Associated Press

Three things we learned Monday: In game of Westbrook vs. World, the world won

1 Comment

We know you were busy finishing your holiday shopping Monday night — yes, you can just buy your dad a bottle of bourbon — so here are the big takeaways from the night in the NBA that you missed.

1) Russell Westbrook needs a little help — from teammates, officials, anyone really. Russell Westbrook is pretty much turning into the exasperated kid on the playground yelling, “little help here” as the ball rolls away, only to have to go get it himself anyway.

Monday night Westbrook didn’t get the help he wanted from his teammates for 47 minutes or from the referees in the final one, and the result was a 110-108 Atlanta win in Oklahoma City. It was a night of Westbrook vs. the World, and the smart money was on the world. Not coincidentally, this is the fourth game in a row Victor Oladipo has missed with a sore right wrist — he will not need surgery, but he’s going to miss more time — and the Thunder are 1-3 in that stretch.

Westbrook made plays. He shot 16-of-33, was attacking the rim and getting to the line (11-of-13), but also was knocking it down from the midrange, where he was 8-of-14. The problem was the other Thunder starters combined to shoot 30.8 percent for the game. It forced Westbrook to take on more and more. The result was a lot more Westbrook isolation, and Atlanta’s defense made the shots for Westbrook tougher and tougher as the night went on — he still hit 8-of-16 contested shots (stat via NBA.com).

But in the final minute, the referees swallowed their whistles and Westbrook did not get the calls he wanted. After Paul Millsap had given Atlanta the lead on a short jumper (where Westbrook and Andre Roberson messed up the switch), Westbrook brought the ball up and attacked the basket but didn’t get the call, did get his own rebound, but couldn’t hit the follow-up. The Thunder still had 2.9 seconds, and Kyle Singler got the ball into Westbrook who took a contested three — and tried to sell the foul call but didn’t get it. Steven Adams got the rebound, but rather than flipping it up quickly to the bucket he tried to dunk it, and time expired before he got it off. Ballgame.

Needless to say, after the game Westbrook was more than a little frustrated.

Give the Hawks credit here. On a night Dwight Howard was out, Mike Budenholzer started a small lineup and got the first 30-point game of the season from Paul Millsap, who was his All-Star self, seeming to score at will. But the real star was Dennis Schroder, who had 31 points and eight assists, who took advantage of mismatches off switches on the picks all night and seemed to get into the lane whenever he wanted. This was a good win for a Hawks team that could use a couple of those after their recent slump.

2) Nikola Jokic has a coming out party, and Denver is just half a game out of the playoffs. Denver coach Mike Malone’s new starting lineup and frontcourt rotation — a lot of Nikola Jokic and no Jusuf Nurkic — has won the Nuggets three games in a row and has the team just half a game back of stumbling Portland for the last playoff slot in the West. After an ugly start to the season, Denver’s postseason goal is still well within reach.

And if Jokic keeps playing like this they may get it. The second-year big man had 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists as Denver beat Dallas 117-107. He did most of his damage near the basket (9-of-13 shooting within eight feet of the rim) but was 4-of-4 outside the paint, including hitting his only three. He was getting his buckets using his varied game — as the roll man, on the offensive glass, cuts off the ball and more.

It’s not just Jokic on this win streak. Gary Harris had a career-high 24 points Monday. The up-and-down Emmanuel Mudiay was on the upswing again with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup has been a veteran influence the team needed. A lot of things are going right for Denver the last few games — we’ll see if they can sustain it. But the Nuggets are playing an energized brand of basketball in this homestand.

3) Honest Stan Van Gundy is the best Stan Van Gundy. You sick of coach speak? Tired of hearing “I think it was just an off night” or blaming the schedule after a blowout loss? Then we present to you Stan Van Gundy after his Pistons got blown out by the Bulls Monday night.

