Sixers Finish Summer League; Michael Carter-Williams Frustrates But Intrigues

Sixers Finish Summer League; Michael Carter-Williams Frustrates But Intrigues

Orlando is over, and the Sixers will be packing up shop for a couple months now. The Sixers finished their Summer League set with a 1-4 record, their one win coming when they barely beat the Nets on the last day in a battle of the league's two worst teams, in a game that was (perhaps mercifully) untelevised. Needless to say this team was not overflowing with talent; I would be surprised if more than one or two of the players not already signed by the Sixers actually ended up on an NBA team next year. (And even a couple of those might not survive the summer.)

But of course, the team's record itself is of little import compared to how our impact prospects played, namely anointed Point Guard of the Future Michael Carter-Williams, who kicked the league off with a 26/7/8 performance that was actually more up-and-down than that final line would actually indicate. That performance was likely Carter-Williams' best of the week, as his 8-23 shooting night in that game would somehow end up being the highest percentage he shot in any of the five games, which also consisted of 4-20, 5-16 and 3-16 outings, dragging his final FG% for Orlando to a sparkling 27%.

Simply put, MCW has real, real trouble putting ball in basket. This comes as no surprise to Sixers fans, who have long been warned that Carter-Williams' shooting touch was highly lacking in his college career, but the degree of his struggling this week was pretty damn harsh. It's not just that he can't shoot straight--his stroke actually looks OK, though for whatever reason, it doesn't end up going in that much--it's that he doesn't have a particularly stocked arsenal of moves when it comes to getting his shot off. Often times he would drive to the basket, get stopped eight to ten feet out, and just kinda chuck the ball at the basket, with predictably limited success. He doesn't seem to have much in the way of floaters or up-and-under moves, which a guy with his lousy outside shooting results needs badly to be any kind of effective on offense.

Turnovers were also an issue for MCW. Again, nothing unexpected, but Michael was almost pushing double-digits with the giveaways in a couple of these, and it's pretty hard to be effective as a distributor when you're coughing the ball up that much. Many of the TOs were forgivable, but some were just the result of carelessness--being loose with his dribble, leaving his feet before deciding what he was going to do with the ball, wedging passes into spaces that were barely there, if at all. Between the turnovers and the misses, there was a whole lot of sighing and head-shaking to be done watching Carter-Williams this week.

So, a complete disaster, then? Well, I'm not willing to go quite that far. Carter-Williams struggled in predictable areas, and mightily so, but he also impressed in expected areas as well. His near double-digit turnover games were also near double-digit assist games--an unsustainable ratio, but one that shows that he's being aggressive with his play-making, which is generally a good thing. He had a couple lead passes in the half-court (especially to Arsalan Kazemi, who he developed a nice chemistry with) that were impressive in their both vision and their execution, and there were stretches--particularly in the second half of a narrow loss to Orlando--where he was getting into the paint and kicking out to open teammates on virtually every play, creating easy scoring opportunities like a point guard is supposed to, first and foremost.

And though he appears to be currently helpless scoring the ball from most areas of the court, he did show an impressive ability to finish around the basket, as well as the tenacity to drive at it continuously. His size allows him to finish over smaller defenders, and his wiriness allows him to contort his body to get around help defenders in mid-air. Of course, unless you're LeBron James, you can't just attack all the time, as eventually defenders can play you solely to drive and you'll end up getting your shot blocked a whole lot (as MCW certainly did as the week went on), but it's a good instinct, and one which when (hopefully, eventually) paired with an improved outside shot and a decent floater could make him quite a terror on offense.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YpP7oKLn0Y
But really, if you want to find value in MCW's Summer League performance, it'd mostly come on the other end of the ball. As raw as he is offensively, Carter-Williams seems likely to be an immmediate contributor on defense, where his length gives smaller point guards real trouble and his athleticism allows him to recover from the pick-and-roll in a way few defenders of his size could. OKC Summer League point guard Dwight Buycks impressed enough in his Orlando audition to get a two-year contract from the Raptors, but he was totally helpless against Carter-Williams, who blanketed him all game and held him to just two points and three assists (with three turnovers) in his limited minutes. In a league being gradually overrun by young, lightning-quick point guards, to have a potential stopper like MCW is really a tremendous asset to the Sixers moving forward.

