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Three Things to Know: Utah looks like a team figuring it out. Houston… not so much.

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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) Utah looks like a team figuring it out. Houston… not so much. There were hints of optimism in both the Jazz and Rocket locker rooms heading into a Thursday night TNT showdown. Utah had won 3-of-4 since the Kyle Korver trade with better spacing in their offense, and as a team they were knocking down shots and defending better. Houston was finally healthy — Chris Paul, Nene, and the rest were back — and rested, and after a couple of recent wins thought they were turning the corner.

The question Thursday was “are the changes for real?”

For Utah, the answer appears to be yes. For Houston… there is a lot of work to do. The Jazz blew the Rockets out 118-91.

At the heart of this outcome was the genuinely improved Jazz offense (fourth best in the NBA over the last five games) picking apart the struggling switching defense of the Rockets (fifth worst in the NBA this season).

In the second round of last year’s playoffs, Houston’s switching defense stymied the Jazz offense and was critical to a 4-1 series win. Utah’s coaching staff spent the offseason studying how to better attack the trend of switching defenses and their work was on full display Thursday. Utah focused on getting James Harden (or other smaller defenders) switched onto Derrick Favors, then had the Jazz big pound them inside on the roll, to the tune of a game-high 24 points. Utah also used crisp ball movement (credit Ricky Rubio) to pick apart the missed help rotations (or Clint Capela just playing back to protect the rim) to get clean looks from three.

Houston may be getting healthy, they may have defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik back on the bench, but their defense remains a mess and is going to hold them back until it improves. The Jazz are playing smarter and better of late, but any good offense is going to pick that defense apart right now.

None of that is what people are really talking about out of this game.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert was ejected 2:47 into the contest when, after two very questionable calls (the second an obvious flop by Harden), he vented his frustration by knocking drinks and powder on the scorer’s table onto the court.

Gobert gets his share of the blame here — he lost his cool and that kind of swipe knocking stuff off the scorer’s table is going to mean an ejection every time. He owned up to that after the game.

If you know me, you know I generally scoff at all conspiracy theories (alien abduction, Bigfoot, frozen envelops, 9/11, George Soros’ plans, and the list goes on), but I buy into this theory that was popular on NBA Twitter Thursday: The referees in this game were targeting Gobert after he got a $15,000 fine for calling out officials for treating the Jazz like a small market team and saying “Every night has been the same s***.” Referees protect their “fraternity” because they don’t think the NBA league office does it well enough. So Gobert was hit with a bad foul call on literally the opening tip, then picked up a quick second on the Harden flop. The NBA league office will push back on all of that, but to me, it’s pretty obvious. A message was being sent, then a frustrated Gobert played right into it.

What’s most important for the Jazz is they didn’t let it change how they played — if anything it fired them up. Utah stuck to the game plan, and Houston has plenty of flaws to exploit right now.

2) LeBron James reportedly wants Carmelo Anthony on the Lakers. Does L.A. want that? Since the other games last night were duds (Utah/Houston kind of was, too), let’s talk about what everyone seems to be talking about:

LeBron James reportedly would like Carmelo Anthony to join the Lakers.

Anthony is currently in limbo, on the Rockets roster but away from the team, not playing while both the Rockets and his agent look for a landing spot. ‘Melo could be waived by the Rockets right now, however, if no team claimed him off waivers the over-the-tax Rockets would be stuck with his salary on their books. Houston wants to avoid that. So, they are looking for a trade, something that cannot happen for him until Dec. 15 because he signed last summer. It’s a holding pattern.

This new rumor/report strikes me as LeBron wanting to help out a friend, although LeBron and his camp reportedly think Anthony could help the Lakers. In theory, yes he could, but Anthony could have helped the Rockets if he was willing to accept a role (coming off the bench) with limited minutes and touches. He couldn’t and didn’t. Let’s be blunt: Anthony is at the point with his declining game that he is a role player in this league — a future Hall of Famer, no doubt, but right now that’s not where his game is at. He has, by all accounts, not accepted that reality and wants a bigger role and to be treated with the deference of a star. Is that what the Lakers want to bring into their locker room?

The Lakers have a full roster, they would have to waive someone to make room for Anthony, and before the season the Lakers were one of the teams that was clear they didn’t think he fit with where they were headed.

There is one interesting thing to watch out of this: Just how much leverage, how much power does LeBron have in the organization? He has not made a formal request to management about ‘Melo, and likely will not, but his desire is out there now. In Cleveland, where LeBron signed a series of one-year deals to keep pressure on Dan Gilbert and his franchise, they might have acquiesced to keep LeBron happy. But in Los Angeles LeBron signed a 3+1 contract, he’s back next season no matter what. Will the Lakers still give LeBron what he wants? I’d be surprised, but it’s worth watching.

