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Love leaves game with bruised thigh

VIDEO: Kevin Love missed final quarter.

As if watching Avery Bradley’s 3-point buzzer beater that cost them the game wasn’t painful enough, the Cavaliers also were hurt playing the final quarter Friday night without Kevin Love, who suffered a bruised thigh.

The Cleveland power forward had scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds when he went to the floor with 1 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Bulls’ Butler sprains left knee

Whatever problems the Bulls have been having with inconsistent play as they muddle around in the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff race went out the window when All-Star guard Jimmy Butler fell hard to the floor and had to be carted to the locker room with just over a minute left in the first half Friday night at Denver.

Butler was cooking with 19 points and five assists when he drove in from the right side of the basket and landed hard after a collision with the Nuggets’ Joffrey Lauvergne.

After an examination, it was determined that Butler suffered a left knee sprain and was in good spirits.

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Rescheduled game throws post-All-Star hurdle at Wizards, Jazz

Imposing some sanity on the schedule was a priority for the NBA again this season, and the league was successful in reducing the number of back-to-back games – and a near-vanishing of the old four-games-in-five-nights grind.

But Mother Nature can be mightier than the agenda at NBA HQ in Manhattan, as the Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz learned Friday the steep schedule price they’ll be paying for the Jan. 23 date that was postponed by the severe winter storm that hammered the East Coast that weekend.

The NBA announced Friday that the Wizards and the Jazz will make up that game on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. ET at the Verizon Center in Washington. As our own John Schuhmann noted on Twitter, there is serious inconvenience awaiting both teams:

So everybody has to cut short their All-Star break by one day, the Jazz have to haul back three-quarters of the way across the country to Salt Lake City for their back-to-back, while the Wizards face the dreaded three-games-in-three-nights that’s been avoided by the schedule makers for decades.

Still, 82 games means 82 games. Playoff positioning could be impacted. And given the limited availability of open dates for two teams and one multi-purpose arena, the Wizards and the Jazz weren’t working from a position of strength in squeezing in their make-up date.

Miami’s Bosh: Long players face long odds in Foot Locker Three-Point Contest


VIDEO: Bosh’s 3-Point highlights

Long thought to be a sport in which height gives one a decided advantage, basketball as put on display at All-Star Weekend tends to come up short, so to speak.

It’s bad enough that centers get thrown into the hopper with the forwards as “frontcourt” players in All-Star balloting. It’s even worse when you look back over past champions of the two most revered side events, the Verizon Slam Dunk and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. That’s why Miami’s Chris Bosh isn’t getting his hopes up too much for when he works his way around the arc emptying ball racks on All-Star Saturday Feb. 13.

Only four times since the dunk event became official in 1984 has it been won by a player 6-foot-9 or taller: Larry Nance, 6-foot-10, did it in 1984. Josh Smith, 6-foot-9, won in 2005. Dwight Howard donned his Superman cape in 2008, and Blake Griffin jumped over the Kia in 2011.

The same holds true for big men shooting from long distance, with just four different big men among the winners since the 3-point “shootout” was added in 1986. Larry Bird, at 6-foot-9, won the first three. Peja Stojakoivc, 6-foot-9, won in 2002 and ’03. Dirk Nowitzki claimed the 2006 crown and, six years later, Kevin Love showed off his deep range. Last year, none of the eight contestants stood taller than 6-foot-7.

With the dunk competition, it’s been said for years that it’s harder for a tall player to make his dunks look challenging or artistic enough. There’s no “wow!” factor in how high up the big guys have to get – none of the oohing and aahing Spud Webb or Nate Robinson instantly generated – and generally speaking, wing players in the 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-7 range seem to elevate (so to speak) the act into something balletic.

As for the 3-point contest – which relies on actual scores rather than judging – anatomy and angles seem to disfavor tall guys. Reaching down to grab the ball, then raising it up to proper launch position … that all takes a teensy bit longer for the big guys.

So Bosh is approaching this as something to have fun with, while giving a nod to his fans (current and former) in Toronto, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Selected Thursday to compete, Bosh on Friday reflected on the daunting challenge of shooting against the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson next week in Toronto.

