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NBA Digest: No More Mr. Nice Guy

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With most of the sports world focused on March Madness, it was a relatively slow week in the Association.  Unfortunately, it was more injury news that was making the headlines.

MVP DOWN

Last Friday, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Kevin Durant will halt all basketball activities indefinitely to allow his foot to heal.  Durant had foot surgery in October and recently underwent another procedure to alleviate pain in the same foot.  The reigning MVP has played in only 27 games this season.  Despite the Russell Westbrook supernova, the Thunder are also without all-star big man Serge Ibaka, who underwent surgery for mysterious, out-of-nowhere knee pain last week.  Ibaka’s timetable for a return is 4-6 weeks, meaning he would miss the first round playoff series against Golden State.  Westbrook can drop 45 points a night, without Durant and Ibaka, the Thunder have no chance of beating a deep Warriors team in the playoffs.  Westbrook did drop his tenth triple-double of the season Sunday morning in a 93-75 victory over Miami.  Russ is insane, but the Thunder just don’t have the personnel right now.

GRIFFIN RETURNS

Blake Griffin returned to the Clippers lineup last Sunday after missing 15 games because of a staph infection in his elbow.  The Clippers lost that games to the Houston Rockets 100-98, but they’ve won four straight since.  Griffin dropped 23 points on a clean 10-of-21 shooting in this afternoon’s 107-100 victory over the Pelicans.  Anthony Davis was harassing Griffin on defense all day, and Blake got his.  As it’s been for the Clippers lately though, they won because of the strong guard play of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick and the ridiculous rebounding of DeAndre Jordan.  Paul has been particularly filthy in March averaging 23.1 PPG and 10.8 APG on a clean 51% shooting.  I’ve talked about Redick having a career year, check this out from the L.A. Times about the work Redick put in in the off-season.  The Clippers have a few days off before hitting the road for a winnable East Coast road trip with games against New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

NASH MAKES IT OFFICIAL

In news that wasn’t really so shocking, Steve Nash officially announced his retirement after 18 full NBA seasons, on Saturday.  Nash finishes third all-time in assists and he is the NBA’s all-time leader in free throw percentage.  Nash won back-to-back MVPs in 2005-2006, his “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns have inspired the pace and space game we see today.  Steve Nash is the reason the NBA is a point guard driven league today.  He’s a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.  Sadly, his hall-of-fame career doesn’t include many Lakers highlights.  Nash suffered a broken bone in his second game with the team back in 2012 and has been dealing with nerve issues ever since.  He played only 65 games in his three seasons in purple-and-gold.  On a personal note, Nash is probably my all-time favorite player not named Kobe, Shaq, or Michael.  Lakers fans probably didn’t enjoy seeing Nash sidelined, but he worked his butt off to try and get back.  After sleeping on it, I’m left thinking of the dude with the long hair who made crazy insane passes, ran the pick-and-roll to perfection, and was a silky-smooth shooter.  The Canadian’s impact on the game is indelible.

UPCOMING GAMES

The standings remain super tight, and there’s also a legitimate battle for the final playoff spot out East.  Let’s just take a look at some upcoming matchups and enjoy these last three weeks of the season before playoffs start.

Monday: Rockets vs. Pacers (NBA TV), Wizards vs. Warriors

Tuesday:  Lakers vs. Thunder, Spurs vs. Mavericks (TNT), Warriors vs. Blazers (TNT)

Wednesday:  Cavs vs. Grizzlies, Rockets vs. Pelicans, Spurs vs. Thunder (ESPN)

Friday:  Warriors vs. Grizzlies

NBA Digest: Style Over Substance

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This is going to be a quick NBA briefing this week.  With fewer than 20 games left in the regular season, there haven’t been too many drastic story lines, and the MVP race is as murky as ever.  Many pundits have been riding the Russell Westbrook space cruiser over the past couple of weeks, but last night Chris Paul and the Clippers caught Westbrook and the Thunder in their tractor beam.

Paul thoroughly dominated his OKC counterpart in the Clippers 120-108 victory, scoring 33 points on a clean 11-of-19 shooting with 9 assists thrown in.  Westbrook scored 24 points but on a dreadful 5-of-14 shooting and (gasp!) 10 turnovers.  J.J. Redick contributed 25 points.  Redick is having a great season, quietly putting up career highs in scoring, FG and 3PT shooting percentage.  As awesome as it is to watch Westbrook do his thing, without Kevin Durant in the lineup, the Clippers are clearly the superior team.  They dominated the Thunder from the opening tip and it just goes to show, one guy can’t do everything.  I’d rather watch CP3 run the offense and get his teammates involved than watch Westbrook’s one man show.  And, as we speak, the Thunder are a 1/2 game out of the final playoff spot, the New Orleans Pelicans have won eight of their last 10 games and currently occupy the eight seed.  They also have a super freaky dude by the name of Anthony Davis.  Davis dropped 43 in the Pelicans win over Milwaukee Monday night.

