton to waive him and clear out a roster spot for this trade.

Cauley-Stein is averaging an efficient 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for Golden State. More importantly for Dallas, he provides the athletic dive man, a threat on the roll they need to keep things open for Doncic.

Dallas could have waited out the market to try and land a better center, but this gives them a reliable fit for minimal cost (a late second-round pick, they kept Golden State’s own second rounder). Cauley-Stein will split time at the five with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic.

For those of you crunching the numbers at home:

For Golden State, in the short term, this move creates a couple of open roster spots. One of those likely will be used to re-sign Marquese Chriss, who was waived last week. The other roster spot likely will go to Ky Bowman.

Golden State adds a pick and a trade exception for sending out a player that was not part of their long-term plans anyway.

In trade about money/roster space, Mavericks send Isaiah Roby to Thunder for Justin Patton, cash

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We have a trade…

That shifts things around on the end of the bench in Dallas so they could create a roster spot forWillie Cauley-Stein (a trade that was announced later). A trade that is mostly about saving some and rolling the dice on a project in OKC.

Dallas is sending Isaiah Roby to OKC for Justin Patton, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What is really going on here?

For Dallas, this is about clearing out a roster spot, it plans to waive Patton. That roster spot is going to Willie Cauley-Stein in a trade with Golden State, that was just reported. The Mavericks lost center Dwight Powell to a torn Achilles this week and needed to bring in a player or two — via trade or free agency — to help bolster the existing front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic. Here is Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

The move also clears out a little cash for Dallas.

In Oklahoma City, they get a young player to develop but also save some money.

Roby has not played in an NBA game yet. The rookie out of Nebraska — taken 45th overall last June — is a development project, but one who passes the eye test for an NBA power forward. He did a lot of things well in college — scoring, rebounding, works hard off the ball — but can he do that at an NBA level? He’s played in nine G-League games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 7 rebounds a game.

 

Bulls: Lauri Markkanen out 4-6 weeks

Lauri Markkanen
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Lauri Markkanen ranked No. 34 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years entering the season.

Instead of building toward that promise, Markkanen has underwhelmed. His shot just isn’t falling as hoped.

Now, the news get even worse.

Bulls:

The Bulls (2.5 games and two games out) have been hanging in the playoff race. But there was already little reason to believe they’d make a postseason push. Now, there’s even less rationale to predict a longshot postseason run.

Markkanen will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason. The 22-year-old can still fulfill his potential as a 7-foot shooter with defensive versatility. But he’s running out of time to show consistent contributions. That’ll make it tougher for Chicago to offer a satisfactory extension.

Two of the very things that could happen for the Bulls are Markkanen shaking off his extended slump and landing a high draft pick.

This could help with both.