“Look, I have nothing to lose, OK? I’m just going to shoot it. And if the ball goes in? That’s awesome,” he said.

At 6 feet 11, Bosh is three inches taller than any of the seven other participants.

“I’m just happy I’m the only big,” he said. “Bigs are not going to be a part of the All-Star Weekend in a couple of years. I’m just glad I’m one of the last of the guys.”

With the event at Air Canada Centre, if means more jeers from a fan base yet to accept his free-agency departure from the Toronto Raptors to the Heat in 2010.

“Yeah,” he grinned, “it’ll be awesome. It’s like cheers in reverse. That’s what I tell myself, man. If you care to acknowledge me, that’s half the battle.”

Told it seemingly took Toronto fans 10 years to get over the departure of former Raptors icon Vince Carter, Bosh smiled.

“Oh, so just four more years left?” he said. “OK, that’s good. My kids will be in high school by then. That’ll be nice.”

Analytics Art: Rivers, Thompson among best shooters of week


VIDEO: All-Star Thompson’s 3-Point Highlights

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Lesser-known names can occasionally heat up and claim all three spots in this weekly column. But with All-Star Game participants being announced recently, many stars have stepped up their game as of late.

As a result, two of the players highlighted this week are 2016 All Stars. One will even partake in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, an honor that hardly needed justifying but has nevertheless been confirmed with some stupendous shooting lately.

The other? Well, let’s just say he has a long way to go before he’s considered one of the elite players on his team, let alone the Western Conference.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 29-Feb. 4. Players must have averaged 20 minutes per game to qualify.

Best Guard: Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

Austin Rivers famously copped James Harden’s (Lil B’s?) “stirring the pot” celebration in the playoffs against Houston last season, and he conjured up some more home cookin’ at the Staples Center in Los Angeles’ three home games this week. Well, call it two-and-a-quarter.

The much-maligned guard made 8-for-14 shots against the Lakers last Friday, the most made field goals by Rivers against a non-76ers opponent this season.

Rivers followed that up with 16 points against the Bulls behind five 3-pointers on six attempts, tied for a career high. That’s pretty darn good for a guy shooting 28.4 percent from downtown!

Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Rivers’ stats compared to the league average.

He just couldn’t get through the week unscathed, however. After finishing an impressive layup in the second quarter of the Clippers’ clash against Minnesota, Rivers was ejected after receiving a double-tech for complaining about a supposed missed foul. He only played seven minutes in the surprising 108-102 defeat.

At least the mercurial coach’s son shot 60 percent when he was on the floor over the past seven days.

Best Wing: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Klay Thompson is used to being second banana to Stephen Curry in Golden State’s backcourt. Thompson has played in the shadow of the reigning MVP for his entire career, after all.

Though Curry stole more headlines this week with a 51-point explosion, Thompson had the more efficient shooting effort overall — even if you discount his 45-point output against Dallas last Wednesday. With a scorching 51.7 percent clip from deep in three games this week, Thompson is now on pace to finish fifth all-time for 3-pointers made in a season.

Of course, Curry is on pace to smash the record he set in that category just last season, so Thompson’s accomplishment will probably be undervalued.

Thompson can beat his fellow Splash Brother in one regard, however — the leader of the free world proclaimed Thursday Thompson’s jumpshot is prettier than Chef Curry’s. So, there’s that.

Best Forward/Center: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

It was tempting to give this spot to Draymond Green, who became just the third player in NBA history to register a triple-double without missing a shot against the Knicks on Sunday.

But while Green took 21 shots on the week, LaMarcus Aldridge nearly eclipsed that total in the Spurs’ victory over New Orleans on Wednesday, continuing a torrid run since from a disastrous outing (2-for-9, five points, three rebounds) against the Warriors.

The former No. 2 overall pick sunk 12-for-20 shots and cashed all 12 chances at the charity stripe against the Pelicans for a season-high of 36 points. That was just two nights after he set his previous high-water mark in 2015-16 with 28 points (9-for-13 overall, 10-for-12 on free throws) against the Magic.