MATTHEWS GOES DOWN

The Portland Trail Blazers suffered a devastating blow losing versatile two-guard Wesley Matthews to a ruptured Achilles tendon last Thursday night.  Matthews was averaging a clean 15.9 PPG and he is fourth in the NBA in made three-pointers trailing only the Splash Brothers and Kyle Korver.  Matthews importance to the Blazers cannot be overstated, however, thanks to the trade deadline acquisition of Arron Afflalo, Portland is well prepared to handle Matthews absence.  Since Matthews went down the Blazers are 1-1, losing to the Timberwolves in Minnesota, but winning a huge game over the Rockets on Wednesday night.

THINGS TO WATCH FOR

The Memphis Grizzlies will sit four of their five starters on Thursday night against the floundering Washington Wizards.  Memphis is only 5-5 over the last 10 games and lost a tough one at home to the Celtics on Wednesday night.  Perhaps some rest is just what the doctor ordered for the Grizz.  Thursday night’s other matchup will be between the Cavaliers and slightly ascendant Spurs.  Despite losing in Atlanta on Friday night, the Cavs have still won seven of their last 10 games include a complete dismantling of the Mavericks in Dallas on Tuesday night.  The Spurs have won six straight games including four straight at home, and they’ve jumped into the six spot in the West standings.  They sit only a game behind the Clippers for the five-seed.  Never count out the Spurs.

Key games coming up this weekend

Fri. Clippers vs. Dallas 5:30 pm

Sun. Chicago vs. Oklahoma City 10:00 am ABC

Sun. Houston vs. Clippers 12:30 pm ABC

Sun. Hawks vs. Lakers 6:30 pm

NBA Digest: Close Calls; Russell Westbrook Unhuman

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As the calendar flips to March, the NBA is hitting the home stretch with about 20 or so games left to be played.  This past week gave us a slew of irresistible games and the MVP race is now closer than ever.  The standings are packed and now is the time when one or two games and the possibility of home court in the playoffs can make all the difference.  This past week we saw James Harden kick LeBron James in the groin, Russell Westbrook returned from facial fracture surgery to record his fourth straight triple-double, the Lakers even managed a brief three game win streak.

CLIPPERS CARRY ON

Despite losing a heart breaker last night to the Blazers in overtime, the Clippers have survived the absence of Blake Griffin going 7-4 including big road wins over Chicago and Memphis.  The main reason for their success has been, of course, because of Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.  Paul is showing everyone why he remains arguably the best point guard in the game today.  In Griffin’s absence Paul has been putting up MVP numbers, 22.5 PPG, 12.5 APG, 51.6%FG.  Jordan, well, he’s putting up defensive player of the year numbers with an absolutely bonkers 19.2 RPG in the 11 games Griffin has missed.  The only drawback to the DeAndre-naissaince is that opposing teams are utilizing the hack-a-DeAndre tactic at an alarming rate (he went 2-for-10 at the line last night against Portland).    The L.A. Times is reporting that Griffin could return for Sunday’s game against Golden State.  It will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers reincorporates Griffin back into the lineup with Jordan playing so well.

THE CASE FOR HARDEN AND THE ROCKETS

If I had to pick the MVP, I would go with Steph Curry, but it’s really hard to argue against the case for James Harden.  The Beard led the Rockets to a 105-103 OT victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on national TV on Sunday.  Harden and James went heads up often and it was a joy to watch two of the elite players in the game square each other up.  They got locked up physically on a couple of occasions and Harden unleashed the aforementioned kick to LeBron’s nether-regions.  Harden got called for a flagrant foul in the game and he received a one game suspension from the league.  Without the Beard, the Rockets fell to the East-leading Atlanta Hawks 104-96.  Harden returned last night with 18 points and 13 assists, but the Rockets lost a heartbreaker at home to Memphis (such a deadly team) 102-100.  The Rockets currently sit in the four-spot in the West, a game-and-a-half up on the Clippers and Mavericks.  They have winnable games this weekend against Detroit and Denver.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK IS NOT A HUMAN BEING

He did it again, after missing only one game after suffering a facial fracture, Russell Westbrook returned to action last night and dropped his fourth consecutive triple-double, this one was the most emphatic yet.  49 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and one earth-shattering, coast-to-coast, NBA Jam style slam.  Words don’t do justice to describe the way Westbrook is playing, it’s incredible, he’s like if Darth Maul was an NBA player.  Westbrook’s hot streak has made him the league’s scoring leader, however, without Kevin Durant in the lineup, his Thunder are only 11-8.  Even during this supernova streak of triple-doubles, the Thunder are only 2-2.  If you think Doc Rivers is going to have a tough time re-incorporating Blake Griffin, how on earth is Scott Brooks going to re-incorporate Kevin Durant?  Stay tuned.

