12/7/17 – A Constant Masterpiece

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

The Cleveland Cavaliers notched their 13th straight victory, tying their franchise record, by defeating the Sacramento Kings, 101-95. They needed a fourth quarter rally, and the reliable heroics of LeBron James to do it. With the game tied at 95, he provided the difference, hitting a runner of the glass, then draining a three. He finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks on 12-18 shooting.

In our Game of the Night, the Celtics outscored the Mavericks, 50-33 in the second half, to come away with a 97-90 victory. Boston was missing Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown, but Terry Rozier (12 points, 9 rebounds), Daniel Theis (7 points, 11 rebounds) and Shane Larkin (11 points) all played well off the bench to help offset their absences. Of course, when it was time to put the game away down the stretch, it was Kyrie Irving who took over, scoring seven points of his 23 points in the final few minutes of the game.

Irving described his approach in clutch moments by saying, “It’s just a constant masterpiece that you have to paint. Sometimes it’s going to be all scribble and stuff like that, it’s OK to get out of the lines.”

In their first game without Steph Curry, the Warriors turned to Kevin Durant, who did not disappoint. He submitted a triple double, with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Warriors took care of business with a 101-87 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s fun when you get to create and be creative out there, whether it’s passing to JaVale for a lob or shooting a pullup or a jump shot — all the stuff that you work on in those situations,” explained Durant. “Tonight, it felt like I could go in my bag of tools, my bag of tricks to pull some stuff out. I don’t expect it to be like that every single game, but tonight I thought it called for it.”

The Pacers found themselves trailing the Chicago Bulls by 15 points with nine minutes remaining in the game, but Victor Oladipo rescued them, capping off a fourth quarter comeback by pulling up and nailing a three with 31.1 seconds on the clock to give the Pacers their first lead of the game at 97-96.

“Nobody stopped me,” said Oladipo, who finished with 27 points and 8 rebounds. “I could’ve kept going and drove into the defense, or pull up for the 3, shoot the ball with confidence. That’s what I did.”

His big shot saved the Pacers from an embarrassing home loss to the lowly Bulls, who are now a despicable 3-20 on the season.

DeAndre Jordan sprung for 18 points and 21 rebounds, and Danillo Gallinari returned for the injury ravaged Clippers, but he shot a yucky 2-13 from the field, and Los Angeles lost, 113-107, to the Timberwolves.

“It’s very difficult,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s frustrating. Nobody likes to lose. We’re losing a lot of games.”

He’s not wrong. Los Angeles is now 8-15 and trade rumors are swirling around Jordan, as is speculation as to how long Rivers will remain the coach.

As for the Timberwolves, they’re headed in the opposite direction, and seem on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They were led by Karl-Anthony Towns and his 21 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks on 9-14 shooting.

The Milwaukee Bucks kicked off the fourth quarter with a 14-1 run, but still had to sweat out a 104-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons. Eric Bledsoe helped keep the Pistons at bay, hitting a clutch jumper and tipping in his own miss in the final minute of the game, before the Bucks clinched the game by hitting their free throws.

The win came despite Andre Drummond’s 27 points, 20 rebounds and 6 assists on 12-16 shooting in yet another magnificent performance. Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Bledsoe finished with 22.

After starting 14-6, and catching the attention of NBA fans and followers, the Pistons have now lost four in a row, just in time to have to face Golden State and Boston this weekend, two teams that will be looking to avenge prior losses to Detroit this season.

Still without Anthony Davis, the Pelicans got a huge performance from DeMarcus Cousins, who led them to a 123-114 victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets. Cousins exploded for 40 points and 22 rebounds, and Jrue Holliday contributed 27 points and 7 assists.

The Nuggets, who are missing more than just one key player, now also have to deal with a pissed off coach. The loss, which dropped Denver’s road record to a paltry 3-9, inspired some harsh words from Mike Malone.

