What you missed from a busy night around the NBA while trying to convince your daughter unicorns are real….
1) Combination of J.J. Barea, defense get Mavericks win over Rockets, and maybe into playoffs. The J.J. Barea revolution will be televised — and it may carry the Mavericks to the playoffs. The diminutive guard forced into the starting lineup with Deron Williams out was your NBA Player of the Week in the Western Conference last week, and he continued that tear this week dropping 27 oh Houston in the win. However, the real key to the victory was Dallas’ defense, which held Houston to 95.6 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions), which is 10 per 100 fewer than they have averaged in the last 10 games. Dallas took away the best options late, which led to Houston having Corey Brewer take key jumpers because he was the guy open, and he as 1-of-9 on the night. Plus, there was the defensive stylings of Dirk Nowitzki. Seriously.
The win leaves Dallas in the seven seed, with Utah one game back in eighth and Houston two back in ninth (just out of the playoffs). The Mavericks are not a lock to get in (they close the season with the Jazz, Clippers, and Spurs), but now fivethiryeight.com has them at a 70 percent chance. The Rockets have fallen to a 45 percent chance of making the playoffs — they need help in the form of Jazz/Mavs losses now. Houston’s advantage is their final four games are Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Kings. All winnable.
2) Sam Hinkie steps down as 76ers GM with 13-page letter to team investors; Bryan Colangelo to get his job. Who writes a 13-page resignation letter? Sam Hinkie does. The writing was on the wall for Mr. “trust the process” ever since last December when Jerry Colangelo was brought in above him as team president to speed up said process.
Hinkie had taken the “tanking to get better” idea that has been around the NBA for a while to a new extreme — and he had buy-in from ownership from Day 1. But Hinkie did three things wrong. First, he didn’t defend his plan against critics vociferously enough, essentially making the political mistake of letting his detractors define him. Second, he overestimated how patient ownership would be with this plan — one year is easy, Joshua Harris and company had his back for a couple of years, but by the time it was year three and things were worse on the court it was too much. Even if there was light at the end of the tunnel. This felt like a business plan that looks great on the spreadsheet but didn’t think through the human cost — there were actual people involved and they felt the pain. Third, Hinkie didn’t nail his draft picks, at least not with an elite player. Nerlens Noel was okay, Michael Carter-Williams was never as good as his rookie season suggested, we never saw Joel Embiid or Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor is good, not great. Combine that with bringing in untested players searching for gems rather than a few veterans to make things better (and he burned bridges with agents because of that) and it was all too much.
However, the overall plan was not terrible; the Sixer are in a much better position going forward than when Hinkie took over. Bryan Colangelo — who is coming in as the new GM, and yes that is Jerry Colangelo’s son — is going to benefit from the numerous high picks Hinkie compiled, plus some of those players maturing. The Colangelos will get the credit, but Hinkie laid the foundation for that future success.
3) With LeBron James in street clothes, Pacers pick up key win in push for playoffs. The Indiana Pacers were likely in the playoffs anyway, both because they’ve been playing well enough and because the Chicago Bulls are a mess. But nothing was secure, and the Pacers were heading into their toughest game left on the schedule Wednesday — the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then Tyronn Lue decided to rest LeBron Wednesday, and with that the Pacers tore apart the Cavs defense shooting 56.3 percent for the game, scoring 70 points in the first half, and going on to win 123-109. Solomon Hill was knocking down threes, and Paul George dropped 29 points.
4) Enes Kanter making Sixth Man of Year push, puts up 30 and 20 on Portland. The Portland Trail Blazers got what they wanted: A 120-115 win against Oklahoma City that made it official, the Blazers are in the playoffs. They are the current five seed, and if they can hold that spot they face the Clippers in the first round.
That’s not what we’re focusing on: Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter had 33 points (on 18 shots) and 20 rebounds, to become the first 30-20 man in Thunder history. Kanter has to be a serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year, as Dan Feldman and I discussed in the latest PBT Podcast. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 8.1 rebounds a game off the bench, and while his defense is an issue who else are you going to vote for that is a defensive stopper for the award, Jamal Crawford?
5) For the third consecutive year, Lakers set a franchise record for most losses. This season in Los Angeles was about the Kobe Bryant farewell tour and seasoning young players. It was never about wins and losses. Still, for a proud franchise, this is ugly — for the third consecutive year, the Lakers set a franchise record for most losses in a season after falling to the Clippers 91-81 on Wednesday.
2015-16: 62 (and counting)
The silver lining? The Lakers are now basically locked into the second-worst record in the NBA, which means they will have a 56 percent chance of keeping their pick in the June draft (if it is in the Top 3 they keep it, four or later and it goes to the Sixers as a remnant of the Steve Nash trade).