AND THE LAKERS

Well, I had to talk about the Purple and Gold.  The Lakers ended February on a high note with a three-game win streak.  Never fear, though Lakers fans, the tank job continues, as the Lake Show is now riding a three game losing streak.  The team remains competitive, they lost a tough one at home to a Westbrook and Durant-less OKC on Sunday.  Byron Scott criticized his bigs for getting out-rebounded by the Thunder’s massive front line of Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams, however the Thunder are among the league leaders in team rebounding.  They’ve also lost close ones on the road to Charlotte and Miami.  During Wednesday night’s games ESPN’s Hubie Brown remarked that the Lakers have played in 20 games decided by six points or less, 21 games now after last night’s 100-94 loss to the Heat.  Jeremy Lin has come on as of late, 14 PPG, 5.1 APG, on 48% shooting in his last 10 games, nice of him to wait until late-February to show up.  Nick Young hasn’t played since celebration-gate because of a swollen knee.  The Lakers head to Memphis on Friday.

 

DeAndre Jordan Aiming At Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA Rebound Record

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DeAndre Jordan has one way to look, and it’s right at Wilt Chamberlain as he continues his streak of grabbing 15 rebounds or more in a game.

His nine-game streak of 15 rebounds or more in a game is a Clippers’ franchise record. It totals 182 rebounds, 66 more than any other player since Jan. 9.

During this streak his offensive rebound average has climbed from 4.4 to 6.1, creating two extra possessions, helping the team that leads the NBA in points per possession get even better.

Sure he could continue this streak and set quite the franchise record. But the league mark is 186 games by Chamberlain, which would force Jordan to continue grabbing 15 rebounds (or more) per game until the 74th game of the 2016-17 season.

Warriors’ Festus Ezeli Suspended For 1 Game Without Pay

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Warriors center Festus Ezeli was suspended without pay Saturday for his altercation with Raptors forward Tyler Hansbrough on Friday night.

In case you missed it, here’s the incident:

Ezeli pushed Hansbrough in the throat in the third quarter of the Warriors’ 113-89 victory over the Raptors. It was met by Hansbrough retaliating by shoving Ezeli and throwing a punch that failed to land.

Both players were handed double technical fouls and were ejected.

The Warriors play the Celtics next on Sunday night in Boston.

NBA Digest: Not My Tempo

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NBA fans had a chance to clear their minds with the NBA’s All-Star break and then have their minds shattered by a flurry of moves on last Thursday’s trade deadline (more on those later).  Games have resumed, we’ve gotten a look at some of the new guys in new places.  A major injury has changed the landscape in the East, tensions are at an all-time high in the West.  The Clippers are marching on without Blake Griffin and the woeful Lakers still find a way to steal a headline.  Let’s delve into some of the happenings from this past week in the Association.

LIFE WITHOUT BLAKE

The Clippers lost an absolute heartbreaker to the Memphis Grizzlies 90-87 on Monday night.  Chris Paul played brilliantly dropping 30 points and 10 assists before turning the ball over on the Clippers final possession of the game.  Despite the loss, the Clippers are still 4-2 since Griffin went down with a staph infection and have beaten some quality opponents on the road.  The Los Angeles Times reported that Griffin had his stitches removed on Monday, but he’s still expected to be out for at least the rest of this week.  The Clippers will look to rebound against the Rockets tonight.  The Clippers have matched up well with Houston winning both previous meetings by an average of 16 points and holding MVP-candidate James Harden to 12.5 PPG.  The Clippers travel to Memphis on Friday and have a back-to-back in Chicago and then Minnesota to finish up a four game road trip.  Speaking of Chicago.