What's more, Carter-Williams impressed with his ability to anticipate passing lanes and reach in for steals. Now, steals is often an overrated statistic when evaluating defense, since a high steal tally often means a predilection towards gambling, lunging for swipes that don't come to fruition and leave you (and subsequently, your whole team) out of defensive position, but MCW didn't guess wrong a whole lot, and when he did get hands on the ball, he excelled at transitioning into the fast break, with the speed and handling to finish himself and the smarts to kick ahead or cross-court to open teammates. On a team that's going to struggle in the half court like the Sixers invariably will next year (and maybe a couple years after), being able to get those easy points off turnovers will be tremendously key for them to stay in games.

On the whole? I'd be lying if I said I came away from the Sixers' week in Orlando convinced that Michael Carter-Williams was absolutely the guy to quarterback the next good 76ers team. If he can't score--like, at all--that's a pretty tough problem to get around, regardless of how much he contributes elsewhere on the floor, and there's a lot of feel-for-the-game stuff that he still needs to learn about leading a team and directing an offense and all that stuff. But Rich Hoffman of Liberty Ballers has done a good job of putting MCW's shooting and scoring in perspective as his "swing skill"--the area in which the degree of his improvement will determine the degree of his ability to be effective as an NBA player. You'd rather know for a fact that he can do it, but the fact that being able to do it is pretty much all that's keeping him from being a good pro is cause for optimism, since it's a partially learnable skill, and you'd rather have a super-talented guy with one gaping hole in his game than someone who's just across-the-board mediocre.

For some additional perspective, I'd advise you to look at the Summer League case of Utah's Trey Burke, taken two spots ahead of Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 draft, the highest-picked point guard of the whole class. Burke's struggles in Orlando arguably eclipsed even Carter-Williams', with the rookie point also finishing with a final FG% in the 20s, as well as a disturbingly arid 1-19 mark from three over the week. (Even MCW managed to hit four total from deep over five games.) Burke did not impress terribly with his playmaking or defense, and seemed to struggle to get any kind of easy baskets--the few shots he made seemed to all come off tough fadeaways and long catch-and-shoots, which, cool, but when playing against the weak competition of Summer League, making it look easy is always a better sign for a player's pro prospects than making it look hard.

Now if I was a Jazz fan, I'd be pretty f'ing scared right now about that pick. Unlike Carter-Williams, Burke wasn't an offensively raw product in college--he averaged nearly 19 a game at Michigan, shooting 46% from the field and 38% from deep, sweeping the Player of the Year honors and was supposed to step in right away as the Jazz's starting point guard and best perimeter scorer and playmaker. And what's more, if Burke isn't scoring and distributing with ease, he's not contributing a whole lot on the court, as he's undersized as a defender and rebounder and not terribly effective in those areas. The situation with Burke reminds me (to my eternal chagrin) of our own Evan Turner, another consensus Player of the Year whose Summer League difficulties before his rookie season were indicative of the very real issues he was going to have adapting his college-dominating game to the pro level. It's not a death sentence for Burke, exactly--anybody can have a bad stretch of games, and I'm sure there's no shortage of excuses the Jazz camp have for their #9 pick's poor play, likely with varying degrees of credibility--but again, if I was a Utah fan, I'd be tempering my expectations considerably for what could be a pretty rough rookie season for Burke.

I'm not trying to pick on poor Trey Burke here--I'm sure there are Jazz blogs out there doing that well enough already--but I'm just trying to illustrate why you'd ultimately rather have a Summer League performance like that of Michael Carter-Williams, whose difficulties were very real and very problematic, but were also expected to a degree, and were tempered with similarly expected contributions in other areas. The issues with MCW are fixable, the issues with Burke, I wouldn't be so sure. Now, that's not to say that Carter-Williams will definitely (or even probably) fix said issues--it's entirely possible his scoring and shooting difficulties will remain such a problem that he will ultimately prove unplayable. But that's the gamble that Sam Hinkie took all along with our #11 pick, and if he's willing to bet long-term on Carter-Williams, then the young point guard deserves our faith and patience as well.

