Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Utah crushes San Antonio? Is it the end of the world?

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It’s still very early in the NBA season — we’re still watching small sample size theater — but we are starting to learn some things. Here is what we learned on Sunday while thinking that a Game 7 of the World Series is going to be fun (and all those 3-1 blown lead jokes Cleveland fans made after the NBA Finals don’t seem as funny to them now)… 

1) Break up the Jazz — Utah beats San Antonio easily. In San Antonio. The outcome seemed preordained. We were in double-digits of consecutive Utah losses in San Antonio. Gordon Hayward was out. Boris Diaw sat for rest. Derrick Favors only played the first half. This game lined up to be a blowout. And it was.

Utah blew out San Antonio. The Jazz pulled away in the fourth for a 106-91 win.

George Hill is the only guy on the Jazz creating shots right now, and he did that to the tune of eight straight points in the fourth when the game was decided — he was phenomenal. Has been all season, carrying a heavy load. He was a force off the pick-and-roll with 22 points on 13 shots in this one, and he was attacking the rim or shooting threes, not settling in the midrange. You can see that in his shot cart — three midrange shots compared to 10 threes or shots at the rim.

Hill shotcart

Pacers fans had to watch this, having seen the way Jeff Teague has stumbled out of the gate this season, and think “what the hell?” Frank Vogel rarely gave Hill the chance to play this way,  but Hill has skills and brings it on both ends.

Utah is going to be a playoff team if they don’t dig too big a hole before they get healthy (and that could mean no Alec Burks for a couple of months). This win bringing them to 2-2 on the season is huge in that chase.

2) Sixers trade Jerami Grant to Thunder for Ersan Ilyasova and a pick — and it’s pretty even. We have our first trade of the season, and while I don’t love it for Philadelphia, the fact they got this pick makes this a wash for me in the long term. Short term, I don’t love it for Philly. I get it, the Sixers need shooting, and Ilyasova does that far, far better than Grant right now. It gives Philly a healthy body up front. Plus Ilyasova is on an expiring contract.

But if it was just the player swap I wouldn’t have liked the deal for Philly. Grant is just 22, incredibly athletic, on a very affordable contract and could develop into something. The Thunder are good at development, and OKC is looking for long guys who can play the three and four (they lost one of those this summer if you hadn’t heard). I like the move for the Thunder, Ilyasova was not part of their future, Grant may not be but they have a chance to find out. The pick is what saves it for the Sixers — a first-round pick top 20 protected in 2020 or 2021, and if the Sixers don’t get the pick those years it becomes two second round picks (2022 and 2023). That’s a long-time off, but if they don’t see Grant as part of the future it’s a decent return for a guy they got in the second round.

3) DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points but picked up all six fouls in the fourth quarter. You read that right, DeMarcus Cousins had zero fouls through three quarters of the Kings game in Miami, then picked up all six and fouled out in the fourth quarter — thereby missing overtime in the eventual OT loss to the Heat. Cousins was livid — and he had a right to be. It’s tempting to blame Cousins’ demeanor, but he handled it fairly well. Some of those calls should have been no-calls, some others were borderline calls that could go either way and went against Cousins. Coach Dave Joerger said after the game he had watched the fouls and said they were “unbelievable” and said “I don’t know…” then trailed off trying to avoid getting a fine. He then added that with physical players like Cousins, they are difficult to officiate.

Here is the one where Cousins fouls out:

The Miami broadcasters like the call, but of course they do they are wearing Heat goggles. This could have gone either way, but it’s not a bad call, Cousins does get his left arm on the inside of Whiteside and hooks him, but he doesn’t extend and push. The thing is, Cousins never gets that call from the refs. Several of the rest were much worse calls, this one was legit. Cousins has the rep with refs and does not get the benefit of the doubt, and it cost him here. (Although the Kings could still have won if Rudy Gay didn’t airball a potential game winner.)

But Cousins did have a brilliant block of Whiteside earlier in the game.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”