Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Jazz, Pistons move into playoff positions

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What you missed around the league Wednesday while shedding a tear over the lost beer (and chips)….

1) Utah comes from behind to beat Houston, take over final playoff spot in West. You can make an argument that Houston is a dangerous first-round playoff opponent — they still have James Harden, Dwight Howard, a decent supporting cast, and they have put together stretches of excellent basketball this season. The problem is, first you have to make the playoffs, and right now Houston is on the outside looking in.

Utah came from 18 down to beat the Rockets in Houston Wednesday night, 89-87. Gordon Hayward had 22 points, Derrick Favors 17 including the game winning dunk — yes, he was standing on the baseline and should have been called out of bounds right before that dunk, but that’s not why the Rockets lost. James Harden wasn’t the reason the Rockets lost either, he had 26 points, 10 assists, eight steals and seven rebounds. But the Rockets played a terrible third quarter shooting 32 percent, and that has been the problem all season — they can’t string together four good quarters, or four good games, in a row. Inconsistency. The Rockets are just half a game back of both Utah and Dallas, they can get in the postseason, but their playoffs start now — and they need four quarters of solid play a game to make it. Because Utah is healthy (well, except at the guard spots), defending, and making enough plays to win nightly.

2) Pistons move into eight seed in The East on night Bulls, Wizards fall. Detroit is putting it together at the right time with Tobias Harris — despite a triple-double from Elfrid Payton, the Pistons beat the Magic 118-112. That’s four straight wins for Stan Van Gundy’s crew, who are so hot Reggie Jackson is bouncing in threes (this didn’t count, but damn):

While that was happening, the Bulls were losing to the Knicks at home. How does a team fighting for a playoff spot fall to New York at home? How does a team fighting for a playoff spot lose to a team that starts a Jose Calderon/Sasha Vujacic backcourt? Because Jimmy Butler is clearly still not healthy but is trying to play through a bum knee. Because the Knicks frontline owned Pau Gasol and the Bulls the glass. Because the Bulls did not defend the three-point line. Because the Bulls just are not a very good team and not one their new coach seems to inspire quite like the old coach did. Chicago is now one game behind Detroit and Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East (with the second game of a home-and-home against the Knicks tonight).

3) Warriors thump Clippers 114-98, move closer to 73 wins.
Golden State wants 73 wins — even Steve Kerr finally admitted it after the Warriors swept the season series from the Clippers 114-98 Wednesday. Now they just need to go 9-2 the rest of the way to make that happen. This was vintage Warriors — Stephen Curry dropped 33, but it was Klay Thompson‘s sharpshooting in the third quarter that helped the Warriors pull away (Thompson was 7-of-10 from three on the night). Clippers starters not named DeAndre Jordan struggled against the Warriors defense — Jordan had 19 points (and 20 boards), the rest of the Clippers starters had 27. It was an off game for Chris Paul, and that’s not going be enough against Golden State. (The Clippers miss Blake Griffin, but it’s difficult to see them beating the Warriors in a likely second round matchup.)

4) Emmanuel Mudiay hits ridiculous game winner for Denver. When you’re the Sixers nothing goes your way. Also, Emmanuel Mudiay had 27 points and 11 boards on the night, and he’s starting to develop into the point guard Nuggets fans hoped he would be.



5) Delaware guard Russ Smith sets D-League record with 65 point game.
Russ Smith played well when it mattered in March for Louisville — maybe March is his month. Smith is playing for the Delaware 87ers in the D-League and on Wednesday Smith dropped 65 points on 24-of-42 shooting — and his team still lost 140-129 to the Canton Charge.

Smith was attacking the rim — he had 32 points on layups and was 16-of-20 at the free throw line.

Don Nelson says suggestion to trade Patrick Ewing for Shaq cost him Knicks job

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Don Nelson’s tenure as the Knicks’ coach was short. It lasted nine months. He took over for Pat Riley at the end of the 1994-95 season, coached the team to a 34-25 record, and was given the boot mid-season for Jeff Van Gundy.

Why? Nelson says it’s because he told owner James Dolan and the rest of management to trade Knicks’ icon Patrick Ewing for Shaquille O’Neal.

Nelson, now living happily in Hawaii, was on  HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” this week and talked about what went down.

Gumbel: “Did you really suggest trading Patrick Ewing?”