Ultimately, Michael Carter-Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers just might be the perfect fit for one another next season. Carter-Williams will undoubtedly struggle from the field tremendously all season--if he shot even 35% from the field, that might be considerable as a win for the Sixers--and the offense will suffer for it. But he'll learn, and in the meantime, the Sixers will lose, and hopefully by the time MCW gets enough of a feel for the pro game to be effective on both ends of the court, we'll have a couple high draft picks with which to give him the help on offense that he needs--considering his current go-to guy on offense is Thaddeus Young, who's only once averaged over 15 points a game and may not even be on the team at this point next year. Hell, Ricky Rubio has yet to score 11 a game or shoot over 36% from the field, but he's still looked at as a cornerstone of the Timberwolves' rebuilding process for his ability to contribute in all other facets of the game--passing, defending, even rebounding--and his remaining upside at age 22. No reason to think MCW couldn't turn out similarly, and on the Sixers, he'll get the chance to do so.

As he often does, my dad summed it up perfectly while we were watching MCW's up-and-down performance in his Summer League debut: "Well, he's going to stink this year, but that's OK." Sounds about right on all accounts.

NBA Insiders Notebook: Rubio-Jackson trade rumors and all-star snubs

NBA Insiders Notebook: Rubio-Jackson trade rumors and all-star snubs

AT AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to the latest installment of the CSN Insiders notebook, just weeks away from this year’s all-star game which features a first for this year’s all-star starters.

In addition to the fans picking their favorites to start, a select panel of media members as well as players also had input into selecting this year’s starting five.

The fan vote counted for 50 percent while the media and players had an equal input of 25 percent.

There was controversy of sorts in both the Eastern and Western Conferences with at least one starting position, but all the starters are at a minimum deserving to be an all-star this season.

Even with a couple players viewed as being slighted (Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook stand out), this new voting system to determine all-star starters works. Under the old format, Chicago’s Dwyane Wade and Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia would have been starters even though neither has had an all-star worthy season and more significant, would have taken a spot on the all-star team away from a player who was more deserving.

But in addition to the all-star talk, trade rumors continue to swirl as we get closer to next month’s trade deadline.

Typically, trade rumors center around teams that have underachieved thus far this season.

When you look at teams that fall under that umbrella this year, the Detroit Pistons stick out.

After a strong finish last season in which they won 10 of their last 14 games and returned to the postseason as the eighth seed, expectations were high this season that they could contend potentially for a top-four seed and home court advantage.

Not including games played Sunday, the Pistons (21-24) are ninth in the East.

Our CSN Chicago Insider Vincent Goodwill (a former Pistons beat writer) sheds some light on the most recent trade talk involving Detroit which is clearly looking at ways to shake up its roster between now and next month’s trade deadline.

Jackson-Rubio trade in the works? Depends on who you ask
The Detroit Pistons found themselves in the center of a juicy but puzzling rumor this week, when ESPN reported the Pistons were engaged in talks with the Timberwolves for a Reggie Jackson for Ricky Rubio swap.

The Timberwolves are shopping Rubio, and the Pistons have struggled to regain the magic they finished off last season with since Jackson has returned from a knee injury.

But Stan Van Gundy shot down the rumor, going as far as telling Jackson, “I’m not trading you for Ricky Rubio.”

“I'm not denying that the discussion took place -- they take place all the time,” Van Gundy said. “But that's a lot different than consideration. And clearly we didn't make that move."

But one wonders, if they’re shopping Jackson, what exactly will they be looking for in return? A more facilitating point guard, as Jackson is more of a scorer, or is this a chemistry thing as the Pistons have battled fits and inconsistency all season, nowhere near some scribes’ prediction of taking the next step to becoming a 50-win team. – by Vincent Goodwill

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Lowe-down defense by Wizards assistant
Who was that on the court?

Courtney Lee was distracted by Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe in Thursday’s loss to Washington when Lowe stepped on the floor for the Knicks’ final possession. Lee heard Lowe and thought he was a Wizards’ defender closing in on him, so he drove and kicked the ball to Brandon Jennings who bobbled the final shot.