The Pistons’ had a couple of blowout losses leading into this game, which sparked “players only” meeting where defense and ball movement were stressed. It worked about as well as SVG suggested. The Pistons didn’t do either of those things, and the result was a blowout 113-82 loss to the Bulls (who had lost three in a row before this game). The Pistons are still in the playoff mix in the East and likely will stay there — just four games separate the three seed Celtics from the 12-seed Magic. That’s 10 teams that have playoff dreams, but six spots. There’s a lot of basketball to go, and the Pistons are too talented to not be in the postseason. But they have stumbled since Reggie Jackson‘s return (it’s not all on him), and it’s going to take more than words — from Van Gundy or the players — to right the ship.

Report: If Brooklyn signs Kyrie Irving then D’Angelo Russell will leave

Getty Images
2 Comments

Rumors have been flying around for weeks that Kyrie Irving is leaning towards signing in Brooklyn as a free agent. Things can still change, the Irving/Kevin Durant pairing with the Knicks is not off the table (or with the Nets), but there is, at the very least, strong mutual interest between Irving and the Nets.

Last season, Brooklyn extended Spencer Dinwiddie, giving them a quality reserve point guard at a reasonable price.

Where does that leave All-Star D'Angelo Russell? Out the door if Irving signs, reports Ian Bagley at SNY.com.

If Irving signs with the Nets, SNY sources familiar with the matter say it is highly unlikely that Russell remains with the Nets. Members of the Nets organization have communicated that idea in recent days, per sources.

Russell will have no shortage of suitors, including good teams looking for another shot creator in Indiana and Utah.

Russell is a restricted free agent and if Irving does not sign the Nets likely want Russell back. One interesting thing to watch, if the Nets rescind their rights to Russell, it would mean they are about to sign two max guys (they would need to get Russell’s cap hold off the books to get that done).

Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7 assists a game last season, shooting 36.9 percent from three. His shots started falling at a higher rate, he improved as a floor general, and his game took a leap forward to All-Star level last season.

How much did five Finals runs, fatigue factor into Durant, Thompson injuries?

3 Comments

Klay Thompson ran more than 60 miles on the court during these NBA playoffs, that coming off a season where he ran nearly 198 miles during games.

Kevin Durant, even after missing a month with a calf injury, ran 29.5 playoff miles during these playoffs.

And that was just this season. In the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have played 105 playoff games. That means they essentially packed six seasons — including a playoff run — into five seasons of time.

The sports science on this is clear: Catastrophic injuries — such as a ruptured Achilles or ACL tear — are far more likely to happen when the player is fatigued.

With many trying to assign blame for the Warriors two devastating injuries in their final two games, part of that needs to fall on the Warriors’ own success. “Blame” may be the wrong word here because it’s not like the Warriors would give back a title, but becoming the first team since the Bill Russell Celtics to make it to five straight finals added to the fatigue for the team and likely played a role in what happened.

“I don’t know if it’s related to five straight seasons of playing a hundred plus games and just all the wear and tear, but it’s devastating,” an emotional Steve Kerr said after Game 6 discussing Durant’s ruptured Achilles and Thompson’s torn ACL.

Kerr is not alone. Twitter doctors and Charles Barkley aside, nobody knows how significant a role the extra games played in the injuries because there is seldom a straight line to draw between cause and effect on major injuries. Human nature is to want simple, clean answers, but life rarely presents those. It’s a complex stew of factors. LeBron James can go to eight straight Finals and not have this issue (although he is a physical outlier in the NBA in many ways).

Fatigue, however, appears to play a role.

In Durant’s case, his exertion may correlate with his injuries. His initial calf strain — and the Warriors insist that is all it ever was — happened against the Rockets, a series where Durant saw a jump in playing time of about five minutes a night because Kerr leaned heavily on his core in a series where the Warriors realized the threat. Studies have shown that injuries are more likely to occur when a player sees a sudden jump in minutes played and load carried, in part because that players’ body becomes more fatigued.

When Durant returned to the court for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the plan was to play him in “short bursts,” meaning four- or five-minute stints. After the first five minute stint (there was a timeout at 7:11 in the first quarter), Durant said he felt good and asked to stay in, so he remained on the court until 5:50. He rested for about two and a half minutes, then was back on the court — and playing well. Durant had 11 points and the Warriors offense flowed far more smoothly again. Kerr left Durant in to start the second quarter, and at the 9:46 mark we all know what happened.

