What you missed around the NBA while you were re-living the highlights of Garry Shandling’s career….
1) Cavaliers look lost on defense, fade in fourth quarter, lose to Nets 104-95. At this point in the season, coaches of playoff teams are looking for their squads to start getting into that mindset — focusing on the details, bringing energy every night, taking every opponent seriously and not coasting for a quarter (let alone a game). The reality is in late March we tend to still see a lot of mental vacation nights from teams where their focus is elsewhere.
Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers in Brooklyn Thursday. From the start, they were throwing lazy passes that got picked off (seven first quarter turnovers) and having ugly defensive lapses. Brooklyn was getting buckets from Brook Lopez (22 points on the night) and a balanced attack behind him with four other Nets in double figures. LeBron James was not the problem — he was 7-of-7 shooting in the first half, 13-of-16 for the game dropping 30 points — but the rest of the Cavaliers shot 35.6 percent on the night. Kyrie Irving was 6-of-22 and Kevin Love 5-of-14. Cleveland made a third quarter push to take the lead briefly, but in the fourth looked like a team on a back-to-back and scored just 12 points in the fourth. The loss isn’t going to cost the Cavs the top seed (they are still two games up on the Raptors) but they didn’t look like a contender. LeBron put it this way:
2) J.J. Redick knocks down game winner to beat Portland. As a whole the game felt like it was played in mud (both teams on the second night of a back-to-back), but when it mattered first Jamal Crawford stepped up for the Clippers — he hit the game-tying three, was fantastic in the second half, and finished with 25 points. Then with the game on the line, it was Chris Paul to J.J. Redick (after the game C.J. McCollum owned up to Redick being his man and he said he lost him).
3) Knicks sweep home and home from Bulls. Chicago may be the nine seed in the East and be on the outside looking in at the playoffs as you read this, but the theory goes their schedule is easier down the stretch than Detroit’s, so the Bulls can climb back into this thing. But not if they play like this — the Knicks just swept a home-and-home from the Bulls, winning in Madison Square Garden Thursday 106-94. Derrick Rose dunked for the Bulls, and outside of that there is nothing good to report. Fivethiryeight.com now says the Pistons have a 61 percent chance to make the playoffs, the Wizards (still a game back of Chicago but with a soft schedule) are at 30 percent, and the Bulls are just 13 percent (all that adds up to more than 100 percent because there is a four percent chance the Pacers fade out of the picture from the seven seed).
The Bulls’ front office has a lot of work to do this summer.
4) Knicks’ Jose Calderon finds Derrick Williams for a three-quarter court alley-oop. When things are going right for the Knicks, they are going right.
5) Back to Nets/Cavs: Watch Donald Sloan‘s behind-the-back move drop Matthew Dellavedova to the ground. It was just that kind of night for the Cavaliers’ defense.
Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.
When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.
The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.
Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”
There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.
What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.
Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.
Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.
The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.
Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.
The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.
Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.
Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.
A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.
Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).
Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.
There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.
Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.
There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.
Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.
We’re not in Houston anymore.
James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.
“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”
Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.
Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.
Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.
A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.