“I don’t know if the league should look into that — that was a tactic and it worked,” Lee said, via the New York Post. “I thought it was a player. I thought it was a guy rotating down. I think it’s something they need to take a look at. But I still think I should’ve shot it. He fooled me. I still should’ve took the shot at the end of the game.’’

Lee noted he should have taken the shot himself. The Wizards beat the Knicks 113-110 at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, the NBA fined Lowe $5,000 and the Wizards organization an additional $15,000. – by Jessica Camerato

Fans love Embiid. Media, players? Not as much
Joel Embiid got the votes that mattered most to him.

Embiid finished third among fans for the Eastern Conference All-Star frontcourt, a feat for a rookie who is also playing under minute and game restrictions.

“It shows that the fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad,” Embiid said. “The fans are going stick up for who they love, and I love that.”

Embiid ranked fifth in the media vote and lost pace with the players, where he finished eighth.

He would have made the starting lineup had the votes been left up to the fans. But he doesn't want to see a change in the voting system; he thinks the change could come in the ballot format.

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.” – by Jessica Camerato

Olynyk's future still in green?
There may not be another player on the Boston Celtics roster more difficult to get a read on than Kelly Olynyk. A 7-footer with three-point shooting skills, he has the kind of talent that plenty of teams will pay big money for. But knowing that it’s unlikely that talent will shine consistently, how much is he really worth? And if you’re the Celtics, how much do you want to pay to keep him?

Olynyk has done his part to avoid questions about his future, preferring to instead keep his focus on the present.

Well Olynyk’s past and his present seem like one in the same as far as there being periods of time when he shows both the potential and inconsistent play that has dogged him during his four seasons in Boston.

One thing we all know: Olynyk is going to get a multi-year deal that will pay him at least eight-figures per season.

At this point, the only question is whether that check will be cut by Danny Ainge and the Celtics, or another team. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Late push by Canada propels DeRozan to all-star starter
The kind of season DeMar DeRozan has had, no one questions his credentials to be an all-star. But in order to be an all-star starter, well let’s just say he had a little – OK, a lot – of help in making that happen.

The revamped system this year for choosing all-star starters involves fans as usual, in addition to media and current players.

DeRozan finished in a tie for the fifth and final spot among the East starters with Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.

But the tie-breaker, fan voting, gave the nod to DeRozan who had about 41,000 more fan votes than Thomas.

And you can bet that the Canadian voting block played a pivotal role in DeRozan getting the starting spot.

“I remember the last couple of days I was watching on Twitter and just to see hockey guys, all the support from the Prime Minister, different ways of voting, strategies from the fans in Canada and the fans all over … it was awesome,” DeRozan told reporters after being selected.  – by A. Sherrod Blakely

CENTRAL DIVISION

George getting an extension?
Has Paul George slipped a bit from his standing as one of the dominant players in the NBA? If he has, his boss doesn’t think so as Larry Bird has reaffirmed his commitment to George before George is scheduled to hit free agency in two more seasons.

With the new collective bargaining agreement again tilting the scales toward the smaller markets, the Pacers can extend George with years remaining on his contract for an upwards of $200 million—a tough thing to turn down even if George has his sights on leaving for greener pastures.

Bird told the Indianapolis Star earlier this week that he wants to do an extension to keep George around long-term. George’s play has slipped a little bit from his standards, averaging 22 points with six rebounds and three assists and a Player Efficiency Rating at 18.9 as the Pacers haven’t elevated themselves from the muck of the East with new personnel, a new coach in Nate McMillan and high expectations coming into the season.

“I don’t want to get into Paul’s free agency. Before the year started, I told Paul and I said, ‘Look, if you want to sign a long-term deal, we’re willing to do that max (contract) and if you want to wait, I understand,” Bird said. “But this year, we’re not going to worry about it, we’re not going to talk about it and he’s going to make the decision that’s best for Paul when it comes down to it.” – by Vincent Goodwill

Chicago’s desperate rotation search continues
 The Bulls have been searching…and searching…and searching…for some type of consistency in their playing rotation.

And Fred Hoiberg pulled an unexpected twist from his coaching bag by inserting second-round pick Paul Zipser as a sixth man Saturday night against Sacramento.

The 22-year-old German forward responded with three triples and scored 13 points in 23 minutes, even playing crunch time minutes as the Bulls narrowly escaped the Kings at home.

