Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Too much Kyle Kuzma, Lakers end Rockets streak

9 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ star rookie — Kyle Kuzma, who did you think we were talking about? — drops 38, Lakers end Rockets win streak at 14. Houston had won 14 games in a row due to the lethal combination of James Harden, Chris Paul, and a surprisingly good defense. Those three things have Houston on top of the Western Conference.

Only one of those three was there at the end against the Lakers. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate, dropping 51 points on just 27 shots, plus dishing out nine assists. The Beard was brilliant.

However, Chris Paul left the game early in the fourth with what was later called a strained left adductor, which is part of the groin muscle family (this is not related to his former knee injury and he is day-to-day now, but expect him to miss at least a game or two, those can be easy to re-injure if not fully healed). The Rockets’ defense missed Clint Capela inside (he has a bruised calf, according to the team, or a sore heel, according to beat writers). Houston came into the game with the seventh-best defense in the league, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions this season, but the “D” took the night off, allowing Los Angeles to score 117.4 per 100.

A lot of that was Kyle Kuzma. The rookie dropped a career-high 38 on Houston, leading the Lakers to the 122-116 win.

Kuzma was 7-of-10 from three, leading a Lakers team that shot 32.8 percent from three before Wednesday (dead last in NBA) to hit 42.9 percent on the night. The Lakers also got a big game from Corey Brewer, as the veteran had 21 points off the bench and made big plays in the fourth.

The Lakers are playing hard — they took the Warriors to OT the other night, they were feisty against the Cavaliers the game before that, they took the Knicks to overtime the game before that. This time they held on to the lead. Lonzo Ball‘s decision making is improving, the game is clearly slowing down for him, and his shot is improving (slowly, but improving). Brandon Ingram is becoming a more aggressive scorer. The Lakers are defending better than expected (tied with the Rockets at 103 per 100 for the season). This team is showing improvement, which is what Lakers fans should have hoped to see this season.

For the Rockets, losses happen, they just need to get CP3 back soon.

2) The Kelly Olynyk revenge game — he drops career-high 32 on Celtics, leads Heat to win.
Don’t make Kelly Olynyk angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The usually reserved big man was chirping at the Boston bench on his way to dropping 32 on the best defense in the land, hitting 6-of-8 from three, and in a close game he scored the Heat’s final eight points, holding off a late charge from the Celtics (who were down 11 with 2:40 left) to get the 90-89 win.

Marcus Smart was blunt after the game, “Kelly kicked our ass.” Still, Boston fought back and almost pulled it off, Kyrie Irving got a clean look at a leaning game-winner near the elbow and just missed it. The Celtics are now 3-3 in their last six. Jayson Taytum dislocated his pinky in this game but said he expects to play Thursday.

Miami is in a fight for one of the final playoff slots in the East (they are currently the nine seed, half a game back of New York), and this is a quality win in that chase.

3) Thunder win handily, are over .500 for the first time since Halloween. The Utah Jazz, without Rudy Gobert (again) and on Thursday without standout rookie Donovan Mitchell, look like a demoralized team. They have lost three in a row (and 7-of-8 overall) as they go through the toughest stretch of their schedule this season shorthanded.

For a Thunder team trying to find an offensive groove, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Oklahoma City cruised to a 107-79 win over the Jazz behind 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists from Russell Westbrook. OKC was sharing the ball, making the extra pass to the open man, and basically playing like Billy Donovan has wanted the team to all season. We’ll see if it lasts as the schedule gets tougher (Houston on Christmas Day, for example), but this is what the Thunder needed.

