In 2016, both the Pistons (who agreed to trade for him) and the Rockets (who agreed to match his offer sheet from the Nets) failed Donatas Motiejunas on physicals. He finally signed a prorated minimum contract with the Pelicans for 2016-17. He has spent the last two seasons in China. It has been rough for him.
Now, Motiejunas is somewhat surprisingly returning to the NBA.
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) Celtics continue to project confidence as defense falls apart weeks before playoffs. The Boston Celtics have eight games left before the playoffs begin — playoffs that almost certainly will start on the road in Indiana. This is when Boston should be building momentum and confidence for a deep playoff run…
The Boston Celtics have lost four games in a row. In that stretch their defense is fourth worst in the NBA, clustered around Memphis and Washington and other teams missing the postseason. In their last 10 games, their defense is bottom 10 in the NBA.
“I know we’ve been here plenty of times before saying the exact same thing — ‘We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it’ — but we can’t put extra extra extra stress and more weight on ourselves,” Smart said… “”We got to take a deep breath, breathe, just relax — and then go out there and have fun and play basketball.”
“I never worry about how we’ll respond,” said Irving. “We’ve proven that. We just have to be consistent with that and be committed to it, that’s all. We have a lot of great guys in this locker room and they are committed to winning. We have winners in this locker room as well, so I’m never worried about trying to go back and respond with these guys. They are a resilient group who have proven that for the last year and a half we’ve been together.”
“I don’t think we’ve given any reason to suggest that [Boston can figure it out] right now,” said Stevens “But I think, ultimately, we’ll see how the rest of this story plays itself out.”
Stevens asked for message to the fans: “We’re to the point where, rightfully so, we’ll be doubted. We’ve earned that. Now it’s time to buckle up and make a run.”
It’s better the Celtics are confident than panicking… but if Celtics fans wanted to panic, I wouldn’t blame them.
When Boston made it’s unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season (despite no Irving or Gordon Hayward) it was on the back of an elite defense. Tatum and Terry Rozier got deserved credit for stepping up and taking on the offensive load, but what kept the Celtics going through all of that was a defense that could slow any team down, anchored by Al Horford playing elite ball in the paint. That was the foundation of their success. It should have been again this season.
Now, that Celtics foundation seems built on sand. Boston was up 18 on Charlotte with less than nine minutes to go Saturday then gave up 30 more points the rest of the way and lost. The Celtics’ four straight losses are to three playoff teams and a Hornets team playing with the desperation of a team trying to hang on to its playoff hopes (keep reading down to item No. 2). Give those teams credit — and give
the Spurs credit for doing what they do and executing the game plan, and for LaMarcus Aldridge for just going off.
I can envision a scenario where Boston, playing a shorthanded Pacers team in the first round, gets pushed six or seven games but starts to find its groove and by the end is playing with the confidence and teamwork we saw last season. Those kinds of leaps can happen in the playoffs. Then the Celtics bring that increased level of play up against a Bucks team without that playoff experience (and maybe without Malcolm Brogdon) and suddenly Boston is dominating like the team we expected preseason. That absolutely could happen.
But watch the Celtics the past week or so and it’s hard to envision that scenario. We’re 74 games into the season and it feels a little late for “We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it.”
2) Charlotte will not let its playoff dreams die, even if it takes a Jeremy Lamb prayer to keep them alive. Saturday night the Hornets came from 18 points down to the Celtics to stay within two games of the Miami Heat and the playoffs.
Then on Sunday, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard looked like the closer the Raptors need him to be. Toronto was down 13 midway through fourth but went on 18-3 run to take lead, with Pascal Siakam (10 points in fourth) making plays Leonard hitting the shots when it mattered, including the apparent game-winner.
Then Jeremy Lamb did this from 48 feet.
Unreal. Siakam even made a good defensive play to tip the ball into the backcourt.
Watch Kemba Walker’s reaction in the last angle of that video — he had popped out from the far side and the hope was likely he would get the ball, but he was well defended. When Lamb took his shot Walker turns his back and throws down his arms in disgust. That was never going to go in… until it did.
Charlotte is still two games back of Brooklyn and Miami, who are tied for the 7/8 seeds in the East, and fivethirtyeight.com gives the Hornets just a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs. It’s still a longshot. But so was Lamb’s shot. Sometimes desperation heaves work out.
3) LeBron James drops triple-double, “I will not cheat the game.” The Lakers are out of the playoffs. There is more interest in who will coach the team next season (and who will be on the roster) than there is in the remaining games. For the sixth straight year, the Lakers are just playing out the string.
That didn’t stop LeBron from dropping a 29-11-11 triple-double on the Suns in a Lakers’ win Sunday night (Kyle Kuzma had 29, too).
LeBron is not going to cheat the game. He would never anger the game gods like that.
Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.
Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.
Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.
Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.
Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.
The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, YouTube hadn’t yet launched to the public.
LeBron had reached the postseason every year since 2005, when his Cavaliers went 42-40 and finished ninth in the East – another good marker. The last time LeBron missed the playoffs, it was so long ago, an Eastern Conference team could be that good and not qualify.
But his Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoff race Friday with a loss to the Nets.
That ends LeBron’s postseason streak at 13 years – tied for the 13th-longest of all-time. Karl Malone and John Stockton hold the record, each playing in 19 straight postseasons.
Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:
Obviously, LeBron joining the Western Conference put his playoff streak in greater jeopardy. And the Lakers’ fate has been known for a while.
Still, it’ll be a little jarring to watch a postseason that doesn’t include a player who ruled half the bracket for so long.
That said, LeBron might not have the longest playoff streak snapped this year. Tony Parker, who reached the playoffs in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, could fall short in his first season with the Hornets.
If Charlotte misses the playoffs, 76ers guard J.J. Redick is in line to hold the longest active streak at 13 years.
Here are the players with the longest active streaks that could continue this season.
Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets.
Players whose teams are currently in playoff position are in teal. Players whose teams are currently outside playoff position but not yet eliminated are in purple. Free agents who’d be eligible for the playoffs if they sign before the end of the regular season are in white:
There’s no reason to believe Manu Ginobili will come out of retirement. But he has played in every postseason since missing the entire 2009 playoffs due to injury. It’s technically possible for him to play in the 2019 playoffs and keep his streak alive.
Which is more than LeBron can say.
LaMarcus Aldridge: I keep telling Damian Lillard I’ll return to Trail Blazers
I keep telling him I’m going to come back and finish there. That’s something him and I have talked about — playing together again.
It’s great Aldridge and Lillard have found a deeper connection. Aldridge left Portland on bad terms. Quick’s story has many great details about Aldridge’s and Lillard’s relationship now.
But this is the type of thing players talk about far more frequently than actually comes to fruition. Will Aldridge actually sign with the Trail Blazers later in his career? Will they actually want him back? There’s a long way between this wistful thinking and a deal.
Aldridge’s contract doesn’t expire until 2021. He’ll turn 35 that summer. So much will change by then.
Still, it’s interesting to know how Aldridge is thinking now.