And while nearly all of Green’s buckets this week came right at the rim, Aldridge showed off the mid-range game that’s uncommon among seven-footers.

San Antonio’s marquee summer signing has clearly taken it upon himself to assume a bigger role on offense during the absence of Tim Duncan (knee). If this week was any indication, the Spurs’ well-oiled offensive machine should keep chugging along just fine when The Big Fundamental calls it quits.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Analytics Art: Bradley, Anthony among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Take a look back at the week that was for the Knicks

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The NBA announced the 2016 All-Star reserves last week, but even those honored were not safe from criticism. John Wall of the Washington Wizards was named among the best of his peers, but he found his way onto the PointAfter team’s weekly roundup of the worst shooters.

Even the best players in the game are not immune to shooting woes. That trend continued into this week, as one of our three representatives will also represent the Eastern Conference with Wall on Feb. 14.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Jan. 29-Feb. 4.

Guard: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The Celtics experienced a solid stretch over the past week, going 3-1 and dispatching both the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons along the way. Combo guard Avery Bradley, however, sputtered offensively during that stretch. The culprit for his woes? Long twos.

As you can see, Bradley couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from around 16-to-19 feet — an analytics fanatic’s nightmare. In fact, his long-range shooting abilities in general were completely out of whack. He finished the week’s four games 4 of 21 from beyond the arc (a ghastly 19 percent).

Usually a reliable asset for his tenacious defense and ability to make corner 3-pointers, Bradley had a rough go of it over the past four contests. Interestingly, in his best game out of the trailing seven days (a Feb. 3 win over Detroit in which shot 7-for-15), Bradley wound up with a team-worst -8 plus/minus.

Wing: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton inked a five-year, $70 million deal last summer to remain with the Bucks. As one of the premier ‘three-and-D’ wing players in the league, Middleton has continued to improve his offensive output and live up to that price tag.

His scoring has increased to the point that he’s now the team leader in the category. But when your team’s best scorer isn’t shooting well, you’re going to lose games. That’s exactly what happened to the Bucks this week.

Dating back to Jan. 29, Milwaukee went 0-3 and watched Middleton shoot 15-for-53 along the way (28.3 percent).

The swingman’s inability to find his stroke from 3-point range above the break contributed to three straight losses. To date, only the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are have a worse record in the East than the Bucks.

Forward/Center: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony was voted in by the fans as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. It’s the ninth All-Star nod of his career, and while he’s not undeserving, he definitely looked it over New York’s past four games.

Anthony mixed inefficiency with the usual shooting volume to create shameful results.

The 31-year-old could not find his rhythm, shooting 31.8 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from long range. That resulted in a 1-3 record for the Knicks, though they did have to face the mighty Golden State Warriors.

Anthony is shooting 42.8 percent this season, which is the lowest mark since his rookie year with the Denver Nuggets.

If the Knicks are going to have any hope of making the postseason in the improved Eastern Conference this year, they’ll need their superstar to bounce back to form.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Numbers notes: No drive in Russell


VIDEO: Assist of the Night: D’Angelo Russell to Tarik Black

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Much has been made of rookie D’Angelo Russell‘s playing time with the 11-41 Los Angeles Lakers. Though he ranks sixth among rookies in minutes per game, it seems like the No. 2 pick could have a bigger (or at least a more consistent) role with a team that never had a chance of competing for a playoff spot this season.

But how Russell plays is as interesting a question as how much he plays. According to SportVU, the Lakers have scored 1.35 points per possession when Russell drives, a mark that would compare with those of Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.

But Russell has only recorded 145 drives, 2.9 per game and 3.9 per 36 minutes. SportVU says that he has turned a pick-and-roll into a drive only 10.3 percent of the time, a rate that ranks 86th among 94 ball-handlers who have come off at least 300 ball screens. Teammate Jordan Clarkson has driven more than twice as often (26.0 percent) when coming off ball screens.

