Named after a time-honored driveway shooting game, Around the World takes a look at notable items going on in and around the NBA universe.
A Classic in Dallas
Last night’s best game was Dallas-Utah, showcasing two teams struggling for position in the bottom half of the West playoff race. Utah won thanks to Gordon Hayward’s buzzer beater in OT, and his hair stayed perfect:
What got us to that seminal moment was a typical Dallas thriller. The Mavs tend to play exciting games at the American Airlines Center, with threes flying from all over the place. Dallas is 4th in the NBA in three point attempts per game at 27.7, and made 11-29 last night. Chandler Parsons led the way with 24 points which is encouraging even in a loss. There were many questions about Dallas post-DeAndre and the biggest one was around key players coming off injury. Would Parsons and Wes Matthews get back to form after major lower body injuries? Their play, mixed with Rick Carlisle’s motion and shooting offense, and Dirk being Dirk, is why the Mavs have remained in the playoff mix all season.
The hard-charging Jazz have won seven straight and taken advantage of the Kings’ freefall to finally take hold of a playoff spot. All season I’ve waited for Utah to round into form, but injuries to Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert lowered their ceiling, and the lack of a replacement level point guard is still an issue. Favors and Gobert are back and Hayward has made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 20 points per game and coming through in the clutch like last night. The Jazz have to decide if any of the available point guards on the trade market fit their timeline and budget. But a Jeff Teague or Jrue Holiday could really bolster this team’s competitiveness in the first round. They have to push for the sixth seed to avoid the Warriors and Spurs in Round 1. It’s doable.
Another Curry-gasm, Briefly Interrupted
Anytime the Warriors are on the national TV schedule I know it’s going to be a late night for me, and last night was no different. With the Rockets coming to Oakland you knew the potential was there for anything: a 50-point GSW win, a 60-point Steph Curry game, the single game three point record going down in flames, a 160-150 type barnburner. The first quarter did little to dissuade that thinking, with Curry scoring 19 on 5-6 from three and the Warriors jumping out to a 42-27 lead. But then something interesting happened. For the next two quarters the Rockets found their long-hibernating pride. Rather than succumbing to Curry’s wrath, they decided to make life difficult. Suddenly Steph couldn’t get an open look at a three, and Trevor Ariza, Marcus Thornton, and even Ty Lawson did a great job of ball denial, forcing the rest of the Warriors to beat them. In typical Rockets fashion, they also slowed the game down with some Hack-A-Bogut, and the Warriors’ lead slowly dwindled. James Harden caught fire, scoring 18 points in the last eight minutes of the second quarter.
In the third, Harden continued to score and the Rockets D kept frustrating Curry and Klay Thompson. The Rockets took the lead for a couple stretches and the game was tied at 93 entering the fourth. You knew Curry would start the 4th on the bench, which meant the time was ripe for Houston to make their move. But then the Rockets rockets’d. With Curry draped in a towel on the bench, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston led the Dubs on an 8-0 run, Barnes scored 17 in the quarter and the Warriors never looked back. They’re too deep, too good at home and the Rockets don’t have four quarter discipline this season. It was fun to see Houston play to their potential if only for a couple quarters. It was scary to see how unbeatable the Warriors can be even on nights when Steph and Klay go ice cold for long stretches.
Also, this sequence was just beautiful basketball –
There Are No Winners in Sacramento
It seems like a long time ago now, but in mid-January the Kings were making headlines for jumping into the 8-seed. But the Kings can’t have nice things. They’ve subsequently dropped eight of nine, gave up 128 to Brooklyn, gave up 128 more to Boston in a laughably bad effort amidst George Karl firing speculation, and completed the 120-point trifecta after losing 120-100 to the Cavs. It seemed for the second straight year the Kings were firing a coach publicly before making it official. Karl was dead man walking, the team stopped even trying to guard anyone, and Boogie Cousins was sulking. Then yesterday news broke that the Kings would retain Karl as coach. What could go wrong there?
The Kings are led by a clueless owner, Vivek Ranadive, who fires coaches and makes strategic changes based on nothing rational; and his minority owners want an uprising.
Cousins has eventually undermined every coach but Michael Malone and Vivek has enabled him.
Rajon Rondo has had a resurgent season but called a gay ref a gay slur, so he’s definitely not a winner.
