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5 Up, 5 Down: It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the Balls are at it again

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There are many happy things happening in the NBA. Gerald Green is here and playing for the Rockets, something I never thought I would see. His hair is incredible, and the fact that Houston has things together and is somehow sort of likable despite combining Chris Paul and James Harden together is sort of unbelievable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love CP3 and Harden is a genuine talent, but their games can be sort of grating to watch night in and night out thanks to their flair for trickery. That’s a nice way of saying it.

In any case, much has gone on since we last talked over the holidays, so without further ado.

5 Up

Gerald Green shows the Rockets are serious

You could have laughed all you wanted to about Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey admitting that the team is obsessed with beating the Golden State Warriors. Because SECRECY and STOICISM helps keeps your opponents in the dark, right? Just ask any football coach locking down practices and turning on cell phone jammers.

But the Warriors are the big target, not only out West but in the NBA. It was always obvious. That’s why it sort of made sense that Gerald Green was a big hit for Houston after he signed with the team in late December. A complete shot in the dark showed that, yes, Morey was serious about being obsessed with beating the Warriors, even if it meant grabbing a former dunk contest champion off the couch to shoot a bunch of 3-pointers. Plus, it just might work.

The continued development of Kyle Kuzma

Our very own Dan Feldman wrote a nice piece about Kuzma recently as we continue to track his progression. Kuzma has stepped out of Lonzo Ball‘s shadow, and is no longer just the Lakers’ “other rookie”. Lakers fans have even become — gasp — reasonable in their All-Star voting, and at last count Kuzma was ahead of Ball and at 9th place in the All-Star ballots.

Gerald Green’s hair

Seriously, this deserved it’s own item on this list. Just look at this masterpiece that reportedly takes two hours to complete:

Y’all know I had too! @sandrasbraids

A post shared by Gerald Green (@g.green14) on

The Spurs tried to trade for Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has been great for the Boston Celtics this season, and he’s a legitimate MVP candidate. But originally it was the San Antonio Spurs, not the Celtics that came calling for the All-Star guard.

Keep your skeptical hat on, but if Irving really wanted to play for Gregg Popovich that’s a maturation that would be in line with what we’ve seen in short work for Boston. As Kurt pointed out in the article linked above, it’s unclear how the Spurs would have been able to grab Irving and that it would be fascinating to watch a high-maintenance star like Irving play for Pop.

That time Kyrie responded to coaching feedback by saying “that’s No. 23’s job”

OK, let’s hope that maturation thing for Irving has legs to it because if not … yeesh. Irving manages to somehow be one of the most interesting boring dudes in the NBA. He’s an elite scorer and dribbler, but doesn’t have the kind of magnetic personality you expect to go along with the top player on a championship team with those traits. If he didn’t start espousing about the non-spherical nature of the planet Earth we’d probably pay a lot less attention to him.

But now this comes out? My ears are perked.

5 Down

LaVar Ball is at it again

Lonzo Ball’s dad says some dumb things as a means to market screen printed Gildan shirts that apparently have a high rate of never coming to your doorstep should you order one.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have asked LaVar Ball to tone down his criticism of Luke Walton, which Ball failed to do recently in an interview with ESPN. Ball again criticized Walton, and those comments actually made Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle so incensed that he fired back at ESPN for following Ball around.

An interesting conversation has sprung up regarding journalistic responsibility — especially when Ball says so many things that are blatantly untrue — and the fact that simply publishing Ball’s quotes devoid of context, factual rebuttal, or opposing comments from those involved is likely not the best choice.

These jerseys

Refs not realizing this was a basket by Manu Ginobili

In case you missed this one, here’s what happened. Manu Ginobili attempted an alley-oop against the New York Knicks. The ball promptly went through the basket, and then Michael Beasley tried to take off and start the fastbreak.

Refs didn’t realize what had happened, and had to be convinced by Gregg Popovich yelling at them (even though Pop admitted he didn’t see the play, either) to take a look at the replay. Come on, man. Casual NBA fans already have enough referee fodder.

Ron Baker‘s got a broken face

Uh huh. Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.

That dunk that Anthony Davis slammed down on Ron Baker — who was valiant both in his attempt to stop Davis’ dunk and for taking a forearm to the face — resulted in a fractured orbital bone for the Knicks wing. We like to see big dunks but we don’t want to see people get hurt. Wait, is this a football blog?

Isaiah Thomas came back and then a bunch of dumb stuff happened

It’s nice that Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas came back recently after a hip injury kept him out for most the season thus far. He’s played well, and the Cavaliers will definitely benefit from having him on the floor — if they don’t trade him before the deadline, of course.