“It’s more excitement than nerves when coach told me I was going to play,” Zipser said.

He’s impressed the veteran leaders with his work ethic, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

“He works hard. He comes in and just does his job,” Wade said. “If you look at him, he's just strong. He's very strong. Just being consistent and staying with it. He's got his opportunity a few games back and he has all the confidence in the world in himself. When he gets in there, he looks for his shot.”

Said Butler: “I be forgetting his name, I just call him Zip. When you're out there, you're like everybody else. You have the freedom to do whatever you want on the offensive end.”

With the Bulls trying to figure out if Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will ever be consistent, along with wondering if Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis (their last two first-round picks) will ever pan out, they have another player to add to the evaluation fire. – by Vincent Goodwill

Parker benched for revealing info from team meeting
Jabari Parker is having a career year for the Milwaukee Bucks but apparently still has to learn the ways in which their locker room has to be run.

According to ESPN, Parker was benched for disclosing the contents to a team meeting to the media, in the midst of their present five-game losing streak. The Bucks are a young and burgeoning team in the East, going through the ups and downs with Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way.

Parker has finally begun to fulfill the expectations of being the second pick in the draft a few years ago, perhaps feeling like it gives him license to speaking up.

"I spoke up for the first time, and it didn't go my way," Parker said to the media. "I was getting thrashed, but hey, as long as I give them another perspective, I did my job."

Apparently, the Bucks have a rule about team meetings being spoken about publicly and Bucks coach Jason Kidd left Parker’s punishment up to his teammates.

They voted he not start for the next game, a road loss to the Miami Heat. Parker played 32 minutes anyways, scoring 16 points with seven rebounds. – by Vincent Goodwill

LeBron Olympic bound one more time?
If you thought LeBron James’ Olympic days were over, Gregg Popovich’s presence as coach may persuade James to return in the 2020 Games.

James told the Associated Press that Popovich taking over for Mike Kryzyzewski as coach “factors a lot” into his thinking of whether he’ll play in the next Olympiad. James didn’t play in the 2016 Games, after having played in every games since 2004, right after entering the NBA.

James’ respect for Popovich is well-known, as James has called the Spurs coach the best coach in NBA history. Of course, James has some skin in that statement. Popovich’s only loss in the NBA Finals came from James’ 2013 Miami Heat, a series James won MVP and solidified himself as a clutch player.

Popovich’s Spurs have gotten the better of James’ teams, in 2007 and then 2014 with the Spurs avenging their loss to the Heat in a five-game beatdown. And of course, it’s a way for James to tweak 11-time championship coach Phil Jackson, too. – by Vincent Goodwill

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Slumping Beal looking to make all-star push
Hoping to make a push for his first All-Star selection as a reserve, Bradley Beal’s timing for a slump couldn’t have come at a worse time with coaches voting this week.

After a 113-112 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, Beal is shooting 1-for-21 from three-point range in his last three games.

While defenses are blitzing him on pick-and-rolls and trying to trap the ball out of his hands, Beal still is getting quality looks. He’s not just missing wide-open shots, but he’s missing them badly.

On the bright side, the oft-injured shooting guard is more durable. He had his head slammed on the floor in a hard fall in Detroit and then clutched his left knee when he was fouled on a fast-break drive to the basket.

DeMar DeRozan has been the best at the position in the East this season, with Beal likely the best option among the other two guards. He has scored 42 and 41 points, set a career-high with nine assists and has been an exceptional perimeter defender.

Before Beal’s slump, he’d shot 48% from three-point range in the previous eight games. And 48% overall. – by J. Michael

Walker: All-star nod is ‘last thing I'm going to talk about’
A lot of point guards can make their case for being an All-Star in the East. Kyrie Irving already has been selected as a starter but either John Wall, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry or Isaiah Thomas likely will end up being left out when the coaches’ vote is revealed this Thursday.

Don’t count Walker among those concerned about it even though he has never been an All-Star.

“Not really. Especially because where my team is but I really don’t care honestly,” said Walker, who is averaging career-highs of 23.2 points, 46.6% overall shooting and 42.3% three-point shooting. “It’s really starting to get old, hearing about it. If my name is called of course I’ll be super-excited but if not we’ll have to move on.

