Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Jimmy Butler does his best Jordan impression

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The holidays are over, you’re almost recovered from New Year’s Eve and ready to start hitting the gym (that should last three weeks, admit it) — and it’s time to get back into the flow of the NBA as we run up toward the All-Star break. Here is what you need to know from around the league Sunday:

1) Jimmy Butler did his best MJ impression Sunday. Butler’s first reaction when the breaking of a Michael Jordan record came up was the one Chicago fans want to hear: “Don’t compare me to him. That’s exactly what I said. I don’t want to be compared to him.”

Jimmy Butler is no Michael Jordan, but for one half Sunday he did a good imitation of the legend. Butler started slow then had to leave the game to get stitches after an elbow from Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll. When he came back in the second half, he couldn’t miss on his way to 40 second half points. Toronto helped out; Butler was able to drive to the hoop to cleanly or get open looks, he shredded Toronto’s pick-and-roll coverage. Once he started feeling it he did not miss, check out his second half shot chart.

Jimmy Butler shot chart

Butler was scoring, but he was doing it in the flow of the offense, he was sharing the rock off the pick, too. He helped spark a comeback in the fourth quarter — Toronto led by 15 in the third, but the Bulls ended up with the 115-113 victory on the road. For Toronto, it felt like the playoffs two years ago when Joe Johnson destroyed them. I thought Carroll was brought in to defend strong/hot wing players, but he didn’t seem to have the regular assignment (and Butler scored on him, too). And Toronto’s rim protection needs to improve as well.

2) The Phoenix Suns are a mess. The Los Angeles Lakers are tied for the worst defense in the NBA this season (via, and the Phoenix Suns put up just 22 points on them in the first half Sunday, shooting 0-of-10 from three. The Suns shot 21 percent in the first half. For the game, the Suns shot 30.2 percent on uncontested looks (and more than half their shots were uncontested). It was ugly Sunday.

A lot of things around the Suns are ugly right now. Coach Jeff Hornacek has run out some, shall we say, interesting lineups all season trying to find combinations that work. It happened Sunday going very big with Alex Len and Tyson Chandler playing together. But nothing worked, on either end of the floor. Turns out the problem wasn’t the assistant coaches. Now, this team is spiraling down, having been outscored by 11.4 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games.

Phoenix owner Robert Sarver said on Sunday the blame for the Suns starts at the top. It certainly does. His impatience with the rebuilding process, the lack of consistency within the organization are at the heart of Phoenix’s issues. And by the way, it’s not the millennials that are the problem, the Warriors seem to be doing okay with them. It’s the older guys, and not just the ones on the roster.

On the other side, that three wins in a row for the Lakers.

3) Lakers’ fan nails half-court shot to win $95,000.
Nobody around the Lakers could miss on Sunday, and that includes the fan taking the half-court shot for big cash. I wouldn’t call his form pretty, but results are what matter.

4) Kenneth Faried back on the court just one day after scary neck injury.
This was good to see. One day after a neck injury that had him being taken off the court on a stretcher, Faried was back on the court and starting for Denver against Portland. He played nearly 28 minutes and had 13 points in the Nuggets’ loss, but what mattered was that he was back out there.

5) Knicks’ Arron Afflalo drops 38 on Hawks. He was 14-of-17 shooting overall and 7-of-8 from three. This was all about Afflalo getting open within the triangle offense then hitting his jumpers (only three of his shots were within eight feet of the rim, he hit two). This was the smoothest the Knicks offense may have looked this season, with fantastic ball movement, and Afflalo benefited (10 of his 17 shots were uncontested, according to’s player tracking). That’s a quality win for New York and the kind they need more of if it plans to climb back into the playoff race in the East (the Knicks are currently three games out of the final playoff slot in the East).

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.



Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains


While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).


Timberwolves big man Naz Reid out indefinitely with fractured wrist

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: Naz Reid had surgery on that fractured wrist and will be out six weeks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That means he is not only out for the rest of the regular season but likely the first couple of rounds of the playoffs, if the Timberwolves can make it that far.


This sucks for a Timberwolves team finding its groove.

Part of that groove was the offensive spark of big man Naz Ried off the bench, but now he will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist, the Timberwolves announced. From the official release:

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken yesterday at Mayo Clinic Square by Dr. Kelechi Okoroha on Reid revealed a left scaphoid fracture. He will be out indefinitely and further updates on his progress will be provided when available.

A scaphoid fracture involves one of the small bones at the base of the hand that connects the wrist and fingers. Reid injured his hand on this dunk attempt against the Suns, he instinctively used his left hand to help break the fall and it took the weight of the landing.

Impressively, and despite being in pain, Reid played through the injury.

Reid developed into the sixth man, spark plug roll for the Timberwolves behind starters Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. In his last five games, Reid averaged 18.8 points on 59.1% shooting (including 45% from 3 on four attempts a night) and grabbed 5.2 rebounds in his 22 minutes.

Reid is a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves want to keep him and have had talks with him, but he will have plenty of suitors.

His loss will be a blow to Minnesota, especially heading into crucial games down the stretch — starting with the Lakers Friday night (a team Reid had some big games against) — and into the postseason. Expect coach Chris Finch to stagger Towns and Gobert a little more, and he can turn to Nate Knight or Luka Garza off the bench, but their role would be limited (especially come the playoffs).