Associated Press

Three Things to Know: LeBron’s injury apparently not serious. Warriors weren’t serious either.

13 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) LeBron James injury apparently not too serious. Warriors weren’t serious either on Christmas. It was almost the Nightmare on Christmas for the NBA — the game’s biggest star, LeBron James, going down, saying he heard a pop, right in the middle of a prime-time game on Christmas Day.

After NBA Twitter — and more than a few Lakers fans — freaked out for a while, it appears things are not that bad for LeBron or the Lakers, it’s a muscle injury, a groin strain.

LeBron reportedly was in a good mood after the game and the team says he is day-to-day right now. After Wednesday’s MRI the doctors will have the final say on a timeline, but it doesn’t look like LeBron will miss extended time (my guess, a week or two, that’s the standard with these types of injuries). The Lakers are 5.1 points per 100 possessions worse with LeBron off the court this season, and he is by far their best shot creator in the half court. The Laker can’t go without him for long, but may not have too.

No LeBron for most of the second half and the Lakers still handled the Warriors with ease, 127-101. Best Laker win of the season.

There are two non-injury takeaways from this game.

First, don’t take much away from this game. It’s December, we’re not halfway through the season. Golden State is still struggling with its bench and second units (they got smacked at the start of the second and fourth quarters, lineups that still had Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out there). The Warriors had another game where they didn’t bring a playoff-level intensity when their opponent did. When the energy isn’t there is shows on defense for the Warriors — slow rotations, miscommunication on switches, a casualness on closeouts. Add to that the Lakers just hit shots at a likely unsustainable rate (streaky Lance Stephenson 4-of-4 from three, Ivica Zubac 9-of-10 shooting). This is what you get from the Warriors during the middle of the regular season. They are not fully engaged and are beatable. Nobody should doubt they will find a groove for the playoffs, but right now even LeBron James on Christmas Day can’t bring the fire out of them.

Second, the Lakers do have guys who can ball outside LeBron. Kyle Kuzma (19 points) and Josh Hart (12) have been doing it all season long — those guys are decisive and just know how to finish — but Zubac (18 and 11), Rajon Rondo (15) and everyone else stepped up, too. Plus, the Lakers defend pretty well. LeBron is still the leader, the fulcrum on offense and the guy who sets the tone, but the Lakers have other guys who can make plays around him, a nice core, and those guys stepped up on Tuesday.

2) No Celtic can get buckets like Kyrie Irving, he took over against Sixers and got Celtics OT win. Part of Boston’s problems early in the season was the lack of a clear pecking order. After last season and the playoff run, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown thought they deserved more touches, same with Terry Rozier, Al Horford has to get his, and now Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injected back into the mix. It was a lot of mouths to feed and not everyone was getting the portions they wanted.

There’s a pecking order now, and it starts with Irving getting to eat all he wants. He had 14 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, including the bucket that forced OT, and much of that was with a good, physical defender in Jimmy Butler draped all over him.

This was a quality win for Boston. The Celtics’ recent 8-game win streak came against a softer part of the schedule and now they are in the middle of a test against good teams — and they passed this one. This was not a game Boston likely won earlier in the season but they are genuinely finding an identity now, their defense is still elite, and they have a guy in Irving who can get buckets with the best of them. In the playoffs, that matters.

Philadelphia should come out of this feeling positive, there were good signs. Joel Embiid struggled against the Celtics and Horford last playoffs, he had 34 points and 16 assists in this one (he did better against Horford but really feasted on Daniel Theis). J.J. Redick will do his thing every game (although he was 1-of-6 inside the arc), Wilson Chandler is probably the fifth best player on the team and was solid for them (as he usually is) and the bench was okay in its minutes. Jimmy Butler had 24 points but on 9-of-21 shooting. Philly can be a little better, they do need more depth (GM Elton Brand is working the phones heading into the trade deadline) but the Sixers forced OT on the road with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago. This matchup should not scare Philadelphia right now.

3) James Harden scores 41 and the Rockets are 2-0 since Chris Paul went down. Do not sell short what James Harden did on Christmas Day. Yes, it took him 34 shots to get to his 31 points, but he had Paul George — an elite defender playing the best basketball of his career — inside his jersey most of the night. Harden still found a way to get a little space and get buckets.

Harden has scored at least 30 points in 7 straight games and is carrying the offense — and the Rockets back into the playoffs. For the past couple of weeks, Harden has been back to his MVP form.

He had some help. Austin Rivers stepped into some Chris Paul minutes and played good defense, plus hit a couple of threes in the fourth. Eric Gordon and Clint Capela put up numbers (but neither were efficient on the night). The Houston defense is improving.

OKC can make a case for being the second best team in the West right now (Denver is the other team that can stake a claim) — the Rockets went on the road and beat the Thunder. And without CP3. Going into the season, we thought the Rockets would be the second best team in the West again. Maybe they are, it just took a while to get there.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr: Klay Thompson unlikely to play this season

1 Comment

Warriors general manager Bob Myers and Klay Thompson himself both said Thompson would be out until at least the the All-Star break.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr is putting an even longer timeline on Thompson’s recovery from a torn ACL.