“It’s becoming the same story every single night. And until our guys start taking it personally, until our guys start understanding the importance of playing defense and guarding your man 1-on-1, forget playoffs. That is a word we should not use with this team. Let’s just talk about being real honest. We are a bad basketball team on the road. We are a very good team at home. Unfortunately, in the NBA, you have to play 41 games on the road, and right now we are a bad road team.”

This loss could also come back to haunt them in April, as the Pelicans and Nuggets are fighting for position in the Western playoff race.

With just six seconds left, DJ Augustin knocked down a three pointer to force overtime between the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks. From there, his Magic were able to come away with a 110-106 victory. Evan Fournier led Orlando with 27 points, but he also injured his ankle on the first possession of overtime. X-rays were negative, and he’ll be reevaluated today. Nikola Vucevic added 22 points and 16 rebounds for the Magic, while Aaron Gordon provided 24 & 15. Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists.

Last but not least, the Knicks earned a 99-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at Madison Square Garden, and the Spurs defeated the Heat, 117-105.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz (10:30 pm, Turner Network Television)

The Jazz have been dealing with a mess of injuries this season, but they’ve hung tough, winning seven of their last nine games. They’re living proof of that good coaching and chemistry can enable the sum to be greater than the parts. Of course, they’ve got a real challenge on their hands tonight, with the Rockets paying a visit. Houston has won seven in a row, and 13 of their last 14 games. Their high powered offense will get a good test against the defensive minded Jazz, and it should be worth staying up late for.

 

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12/1/17 – Thrill Barton

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

The Cleveland Cavaliers won their tenth straight game, defeating the lowly Atlanta Hawks, 121-114. Dennis Schroder had 27 points and 5 assists for Atlanta, while Marco Belinelli came off the bench to score 22 on 8-11 shooting. It mattered not, as Kevin Love sprung for 25 points and 16 rebounds, and LeBron James chipped in with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 12 assists on 8-11 shooting.

“We know it’s 10 because everyone talks about it and everyone’s on social media and things of that nature,” said LeBron after the game. “But we understand how we got here. And that’s defense and the way we’ve been playing offensively. … If you win 10-plus games in any sport, major sport, that’s very, very good.”

The streak is the longest current winning streak in the NBA, and the Cavs will look to keep it going on Saturday against the struggling Memphis Grizzlies.

“Saturday, it’s another struggling team, and we understand that,” James added. “But we understand we’re going to get their best in Memphis, so we look forward to the challenge.”

The Denver Nuggets, already without Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler, were dealt another blow last night when Nikola Jokic injured his ankle. It happened towards the end of the first half when he stepped on Jerian Grant’s foot, badly turning his ankle. He was fouled on the play, and was slated to shoot free throws, but he instead tried heading straight to the locker room. The Nuggets had to call a timeout, and veteran Richard Jefferson had to corral him, and explain that if he left the game without shooting his free throws, he’d be unable to return for the rest of the night.

“It was chaotic. It was a timeout, and he was saying he was done,” said Jefferson. “I was like, ‘Dude, if don’t go and shoot the free throws, one, the other team gets to pick who shoots them, and two, if you go back in the half and you start feeling a little better, you can’t come back.”’

It ended up not mattering. After Jokic sank his two throws, he left the game and was not seen again, finishing the night with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 15:55 of action. Thankfully, X-Rays were negative, and hopefully, all he has is a sprain. He’ll be looked at again today.

As for the game itself, it came down to a wild finish in the final seconds. First, Chicago’s Kris Dunn drove to the hoop for a layup with 9.6 seconds left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead. But then…

Will Barton finished the night with a career high 37 points off the bench on 13-19 shooting, taking over in the absence of Jokic.

“There’s Will Barton and there’s Thrill Barton,” said Nuggets coach Mike Malone. “And tonight you saw Thrill Barton.”

“I was telling my teammates give me the ball and get out of the way,” said Thrill Barton after the game.

It was a big win for the Nuggets, who had to finish the game without their entire starting front court. A loss at home to the lowly Bulls would be too much to take, but Barton ensured that at least for one night, panic was averted. That being said, Denver cannot afford to go any significant amount of time without Jokic, who leads them in points, rebounds and assists.

