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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12/5/17 – I Got To Be More Poised

Apologies for not writing anything in a few days. I got ejected, and then tweaked my ankle, just like everyone else in the NBA these days. Actually, I’ve just been busy. It’s a busy time of year, and that’s true in the NBA as well. Rest assured, I’ve still been watching a lot of basketball, so let’s get right to it…

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

The Golden State Warriors trailed the New Orleans Pelicans at halftime, 69-49, and came back to win, 125-115. However, nobody cares due to the craziness of the game itself. Likely foremost on people’s mind is Steph Curry, who badly rolled his ankle towards the end of the game.

“I hadn’t done that one in a while,” said Curry (31 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists), who was seen in a walking boot and using crutches after the game. “Sprained my ankle. See how it feels tomorrow and kind of go from there. Obviously a sucky situation, but I’ll be back.”

The injury happened when Curry and E’Twaun Moore crossed paths with just over a minute left.

“It was a dumb play because I tried to go for a steal,” explained Curry. “And then obviously it was just a bang-bang [play]. I got caught on E’Twaun’s shoe as I went by him and couldn’t catch myself. So obviously it hurt, but wanted to kind of get back here, get ice on it and get the rehab process started as soon as possible.”

That wasn’t the only noteworthy event in the latter stages of the game. Not long before Curry’s injury, this happened…

The two had already earned technicals earlier in the game, and something like this had been brewing throughout the evening.

“I thought he just threw us out pretty quick, to be honest,” said Durant (19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists). “We got in each other’s faces, but that’s just how it is, you know what I’m saying? It’s late in the game. Every time I get ejected I make sure it’s late in the game. I’m not messing up like that in the first or second quarter — make sure it’s late in the game if I want to do something.”

Durant, who has now been ejected three times already this season, admitted, “I got to be more focused, I got to be more poised. I can’t let anybody take me off my game. I’ve been in the league too long. Especially somebody like Cousins, we know that he’s feisty, we know that he’s emotional. We know that he plays that way so I can’t get involved in that. That’s who he is, I got to be me.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr summed up his team, saying, “We’re not composed out there. We’re a championship team. We got to be poised and we got to execute out there. We’re getting way too emotional. Myself included. I got to do a better job of that, too. We’ve got to show some poise when things aren’t going our way and stop worrying about everything else and just worry about the game.”

Frankly, this is the most irritating thing about the Warriors. They’re about the whiniest team in the league, and quite often, they tend to have a longer leash than others. Draymond Green does stuff on a nightly basis that would get other players a technical, or tossed. At least, that’s how it looks to me. The more interesting thing is whether or not this lack of composure will have any sort of serious effect on them going forward.

Devin Booker scored 46 points on 17-32 shooting, following up his stellar 38 point performance in Boston over the weekend. This time, it was even enough to get the Suns a win, 115-101 over the 76ers.

“Shooters never stop shooting,” Booker explained. “I’ve been living by that motto since I was three years old.”

So far this season, Booker is averaging career highs across the board with 24.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game on 45.9% shooting. While watching him light it up against the Celtics on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but look forward to a day where he’d be going off in a playoff series, which makes it even more depressing that he’s toiling away on the directionless Suns. Hopefully they can get their act together, because Booker,NBA fans everywhere, and the Phoenix Suns as a franchise, deserve better.

Giannis Antetokounmpo notched 40 points and 9 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to get the Milwaukee Bucks over the hump against the Boston Celtics, who won, 111-100. Kyrie Irving dropped 32 points for Boston, and Al Horford chimed in with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists on 8-10 shooting.

The Grizzlies losing streak has finally come to an end after 11 excruciating games, thanks to a 95-92 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jimmy Butler scored 30 for Minnesota, but Marc Gasol countered with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, for now providing a moment of happiness in what’s otherwise been a dire season down in Memphis.

In another close one, the San Antonio Spurs came back for a 96-93 victory over the Detroit Pistons. Reggie Jackson scored 27 for Detroit, but the Spurs showed up with their usual balanced effort, with seven players scoring in double figures.

Finally, Rudy Gobert returned to action for the Utah Jazz, and what a triumphant return it was. In 21:09 of action, he hauled in ten rebounds, in Utah’s hilariously one-sided 116-69 victory over the Washington Wizards, who are really struggling without John Wall. For a team that fancies itself one of the best in the East, they really are fragile. Now, missing John Wall would be a crushing blow to any team, but the Wizards, now just 12-11, have shown just how precarious their position in the East really is.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers (10:00 pm, National Basketball Association Television)

After last night’s bevy of games, tonight features just three, and we’re sticking with the Wizards theme. Life for them doesn’t get any easier, as they pay a visit to Portland, the second game of a five game road trip. Under normal circumstances, a matchup between these two teams would feature two of the most scintillating back courts in the league, but without John Wall, Washington is lacking much of its firepower. It will be quite telling to see how they respond tonight, on the heels of that wretched loss against the Jazz. Meanwhile, the Blazers have strangely lost their last two games, both at home, as they’re midway through a four game home stand. They too will be looking to get back on track, though they’re far healthier than their opponents tonight.

 

11/30/17 – It’s A Complete Joke

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Kristaps Porzingis had to be helped off the court after an ankle injury, but the Knicks still won, soundly defeating the Heat, 115-86. Enes Kanter led the way with 22 points and 14 rebounds on 7-9 shooting, but nobody cares because everyone is holding their breath about Porzingis. The injury occurred a mere two and a half minutes into the game when Justise Winslow stepped on his foot, severely turning the Knicks star’s ankle.

“It snapped bad,” said Porzingis, who was 2-2 with four points in his brief time on the court. “I felt it right in that moment, but I didn’t want to show any emotions.”