20160205_ball_screen

Emmanuel Mudiay, taken five picks after Russell, is another interesting comparison. The Nuggets’ point guard has been the league’s worst shooter from outside the paint, but he has driven 9.2 times per 36 minutes, almost 2 1/2 times as often as Russell.

20160205_em_dr

Only 38 percent of the Lakers’ shots have come in the paint, the lowest rate in the league. The shot selections of Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams are more jumper-heavy than that or Russell, but it would help if the rookie attacked the basket more often.

Potent drives

It should be no surprise that three All-Stars top the list of players who produce the most points for their team when they drive. Curry has become one of the league’s best finishers among guards, Westbrook has mixed it up more this season, and Chris Paul is the consummate playmaker.

But there are a couple of non-All-Stars on the list below that have produced for their team when they’ve attacked the basket.

20160205_drives_ppp

Felton has come back after a rough first season in Dallas and benefited from the potency of the players around him. He’s part of a Dallas lineup that has scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions, the third highest rate among lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together.

Holiday is another interesting name on the list, especially given how often he has driven. After driving about nine times per 36 minutes in his first two (injury-riddled) seasons in New Orleans, Holiday ranks fifth in drives per 36 among players who have played at least 750 minutes, trailing only Ish Smith (15.6), Jeff Teague (13.9), Reggie Jackson (13.0) and Isaiah Thomas (12.5).

Offensive picking up

If it feels like offense has picked up as the season has gone on, it’s because it has. Since Jan. 1, the league has scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions, up from 102.2 through Dec. 31. Through Thursday, efficiency is right where it was (103.0) at the end of last season.

20160205_by_month

This isn’t a surprise. Offensive efficiency typically increases as the season goes on. But it might not keep going up in a straight line, though. Don’t be surprised if you watch some ugly games in late February.

Last season was the first time we had an extended All-Star break, with each team getting at least eight days off between their last game before the All-Star Game and their first game before it. And we saw a big dip in efficiency coming out of the break. After scoring 103.7 points per 100 possessions in the 85 pre-break February games, the league scored just 100.0 in 76 post-break February games, shooting worse and turning the ball over more.

20160205__1415_by_month

The league recovered in March and April, but not all the way to the level it was playing offensively before the extended break.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ballmer: Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for fight | Ainge says no trades imminent | Report: Bucks willing to deal | Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons

No. 1: Ballmer says Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for scuffle — The Los Angeles Clippers are about a week into the four-to-six-week timeframe they’re looking at being without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. He is out with a broken hand, suffered during an off-the-court fight with a team equipment manager in Toronto a few weeks ago. While the NBA is investigating the incident, team owner Steve Ballmer says there will be repercussions for Griffin, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

In his first interview since Blake Griffin punched out the team’s assistant equipment manager, the Clippers owner sounded as if he was prepared to discipline his All-Star forward.

Asked Wednesday night if he felt it necessary for the Clippers to take the kind of action that would represent what they stand for, Ballmer didn’t hesitate.

“There needs to be consequences,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Citing a team investigation into the incident that resulted in a broken right hand for Griffin, Ballmer didn’t offer any details, so it’s not known whether the Clippers might add to whatever punishment the Kia pitchman receives from the NBA. Still, Ballmer made it clear that employee-on-employee violence would not be tolerated.

If his actions back his words, good for him.

Ballmer was measured when speaking of Griffin, condemning the player’s actions without tossing him under the proverbial bus.

“Just remember, Blake is a key part of his team,” Ballmer said.

At this moment, the courtside goofball in Ballmer emerged, as he extended his arms to mimic an embrace.

“We will welcome him back,” he said with a smile as broad as his shoulders.

This is something of a new experience for Ballmer. As the chief executive of Microsoft, he said there were times when key employees under-performed as a result of doing something stupid. However, he conceded, “We didn’t ever have a situation quite like this.”

Ballmer continued, “You know, everyone’s going to heal, and we’re going to have an opportunity to move forward. We’re going to finish our investigation, decide what needs to happen and move forward. Blake’s a key part of our team. There’s no question about that.