DERRICK ROSE GOES DOWN AGAIN

In a surprising development, the Chicago Bulls announced on Tuesday that Derrick Rose would undergo surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, presumably ending his season.  This is a devastating blow for Rose and the Bulls, this is the same knee that Rose had the same surgery on two years ago.  It’s seems like ages ago that he was destroying the league and winning MVP back in 2011, sadly, his career parallels are probably Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill.  Unbelievable talents who had their careers derailed by injury.  Rose will return to basketball, but it’s unclear where the Bulls go from here.  It would appear their title hopes are pretty much over, but Rose was not having a very efficient season (40.7% FG, 28.7% 3’s) and his PER (player efficiency rating) of 16.06 is on par with guys like Gerald Green and J.J. Barea.  Coach Tom Thibodeau has been in this position before and maybe the Bulls can open up the floor a little bit and score more efficiently without Rose.  It looks like Cleveland has a pretty clear path through the East toward the Finals.

TRADE DEADLINE BREAKDOWN

This was the busiest trade deadline in NBA history, more than 30 players switched teams, however, the biggest name was probably Goran Dragic.  The Suns shipped the disgruntled point guard and his brother Zoran to the Miami Heat for some random-ass players and draft picks.  The move seemed to immediately bolster the Heat’s title chances, however, Chris Bosh will sadly miss the rest of the season after being diagnosed with blood clots on his lungs (a potentially life-threatening condition!).  The Suns also shipped out guard Isaiah Thomas to the Boston Celtics.  The Suns also acquired guard Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks to offset the departure of Dragic and Thomas, however, the Suns appear to be punting on this season and will look to retool this offseason.  The Western Conference contender that solidified themselves the most had to be the Portland Trail Blazers, who acquired swingman Arron Afflalo from the Denver Nuggets.  Afflalo can play both wing positions, give the Blazers immediate scoring off the bench, he can spell Nic Batum and Wes Matthews and gives the Blazers future flexibility.  Great trade for Portland.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were also active shipping out disgruntled guard Reggie Jackson to Detroit, and acquiring Enes Kanter from Utah to give the Thunder some much needed scoring up front.  The Thunder also got D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler from Detroit.  Augustin is a much better fit as a backup guard behind Russell Westbrook and Singler gives them a much needed catch-and-shoot guy.  Unfortunately for the Thunder, Kevin Durant will be sidelined another couple of weeks after undergoing another surgical procedure on his foot.  Westbrook is balling out of his mind right now, putting up a 29-10-8 line in his last 10 games.  However, can the Thunder reach their full potential without Durant, and this of course raises more questions about how Durant and Westbrook will co-exist in the future.  The Thunder have won nine of 10 games and have a firm grip on the eighth seed.  Golden Stave vs. OKC in the first round of the playoffs is a distinct possibility.

LAKERS GET A LITTLE OVERZEALOUS

I guess it’s all about the small victories for the Lakers these days.  After a thrilling 118-111 OT victory over Boston on Sunday, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, and Carlos Boozer did a group interview with Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell and celebrated like they were in Vegas!  Kobe Bryant and Coach Byron Scott were not amused.  Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Monday night, Kimmel showed Kobe the video, and Kobe just sat there speechless with a blank expression before finally turning his head to address a hysterical Kimmel, who said “I thought of you when I saw that.”  No words were needed to know that the Mamba did not approve.  Scott called it unprofessional and said it wouldn’t happen again when speaking to reporters at Lakers’ practice.  The Lakers head to Utah Wednesday night.  They’ll wrap up the week with home games against Milwaukee and Oklahoma City.  There won’t be a celebration like that Sunday if Russell Westbrook and his True Religion commercial have anything to say about it.

 

Lakers Must Win Big In Draft to Have Succesful Offseason

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The summer of 2015 for the Lakers will be most important in recent history, not because of the talent that will be available through free agency, but because of the stars that will be in the draft come June.

In the past two summers the Lakers have put all their efforts in signing top free agents, and have nothing to show for it, going after the likes of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and even their own Pau Gasol, all of whom said thank you, but no thank you. The Lakers also missed out on trades this season for Rajon Rondo (traded to Dallas) and Goran Dragic (traded to Miami) because of their unwillingness to part with draft picks and young players.

This has led to a underachieving team that has relied on an aging superstar who has spent most of the year on the injured reserve list.

But through all of this, the Lakers have put themselves in a great position in anticipation of this summer by having the chance to draft in the top five of the draft. The Lakers currently sit at 14-41, which gives them the fourth-worst record in the Association.

The franchise must now refocus its energy from signing free agents and putting it toward trying to find the next superstar in the upcoming draft.

But not to worry Laker Nation, because the top of this year’s draft is special.

Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell is a 6-foot-5 combo guard who has the abilities to come right into a starting position and run a team.

He has gone from a late first round pick on many experts’ draft board to now being one of the best college players in the nation and is now on every team’s radar.