In our Game of the Night, the Celtics pulled away from the Sixers down the stretch for a 108-97 victory. Kyrie Irving scored 36 to lead Boston, and as he often does, led the charge as the C’s put the game away.

“Some guys think a lot quicker than others. I was just fortunate enough that my mind works a lot quicker than other people in the fourth quarter,” explained Irving, whose quick mind has been known to postulate that the world is flat.

Marcus Smart had high praise for his teammate, and a comparison to last year’s heroics from Isaiah Thomas.

“It’s tremendous. Like I said about Isaiah, sometimes you just get caught watching the way he’s able to score the ball. [Irving] came in and it is refreshing to see a guy come in and give you what you need. He gets to where he wants to go. He doesn’t stop until he gets there. When you’ve got a player like that, it’s hard to stop.”

Al Horford added 21 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists on 9-12 shooting for Boston. The Sixers played without Joel Embiid, who is still restricted from appearing in the second night of a back to back.

Rounding out the night, the Jazz defeated the Clippers, 126-107, in a battle between injury plagued teams, and the Bucks got a win on the road in Portland, 103-91.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Detroit Pistons at Washington Wizards (7:00 pm, League Pass)

The Wizards, a team that considers itself a major player in the East (just ask them), have stumbled out of the gate, and are currently without the services of John Wall, a predicament that might send them spiraling further down the Eastern standings. They’ve lost five of their last seven as they suffer through these trying times. Meanwhile, much has been made of the Pistons fine play of late. Winners of four of their last five games, they seem to be getting better and better each night. They’ll be looking to continue the trend against a team currently headed in the opposite direction.

Another intriguing matchup is between the Raptors and the Pacers. Toronto’s been flying under the radar a bit this season, but they’ve won six of their last eight and have been looking like their usual solid selves. The Pacers will be looking to bounce back after a big loss to the Rockets, which snapped them back to reality after having won seven of their last nine coming into that game. Nevertheless, they’ve been one of the league’s pleasant surprises this season, and they’ll face another good test against the steady Raptors at 7:30 pm on League Pass.

 

 

11/29/17 – A Bad Taste In My Mouth

Before we get to last night’s action, we must catch up on some news. First of all, as you know by now, Memphis fired coach David Fizdale just a day after Marc Gasol voiced his displeasure at a lack of playing time down the stretch of Sunday’s 98-88 loss to the Nets. While it’s been noted that Gasol and Fizdale did not see eye to eye, the move was still shocking. Fizdale is well respected as a coach, and had done some good things in Memphis. However, this season is starting to look like a lost season for them. Their myriad injury issues have finally caught up with them, and they’ve lost eight straight games.

“Nobody likes to be in the situation we’re in,” said Gasol. “And we were not finding a way to win collectively. We were breaking apart. Me and David didn’t see everything eye-to-eye all the time. But we both had the same intentions of making the team a collective, really strong unit. We couldn’t find a way to do that.”

As for whether or not Gasol asked ownership to fire Fizdale, the Grizzlies center explained, “I never try to accomplish anything like that. I always have (the coach’s) back… It’s shocking but it’s the nature of this business. Next time, it might be me. Next time it might be somebody else. The franchise is bigger than any player or coach. We’ve all got to be ready.”

JB Bickerstaff will step in as interim coach for the rest of the season, something he did back in Houston, when the Rockets fired Kevin McHale.

The Los Angeles Clippers, whose season was already entering a downward spiral thanks to a slew of injuries, received more bad news yesterday. Blake Griffin will miss the next two months with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Already without Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic and and Danillo Gallinari, the Clippers have been struggling to stay afloat, and suffered a nine game losing streak. Now, without their best player for the next couple of months, things are about to get significantly worse.

“Listen, you don’t want injuries,” said coach Doc Rivers. “And when you have them, you just got to pull within and see if you can steal each game. That’s where we’re at right now. Every game is a game that we have to try to get and that’s where we’re at.”

