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Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Dallas boosts playoff dream with win over Houston

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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.

2013-14: 55
2014-15: 61
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).

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

View this post on Instagram

Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

A post shared by 🔥🔥🔥🔥 (@waiters3) on

Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.