“He certainly has been remorseful, which is great, and we’ll find a way to move past it. That’s part of life. An important part of life is learning how to have consequences.”

***

No. 2: Ainge says no trades imminent for Celtics — Yesterday we brought you news that the Houston Rockets were reportedly not going to try and deal center Dwight Howard, who was recently linked to a trade with the Boston Celtics. Does that mean Howard is staying put for sure? Who knows. But according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Boston isn’t looking to make a trade just yet — although he is (as always) in talks with other front offices about possible deals. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com has more:

Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, spoke about the importance of trust in what was the biggest trade he has pulled off to date – landing Kevin Garnett from Minnesota in 2007.

“The biggest trade we made was with my best friend in the business, Kevin McHale,” Ainge said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich Show.

At the time, McHale was the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It wouldn’t have gotten done if not for Kevin and I, because there had to be so much trust going back and forth,” Ainge said.

But when it comes to evaluating players and their potential fit with the Celtics, Ainge leans on himself and his staff.

“The relationship is important but I don’t necessarily listen to their evaluation,” Ainge said.

That becomes quite topical now with the Celtics having had some discussions with the Houston Rockets about Dwight Howard who played for McHale in Houston prior to McHale being fired earlier this season.

While Ainge did not speak specifically about Howard and Boston’s level of interest in the former eight-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, there’s not a team in the NBA that Ainge hasn’t had a conversation with recently.

But does that means he’s close to making a major deal.

Nope.

“Most of the time, ninety-nine percent of the things talked about and discussed, don’t happen,” Ainge said. “This time of year there’s a lot of discussions. It’s really hard to predict if there’s any deals there. Usually they happen at the very end, the very last day.”

“I do feel like we need to make improvements on our team, but not necessarily at the trade deadline,” Ainge said. “We can’t force anything. Right now, there’s nothing on the table, there’s nothing imminent. We’ve just had a lot of discussions and hope that next week come trade deadline (Feb. 18, 3 p.m. EST) we’re prepared to make the right decisions.”

***

No. 3: Report: Bucks willing to deal Carter-Williams, Monroe — The Milwaukee Bucks have been perhaps the most disappointing team of 2015-16, especially given their offseason splash. The Bucks added one of the biggest free-agent fish in the pond, center Greg Monroe, to a squad that surprised many and made the 2015 playoffs. A young core of Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and guard Michael Carter-Williams seemed poised for at least a repeat (if not an improvement upon) last season. Yet as the trade deadline nears and the Bucks fall further and further out of the playoff race, Carter-Williams and Monroe could be dealt, writes Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times:

Clearly, Bucks officials are deeply concerned. That’s reflected in their ongoing discussions with other teams about potential trades before the Feb. 18 deadline.

Based on conversations with several NBA execs from the Eastern and Western conferences, the Bucks are more than receptive to playing “Let’s Make a Deal.’’

And that includes possibly moving Michael Carter-Williams, who has been consistently inconsistent since joining the Bucks. Carter-Williams has had some dynamic games this season, like an 18-point, 13-assist outing against Sacramento and a 20-point, 12-assist showing against Chicago.

On the flip side, Carter-Williams had only two assists in 26 minutes against Portland on Wednesday night, one assist in 27 minutes against Memphis last week, and zero assists in 25 minutes against Miami two weeks ago.

But Carter-Williams isn’t the only frontline player the Bucks are apparently willing to move. A much bigger surprise is the Bucks have made it known that center Greg Monroe is available at the right price, according to some NBA officials.

Monroe has been a double-double machine, having recorded 26 this season. That ranks sixth in the league behind Detroit’s Andre Drummond (40), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (33), Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (28), the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (28) and Chicago’s Pau Gasol (27) and just ahead of Washington’s John Wall (25), Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (25) and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (24).

But Monroe’s man-to-man and help-defense remain suspect. And he most definitely isn’t the rim protector the Bucks sorely need. He is averaging a mere 0.9 blocks per game this season, which ties him with L.A. Lakers forward Brandon Bass for 46th in the league.

