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

Associated Press
0 Comments

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).

Reports: Kyrie Irving demands trade before Feb. 9 deadline

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kyrie Irving‘s agent tried to spark contract extension talks with the Nets recently, but Brooklyn felt no rush to dive into those talks, and the offer they did make — not for a full four years and filled with guarantees for Irving to meet — increased Irving’s frustration with the organization. The Nets, wisely, wanted to see more out of Irving before talking about the future, while Irving has felt everything with Brooklyn has been conditional.

Irving responded with a bombshell, demanding a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with the news, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have since confirmed it.

 

So much for a quiet trade deadline.

There are so many angles to this bombshell, but the sense of Irving feeling disrespected by Nets management and ownership is not new. Charania added this detail in his story at The Athletic:

The Nets recently offered Irving an extension with guarantee stipulations, according to league sources, an offer which was declined.

Irving wants a four-year, full max extension, no stipulations, Charania reports. That’s also what he wanted when he pushed for a contract extension with the Nets last summer, but after a couple of seasons of disruptions and him missing a lot of games due to his COVID vaccination status, the Nets were not interested in cementing their relationship long-term (Irving did look around for a new home, but that went nowhere).

The disruptions carried over into this season when Irving was suspended for what became eight games due to a Tweet promoting an antisemitic documentary. Through all this, the Nets fired Steve Nash as coach.

Whatever has happened off the court, when Irving has been on the court he has been his elite playmaking self, averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Fans voted him in an All-Star starter, and he has carried the Nets while Kevin Durant has been out.

While the Nets don’t want to give away Irving in a trade, if he’s gone this summer as a free agent they need to find a deal to get something in return (and ideally keep their status as a potential, maybe fringe, contender in the East). The Nets are not wrong that all the places Irving would want to go as a free agent will require a sign-and-trade, which gives Brooklyn some leverage. Irving has some leverage here, too: If Team X comes up with a trade the Nets like but Irving lets it be known he won’t re-sign there as a free agent, it limits what teams will offer.

When checking with league sources,  the first name on everyone’s lips are the Lakers, with a package centered around Russell Westbrook and both of the Lakers’ unprotected future picks (a trade that was discussed last summer). The Lakers likely have to sweeten that pot a little with another young player. Adding Irving to the mix with LeBron James and Anthony Davis does make the Lakers a threat to come out of a West with no dominant team, and Los Angeles might be willing to extend or re-sign Irving to a longer deal, they are all in on winning now.

Other teams that come up in conversations are the Heat (a team looking for point guard help and a spark, but does Irving fit the Miami team culture?), the Mavericks need another star next to Luka Dončić, and the Clippers are always active and aggressive at the trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Suns are interested. Other teams looking to make the leap up to contender status may try to throw their hat in the ring. Considering Irving’s reputation as a challenge for coaches and front office staff, it will be interesting to see how many teams are interested in Irving’s extensions/contract demands.

Whatever direction this goes expect the Irving trade rumors to fly for the next six days.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly to take part in 3-point contest All-Star weekend

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The All-Star Saturday night 3-point contest has passed the Dunk Contest in watchability because the stars still do it. Look at this year’s Dunk Contest, there are some interesting athletes involved, and maybe it becomes a memorable event. Still, there will be no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Anthony Edwards (the way that Jordan, Kobe, and other greats took part in the contest back in the day).

However, the stars turn out for the 3-point contest. This year, that starts with Damian Lillard, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

The coaches selected Lillard as one of the All-Star Game reserves, he was already headed to Salt Lake City. This is Lillard’s third time in the 3-point Shootout.

Over the coming week, expect a lot more big names to jump into the 3-point contest — the best shooters in the game want to do this event (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have each done it multiple times, although whether they will this year is unknown).

All-Star Saturday night: Come for the 3-point Shootout, hang around for the Dunk Contest.

Lakers reportedly exploring Westbrook trade in talks with Jazz

0 Comments

This feels like a “let’s leak this so our fan base thinks we’re trying” report rather than something that will come close to happening.

The Lakers have re-engaged the Jazz in Russell Westbrook trade talks, reports Chris Haynes at Bleacher Report.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz have had exploratory conversations centered around star guard Russell Westbrook, league sources tell Bleacher Report. However, the Lakers are said to be in communication with most teams to sift through the most reasonable and logical options available.

If the Lakers couldn’t pull off a trade like this over the summer, what has changed now?

The Lakers would be more than happy to move on from Westbrook and bring in more shooting and depth, but this is Danny Ainge they’re dealing with — the price would be both the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, likely unprotected. The Jazz would send back some combination of Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk — do any three of those players make the Lakers title contenders this season? Are the Lakers willing to give up those two picks to be a team that could make the second round of the playoffs?

Now, if the Raptors get in the trade game, would the combination of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. get the Lakers to surrender Westbrook and both picks? John Hollinger at The Athletic says that scenario is floating around, although everyone continues to wait to see if the Raptors are going to jump into the trade market with both feet.

The smart money is on the Lakers making a smaller move close to the trade deadline, likely involving Patrick Beverley and some second-round picks. Something similar in size to the Rui Hachimura trade, although the Lakers want — or at least are going to project they want — to hunt bigger game.

The Lakers continue surveying the market for premium shooting. Detroit Pistons sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanović remains a principal target, but there is league-wide skepticism on whether the Pistons are really willing to unload the nine-year veteran. It’s been reported that it would take at least an unprotected first-round pick to get the Pistons’ attention.

The belief within the Lakers’ organization is that they need to make at least one more move by the Feb. 9 trade deadline to give themselves a legitimate shot at competing for a championship, sources say.

Road wins over the Knicks and Pacers have the Lakers thinking they are a player away from contending? Los Angeles is unquestionably better with Davis back, and there is reason for some level of optimism in a flat Western Conference. But we’re talking “we can make the playoffs” optimism, there is still a chasm between these Lakers and contending — the gap between their second and third-best players (and the rest of the roster) is just too great.

Still, look for some kind of Lakers trade at the deadline. They are one of the more active teams out there. Just don’t expect it to be Westbrook.

Dončić leaves game with heel contusion, could miss games

0 Comments

Luka Dončić was in control — he scored 21 points in the first quarter — and the Mavericks were cruising to a win.

Then Dončić went for a dunk, Brandon Ingram slid in for the block from behind, and Dončić hit the ground. Hard.

Dončić tried to stay in, but after one more play went back to the locker room and did not return due to what the team called a heel contusion. He could miss a game or two of the upcoming Mavericks’ five-game road trip — which starts with a nationally televised game Saturday in Golden State — according to Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes.

There likely will be more information from the team over the next 24 hours.

How much the Mavericks need Dončić was on display the rest of this game. The Pelicans stormed back and might have had a chance to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left when a blown call by the referees — Ingram blocked an inbounds pass but was ruled out of bounds in doing so, when he wasn’t — robbed them of that opportunity. Larry Nance Jr. took his shot at the officials for that.

With this win, the Mavericks moved into fourth place in the West (ahead of the Clippers, who fell to the Bucks Thursday).