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Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis give Pacers non-stop production, long-term conundrum at center

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Last fall, the Pacers made Myles Turner a centerpiece by signing him to a four-year contract extension worth $72 million-$80 million. Turner has made good on that deal, even in a league overflowing with solid centers. He belongs in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation thanks to his strides in recognition. He has become a more reliable 3-point shooter. He’s delivering on his promise as a modern center.

“Knowing your future is set, knowing you don’t have to worry about numbers or anything crazy like that, just go out there and play,” Turner said, “it lifts a burden, for sure.”

Yet, Indiana backup center Domantas Sabonis has arguably outperformed Turner this season.

Sabonis said he was happy for Turner when Turner got his extension. However, the Pacers allocating all that money for Turner meant there might not be much left for Sabonis, who’ll be eligible for his own rookie-scale extension this offseason.

Or Indiana could pay both.

The Pacers have a good problem – too many good players. But it’s particularly complicated with multiple centers. That’s the position where it’s most difficult to play two simultaneously.

So, what will Indiana do with Turner and Sabonis?

The Pacers have enough financial flexibility to keep both. They could give Sabonis a sizable extension and continue to always play at least one quality center.

Yet, that could eventually come with drawbacks down the roster. Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans will all be free agents this summer. Decisions on those players must come in conjunction with a decision at center.

Turner, who seems more comfortable in the locker room since securing his long-term deal, said he has talked to Sabonis about Sabonis’ potential extension. Both players sound eager to continue together.

“I’m very happy here,” Sabonis said. “They play me in the way I want to be played. I feel like I’m effective. We’re winning. That’s the most important thing. And the culture – everybody here is like family.”

For now, the results are certainly impressive. Here are Indiana’s offensive, defensive and net ratings by center:

Player Off. Def. Net
Just Turner 106.8 103.5 +3.2
Just Sabonis 108.8 102.8 +6.0
Both 100.1 96.6 +3.5
Neither 102.9 105.0 -2.2

Turner is more of a pick-and-popper, Sabonis more pick-and-roller. So, the Pacers’ guards adjust depending on the screener, but the team’s scoring remains similarly effective with either center.

Turner protects the rim in a way Sabonis can’t. But Sabonis has gotten into better shape this season, and his higher energy level shows up on defense.

Sabonis will get outsized credit come award season as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Averaging 14.1 points and and 9.3 rebounds per game, he definitely deserves consideration. But if Turner (who averages 13.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game) came off the bench, he’d contend for the award.

Turner (29 minutes per game) and Sabonis (25 minutes per game) each warrant enough playing that it’s impossible to avoid them playing together. When they share the court, they wall off the paint, allowing Indiana to reach an elite defensive level.

But the Pacers score just well enough to keep their heads above water in those two-big lineups. Despite Turner’s and Sabonis’ differing offensive styles, there’s too much overlap in the space they like to use. Here are their shooting heat maps on shots from at least 10 feet:

shotchart (1)shotchart

The Pacers already do an excellent job of staggering Turner and Sabonis as much as possible. Those two increasing their minutes would mean much more time playing together. They’d inevitably more frequently face an opponent capable of exposing them, especially if Indiana advances in the playoffs.

Is it worth paying both?

No decision is necessarily imminent. Even without an extension, Sabonis won’t become a restricted free agent until 2020. On his relatively cheap rookie-scale contract, he’s a very affordable backup. The Pacers can keep him and Turner another season without compromising the rest of the roster.

But it’s often better to get out ahead of these things. The 76ers infamously kept Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor until trading Noel and Okafor for very little.

Of course, Philadelphia wasn’t any good with those three centers. There was no balance worth preserving.

The Pacers are 46-32 and tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with Turner and Sabonis playing major roles. Turner just turned 23, and Sabonis is only 22. Indiana is in a good place.

Eventually, though, the Pacers must determine how they’ll proceed at center.

Watch Eric Gordon’s 50-point night spark Houston win over Jazz on night Harden, Westbrook sit

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Eric Gordon scored a career-high 50 points to lead the short-handed Houston Rockets to a 126-117 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night despite playing without James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Danuel House Jr. added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Austin Rivers also had 21 points as Houston handed the Jazz their first home loss since Dec. 9.

Gordon became the first Rockets player besides Harden to score 50 points in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon had 51 in January 1996, according to STATS. Harden has done it 23 times since then.

Donovan Mitchell scored 36 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 30, but Utah lost for just the third time in 22 games despite shooting 51% from the field.

Gordon had his first game with more than 30 points this season. His previous career best of 41 came against Oklahoma City on Jan. 23, 2009. The veteran guard stepped up and filled the scoring void with Harden, Westbrook and Clint Capela sitting out.