Oklahoma City is 16-15, over .500 for the first time since Halloween, and if the playoffs started today they would be the six seed, 2.5 games clear of the nine-seed Jazz. The Thunder are on pace for a 49-win season (according to Ben Falk’s stat site Cleaning The Glass), which may have been a little short of lofty preseason expectations but likely would be the four seed in the West and having home court for the first round, and that’s better than the start of the season had this team looking.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert on Kyrie Irving trade: “We killed it in that trade”

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The Cleveland Cavaliers had no choice but to trade Kyrie Irving back in 2017. Irving asked to be moved, and if he hadn’t been there were threats of knee surgery that would have sidelined him much or all of the next season (he didn’t get that surgery, but then missed the 2018 NBA playoffs due to those knee issues).

The trade they took was with Boston: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 1st round draft pick (which became Collin Sexton) and eventually a 2020 2nd round pick. At the time that didn’t seem bad because we didn’t yet grasp the severity of Thomas’s hip surgery — but the Celtics did. Once Cleveland’s doctors got a look at Thomas the trade was put on hold until more compensation was added, which proved to be the second-round pick.

Looking back now, the Cavaliers didn’t fare well, with all due respect to Sexton (who made the All-Rookie second team). Although that’s to be expected, nobody gets equal value back when trading a superstar.

That’s not how Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sees it, speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” said Gilbert. “We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves Koby made, we killed it in that trade.”

“Killed it?” I didn’t think the kind of stuff Gilbert must be on was legalized in Ohio yet.

This is a matter of semantics. Was it about as good a deal as GM Koby Altman was going to find at the time? Yes. Again, at the time we thought Thomas would return midway through the next season and be closer to the guy who was fifth in MVP voting the season before than the guy we ended up seeing (which is still a sad story, hopefully Thomas can get back to being a contributor next season somewhere). Crowder was in the rotation on a team that went back to the NBA Finals. Sexton showed some promise as a rookie, maybe not as much as some Cavaliers fans think but he can play.

But “killed it?” To quote the great Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Mike Budenholzer no fan of Drake’s free run on Toronto sideline

Getty Images
7 Comments

Drake is the Mayor of Toronto.

Actually, he does fewer drugs than some former mayors of Toronto, and Drake was not elected, but he’s The Mayor in any meaningful way. The man can do whatever he wants.

Such as walk up and down the sidelines of a Raptors game with impunity, and give Nick Nurse a massage during the game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has much bigger things to worry about — such as were Eric Bledsoe misplaced his shot — but somehow during his conference call with the media on Wednesday, before a critical Game 5, Drake was the topic of discussion. Budenholzer is not a fan of Drake getting to patrol the sidelines. Via ESPN:

“I will say, again, I see [Drake talking to Raptors] in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach,  I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court. I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

Drake responded on Instagram, first with a post that had a series of emojies, and then during an Instagram Live post where he liked a comment to his post where part of it was: “If you don’t want the opposing team to celebrate and dance, prevent them from scoring, winning, or achieving their objective.”

My guess is the league (and maybe the referees before Game 6 in Toronto) will reach out to Drake and tell him he can’t go Joe Biden on a coach during the game, and to stay near his seat. This is precisely the kind of distraction from the game that fans love to talk about and annoys the league office, which wants the focus on the court.

Personally, the more personality around the game, the better. It’s entertainment people, enjoy the show.

Knicks president Mills says Porzingis threatened to return to Europe if not traded in seven days

Getty Images
4 Comments

If you thought the Knicks thrashing or Kristaps Porzingis on his way out the door was over, well, you haven’t been paying attention to the Knicks.

Team president Steve Mills was at a Knicks fan forum on Wednesday and was asked about the Kristaps Porzingis trade and dropped this bomb: Porzingis gave the Knicks the ultimatum of “trade me or I’m going back to Europe.”

“When he walked into our office, my office, and Scott [Perry, Knicks GM] was sitting there with me, and point blank said to us, ‘I don’t want to be here, I’m not going to re-sign with the Knicks, and I’ll give you seven days to try and trade me or I’m going back to Europe.'”

To be clear, Porzingis had to mean going back to Europe to work out and hang out, he could not have played professionally this season. European clubs honor commitments to NBA contracts — they will not sign and play a guy under an NBA contract — the same way the NBA does with European clubs (as well as China and all FIBA leagues).