Kerr, via Logan Murdock of NBC Sports:

“It’s unlikely that he’s going to play this year,” Steve Kerr recently told NBC Sports Bay Area in an exclusive interview that will air at 1 p.m. PT Tuesday in “NBA Season Tip-Off,” only on the MyTeams app. “So we have to understand that.”

“You have to look at it realistically,” the Warriors coach said. “I had an ACL [tear] in college, and I missed a whole season. Generally, an ACL for a basketball player is a full-year recovery, and if it’s a full year for Klay, that puts them out for the season.

“We’ve kind of left the door open in case the rehab goes perfectly and the doctors say he can go. But the reality is, on April 1, that’s the nine-month mark. … April versus nine months post-op for an ACL.

I don’t know when Thompson will return. Kerr doesn’t know when Thompson will return, though Kerr has for information than me. Each injury recovery is unique, and Thompson will heal in his own time.

Still, this is a FAR more reasonable expectation than most prognostications for Thompson. There was a lot of wishful thinking tied into the idea he’d return sooner, usually accompanied by a narrative about him sparking the Warriors to a deep playoff run with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. ACL tears nearly always sideline players longer than that.

Most teams also give high-end estimates for injury absences. That delays potentially distracting questions and makes the player look good if he returns sooner than the announced projection. Golden State might have learned its lesson after doing the opposite with Kevin Durant last postseason.

But this also sounds more realistic than anything previously coming from the Warriors about Thompson’s injury.

Western Conference, NBA Finals predictions: Is another title coming to Los Angeles?

Leave a comment

The NBA season tips-off tonight night, which leaves us time for one last thing:

Our Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and yesterday we laid out who we thought would win the East. Today we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Western Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Denver
2. Utah
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Houston
5. L.A.Lakers
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. San Antonio
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Philadelphia

I’ve never gone into a season less confident in my predictions. For example, I think Dallas has a very good shot at the eight seed (maybe Sacramento, too), but I simply cannot pick against the Spurs. The order of these teams could easily shift, the West will be so close that just losing a star for a few weeks to a sprained ankle could dramatically change a team’s seeding. I’m comfortable that systems and continuity will keep Denver and Utah at the top of the regular season standings, but the playoffs will feel completely different. The Los Angeles teams are better built for the postseason than anyone else (although I think Utah has a chance to crash the party). I trust the depth and the wing defense of the Clippers more than the Lakers, so Doc Rivers will get back to playing in June. For the Finals, I’ll take the Clippers over the Sixers, but I don’t say that with a lot of confidence.

Dan Feldman:

1. Houston
2. Denver
3. L.A. Clippers
4. L.A. Lakers
5. Utah
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Milwaukee

There’s a rare divergence between teams prepared for the regular season and teams prepared for the playoffs, which makes this prediction difficult enough. Adding to the complications: The West is so deep, leaving few postseason locks. For some teams, a few moderate breaks in either direction could make the difference between making the Western Conference finals and missing the playoffs entirely.

The last playoff spot was an extremely tough call between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Kings weren’t that far behind, either. Kawhi Leonard just showed an ability to get through the regular season and bring elite production to a deep postseason run. LeBron James has done it the previous several years. That’s why the Clippers and Lakers get so much benefit of the doubt. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis is a better second star than the Clippers’ Paul George, but I have more trust in the Clippers’ depth — from the front office to the coaching staff to other players.

Dane Delgado:
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.

Everyone is picking the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, and for good reason. This is not just a team that lumped together several superstars trying to make a playoff push. This time around, it’s a bit different. Los Angeles was already a solid team before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived and their most important players from last year — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley — are all back. Doc Rivers, whose reputation as a coach was in question heading into last season, has solidified is legacy simply by what he could squeeze out of this the Clippers team last season. If L.A. can make it to the Western Conference Finals this year, it would not surprise anyone. The real question will be health. Leonard has shown he is willing to battle through various ailments to perform on the highest stage, but George’s shoulders are a real concern. Still, if you were placing bets on the best team in the west, it makes sense to go with the team that’s been able to stay intact while at the same time adding to generational superstars. It may be a bridge too far to pick the Clippers to win the NBA championship in 2020, but it’d be a safe move at this juncture to slot them in as the West champs.

Michael Jordan says Stephen Curry is not a Hall of Famer, yet

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
3 Comments

Three-time NBA Champion. Two-time MVP. Six-time All-NBA. Six-time All-Star. Scoring champion. And the best pure shooter the game has ever seen, a player whose style helped revolutionize the way the game is played. A player idolized and imitated by youth on blacktop courts around the globe.

Even if he quit the sport today and walked away, Stephen Curry is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer…

Unless you ask Michael Jordan.

Jordan just did a few interviews around the opening of a medical clinic he paid for in Charlotte to help the underserved, and Hoops & Brews caught this gem in Jordan’s interview on NBC’s The Today Show (the key part is at the 3:40 mark). There is context, but still….

Yes, he is.

Technically Curry can’t be let into the club until five years after he retires, and at age 31 he’s got a few more good years in him — including this one, where he could have an MVP-level season. However, in practical terms, he is in. It’s not close. Done deal. Move along, nothing to see here.

It’s good the NBA games are starting because we need things to talk about other than this silliness.

 

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”