And Karl, as great of a career as he’s had, has failed this team. He’s tried to fit a square peg in a round hole. He wants to force whatever personnel he’s given to play his style – up-tempo, fast breaking, free wheeling defense. The Kings are playing with the league’s fastest pace even though they have Cousins, who plays best in a half court set, Rudy Gay, a traditional ball stopper and no true shooters other than Omri Casspi. This is not the Warriors. But Karl, who once said he’d have to think about whether he’d rather win playing someone else’s style or lose playing his style, is the latest example of coaching hubris getting in the way of team success. Gregg Popovich coaches to his players’ strengths. If the Spurs have two giants in the post, they’ll play slow and deliberate. If they’re undersized but filled with unselfish shooters, they’ll run and gun. Pop has been pretty successful over the years. Karl is the NBA’s Chip Kelly. Grab your popcorn for the rest of this shitshow of a Kings season.
All-Star Weekend Picks
NBA All-Star Toronto is almost upon us, and the contests are set. Here are my picks for the Slam Dunk, Three Point and Skills Contests:
Slam Dunk Participants – Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Andre Drummond. This contest has taken its lumps over the years, as format changes and contrivances on the Blake Griffin Kia commercial have undermined the entertainment value. This year, LaVine is the odds-on favorite, and it seems like there should be more contestants. I don’t see Drummond doing much to dazzle the crowd, but Gordon is Plastic Man, so that could be exciting. Barton is the wild card. I’ll take LaVine to repeat as champion.
Three Point Participants – Stephen Curry, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Devin Booker, JJ Redick, Khris Middleton. This event should be awesome. Curry looks to defend his crown but will face stiff competition from Redick, Thompson and keep an eye out for rookie Booker. I don’t see Harden, Bosh or Lowry making it very far but it will be cool to see them give it a try. At the end of the day it’s 2016 and we’re talking about 3-point shooting, so I’ll take Curry, thank you.
Skills Challenge Participants – Patrick Beverley, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Isaiah Thomas, Jordan Clarkson, CJ McCollum, Karl Anthony-Towns. A new wrinkle this year, as big men will compete in the challenge. It’s unclear whether there will be a big man winner and a small man winner, but I’ll make two picks here. I’ll go with Thomas and Draymond.
The Grizzlies were dealt a big blow yesterday with news that Marc Gasol will be out indefinitely with a broken foot. Currently the Grizz sit 5th in the West at 30-22, but Dallas, Houston and Utah could leap frog them with their best player sidelined. The Grizzlies weren’t going to go very far in the postseason, yet I have a soft spot for the grit n grind bunch, and it’s a treat to watch Gasol operate in the post. This is a shame.
Speaking of bummers, Jimmy Butler may have dodged a bullet by not doing any serious structural damage to his knee in a nasty fall at the hands of a Joffrey Lauvergne hack job. But he will miss 3-4 weeks as the Bulls are in the midst of a freefall in the East standings. Timing couldn’t be much worse, and Chicago is in danger of missing the playoffs in Fred Hoiberg’s first season. This team can’t escape the injury bug year after year. Derrick Rose is in and out of the lineup, Mike Dunleavy is finally returning after back surgery forced him out all season, and Joakim Noah is out for the year. Yikes.
Playoff Picture Coming into Focus
After this weekend’s All-Star break, there will be about 30 games left for each team in the regular season. The stretch run will determine who makes it in and who falls out of the bottom seeds of the playoff picture, but the top seeds are already solidified. In the West, Golden State, San Antonio, OKC and the Clippers seem locked in at 1-4. In the East Cleveland and Toronto have distinguished themselves as the top two seeds. It looks like Boston, Indiana and Atlanta will earn a spot. The Heat have a tough schedule but I’m betting they’ll hang on as well. That leaves two more spots, with Chicago, Charlotte, Detroit and maybe Washington vying for position. With the injury and chemistry issues in Chicago I will take Charlotte and Detroit at this point. A lottery pick may be the best thing for the Bulls at this point, anyway.
The 5-8 seeds in the West come down to the following teams: Memphis (30-22), Dallas (29-26), Utah (26-25), Houston (27-27), Portland (26-27) and Sacramento (21-31). I think Dallas grabs the five seed after the Gasol injury, Utah takes the six seed, Memphis hangs on for the seventh and Portland/Houston is a toss up for the 8. I want to take Portland since they’re such a more uplifting story than Houston this year, but the Rockets still have Harden and Dwight Howard, and may have a small run left in them.
I encourage readers to listen to Nate Duncan’s Dunk’d On Podcast for some great insights into what each team needs and may be willing to do going into the deadline. I will have more thoughts as we inch closer to the deadline. I’d like to wait until after the All-Star break to see where the standings are, and what injury situations look like, before diving deeper on potential trades. More coming soon.