Harden missed his second straight game with a bruised left thigh. Capela (bruised right heel) and Westbrook (rest) sat out after playing Sunday against Denver.

Their absence had minimal impact on Houston’s offense early.

Gordon bookended an 11-0 run with a dunk and a 3-pointer to give the Rockets an 11-4 lead early in the first quarter. Houston stayed in front throughout the period.

The Jazz went ahead with a 13-2 run to open the second. Mitchell scored three baskets to fuel the spurt, and Mike Conley drove for a layup to cap it off.

Gordon provided a spark to help Houston regain the lead. He totaled 15 points in the second quarter and helped the Rockets close the first half on a 17-6 run to take a 59-46 lead into the break. Thabo Sefolosha started and finished the run by driving for a layup.

Utah trimmed the deficit to 72-66 midway through the third on consecutive 3-pointers from Bogdanovic, but got no closer. Rivers and House answered with back-to-back baskets to stop the rally. That sparked a 15-6 spurt that gave Houston an 87-72 lead near the end of the quarter.

Watch Buddy Hield score career-high 42, rally Kings from 27 down past Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS — Buddy Hield scored a career-high 42 points to help the Sacramento Kings rally from a 27-point deficit for a 133-129 overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.

De'Aaron Fox scored 22 for the Kings, putting back the rebound of his intentionally missed free throw as part of a 33-11 run over the final 5:42 of regulation.

Andrew Wiggins had 36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Timberwolves, who lost their 10th consecutive game.

With the Kings down three with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, Fox made his first free throw. He intentionally fired the second off the front of the rim, grabbed his own rebound and laid it in to tie the game with 3.6 seconds left.

Hield scored 18 points in the final 4:36 of regulation on a night that featured tributes to his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. Fox scored 17 points in the second half and overtime. Nemanja Bjelica finished with 20 points.

The Timberwolves built their lead thanks to a franchise-record 23 3-pointers. Wiggins was 7 for 11 beyond the arc.

Robert Covington had 24 points and Karl-Anthony Towns added 23 for Minnesota. It was the first time three Timberwolves have scored 20 or more points in a game since Dec. 13.

To open the game, both teams honored Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash. Minnesota took an 8-second backcourt violation and Sacramento took a 24-second shot-clock violation on the ensuing possession. While taking the 8-second violation, Wiggins placed the ball on the free throw line where Bryant scored to pass Michael Jordan for third place on the career scoring list on Dec. 14, 2014, at Target Center.

Minnesota hit 10 of its first 15 3-point attempts and shot 14 for 23 from 3 in the first half. That set a franchise record for 3s in a half and helped the Timberwolves to a 68-50 halftime lead.

The Timberwolves honored Bryant prior to tipoff with words from Towns, a video tribute and a moment of silence. Towns wore No. 24 and Covington wore No. 8 while being introduced as part of the starting lineup to honor Bryant. They donned their regular Nos. 32 and 33 before the opening tip.

LeBron James on Kobe Bryant: ‘I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!!’

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Often on social issues (or just because it’s Taco Tuesday), LeBron James can be quick to post on social media.

With the death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others — in a tragic helicopter accident, it took LeBron some time. LeBron and Kobe were close, they won Gold Medals together and competed against each other at the highest levels of the game. There became close, even more so in the past couple of years when LeBron came West and joined the Lakers. LeBron got to know Kobe’s family — when Gianna was at a recent Lakers game, LeBron was asking her about her fadeaway (which looked a lot like her dad’s).

Understandably, it took a grieving LeBron some time to comment on what happened, but Monday night he issued his first public statement on the passing of Kobe through an Instagram post.

View this post on Instagram

I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life❤️🙏🏾 #Gigi4Life❤️🙏🏾

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

There’s nothing else to say.

James Harden, Russell Westbrook both sit for Rockets game vs. Utah

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When going up against a Utah team that has won 14-of-15, and outscored teams by 14.6 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, an opponent needs to be at full strength.

The Houston Rockets will be without James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the game. The Rockets have lost 5-of-7 heading into this game.

Harden will miss his second consecutive game with a thigh bruise. The rest ultimately may be good for him, Harden has struggled of late and looked a little worn down — in his last five games he’s averaging 23 points a game (13.1 below his season average), shooting 33.3 percent overall and 13.6 percent from three.

Harden is not expected to miss extended time, the Rockets play again on Wednesday vs. the Trail Blazers.

For Westbrook, this is a planned rest game. The Rockets are on a back-to-back and Westbrook took on a heavy load in Denver Sunday with 32 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and also 10 turnovers in the Houston loss.