3) Just how valuable is the three-point shot to winning? Maybe not as much as you think. In the first great book on NBA analytics — Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper — he put forward the “four factors” that were key to winning games, which is now accepted as common knowledge around the league. The biggest key is shooting (he used eFG%), second was turnover percentage, third was defensive rebounding (in large part as a way to measure forcing missed shots), and then getting to the free throw line.

How much has the onslaught of threes in the NBA changed that? Not much. NBC’s own Tom Haberstroh did the math correlating box score stats from every game this season to winning and the results were one for the old school.

With that in mind, the most important stat on the traditional box score is … field-goal percentage! Basketball purists, rejoice! If you shoot better from the floor than your opponent, you’re probably going to win the game. In fact, teams this season are 246-69 (.781) when they win the FG% column….

The team that won the defensive rebound battle is the next-most likely to win, going 225-71 (.760) this season. Don’t believe it? Look at the league’s top defensive rebound teams: Milwaukee, Philly, Portland, L.A. Clippers, — yeah, they’re really good this season!…

All right, 3-pointers have to be the next most pivotal category in the box score, right? Nope. Plain ol’ field goals made is still more important than the 3-ball. The team that reigned supreme in the field goals column went 225-72 (.758), regardless of where they took them.

We can keep going. Turns out that assists (.699), rebounds (.690) and 2-point field goal percentage (.689) are still more tied to the win column than 3-pointers made.

This does not mean Gregg Popovich’s obstinance is entirely right because the math is still 3>2 and if you live on a heavy diet of midrange jumpers while your opponent gets good looks at the three ball, you’re in trouble.

But it does mean the simple things are true: Hit more shots than your opponent and you win. It seems obvious, but sometimes we can get away from all that, and this is a reminder not to.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan playfully slaps Malik Monk for premature-celebration technical foul (video)

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Malik Monk ran onto the court to celebrate Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner last night.

One problem: The game wasn’t over.

Lamb’s jumper put the Hornets up two with 0.3 seconds left, and the Pistons were trying to inbound. Officials called a technical foul, and Detroit made the free throw. But Charlotte still held on for the 108-107 win.

The situation created a few tense moments, though. While officials reviewed the play, Hornets owner Michael Jordan playfully slapped the back of Monk’s head a couple times.

Zach Aldridge of WCCB:

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure those slaps were playful until Jordan and Monk smiled afterward. Jordan is an intense competitor. He once punched then-Bulls teammate Steve Kerr in the face during practice. I bet there was an element of actual warning behind Jordan’s slaps, even if they were mostly joking.

Why did only Monk receive the treatment? He drew the most attention for running onto the court – but just because he stayed at least somewhat near the bench. Bismack Biyombo was practically at halfcourt! Ashley Holder:

It’s amazing Biyombo escaped the owner’s wrath. Does Jordan know how much he’s paying Biyombo?

Watch Warriors be given SI’s Sportsperson of the Year tonight on NBCSN

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Traditionally, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award is given to a… person. Last year it was the NFL’s J.J. Watt and the MLB’s José Altuve splitting the award. Before that it was LeBron James, or Serena Williams, or Madison Bumgarner, or Peyton Manning. All individuals.

This year, Sports Illustrated stepped out of the box and gave the award to a team — the Golden State Warriors.

Tonight you can watch the Warriors receive their award, at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN or on the NBC Sports app.

In addition to the Sportsperson (or, team) of the Year there will be other awards presented, such as the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, SportsKid of the Year, and three separate awards given to athletes who inspired, amazed and surprised the entire sports universe in 2018.

Teams have won the award before — the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox — but it’s rare.

Why the Warriors? I’ll let the eloquent Chris Ballard of SI explain.

There are myriad reasons Sports Illustrated is honoring the Warriors with its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year Award. For sustained excellence, business innovation and cultural impact. For injecting joy into the game and setting fire to conventional wisdom. For winning with a center built like a forward, a point guard built like a featherweight and an offense predicated on the idea that stars want nothing more than to pass the ball to someone who will pass the ball to someone else who might shoot from 27 feet. For thinking the game and speaking out. For being fun to love and fun to hate. For rewarding the stubborn faith of the Oakland fans, not only with titles but also a basketball purist’s approach. And, of course, for always keeping things interesting.

The Warriors are all that. And it’s fitting to honor them as a team, not individuals, because that’s what makes them unique. Stephen Curry sets the tone and culture (plus hits ridiculous threes) but Kevin Durant is their best player, Klay Thompson is magical, and Draymond Green is both the emotional leader and the defensive glue that makes it all work. They are all great players, but they are the perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

They deserve the award. As a franchise.

Tune in tonight and watch them receive the honor.

Three Things to Know: Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch

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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) Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch. Kyrie Irving has hit big shots before — he’s hit bigger ones on much bigger stages than he did Wednesday. This was just a reminder that Irving has that thing all the great clutch players have: He’s got the same stroke with the same confidence, the same mentality, in the final minute of a close game he does in the second quarter of a blowout. Irving doesn’t flinch. Nothing gets bigger or smaller, he just makes his play.

