Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Don’t laugh at idea of Cleveland, San Antonio Finals


If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while…

1) LeBron James drops triple-double, the Cavaliers feel like the class of the East. The Atlanta Hawks appear have taken their foot off the gas and are coasting into the playoffs (they are 5-5 in their last 10, although they did destroy Brooklyn in their last game). Then every time you watch the Cleveland Cavaliers they seem to be just a little bit better, a little more cohesive and comfortable. All this doesn’t mean too much — the last time the Hawks played the Cavaliers Atlanta took them to the woodshed. Still, it feels like the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East right now. You can pick apart the win over the Bulls Sunday — no Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich and it was still a single-digit game — but the Cavaliers just seem superior. Especially when LeBron is dropping triple-doubles, Timofey Mozgov is playing like a beast, and J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving and hitting half courters.

2) Consider this your 536th reminder the San Antonio Spurs are legitimate title contenders. You can’t read too much into one regular season game ever. This one included — this is not necessarily an indication of how a seven-game series turns out. That said, the Warriors had won 12 in a row, and the Spurs beat them handily, 107-92. It’s a reminder the Spurs are back if nothing else. The Spurs offense took apart the Warriors defense. The Spurs defense challenged the Warriors shooters — Klay Thompson was 3-of-11, Draymond Green 2-of-11. Yes, MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry was in the game but KAwhi Leonard was the best player on the court hands down. And Leonard did this to Curry to set the tone.

3) Paul George returns and suddenly the Pacers look far more interesting. Paul George returned from his horrific leg injury to the delight of Pacers fans, and every basketball fan everywhere. He scored 13 points, but with him in the lineup the Pacers throttled the Heat and with that tied Miami for the nine seed in the East, just one game back of eight seed Boston and one-and-a-half back of Brooklyn. The Pacers are still in this with 10 days left, and they just got a huge boost.

4) Could Memphis lose out on home court in the first round? After Sunday’s play, Memphis is the three seed in the West, and if you want to look on the bright side just one game back of Houston for the two seed. However, they also are just half-a-game game up on the five seed Clippers and one ahead of the six seed Spurs. (Portland is the four seed, with a worse record than all of them, but can fall no lower than the four seed because they won the Northwest Division. Why do we have divisions in the NBA again?) As David Aldridge of TNT pointed out, the Clippers have a soft schedule the rest of the way that includes a game against Memphis. Right there also the Spurs are surging. If Memphis continues its recent stumbles, they could end up the six seed in the West and starting the Western Conference playoffs on the road.

5) James Harden and Russell Westbrook dueled. Houston won because they are the better team. It seems we write this daily, but Russell Westbrook recorded another triple-double with 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. But as it has been of late, it wasn’t efficient, and it wasn’t enough. James Harden had 41 points, Dwight Howard was strong inside, the Rockets had 54 points in the paint (the Enes Kanter dillema), plus the Rockets had 26 points in transition. OKC did better in the second half and made the game intesting, but in the end it couldn’t stop Houston from doing what it wanted to do. The Rockets are just the better team and picked up the win to show for it. But this was fun to watch.

Kevin Durant tells Bill Simmons to “Just let it go” after James Harden tweets


However Kevin Durant felt when the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets in 2012, he wishes people would stop talking about it. He responded to a series of tweets from ESPN’s Bill Simmons on Sunday by telling him to move on.

Simmons has been outspoken in his criticism of the Harden trade for three years, and in retrospect, it was a disaster for the Thunder. Harden is an MVP candidate in Houston, and Oklahoma City hasn’t gotten much from anybody involved in the deal except for the lottery pick that turned out to be Steven Adams. The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry published a column on Sunday examining the still-running debate over the three-year-old trade. Simmons had some thoughts in response:


None of that is unreasonable, nor is it anything Simmons — and others — haven’t written a million times since the trade. But one of the people most impacted by the deal, Kevin Durant, is tired of hearing about it.

You can see why Durant and the Thunder are sick of the debate. They made the Western Conference Finals last year without Harden, and looked to be among the favorites in the west this season before injuries to Durant and Russell Westbrook, among others, destroyed their title hopes.

Kevin McHale will increase Dwight Howard’s minutes limit to 24 on Sunday


Since missing 26 games recovering from a knee procedure, Dwight Howard has played in four of the Rockets’ last six games. However, he hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in any of them. That’s going to change on Sunday afternoon, when the Rockets play the Thunder. Slowly but surely, Howard’s minutes are increasing.

From the Houston Chronicle‘s Jenny Dial Creech:

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he would increase Dwight Howard’s minutes to 24 on Sunday against Oklahoma City.

Howard is still under a minutes restriction, but McHale said he is planning to give him a little more playing time. In the last two games he played, Howard was limited to 20.

“His knee feels good, but I think he is getting frustrated with his minutes limitations,” McHale said. “Until we get a free reign to go, we will try to play him just a little more in the next game. He is still under a minutes limitation.”

Obviously, the Rockets would love to have Howard playing without a minutes restriction of any kind during the playoffs. But in the meantime, it’s a good sign that McHale is getting the green light from the team’s trainers to steadily increase his time on the court.

Timberwolves shut down Ricky Rubio for remainder of the season


Ricky Rubio has been officially shut down for the remainder of the season, Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders told reporters after the team practiced on Saturday.

With only six games left in the regular season, and given the fact that Rubio has missed the last nine games, the news shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

From Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

Coach Flip Saunders said Rubio’s sore left ankle – originally injured in Orlando Nov. 7 – was not responding well enough to treatment and that there was still soreness there.

“He’s just got soreness in that ankle,” Saunders said. “So they want to rest [it], take care of it. There is no use of him playing. We thought, with what we were doing, that he would get relief. And he’s not getting relief. So we want to make sure there is nothing else happening in there.”

Rubio appeared in a total of 22 games this season, averaging 10.3 points per game – right around his career average – and a career-high 8.8 assists per game. But his shot continued to be a problem; Rubio’s shooting percentage (35.6 percent) was a career low.

The shooting is a real concern for Rubio; one could easily go through his shot attempts from this season and compile a “James Harden bad defense” style video that would likely go just as viral.

Hopefully for the Timberwolves (and for Rubio’s NBA career), the injury will turn out to have been the cause of his regression more than anything else.

Minnesota is not tanking this season; Saunders has adamantly said as much. But if he were to employ that strategy, keeping Rubio sidelined the remainder of the season would be the way to go, in order to ensure the lineups remain as anemic as possible.

John Wall sits entire fourth quarter, still posts career-high 18 assists in win over Knicks


John Wall played just 29 minutes in Washington’s win on Friday, but that was more than enough to dish out a career-high 18 assists against the dismal New York Knicks.

From Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

“Everybody on the team was just trying to tell me to get 20,” Wall said. “That’s one of my goals, trying to get 20. I keep falling short.” …

“I always try to be a pass-first guy except in certain situations when I have to be aggressive and start scoring for the team,” Wall said. “But that’s my mindset going into it – to get everybody into a rhythm pretty early. It makes the game a lot easier closer to the end of the game when guys start double-teaming and I’m missing shots. Those guys can help close out games with me.”

Wall and the rest of the starters weren’t needed to close out Friday, which meant he didn’t have a chance to reach 20 assists. He was fine with it.

“I didn’t care,” Wall said. “I wanted to get some rest.”

Wall has really elevated his game this year, and he may not be getting the attention he deserves with so many players (James Harden, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and even LeBron James)  having truly ridiculous seasons.

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