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Monday, 09 December 2013 04:16

What's Cookin'? - NBA Weekly Roundup

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Thunder Knock Back Pacers


I’m still going to argue that Paul George is the NBA MVP so far this season. Last night, Kevin Durant reminded me that he’s the second best player in the world.


Durant dropped 36 points (10 rebounds and five assists too) on the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night in a game that could very well be a preview of the NBA Finals as the Oklahoma City Thunder took down Indiana, 118-94. George finished with 32 points but mustered only six at halftime with his team trailing 56-37.


OKC have the edge in the Western Conference over the Portland Trail Blazers because of this massive win. It couldn’t have come at a better time, since the Pacers just beat the San Antonio Spurs handedly the night before.


Not only does this make San Antonio just 2-3 in their last five games, but it continues their trend of losing to the other elite teams in the NBA. Indiana held an 87-65 lead after three quarters thanks to behind a 67-37 run through the second and third quarters of the game. Paul George lead the way with 28 points as his team won in San Antonio for the first time since 2002.


But let’s get back to the Durant and George comparison. First, take look at their supporting casts.


The Pacers might be the most well-balanced starting five in the league. In addition, they bring Luis Scola (someone who could start for many teams in the league) and C.J. Watson (a top backup point guard) off the bench. But still, that’s just about seven quality players.


The Thunder have a clear weak link among their starters in Kendrick Perkins, but off the bench they have an underrated Nick Collison, a veteran presence in point guard Derrick Fisher, and two up and coming guards in Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb (a silky smooth player). You could make the case that there are seven to nine quality players on the roster.


The big difference however, is who their number two is. For the Pacers, is it Lance Stephenson? Or is it Roy Hibbert? Whoever it may be, Russell Westbrook is on a completely different level. Simply put, Durant has more help than George.


Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 28.5 PPG. George is fourth putting in 24.8 a night. Durant outdoes George in rebounding -- 8.8 to 5.9 RPG -- as well as assists -- 5.0 to 3.6 APG. George is shooting a better percentage from the floor -- 47.6 to 46.4 -- on top of the three-point line -- 41.2 to 36.6. The raw numbers are very similar, but I wont' deny that Durant's are better.


I argued George’s case as the MVP so far on the Celtics Beat this past Saturday. In a nutshell, not only has he improved exponentially each year that he’s been in the league, but without him, where would the Pacers be?


Indiana doesn't have another player who can carry the scoring load for a significant stretch of games. George is also a fantastic defender himself, and has to take on the responsibility of guarding the opponents’ top swingman each night.


Plus, though I’m not in favor of placing too much emphasis on team success when weighing a player’s MVP credentials, Indiana still has the league’s best record (18-3) and could very well make a run at 73 wins. The Pacers want home court advantage in the Eastern Conference and the race for the West’s best record should keep them motivated even if they gain a comfortable lead over the Heat towards the season’s end.


LeBron James and Kevin Durant are better basketball players overall, but George means more to Indiana this season than any other player to his in the NBA. So far.


The Black Mamba Is Back


The L.A. Lakers are 10-10. They have the NBA’s highest scoring bench so far. They’ve done it all without Kobe Bryant (and Steve Nash). Up until last night.


After inking an extension that maintains Bryant’s status as the highest paid player in the association, the Lakers finally have a chance to see if their large investment was a good idea.


One side note about the contract. Sure it might make it a little harder to entice another superstar to don the purple and gold, in a player-drive league, you have to take the economics into consideration. The Lakers have probably sold millions upon millions of Kobe merchandise over the years. So yea, I think he’s more than worth the $48.5 million he’ll earn over the two years of the extension.


In his first game back, Bryant scored nine points, grabbed eigh rebounds in 28 minutes in a 106-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors. The rust frrom his eight months off was evident as he also committed eight turnovers in the game. In fact, as ESPNLosAngeles's Dave McMenamin wrote, Kobe gave himself an F for his performance.


It will be hard not to expect the same Kobe we saw right before he tore his achilles. Even at his age, he’s a top-10 offensive player in the league. I’m not sure we’ve seen a perimeter player expand his repertoire of moves as much as Bryant has over the course of his 17 year (and counting) career. So give him a little time and just enjoy his climb up the all-time scoring list as ESPN’s J.A. Adande wrote.


Kyle Korver Makes Threes All Day Every Day


To be specific, Kyle Korver has now made a three-pointer in 90 straight NBA games. Not a single player in the history of the NBA has made a long-range shot in that many games consecutively.


A lifetime 42.2 percent shooter from downtown, Korver is also 26th on the all-time NBA/ABA list with 1,369 made three-pointers during his 11 year career.


During the streak, Korver has made 46.7 percent of his treys. That would easily be the best mark for a career, ahead of Steve Kerr. For what it’s worth, number two on the career percentage list for distance shooters, is Stephen Curry.


Monta All Day


I wasn’t sure how Monta Ellis was going to fare with the Dallas Mavericks. It’s hard to judge a player when he spends so many years on porous Golden State Warriors teams that didn’t have much of an identity or as part of a Milwaukee Bucks team for a team that seemed destined for the 8-seed in the East for eternity.