Against the Wizards Wednesday Irving made his play in overtime, scoring a dozen points in the frame and draining two clutch threes to get Boston its seventh straight win, 130-125 over a pesky Wizards team.

There’s nothing John Wall could have done better on either of those (and Wall had his best night of the season with 34 points and 13 assists). On the first three he was right up on Irving, into his jersey and taking away space right at the arc, and it didn’t matter. Good offense beats good defense. On the second three, Irving has range but only Stephen Curry gets guarded that far from the hoop.

The final minute of overtime — with neither team calling time out — was rare and a thing of beauty.

It should be noted, Irving doesn’t get to play the hero without big nights from Marcus Morris (27 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart (18 points, nine rebounds, some quality defense).

Boston has won seven in a row, and while they’ve done it against a softer section of the schedule: 1) you’ve got to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat; 2) it’s building confidence for when the schedule gets tougher again.

The Celtics look like a team that is back. It’s just a lot more crowded at the top of the East than we expected.

2) Anthony Davis makes his MVP case willing Pelicans to victory over Thunder. It’s not fair to say that Anthony Davis single-handedly beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night. Jrue Holiday did have 20 points and 10 assists — but he also had two crucial turnovers late that almost sank the Pelicans.

New Orleans is not deep, has holes in its roster, but when Anthony Davis plays like this — 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting,18 rebounds, and he got to the free throw line 11 times and hit every shot — they can hang with anyone. Because Davis is that good. He is in the early MVP conversation for a reason.

This was Davis’ second straight game of 40+, he did that to Boston a couple of nights earlier. He is just a joy to watch this season because he is playing at such a high level on both ends.

3) Toronto makes its case, sweeps season series by crushing Golden State at Oracle. Warriors fans went full on peak Shaq/Kobe spoiled Lakers fans Wednesday night — they just left the game early. Better to beat the traffic and go get some drinks/go home and go to bed rather than watch Toronto just pick apart the Warriors any longer.

And make no mistake, the Raptors picked apart the Warriors. Their game plan was well crafted, executed even better, and the Raptors defended beautifully all night.

Toronto came into Golden State in what was touted as a potential Finals preview, but right now only one of these teams is playing like a team hungry and building toward a championship. And it’s not the reigning champions. The Warriors had one of their disinterested nights, a game where they turned the ball over 17 times and shot 23.1 percent from 3-point range.

Do that against the Raptors right now and they will thrash you — which is exactly what happened. Even without Kawhi Leonard (out for a second straight game with a hip injury). The Raptors are defending and executing at a high level right now, so much so they are 7-1 without Leonard in the lineup. Serge Ibaka’s redemption tour continued with 20 points and 12 rebounds as he destroyed anyone the Warriors threw at him. Kyle Lowry had 23 and is all the way out of his slump (that showed against the Clippers the night before).

Danny Green may have been the most underrated pickup of the summer (coming from San Antonio in the Kawhi trade) and added 15.

But mostly, it was the Raptors defense, which held the Warriors to a 93 points per 100 possessions pace, that got them the win.

If these two teams meet in the Finals — and that is a real possibility, with Leonard this should be a different Toronto team in the postseason — the game will not look like this. It will be a fully engaged Golden State squad, one that can also roll out DeMarcus Cousins. But right now, the Raptors are building good habits and building confidence toward that moment.

The Warriors are just waiting to flip the switch.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jeremy Lamb drained a game winner… that his teammates almost screw up with celebration. Usually we’d just be celebrating Jeremy Lamb’s game-winner — and marveling that someone other than Kemba Walker could hit a clutch shot for Charlotte.

But in this case, it’s the celebrations of Bismack Biyombo and Malik Monk — running out onto the court with 0.3 seconds left and getting a technical that put the result in doubt again — that became the story.

First, that’s an amazing shot by Lamb because he has to adjust, Walker’s pass is not on target.

But if you watch the video, you can see Biyombo almost out at midcourt to grab Lamb before the ball is inbounded. He was so far out on the court that the refs probably didn’t see him and called the technical on Monk. Michael Jordan was none too pleased.

But because the Pistons were out of time outs, the Hornets survive and get the win.

Phoenix council postpones vote on Suns arena renovation

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PHOENIX (AP) — The City Council has postponed a vote on a proposed $230 million renovation of the Talking Stick Resort Arena that would keep the Suns in downtown Phoenix.

The council agreed unanimously Wednesday to postpone a decision until Jan. 23 so residents can attend five public meetings to be held around Phoenix to discuss the project.

Suns owner Robert Sarver reportedly threatened to move the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas if not given enough public funding.

Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley says the organization looks forward to the public discussions and to answering any questions about the proposed renovation.

The deal would revamp the nearly 30-year-old arena, the oldest in the NBA that is not currently being renovated.

The Suns agreed to a 40-year lease in 1992, but the deal included a provision for the team to opt out at 30 years.