“My main focus and goal right now is to win. We haven’t been doing a great job at winning consistently. We haven’t played consistent games as of late. All-Star is the last thing I’m going to be thinking about right now.” –  by J. Michael


PACIFIC DIVISION


Griffin near return, Paul out until atleast March
Once the most athletic power forwards in the NBA, he was a staple on the nightly highlight shows, soaring for high-flying dunks that threatened the lives of rims all around the league.

Remember Blake Griffin? After missing 15 games two seasons ago, 47 games last season and 19 so far this season, Griffin, a month removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, pronounced himself ready for his latest return.

“It was good to get some real work in besides just running and shooting," the five-time All-Star told reporters after a workout on Friday. "Now it's kind of up to them."

“Them” refers to the Clippers, who say Griffin should be cleared no later than the middle of the week. No doubt they want him back as soon as possible, as point guard Chris Paul underwent surgery last week and is not expected back before March. – by Monte Poole

Walton: Ingram advancing ‘faster than most 19-year-olds’
As Luke Walton attempts to rebuild the Lakers, it’s becoming more and more apparent that his essential pillar is Brandon Ingram, a skinny kid born 19 years ago in North Carolina.

Much is expected of power forward Julius Randle and point guard D’Angelo Russell, but it’s Ingram who is emerging as the likeliest franchise player.

The latest indication came when Walton assigned the rookie to Pacers star Paul George. Not only did the Lakers win, but Ingram posted 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. He finished plus-14, while George was minus-15.

“The game looks like it’s slowing down to him,” Walton told reporters. “It normally takes rookies and young kids much longer than half a season for that to happen. He’s advancing much faster than most 19-year-olds or rookies in general would be.”

Ingram’s numbers have improved appreciably over the last few weeks, and he is getting more playing time. He generally comes off the bench behind veteran Luol Deng. That could be changing, perhaps sooner than anyone could have expected. – by Monte Poole


Chandler a keeper for the Suns?
The Suns sit near the bottom of the Western Conference standings and with the NBA’s trade deadline quickly approaching, you would think they would be sellers. But there is at least one veteran that head coach Earl Watson would like to keep around.

“I have very little input, but if it was up to me, I love Tyson Chandler,’’ Watson told reporters this week. “I think our front office loves Tyson Chandler. Tyson wants to be a part of this process. He doesn’t mind the work and building.

Chandler, 34, is in his 16th season in the NBA. He’s averaging 8.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in 33 games this year for Phoenix. … Jared Dudley missed the last four games with dizziness. – by James Ham


NBA report: Cousins did not foul Wade
Sacramento is in a tailspin. The Kings have lost five straight and are just 2-10 over their last 12 games after Saturday’s brutal loss to the Chicago Bulls on a blown call by the officials.

The NBA’s two-minute report confirmed that DeMarcus Cousins didn’t foul Dwyane Wade with 18 seconds remaining and the game tied at 99-99. Chicago went on to win 102-99.

"Cousins (SAC) has his hand on Wade's (CHI) back while he is airborne, but he does not extend his arm and push him and the contact does not affect the shot attempt," the official two-minute report reads.

The Kings, losers of five straight and eight of their last nine, came down with the rebound after Wade’s miss and should have had a possession with a chance to take the lead.

"Yeah thanks the team feels so much better now that it's cleared up!" Cousins wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon. … Earlier in the week, veteran forward Rudy Gay went down with a season-ending torn left Achilles against the Pacers. He is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday in New York. – by James Ham

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Dekker makes the most of his shot at starting
Second-year forward Sam Dekker spent much of his rookie season out with injuries, so there’s still a lot he has to learn about the NBA.

One lesson he clearly has taken to heart already, and that’s staying ready.

In his first career start, he did more than just help Houston knock off the always-physical Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

Dekker scored a career-high 30 points in a game where his shooting shined just a little brighter than the handful of mistakes he made that his head coach Mike D’Antoni made sure he knew about during the game.