Then there is Emmanuel Mudiay, who is overseas playing in China. He is another 6-foot-5 combo guard who has been compared to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, and possesses raw power and is an athletic player who in a couple years could be a star in the NBA.

But if the Lakers are to get the No. 4 pick in the draft, Kentucky freshman Karl-Anthony Towns will probably be there for the taking. The 6-foot-11 C/PF has been a force on both sides of the ball. Given his limited minutes he is still averaging 8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.

He will take time to develop, but the finished product will be enough to wait for.

However, the grand prize in this year’s draft is Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor.

This is a far-fetched idea, but if the Lakers are to somehow have the ping pong balls fall their way, this would be far and away the best choice, as he is an NBA-ready big man who can easily come in and change a franchise. His post moves are great and he has a high NBA IQ, which instantly makes him a treasure that the Lakers, along with all the lottery teams, are going after.

In order for the Lakers to even have a chance at one of these four players, they must continue on this catastrophic season they are having. If somehow they are to fall out of the top five, the pick would be moved to the 76ers, who acquired it from the Suns. Should that happen, it would push the rebuilding process back a little farther than many would hope for.

Los Angeles must stop this process of building around Kobe Bryant (now 36 years old), and start building for the future. If somehow they can land a lottery pick, they could pair him with the likes of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young.

This would be able to do a couple things: One, it would send Bryant on a high note by giving him one last sniff at the postseason. Two, it would be a good start to the rebuilding process, and three, it would look very attractive when the likes of Kevin Durant, Westbrook and Davis hit the open market in the near future.

But for now all the Lakers organization and its fans can do is wait and hope. We can not hope for some big-name free agent to land in Los Angeles this summer, but rather hope that this year’s draft becomes a memorable one, like when Magic Johnson was drafted in 1979, or when Kobe was traded to the Lakers (for Vlade Divac) on Draft Day in 1996.

Whatever does happen for the Lakers, though, the organization must know that the way to go is through the draft. Organizations like the Thunder, Warriors and even the Spurs have built and improved themselves through the draft. The Lakers’ front office must follow this blueprint if they want to get back to the top of the league.

The summer of 2015 for Los Angeles will either be a historic one, or another failed one to which fans have grown accustomed.

Former NBA Player Jerome Kersey Dies at 52

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Former NBA forward Jerome Kersey died Wednesday from a pulmonary thromboembolism caused by a blood clot. He was 52.

The clot traveled from Kersey’s left calf to his lungs, Dr. Larry Lewman of the state’s examiner office told the Associated Press. The team refused to provide details.

A veteran of 17 NBA seasons, Kersey reportedly underwent knee surgery earlier in the week. Lewman said that the blood clot could possibly have been a complication from the surgery. But it was unknown if so.

An ambassador for the Trail Blazers, Kersey appeared Tuesday with former players Brian Grant and Terry Porter at Madison High School in Portland in celebration of African American History Month.

He was a 6-foot-7 small forward for the Blazers, Warriors, Lakers, Supersonics, Spurs and Bucks.

Kersey averaged 10.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He was a starter in two NBA Finals (1990 and 1992) and was a second-round draft pick in 1984.

While in Portland for 11 seasons he played alongside Clyde Drexler, Kiki Vandeweghe and Porter.

On the third try (with the Spurs in 1999) Kersey won an NBA championship. He retired in 2001.

Trail Blazers Acquire Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee From Nuggets

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Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee were traded from the Nuggets Thursday morning to the Trail Blazers in exchange for a first-round pick, a second-round pick Will Barton, Victor Claver and Thomas Robinson.

The early Thursday-morning deal will add depth for the Blazers off the bench as Afflalo will back up Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum.

His fantasy value will take a major hit as he was averaging 33 minutes per game and will now see somewhere in the mid-20s. You can safely drop the 29-year-old as his averages of 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists are certainly set to take a tumble.

Gee will sit behind Afflalo on the depth chart as a throw-in in the trade. He is averaging 4.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game.

Report: Lakers Interested In Nuggets’ Point Guard Ty Lawson

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A point guard seems to be in the future of the Lakers, with the team adding Ty Lawson to a wishlist alongside Goran Dragic as players it is interested in trading for ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard had the scoop on Twitter:

Currently the Lakers have Jordan Clarkson penciled in as their starting point guard, and are in line to have a shot at Emmanuel Mudiay in the NBA Draft with the league’s fourth-worst record at 13-40.

Lawson, 27, is averaging 16.9 points with 3.2 rebounds and 10.1 assists.

He is under contract until 2017 and is also drawing trade interest from the Pacers, who are trying to get him for George Hill.

The Lakers were said to not be open to trade either Clarkson or Jordan Hill.