Justified or not, Monroe is being targeted as one of the primary reasons for the Bucks’ defensive deficiencies this season. After being one of the elite defensive teams in the league last season, the Bucks are now one of the worst, giving up 103.3 points per game compared to 97.4 last season.

Clearly, the pieces to the Bucks’ puzzle aren’t fitting. Several league officials said they would be surprised if the Bucks didn’t make a major trade.

“From what I’m hearing is they (the Bucks) are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,’’ an NBA executive said. “I even heard they’d listen (to offers) for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.

“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’

***

No. 4: Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons — A great number of folks were predicting big things for Detroit Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson after his solid showing at NBA Summer League. He was tops on our Rookie Ladder after Summer League and was a dominant force in the Orlando Summer League. Once 2015-16 got started, though, Johnson was more or less relegated to a reserve role. But an recent injury to third-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened the door for Johnson to start last night and he delivered with flying colors, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week he was looking for ways to get more minutes for Stanley Johnson. Losing Caldwell-Pope to a core muscle strain that will keep him out at least until the resumption of play following the All-Star break on Feb. 19 isn’t the desired method, but Johnson at least proved more than capable of shouldering greater responsibility in the 111-105 win over the Knicks.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Van Gundy said after Johnson logged 44 minutes and led the Pistons with 22 points plus nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. “Second start of his career. Thought he played real well. We were even going to him down the stretch before Reggie hit the threes. We were running plays for him. Fearless. Getting better all the time. Not afraid to make plays.”

As impressive as it is for a rookie to shoulder 44 minutes and still have enough left to make a handful of the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter, Johnson’s play doesn’t really come as a surprise to his teammates. They’ve seen his readiness and his confidence since the early days of training camp.

“It’s awesome. He’s a really good player,” Tolliver said. “We’ve known it the whole season. He’s getting a great opportunity now with KCP out. He’s just really still learning the game. That’s a good thing for him because he’s going to have a bright future, as long as he keeps his head on straight and continues to work hard and play hard like he does.”

Jackson said he and Reggie Johnson discussed strategy on the plane ride back from Boston. What was it? Johnson wouldn’t say, but figures that when Caldwell-Pope comes back, the Pistons now have another tool in their belt to throw at teams.

“What me and Reggie did tonight was different,” Johnson said. “I think it helped a little bit, so I think when (Caldwell-Pope) gets back, having ways for guys who can do stuff like that is going to make it tough for (opponents) to play.”

“Amazing,” Jackson said of Johnson’s contributions. “We talked about it on the plane, the game plan coming in between us two, how we were going to approach this game. He did everything that he told me he was going to do. He’s definitely somebody who has the utmost confidence in himself and he’s one of those, he says he’s going to do it then he’s going to go out and compete. He came up tremendously big.”

Van Gundy sensed some of his veterans feeling the heat as the Knicks took big chunks out of the lead, but not his youngest player.

“We were struggling. I decided to start going to him,” Van Gundy said. “I thought some of our other guys maybe tightened up a little bit and that’s not him. Pretty amazing for a 19-year-old kid.”

Somebody said to Van Gundy, “He relishes the moment.”

“Yeah, he does. He and Reggie both. It’s good to have a couple of guys like that. … I think Stanley’s going to be a really good player. And he handled huge minutes tonight on the fifth game in seven nights, played (44) minutes and played real well. Nine rebounds, made some really good passes. Just played extremely well.”

“I knew I was going to walk into heavy minutes,” Johnson said. “For me going into the game, I was like, ‘How do I keep up (Caldwell-Pope’s) defensive intensity and offensively – we don’t play the same, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it in his way, but I thought I could help out on both sides.”

Yeah, you could say he helped out. Just a little.


VIDEO: Balanced Pistons hold off Knicks in Detroit

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Indiana Pacers executive and Hall of Famer Larry Bird has some pointed thoughts on the lifespan of NBA big men … ICYMI, a quick rundown of everyone who will be participating in the State Farm All-Star Saturday events, which includes the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the ‘Hack-A-‘ rule will soon be changing … The San Antonio Spurs will be without Manu Ginobili after he underwent testicular surgery … President Barack Obama had a lot of fun with the Golden State Warriors yesterday … Kind of a cool photo gallery — re-drafting the 2007 NBA Draft

Analytics Art: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s Return Fueling Hornets Defense

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Former No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seemed poised for a breakout campaign ahead of his fourth professional season. The fourth-year leap is not uncommon, as Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls put on display last year by amalgamating everything together — making his first All-Star team and winning Most Improved Player.

