Morning Shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George makes Pacers better right now | James Harden is the ultimate facilitator | Noah, Bulls would love a piece of Cavaliers in the playoffs

No. 1: Paul George makes Pacers better right now — The future can wait. Paul George is back and ready to lift the Indiana Pacers right now. That chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference race got a lot more interesting after George made his triumphant return from injury. Will it be enough to lift the Pacers past the crowd and into that last spot? Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star tackles that question and more:

Paul George makes the Indiana Pacers better, not in the future but right now. And not a little better, but a lot better. At both ends. The Paul George that came back Sunday night against the Heat came back a star in full, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes, making a mess of the Miami Heat’s half-court offense, breaking the game open with consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.

This game was not going to be easy for the Heat, not without injured center Hassan Whiteside and not playing their second road game in 24 hours and their third in four days, but it wasn’t going to be this ugly. It wasn’t going to be a 112-89 blowout for the Pacers, except for one guy.

And the guy isn’t Luis Scola.

All due respect to Scola. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes. He was sensational. But he was not the point of this game, not the spark, not the havoc-wreaking agent at both ends that Paul George was in his return after missing 76 games following that gruesome broken leg in August with Team USA in Las Vegas.

The Pacers are better with George, but how much better? Good enough to pass the Boston Celtics, who are a game ahead for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot? I asked Pacers coach Frank Vogel exactly how much better this Paul George, rusty as he may be, makes the Pacers for the final five games.

“Tough to measure,” Vogel said, “but certainly we’re a lot better with him. We missed him on both ends, but what he’s able to do on the defensive end is almost unparalleled in the NBA. Certainly we’re a lot a stronger on that end, and (with) the scoring punch he gives us on the offensive end as well.”

Boston has the tiebreaker on Indiana, so the Pacers have to not only catch the Celtics but pass them to make the playoffs. Each team has five games left. Time is running out. But it’s like Vogel said.

“There’s no bad time to get a Paul George back,” he said.


VIDEO: Paul George’s return was a hit for the Pacers

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No. 2: James Harden is the ultimate facilitator LeBron James. And now James Harden. They are bigger men proving that you don’t have to be a “point guard” to facilitate like a traditional point guard. In fact, Harden has been as good or better than any point guard in the league (no offense Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and others) at orchestrating for his team. And he had it all on display Sunday in a win over Westbrook and the Thunder. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

For most of a game that the Thunder worked to get the ball out of James Harden’s hands, Harden found ways to score anyway. With a run of 10-consecutive points in the fourth quarter, he finished with 41 points, his 10th game with at least 40. The Rockets, however, were as happy with their execution offensively when he gave the ball up as when he kept it.

“They were putting two on the ball and he did a nice job hitting Josh (Smith) a couple times, hit Joey (Dorsey) a couple times,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He went downhill and made the pass out. We missed a couple 3s off that, but that’s the right play to make. James scored 41 points against a stacked defense. That’s hard to do.”

The Rockets did not shoot well around Harden. Other than his 6 of 9 3-point shooting, they went 2 of 19 from the 3-point line. But they were happy with how the offense worked.

“I just try to make the right play down the court,” Harden said. “I have the ball in my hand so much that it’s hard to make the right play every single time. For the most part I try to make the right play whether it’s making a pocket pass or just getting off the ball or being in attack mode. Just reading it and exploring the defense.”

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No. 3: Noah, Bulls would love a piece of Cavaliers in playoffs Joakim Noah has never been shy about expressing himself where LeBron James (and whatever team he’s on) is concerned. That might explain his complete confidence in his Chicago Bulls facing James and the Cavaliers somewhere along the playoff road. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com sets the scene:

Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls remain confident they can beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in a seven-game series — despite the fact they dropped Sunday’s game 99-94 to the Cavs.

“I think we’re a confident group,” Noah said after the game. “And it would be great to play them in the playoffs. It would be very, very exciting, something that I really hope happens.”

Noah, who famously disparaged the city of Cleveland during the 2010 playoffs, showed the city a similar lack of regard during his postgame comments.

“This is a great place to play basketball,” he said. “Other than that, there’s not much else to do. But when you get on to that court, it’s a great place to play basketball. That’s as much love as I’ll give to Cleveland.”

Cavs guard J.R. Smith, who was traded to Cleveland before the trade deadline, echoed Noah’s sentiments in an interview with NBA.com’s David Aldridge earlier in the year.

“I think this is the best situation for me, ’cause there’s nothing but basketball,” Smith told NBA.com. “There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball and basketball.”

The Bulls are 1-3 against the Cavs in the regular season, but they are emboldened by the fact they have the highest scoring offense in the Tom Thibodeau era. The Cavaliers hit 16 3-pointers on Sunday, tying a record for 3-pointers given up in a game with Thibodeau as coach.

Even so, the Bulls seemed upbeat after the loss and remain confident they will be even better once Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich return from knee injuries.

“Look, there’s no moral victories and we would have liked to have played better,” veteran Mike Dunleavy said. “But you lose a game by five and you have three, take your hat off to them, great shots at the end, buzzer-beaters. Hey, if they hit those shots, they’re going to beat a lot of teams.

“We still think we can do some things better, but if we have the opportunity to play them down the road, we feel like we can play with them.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: … The worst nightmare for the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks took place Saturday night … How low can the Los Angeles Lakers go this season? Keep watching … Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum should be the difference for his team come playoff time … CP3 for MVP? Byron Scott says why not? … The Cavaliers are contenders, but LeBron James declares they are “still not there yet” …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Dueling MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook went at it Sunday and the performances lived up to all of the hype. Harden went to work and delivered the goods (and the win) for his team …


VIDEO: James Harden drops 41 on Russell Westbrook and the Thunder

… while Westbrook did his usual and filled the stat sheet …


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook answered with yet another triple double

8 Comments

  1. Bill says:

    Forget all the statistics since they can be used like a drunk who uses a lamppost for support rather than for enlightenment.

    Rockets without Harden may not be a playoff team. Warriors without Curry may not be a championship team. Which is more important?

    I think a championship team is……

  2. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    I think the Bulls can take Cleveland, there better on the offensive end this year, with Gasol in the post and Butler being a scorer. I like the Bulls chances.

    • fff says:

      Yeah but their defense is worse, so its pretty much even, I think if the cavs and the bulls would meat up, the cavs would take it in 5. pretty easyli I just dont think the bulls can score and defend well enough to beat them.

  3. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    PG, what a return.

  4. harriethehawk says:

    I vote that if we have to endure any Faker game highlights, at least sound some crickets in the background, lol.

  5. Patty says:

    The unfairness of how they are treating James Harden is so unfair. Once again, The Media is taking the MVP AWARD FROM JAMES HARDEN.

    JAMES HARDEN, DONOT LET ANYONE TAKE YOUR JOY YOU ARE THE MVP OF 2015 NOT CURRY.

  6. Bill says:

    The Harden love fest continues. You and him should get a room……