After missing 32 days of basketball, Durant played 12 of the first 14 minutes in Game 5. How much did that play a role in his torn Achilles?

Thompson missed Game 3 of the NBA Finals with a strained hamstring and was not 100 percent the remainder of the way. If that hamstring was healthier would he have landed differently or been able to withstand it better, not tearing his ACL after being fouled on a dunk attempt? We will never know, but it’s possible.

Meanwhile, across the way, the Toronto Raptors took heat in some quarters for the “load management” of Kawhi Leonard, having him miss 22 regular season games to rest his body and keep his quad tendon healthy. Leonard played through a sore right knee — suffered compensating for that left quad tendon — but was out there for every game and was Finals MVP.

Players, agents, and teams all took note of that. The next time a player is coming back from injury, Durant in particular (but also Thompson) will be seen as a cautionary tale. Expect guys to make sure they are 100 percent (or close to it) before getting back on the court, not wanting to risk a greater injury. Most guys are not still going to get the same contract offers after a catastrophic injury. Also, “load management” will become even more of a thing.

The NBA is a recovery league where fatigue is a constant issue. Maybe this is all another baby step toward shortening the NBA regular season schedule, but we all know the financial complexities of that make it a long way off. At best.

But for those that need to assign blame for the injuries to Durant and Thompson, starting with the Warriors own success is a good idea.

NBC Sports/Rotoworld NBA Draft preview show and mock draft

Leave a comment

With the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans’ select…

Zion Williamson. That’s just obvious. Then the Grizzlies will take Ja Morant second, and the Knicks — or whoever has the pick by draft night — will take R.J. Barrett.

Then things get interesting.

I joined Rotoworld’s Tommy Beer and Steve Alexander to do a mock draft of the first round, from Zion through… you’ll just have to watch. The full video is above, and we also talk a little about potential trades and fantasy impact.

If you can’t get enough mock drafts, CollegeBasketballTalk’s Rob Dauster and I did a mock draft podcast of the first round a couple of weeks ago. You can check out the list and listen to picks 1-10 here, and then the rest of the first round at this link.

Raptors title sees Canada set viewing, spending records

Getty Images
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — The final numbers are in, and the NBA Finals were a smashing success for Canada all the way around.

The NBA said Friday that 56% percent of the Canadian population watched at least some part of the NBA Finals, with an average viewership of about 8 million for the Toronto Raptors’ title-winning victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 6.

The league also said the total combined U.S. and Canadian audience for the finals was up 11 percent over the combined viewership of the 2018 title series between Golden State and Cleveland.

Thursday’s game was the most-watched NBA game in Canadian television history, a record that was toppled several times during this postseason because of the Raptors’ popularity. Viewership for each of the six finals games rank among the 10 most-watched television programs in Canada so far this year.

“Everybody who supported us during the season, all the fans in Toronto, everyone in Canada – this is for you,” Raptors forward Serge Ibaka said after Toronto’s first NBA championship. “This is for Canada, baby. You should be proud.”

And not only were Canadians watching, but they were buying.

The NBA said that online sales through the league’s official portals smashed records for the day following the end of a championship series, up more than 80 percent from the previous mark (set when Cleveland beat Golden State in 2016) and were more than 100 percent over sales on the day following the Warriors’ sweep of the Cavaliers last season.

The Raptors are planning a parade in Toronto on Monday, one that will likely take more than two hours.

“This means so much to our city and to many in Canada, and we are looking forward to showing everyone the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Monday,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “Bringing the NBA championship to Toronto is the realization of a goal for our team and for our players, and we are thrilled to be able to celebrate together with our fans.”

The newly crowned NBA champions, who won the title in Oakland, California on Thursday night, are expected back in Toronto on Saturday. They were planning to spend Friday night celebrating in Las Vegas.