Luckily for the Knicks, X-Rays on the ankle came back negative, and they were able to run away with a big victory. As for now, there’s no word on how long Porzingis will be out. New York’s next game isn’t until Sunday, when they host the Orlando Magic.

Another night, another big ejection. One night after LeBron got tossed, this time it was none other than Anthony Davis who found himself sentenced to an early exit.

As you can see in the video, it was a close game at that point, with Davis having already contributed 17 points and 5 rebounds on 7-13 shooting. Things went downhill from there, as the Timberwolves pulled away for a 120-102 victory.

“You could feel the momentum shift,” Andrew Wiggins (28 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 10-18 shooting) said, referring to Davis’ ejection. “It helped ignite a big run that we were able to outscore them.”

“It’s a joke. It’s a complete joke,” said DeMarcus Cousins (17 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists), himself no stranger to ejections. “What I don’t understand is that players are punished for playing off emotion or showing their emotion… but other people are allowed to and it’s totally fine.”

Jrue Holliday led New Orleans with 27 points and 5 assists, but they weren’t able to recover from losing Davis. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, had seven players reach double figure scoring, led by the aforementioned Andrew Wiggins.

Our Game of the Night turned out to be no contest, as the Rockets easily took care of the Pacers, to the tune of a 118-97 victory, putting the finishing touches on an excellent November in which they went 12-1, good enough to find themselves atop the Western Conference. James Harden, who has to be the frontrunner for Western Conference Player of the Month, finished with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Thaddeus Young scored 23 points on 11-15 shooting to lead the Pacers.

It required overtime, but the Warriors were able to outlast a valiant Lakers effort, on their way to a 127-123 victory down at the Staples Center. Steph Curry set the tone in OT by hitting a pair of three pointers to give the Warriors a quick six points and an important boost. He finished with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, while Kevin Durant led the way with 29, 7 & 5. Brandon Ingram led everyone with 32 points, to go along with 5 rebounds for the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson (21-6-8) and Julius Randle (20 points, 9-13 shooting) provided excellent sparks of the Los Angeles bench, but it wasn’t enough to get them over the hump against the defending champs.

The Orlando Magic put an end to a nine game losing streak, notching a 121-108 win over the struggling Thunder. The game was close until the end of the third quarter, when the Magic embarked on a 28-5 run that lasted well into the fourth. Aaron Gordon was magnificent, finishing with 40 points and 15 rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, while shooting 7-10 from downtown, but OKC’s struggles continued.

After the game, Westbrook took responsibility for the Thunder’s lackluster play, saying, “To get us out of this funk we’ve got to lock in. That starts with me and I’ll take ownership because I’ve been here…I know the standards we set.”

The 76ers fended off the Washington Wizards, 118-113, in a game that featured over 100 free throws. Down 84-65 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wizards employed some intentional fouls, sending lousy free throw shooter Ben Simmons to the line over and over again to see if they could close the gap. While they outscored the Sixers, 48-34 in the final quarter, they still fell just short. When all was said and done, Simmons had shot 29 free throws, hitting 15 of them, on his way to a stellar 31 point, 18 rebound performance. Joel Embiid also visited the line often, racking up 18 free throws, sinking 13 and finishing with 25 points and 14 boards. Kelly Oubre led the Wizards with 22 points and 7 rebounds off the bench, while fellow reserve Jodie Meeks scored 21, a figure that was matched by starter Bradley Beal.

As is always the case with a game like this, the Intentional Foul Debate was once again swirled up. My official stance is that if a horrendous free throw shooter like Andre Drummond, the owner of the worst career free throw percentage in NBA history, can boost his performance at the line to the point where he’s no longer considered a liability down the stretch, as he’s done this season, then we shouldn’t have to change the rules for other players who haven’t been able to improve their free throw shooting. Also, watching a crummy free throw shooter go to the line over and over again doesn’t seem to bother me as much. There’s a certain drama to seeing if they can make their opponents pay for trying to exploit their weakness.

A big night from LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs to a 104-95 victory over the increasingly depressing Memphis Grizzlies, playing their first game after firing coach David Fizdale. Aldridge was hot from the start, sinking 3 three pointers in the early stages of the game to get himself rolling. He ended the night with 41 points and 6 rebounds on 17-24 shooting. Tyreke Evans led the Grizzlies with 22 points and 5 assists, while Marc Gasol, after his benching in the fourth quarter in their last game touched off the David Fizdale Ruckus, played a team high 35:43, racking up 10 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.

Lastly, the Raptors got a huge contribution from their prized back court, leading them to a 126-113 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 66 points on 26-40 shooting, which would be tough for any team to overcome. Adding difficulty to their situation, the Hornets were without Kemba Walker, and on top of that, their starting back court of Nicolas Batum and Michael Carter-Williams managed to combine for a paltry 19 points on 4-19 shooting. Yuck.

THE NIGHT AHEAD

Game of the Night – Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics (7:30 pm, NBA TV)

For some reason, there’s no TNT doubleheader tonight, but National Basketball Association Television has one, and it kicks off with the Sixers visiting the Celtics. Firstly, it’s great to have both of these ancient rivals fielding worthy teams at the same time. The Celtics are looking to bounce back from dropping a home game on Monday against another one of their old enemies, the also worthy Detroit Pistons. Meanwhile, the Sixers have won four of their last five, and have established themselves as a must watch. Unfortunately, this being the second night of a back to back, Joel Embiid will not be participating for the Sixers. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer before he is free of these restrictions. The NBA is a better place with him in it, and it’s a much better place when the Celtics and Sixers are both good.