The main issue is everything that happened after Thomas had his first game back against the Portland Trail Blazers. In playing that game, Thomas had to skip the second night of a back-to-back and thus miss a return game against the Celtics on the road. At his request, the Celtics didn’t run a highlight tape they had planned to put on the video board before the game, instead moving it to the next time the teams play in February. Boo hoo.

But if the hubub about that wasn’t enough, then Paul Pierce decided to jump in with conflicting opinions about whether he wanted the video shown at that Feb. 11 matchup. Pierce is having his jersey retired by the team that night, and initially said he didn’t mind if some attention was given to Thomas. The next day, Pierce was on a preview show and said that he actually did mind it, and would prefer if Boston gave him the Kobe treatment instead.

Thomas said he felt the whole thing was pretty stupid (my reading) and I suppose we will have to wait another month to see if emotions rise high again. Boston fans have to stop flaming IT, man.

Lance Stephenson on why he blew in LeBron’s ear: “I was really trying to get him mad”

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Lance Stephenson and LeBron James are teammates with the Lakers.

It’s not something anyone would have seen coming back in 2014 when Stephenson blew in LeBron’s ear, creating a meme for the ages and adding to the legend of Stephenson. From the moment it happened, people have asked: “What was Stephenson thinking?”

“I was really trying to get him mad, really trying to win the game, get him unfocused,” Stephenson told The Score in an interview (video above). “And I was trying anything, and for you to do something to somebody and they don’t respond, they keep continuing playing hard, it’s like: ‘yo, how do I…’ I was just trying to find stuff… LeBron was such a good player, you know, I was trying to do anything to get him frustrated. It’s going to be different, being friends with LeBron, you know what I mean?”

We do, because Stephenson did other stuff over the years, like tap LeBron on the face, trash talk LeBron, and kicking him in the “groin,” and those antics occasionally worked.

LeBron has said before he could put that behind him and play with Stephenson, but of all the signings the Lakers made this summer this was the one that left people around the league scratching their heads. In part because of the history between the two, but more because of Stephenson’s history outside of Indiana — he’s struggled. Badly. Now he’s going to be put in a tight role on a team with high expectations and ridiculous levels of scrutiny. Is this really going to work?

It’s just a one-year deal, the Lakers set themselves up to chase another star (via trade or free agency) and that remains the priority. Everything else is just window dressing. But man, there could be quite a show in that window with the Lakers this season, that’s a lot of big personalities in one space.

 

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. guesses Vince Carter’s first NBA season was in 1987 (video)

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Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. insisted he meant no disrespect to Luka Doncic after liking an Instagram comment that called the Mavericks rookie overrated.

But this is darn sure disrespectful toward Vince Carter.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype:

Carter – who signed with the Hawks for next season – entered the NBA in 1998. He’s old, but he’s not that old.

Hawks rookie Trae Young: ‘I know there is a lot on my plate’

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The Grizzlies plan to bring No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson along slowly.

No. 5 pick Trae Young won’t have the same luxury.

After picking Young, the Hawks traded Dennis Schroder, their incumbent starting point guard. Though Atlanta also dealt for Jeremy Lin, Young knows where he stands.

Young, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Unlike Memphis, the Hawks aren’t trying to win now. They can ride through Young’s highs and lows.

Though I’m quite high on Young, I also expect him to struggle next season. Most rookies do, especially point guards. And the small Young could face an especially tough adjustment to NBA size and athleticism.

But he seems to be embracing the challenge with the right attitude, giving himself the best chance of emerging on the other side ready to lead an NBA team.

76ers’ Ben Simmons: ‘We’ve got to get past Boston. Those are the guys at the top right now’

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After winning the Eastern Conference the last eight years, LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers has created a power vacuum in the East.

The Celtics, Bucks, Wizards and Pistons have staked their claims as teams ready to fill the void. The Raptors announced themselves with their trade for Kawhi Leonard.

But 76ers forward Ben Simmons isn’t ready to put Philadelphia atop the Eastern Conference hierarchy.

Simmons, via James McKern of SportingNews:

“We’ve got to get past Boston, those are the guys at the top right now. Beating them, that’s our next goal,” Simmons said.

“Obviously getting further than the second round and winning the Eastern Conference Finals and then moving on to the Finals.

This is a surprisingly restrained approach by Simmons. Many of his peers are talking bigger.

But the 76ers belong behind the Celtics, who beat Philadelphia in the second round last year. The 76ers could pass Boston. They just must prove it. In the meantime, Simmons is paying the Celtics proper deference.

Don’t forget about Toronto, though. Though Boston and Philadelphia were poised to own this next era in the East, Leonard reinvigorates the Raptors. If he’s healthy, they belong at the top with the Celtics.