Nelson: “Yes. It cost me my job … I said, ‘You need to trade Patrick Ewing. And you need to trade him right away. There’s a guy by the name of Shaquille O’Neal that’s available, would love to come to New York. And we can jump in there and beat the Lakers out and get this guy. And we should do it.” And of course it got back to Ewing, and I was done. I was toast (laughing).”

Gumbel: “Why’d you wanna trade him?”

Nelson: “I didn’t think he had very much left in the tank. And he was one-dimensional. He was, you know, he was interested in rebounds and points. And that was it. And I thought that we could do better.”

Gumbel: “What’d Dolan think when you said that?”

Nelson: “He listened. But I got fired about a month later. So somebody didn’t like it.”

By the 1995-96 season, Ewing was 33 years old but averaged 22.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game, and while his efficiency was starting to slip he was still an All-Star with a PER of 20.1. He would play five more seasons in New York and helped the Knicks reach the 1999 NBA Finals.

Shaq, however, was a 23-year-old dominant force just coming into his prime. In the summer of 1996 he left Orlando and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, where he and Kobe Bryant would eventually go on to rack up three rings together.

What would have happened if Nelson got his way? That’s for the writers of fan fiction, but it would have been a very different NBA. And Nelson would have stuck around in New York longer than nine months.

Cam Reddish looks to make new home with Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) — Cam Reddish is looking forward to playing for the Atlanta Hawks after he was hampered by a groin injury during his one season with Duke.

The 19-year-old Reddish joins a promising young core with Atlanta that also includes Trae Young and John Collins after he was selected by the Hawks with the No. 10 pick in the NBA draft. Former Virginia star De'Andre Hunter also is headed to Atlanta once its draft-day trade with New Orleans becomes official next month.

“It’s truly a blessing and a dream come true,” Reddish said Monday at the Hawks’ training facility. “The city of Atlanta is so beautiful. I’m just really happy to be here.

“I think it’s a perfect fit in a way.”

Reddish was one of college basketball’s top prospects heading into last season. But his stock slipped a bit after he averaged 13.5 points on 35.6 percent shooting with the Blue Devils, filling a supporting role behind fellow freshmen stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.

Reddish’s commitment level was called into question during the run-up to last week’s draft. But the 6-foot-7 swingman from Norristown, Pennsylvania, said he has a laid-back personality and was bothered by a minor groin tear during his short stay at Duke.

The injury shelved Reddish for the Blue Devils’ preseason Canada tour last summer. It also kept him out of an NCAA Tournament game.

“It was kind of nagging me the entire season,” Reddish said.

Reddish recently had surgery to address the issue. He will miss the NBA’s upcoming summer league while he recovers from the procedure.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said he felt Reddish fit what they are trying to do after watching him for years.

“We’ve had the opportunity to see him many times playing for USA Basketball, playing on the AAU circuit and then playing at Duke last year,” Schlenk said. “So, he’s a guy that we’ve seen for several years. We’re looking for guys that are multidimensional, multi-positional.”

Coach Lloyd Pierce envisions Reddish taking pressure off Young as a ballhandler. On the other end of the court, Pierce is looking forward to incorporating Reddish’s 7-1 wingspan into a defense that last season was one of the NBA’s least efficient.

“I think defensively is where you get excited … The more playmakers and facilitators you can put on the floor, the better your team is, and we saw the amount of attention Trae will get,” Pierce said. “We saw it late in the year, and we’ll see it more next year.”

Reddish thinks the Hawks can make the playoffs after finishing with the NBA’s fifth-worst record last season at 29-53.

“I definitely feel like it’s a possibility. It all starts with our chemistry,” Reddish said. “(Young is) a phenomenal, phenomenal player. Just talking to him made me feel really good.”

 

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)

Drew Brees sends Zion Williamson signed jersey that says ‘Passing the torch to you’

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New Orleans is a football town.

The Pelicans are trying to carve out their space in that market — and landing Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick in the draft has helped generate the kind of excitement they need — but the Big Easy is all about the Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees is treated like a deity in that town.

Brees welcomed Williamson to town Tuesday by giving him an autographed jersey, one that read, “Passing the torch to you.” It also came with a card that said, “Zion, welcome to the family. Let’s dance.”

The best part of this is Williamson’s reaction — he is genuinely in awe. Much like when he teared up on the night of the draft (when we all knew he was going to be taken No. 1 for months), Williamson just seems humble and taken aback by everything through this process.