Saying he wasn’t going to re-sign makes things clear for New York, it’s one of the reasons the NBA touted the “super-max” contract extensions because teams would find out earlier about player intentions. The Europe part, he could have signed there this summer, but the most a European team would pay him would still be more than $20 million less his likely next NBA contract (the top Europeans players make less than $3 million annually). But sure, go ahead and believe Porzingis would leave that money on the table.

For the Knicks brass, speaking in front of Knicks fans, this was the chance to make themselves look good — “see, we already had a good trade in place” — and thrash the guy they had been selling as the franchise savior a year before. It’s all about perception.

The Knicks have a lot of cap space this summer and their perception as a front office will hinge on what they do — or do not do — with it.

Porzingis landed in a good spot with Luka Doncic in Dallas, and the Mavericks will give Porzingis a max contract. Then it’s on him to earn it.

New Suns coach Monty Williams: ‘I’m here at the right time, and I’m here with the right people’

AP Photo/Matt York
4 Comments

PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns have gone through coaches like tear-away racing visors, the count up to five in five years.

The instability has hurt them on the court, the run of playoff-less appearances stretching to nine straight seasons with this year’s 19-63 finish.

Monty Williams, the man GM James Jones hired to coach the Suns, hopes to change the trend.

“Continuity, having a staff here for a while and putting in a system that the players can rely upon, but ultimately it will come down to James, myself and the players pushing this thing forward,” Williams said during his introductory news conference Tuesday. “The players are going to have to embrace a level of work and commitment that it takes to be a champion.”

Williams was hired on May 3 to replace Igor Kokoskov, who was fired after one season in the desert.

Williams’s arrival in Phoenix was delayed while he finished out the playoffs as an assistant to Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. The 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs last week by Toronto on Kawhi Leonard‘s hang-on-the-rim buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Williams’ name had been linked to numerous head coaching jobs, including the Lakers, but he wound up in the Valley of the Sun after multiple discussions with Suns owner Robert Sarver.

“In my conversations with Mr. Sarver, I saw someone who didn’t duck the tough questions,” Williams said. “We both had tough questions for each other and in this day and age where people throw each other under the bus, make excuses, blame, I didn’t see that. I saw a man who really wants to bring success to this city and I mean that with all of my heart or I wouldn’t have come here.”

Williams had a previous stint as an NBA head coach, leading New Orleans from 2010-15. A year after he was fired, Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was killed in a car crash.

He didn’t know if he wanted to get back into coaching after her death, but was pushed by his kids to return to coaching the sport he loves.

“When everything happened to my family, my focus was just take care of my children,” said Williams, who has remarried. “That led me to believe I might not ever be able to coach again, and I was cool with that. But they weren’t. And to have your children want you to go back to doing what you love to do gave me even more confidence, more strength. Hopefully that translates and the players can pick up on that.”

The Suns have been known as a dysfunctional franchise, but were lauded for landing Williams, a well-respected, well-rounded coach.

Williams played nine NBA seasons with New York, San Antonio, Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia. He’s been a head coach, an assistant and spent two years in San Antonio’s front office.

“His experience in all facets of basketball as a coach, player development on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball, in the front office gives him a unique perspective that I think is well suited for our franchise,” Jones said.

In the Suns, Williams takes over a young team with two star-quality players at its core: Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

Booker has developed into one of the NBA’s best scorers, leading the Suns with 26.6 points per game. He had five 40-point games the final month of the season, including 50 and 59 in consecutive games.

Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft and didn’t disappoint, shooting 59% while averaging 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Phoenix should add to its talent base with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft.

“There’s so much room to grow,” Williams said. “I think we have a young team that’s learning how to win and they will and I have to do my job. I have to enhance the strengths but be honest about our weaknesses and get the players to consider a new way of doing some things. I think I’m here at the right time and I’m here with the right people.”