Unfortunately for Hornets fans, Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot at emulating a similar jolt in production was put on hold when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder during the preseason opener. The injury required surgery, and he missed the first three months of the 2015-16 season as a result.

The 22-year-old was expected to be sidelined for six months, but he made his return well ahead of that timeline on Jan. 29 against the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s important to note that we’re dealing with a small sample size here (three games), but the Hornets have been a vastly improved defensive squad with MKG back in the lineup.

In the 98 minutes Charlotte has played with Kidd-Gilchrist thus far, opponents are scoring 94.2 points per 100 possessions on an effective field goal percentage of 44.3 percent. Compare that to the time spent competing without him (more than 2,200 minutes), in which the Hornets surrender an offensive rating of 105.3 to accompany an eFG% of 50.4 percent.

Again, the sample size is tiny — and the numbers benefit from a road dismantling of the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 31 — but a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday hints that the improvement with MKG is no fluke. His tenacity and raw skill on the defensive end sets the tone for coach Steve Clifford’s schemes.

Per Bill Kiser for the Charlotte Observer, Clifford was pleased to have the youngster back and playing at a high level.

“I knew how hard he had worked on his conditioning,” Clifford said leading up to the game against Cleveland. “To be honest, I was surprised at how long he was able to play. I just thought it would take him a while to play so well, but he’s worked so hard and it’s obviously showing.”

Through his first three games played in 2016, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Both of those marks would be career highs if sustained throughout the remainder of the season.

Not surprisingly, Kidd-Gilchrist’s player efficiency rating (PER) is also at a personal best.

The Hornets have been stung by the injury bug throughout the season. Obviously MKG has been out, but Al Jefferson has been sidelined 30 games and counting, Nic Batum missed time due to a toe injury and Kemba Walker was absent for the matchup against LeBron James and Co. nursing a sore left knee.

Despite all of those setbacks, Charlotte remains in the hunt for a playoff spot. The addition of Kidd-Gilchrist adds a big spark, but the Hornets still need to get healthy after the All-Star break. If they do, the Buzz could cobble together a stellar second half a la the Utah Jazz a season ago, who went 19-10 with the league’s best defensive rating. Stay tuned.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Report: Silver says changes coming to hack-a-Shaq rule

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Changes are in store for the dreaded Hack-A-Shaq (Dwight or DeAndre or Andre) rule this summer.

Or at leas that is the sentiment from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who addressed the topic on USA Today Sports‘ NBA A-to-Z Podcast.

Like many fans, coaches, players, executives and observers, the Commissioner has grown weary of the often-used strategy, which basically consists of fouling the poorest free throw shooter on an opposing team in an effort to limit said team’s scoring opportunities.

More from USA Today Sports:

“Even for those who had not wanted to make the change, we’re being forced to that position just based on these sophisticated coaches understandably using every tactic available to them,” Silver said. “It’s just not the way we want to see the game played.”

Hack-A-Player is up this year. The number of those intentional fouls through mid-December surpassed the number of times it happened last season (164), and the league is closing in on 300 Hack-A-Player instances before the All-Star break.

Through Tuesday’s games, fouls against Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Houston Rockets Dwight Howard have accounted for 69% of Hack-A-Player fouls. Jordan accounts for 34%.

Silver knows the data. But the interaction with fans as he watches a game has made an impact, too.

“Again, as I travel around the league, there’s that one school of thought ‘Guys have got to make their free throws,’ ” Silver said. “But then at the end of the day, we are an entertainment property, and it’s clear that when you’re in the arena, that fans are looking at me, shrugging their shoulders with that look saying, ‘Aren’t you going to do something about this?’ ”

 


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