LeBron James clarifies for Enes Kanter ‘who always got something to say:’ Shot at Phil Jackson, not Frank Ntilikina

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LeBron James said the Knicks should have drafted Dennis Smith Jr. No. 8 last year. Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter took offense on behalf of Frank Ntilikina, whom New York actually drafted No. 8. (Smith fell to the Mavericks at No. 9.)

LeBron said he intended to disrespect only Phil Jackson, the former Knicks president who feuded with LeBron and drafted Ntilikina.

LeBron, via Cleveland.com:

I wasn’t throwing shade at Frank at all. People that got their pants in bunches and things of that nature here in New York, they look for any controversy here. And I was basically stating what I saw in Dennis Smith and what I saw from him and him coming out of and watching the draft and thought that he would be a great fit here with Porzingis. And that’s not to saying that Frank won’t be a great fit. I haven’t seen much of him. I knew about him from my best friend who I went to high school with who actually played with him overseas the last couple years.

But it’s the same if – i think Deshaun Watson should be a Brown. Doesn’t mean that Myles Garrett is not going to be a great football player. But Deshaun Watson should have been our quarterback.

It’s the same thing. It’s not you s—ing on the next guy. It’s just that you’re stating what you see. That’s all that is, for clarification of people who just live in the box and for Enes Kanter who always got something to say, who says – I don’t know what’s wrong with him.

Was LeBron taking a shot at Phil Jackson?

Oh, yeah. It’s definitely a shot at him. That’s for sure.

I know what Dennis Smith is capable of doing, and I knew the Knicks was looking for – have been looking for – a point guard. Am I stating things that’s false? No? This is facts, right? So, I thought they would pick him, and they didn’t. But, like I said, it’s no shade at Frank. I don’t even know the kid. I wasn’t even thinking about the kid when I was talking about Dennis Smith. I was thinking about just the Knicks organization and Phil Jackson at the time and Dennis Smith’s talent and Porzingis, and that’s all I was thinking about.

I’m just stating facts. That’s all. Have you seen Dennis Smith play? Have you all seen him play? So, get out of here. Y’all tripping here. Why we tripping here? Next question.

Phil was just a small piece of – he was a big piece of it, actually. I don’t have no problem with the Knicks organization. I wasn’t here. So, I don’t know the insights and everything. I’m a fan of the game, as well. It’s great when the Knicks, the Celtics and the Lakers our great in our league, all at the same time. It’s best for our league.

So, LeBron will sign with the Knicks, Celtics or Lakers next summer?

We read far more into LeBron’s comments than any other player. He’s the NBA’s best player and sometimes gets passive-aggressive. That invites deeper dives into his remarks (and memes).

I doubt LeBron intended to diss Ntilikina, but the draft is a zero-sum game. If the Knicks took Smith, they couldn’t have taken Ntilikina. LeBron did implicitly say Ntilikina should have gone lower.

But LeBron is excellent at influencing the news cycle. Look how adeptly he turned the conversation to criticizing Enes Kanter (accurately) , Phil Jackson and the Cleveland Browns about Deshaun Watson vs. Myles Garrett – topics that will generate far more interest than Ntilikina.

Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr: ‘I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy’

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The Rockets beat the Warriors in a pivotal Game 5 last night, taking a clear upper hand in the Western Conference finals.

Unless you ask Golden State coach Steve Kerr.

Kerr:

I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I’m seeing out there, and we defended them beautifully tonight. We got everything we needed. Just too many turnovers, too many reaches, and if we settle down a little bit, we’re going to be in really good shape.

It could be argued Golden State is outplaying the Houston overall. The Warriors have outscored the Rockets by 25 in the series. A couple different breaks in Houston’s three-point Game 4 win and four-point Game 5 win, and Golden State might be up 3-2 or even have won the series already.

Plus, Chris Paul is injured. Whether Paul misses games or is just slowed, that favors the Warriors.

But it’s not an indisputable fact Golden State is outplaying Houston. The Rockets missed a lot of open 3-pointers last night, and I wouldn’t credit the Warriors defense for that. Houston is controlling the style of play. And I don’t think the Warriors can divorce their good shots from the turnovers Kerr believes can be eliminated by just settling down. To generate good shots against the Rockets’ switching defense, Golden State must run a high-degree-of-difficulty set of actions – mixing in slipped and set screens, cuts in different directions and risky passes. Reducing exposure to turnovers would just lead to the isolation game Kerr wants to avoid.

More importantly, the Warriors are down 3-2. Even if they’re playing slightly better than Houston, winning two straight games is very difficult in this situation. The series won’t be decided by which team outplays the other over the next two games. Golden State advances only if it wins both.

This is the 182nd time a team has trailed a best-of-seven series 3-2 with a Game 6 at home and a theoretical Game 7 on the road. The trailing team has won the series just 8% of the time. In fact, the trailing team has usually lost in Game 6.

The history of the Warriors’ situation:

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The list of teams to come back is so short, we can present the entirety of it:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State Warriors in 2016 Finals
  • Brooklyn Nets over Toronto Raptors in 2014 first round
  • Orlando Magic over Boston Celtics in 2009 second round
  • San Antonio Spurs over New Orleans Hornets in 2008 second round
  • Utah Jazz over Houston Rockets in 2007 first round
  • Detroit Pistons over Miami Heat in 2005 conference finals
  • Los Angeles Lakers over Sacramento Kings in 2002 conference finals
  • New York Knicks over Miami Heat in 2000 second round
  • Houston Rockets over Phoenix Suns in 1995 second round
  • Washington Bullets over Seattle SuperSonics in 1978 NBA Finals
  • Phoenix Suns over Golden State Warriors in 1976 conference finals
  • Baltimore Bullets over New York Knicks in 1971 conference finals
  • Boston Celtics over Los Angeles Lakers in 1969 NBA Finals
  • Boston Celtics over Philadelphia 76ers in 1968 division finals
  • Philadelphia Warriors over St. Louis Bombers in 1948 BAA semifinals

This isn’t so much about holding home-court advantage. It’s that the team with home-court advantage got it by being superior throughout the regular season.* Even if we all know Golden State coasted during the regular season and is much better than its 58-24 record, the Rockets proved themselves to be darn good, too.

*Though the Cavaliers and Celtics also fit this scenario, I don’t find the history of similar series nearly as telling for the Eastern Conference finals. Without Kyrie Irving, Boston isn’t the same team that secured home-court advantage with its strong regular-season play.

Maybe the Warriors will win the series. They’re arguably the most talented team of all-time.

But even if we grant Kerr’s implication that they’re outplaying Houston, that’s not nearly enough to consider it likely they’ll win two straight games before the Rockets win one.