Yet now he’s paired up with a Dirk Nowitzki who’s playing some his most efficient basketball of his career. Nowitzki is still more than capable of taking over a game himself as was evident in an 89-82 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday when he scored a game-high 25 points.


The German hasn’t averaged 21+ points a game on so few shot attempts (15.5 shots per game this year) since the 2000-2001 season. At 42.1% shooting from long-range, he’s shooting it as well from downtown as he ever has (2009-2010 season he also made 42.1% of his treys). Plus, he continues to be one of the NBA’s best free throw shooters, hitting a career-best 93 percent this year, good for fifth best in the league.


But this is about Ellis and him playing winning basketball. He drilled a game-winning jumper against the Western Conference leading Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.


"Calderon, we were walking out, we made eye contact and I told him, 'Give me the ball, I'm ready for it," Ellis said. "He gave it to me and I came off and hit the shot."


You gotta love the confidence. He’s earned it.


Ellis leads the Mavericks with 21.6 points per game and also paces them with 5.7 assists per game. More than point guard, Jose Calderon. His 3-point shooting percentage, 38%, is easily the best in his career. Though he might not match the raw numbers he put up on those Golden State teams that were, impartial to defense, leading a winning team (13-8) is what stands out to me.


King Me: Toronto Raptors Send Rudy Gay to Sacramento Kings


I wrote about this trade last night when it happened. In a nutshell, the Kings are making a push for the playoffs leaving the Jazz as essentially the only team that isn’t attempting to truly contend in the Western Conference.


The most important thing to watch for is how Rudy Gay -- a volume shooter having a really poor shooting season (he’s making less than 39 percent of his shots) -- meshes with the new, unquestioned leader of the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins. You know, the guy who’s the best offensive center in basketball at the moment.


Boston Banter


Twice this week, the Boston Celtics (10-12) took 20-point leads into halftime of a game. On Friday night against the Denver Nuggets (a 106-98 win) Boston got out to a 39-15 lead in the first quarter and was up 64-44 at the half.


On Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Celtics blew the Knicks out of the water from the jump. At one time they held a 23-3 advantage in the first quarter and at the half, it was even worse for New York, as Boston lead 58-31 at the break. After 48 minutes, Boston crushed the Knicks, who won two straight entering the game, 114-73. It was the third worst home loss in franchise history for New York.


However, unless the Celtics finish with a .500 record or better, it would be hard to give Brad Stevens the coach of the year award, even if they win the Atlantic or scrape into the playoffs. That honor might go to either Frank Vogel of Indiana, Brian Shaw of the Denver Nuggets, or Terry Potts of the Portland Trail Blazers (my prohibitive favorite at the moment).


But my goodness, Stevens can coach. Under his tutelage, Jordan Crawford has transformed himself from an irrational confidence shot guy into a more-than competent point guard who can be a go-to scorer down the stretch. Everybody seems to have bought into the system -- tons of ball movement -- in which every player can be and is a shooter. Though a little message to Jared Sullinger: We know you have range. Stop chucking up this many threes.


Yet in all seriousness, Sullinger is proving to be the steal of the 2012 NBA draft. He’s started the last 10 games for the Celtics. He's averaging 13.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG while shooting 44.4 percent from the field in 29.3 MPG. Not too bad.


Props to Bill Simmons for this little tidbit on Avery Bradley [before the game against the Knicks]:


“Avery Bradley has drained 70 of 160 shots (44 percent) from 15 feet or more. Do you realize he's made the eighth-most shots from 15 to 19 feet? Avery Bradley! He couldn't have thrown the ball into the Atlantic Ocean in Round 1 last spring! I'm convinced Stevens is hypnotizing these guys or something.”


Bradley notched his first career double-double against the Knicks on Sunday with 13 points and 10 rebounds (career high for boards).


Kris Humphries is showing that he can be a valuable player. He’s a solid rebounder who doesn’t need plays drawn up for him to score. The only problem with that? Kelly Olynyk is nearing a return to the court. How do you balance those minutes? Fortunately, that allows Stevens to monitor Sullinger’s minutes in case his back flares up.


An even bigger question is what to do with Rajon Rondo when he’s ready for NBA action. It could be in January when Rondo’s finally ready, but if the Celtics are rolling -- they’ve won six of their last eight games -- Stevens faces another predicament of how much time to take away from Crawford. One has to hope that Crawford will buy into playing on a team that, theoretically, is winning, even if it means coming off the bench to lead the second unit.


That still doesn’t help GM Danny Ainge decide whether or not to trade Rondo. Whatever happens, the trigger won’t be pulled -- on a max contract extension or deal -- until Rondo proves that he’s 100 percent healthy. His trade value is at an all-time low and it’s too early to commit when he’s currently on one of the best bargain deals in the entire league ($12 and $13 million owed over the next two seasons for a guy who can play like the best point guard in the NBA and a top-five player).


You can talk about tanking all you want, but at the end of the day, the players on the court will always put out a great effort and the Celtics’ roster is simply not bad enough to miss the playoffs. Even without Rondo. With him? They could easily challenge for the third seed in the East and hold onto their bevy of first round picks.


In just six weeks, the outlook for Boston has gone from bleak and unsure to bright and filled with plenty positive possibilities.