Even before Griffin’s injury, people had started to speculate whether or not Doc Rivers time in LA could be approaching its end. He’s not one for adversity or rebuilding, and with DeAndre Jordan trade rumors starting to surface, the Clippers might at least be exploring the rebuild option.

“It’s definitely tough, but I can’t give up on my teammates,” said Jordan to Bleacher Report. “I’ve got to stay positive, and hopefully it will turn around.”

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

LeBron James was ejected for the very first time in his career in the Cavs 108-97 victory over the Miami Heat.

As it turns out, LeBron was given just one technical, but whatever he said was enough for the ref to feel like he needed to toss him out out of the game.

“I got fouled all the way up the court, from the time that I stripped him, all the way until I got to the rim. I said what I had to say and then I moved on, but he decided I should get [ejected]. It is what it is. We got the win, and that’s what’s most important,” explained James, who finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals on 10-16 shooting.

Dwyane Wade (17 points, 5 rebounds off the bench) shared his two cents on the ejection, saying, “I mean, I just thought it was quick. I mean, a player like him, you give him the benefit of the doubt. He says something, you give him a tech, kind of walk away and let him calm down. That’s it. That’s all I got on that.”

Kevin Love led Cleveland with 38 points and 9 rebounds on 10-16 shooting and 14-17 from the free throw line. Most of that damage was done in the first half, where Cleveland built up a 75-49 halftime lead. Their big start made it possible for them to ensure survival without the ejected James, as Cleveland was outscored, 48-33, in the second half.

The Bulls were able to make things interesting after falling behind by 15 in the fourth quarter, but ultimately, they fell to the Phoenix Suns, 104-99. Justin Holliday had 25 points and 5 assists for Chicago, while Kris Dunn contributed 24 points, 8 assists and 4 steals. Devin Booker had 33 points and 9 rebounds to lead the Suns, and Alex Len came off the bench for 13 points and 18 rebounds.

The game was notable for the first appearance on the bench of Nikola Mirotic, who of course hasn’t been traveling with the team ever since he got his face broken by teammate Bobby Portis in a practice altercation right at the start of the season.

The Washington Wizards came back to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 92-89 road victory. Otto Porter gave them the lead with just 25.9 seconds to go, and the Timberwolves were unable to produce an answer. As I watched the game, it seemed like Minnesota was exhausted by the end, as their lack of depth caught up with them. Already without starter Jeff Teague and key reserve Nemanja Bjelica, the Wolves played each of their starters at least 37 minutes, and they simply seemed to run out of steam by the end. For instance, Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns each played the entire fourth quarter, shooting a combined 3-12.

“It’s a bad taste in my mouth,” said Minnesota’s Taj Gibson (16 points, 11 rebounds). “I feel like we should have won that one, but we’ve got to look forward.”

Adding salt to the wound, the Wizards were playing without John Wall, and Bradley Beal had just 8 points and 6 assists on 2-11 shooting. Otto Porter stepped up with 22 points and 8 rebounds, including the go ahead shot down the stretch. Washington also got a good contribution from their bench, with Kelly Oubre (16), Mike Scott (12) and Jodie Meeks (12) all scoring in double digits. Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 20 points and 17 rebounds.

The Bucks went out to Sacramento and took care of the Kings with a 112-87 victory. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals on 11-16 shooting.

Finishing off last night’s action, the Utah Jazz slaughtered the Denver Nuggets, 106-77, despite missing Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert. The Nuggets were without Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler. Derrick Favors led Utah with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists on 12-16 shooting.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets (8:00 pm, League Pass)

The Pacers have won six of their last seven games as they continue their impressive start to the season. Tonight, they’ll face another tough test down in Houston. The Rockets have won five in a row, and eleven of their last twelve, as they’ve maintained their lead atop the Western Conference standings. With the Warriors dealing with some nagging injuries, and at times not looking like themselves, can the Rockets sustain their momentum and fend them off for the top spot in the West? It’s probably still too early to talk that way, but a nice win over the plucky Pacers would be another step in that direction.