“He's one of those guys that needs a lot of hugging, needs a lot of kicking," D'Antoni told reporters following the win. "I love him. I love his game, but he has lapses, rookie lapses. What we're trying to do is, we're worried about the playoffs. You don't win a series when you make mistakes like that, so he's got to learn that and hopefully will.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Spurs roll along, Leonard leads the way
Death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs. Those are the only guarantees in life. The Spurs rolled up the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime Saturday on the back of Kawhi Leonard’s 41-point performance.

Leonard is having the best offensive run of his career, posting 30 or more points in six straight games. Over the stretch, the NBA’s reigning defensive player of the year is averaging 34.7 points per (60.2% overall, 48.3% 3-point range), 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.7 steals. … Pau Gasol is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on the fourth metacarpal on his left hand this week. – by James Ham

Davis: 'This is where I want to be'
Anthony Davis came into the NBA four-plus seasons ago with the hope that he could be an elite, difference-making player. And to his credit, he has not disappointed. But the same can not be said for the Pelicans organization which has not been able to surround Davis with enough talent, healthy talent, to be a legit playoff contender.

For most of the game’s elite players, this normally results in them keeping open the possibility of moving on to a more playoff-ready situation.

Not Davis.

“This is where I want to be,” Davis recently told reporters. “I love the city, I love the culture.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Mavs on good side of history for a chance
This has been one of those seasons where the Mavericks haven’t had much to feel good about. And when you start talking about historical performances, you can understand why they might want to avoid such conversations.

But for one day, they could embrace their place in history after delivering a 122-73 beating to the Los Angeles Lakers which is the standard by which all blowouts of the Lakers will be measured against.

The 49-point margin of defeat was the largest suffered by the Lakers in franchise history which surpassed a couple of 48-point losses. It also extended Dallas’ winning streak over the Lakers to 13 in a row which is their longest over any other team in the league.

“We had a good day,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the win on Sunday. “They struggled, and I think we had something to do with their struggles. On days like today, it looks easy, but it’s not.”- by A. Sherrod Blakely

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Westbrook on all-star snub: 'It is what it is'
The All-Star starters are in and Russell Westbrook is not on the list. Despite dropping an incredible 21 triple-doubles this season and averaging 30.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.6 rebounds a night, Westbrook will have to come off the bench behind two-time MVP Stephen Curry and James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“It is what it is,” Westbrook told reporters this week. "That's the nature of the business, the game. I just play. I don't play for All-Star bids. I play to win championships, and every night I compete at a high level, and it'll work out.”

OKC has lost 3-of-4, but they have been without starting center Steven Adams who is in the league’s concussion protocol after bouncing his head off the floor against the Kings last Sunday. – by James Ham

Dennis Lindsey GM of the year?
While teams like Golden State and Boston were swinging for top free agents this summer like Kevin Durant and Al Horford, Lindsey took a more conservative approach to assembling this year’s Utah club.

And man has it worked.

The Jazz are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers (29-16) for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and seem poised for a return trip to the postseason for the first time since 2012.

The play of Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert has been instrumental, but three separate moves made by Lindsey gave them something they desperately needed: proven veteran leadership.

It’s not a coincidence that the Jazz are now in playoff position after offseason trades for established veterans Boris Diaw, George Hill and Joe Johnson.

No one is sensing the Jazz are title-contenders just yet. But if they are to reach that level in the near future, many will look back at this season’s squad and the veterans Lindsey brought in as the catalyst to what’s shaping up to be a very bright future for the Jazz. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Williams on the move... again
In a move that was all about the Denver Nuggets saving money, they acquired Mo Williams and cash from Atlanta for 2005 draft pick Cenk Akyol, and then immediately waived him which would have saved them about $1.7 million.

Turns out the Sixers had the same idea because by claiming him off waivers, they will wind up saving about $1.1 million if he clears waivers.

Denver did the move to bring their salary cap hit up to $77 million from $75 million. Teams below the salary cap floor ($84 million) have to distribute whatever the salary cap shortfall is to evenly to players currently on the team at the end of the season. So the closer teams below the salary cap floor can get to that $84 million floor, the less money they have to distribute to their players. The move will bring the Sixers within $5.6 million of the salary cap floor. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
 

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 13-game goalless drought.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down 2-0 and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol's finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at NY Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)