Ten things in the approach of March:
1. Sympathy and wishes for tanks for the Lakers
Paul Pierce suggested that LeBron James – the guy who wants to be considered the greatest player in history – be suspended in The Jump. Mike Greenberg highlighted the utility of the Lakers tanks after suspensions, commercial dramas and injuries – including LeBron's groin problem – wiped out their chances of winning many playoffs.
That's LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers – perhaps the greatest player and organization in the history of basketball. They do not combine their forces to tank. They do not apologize. The Western conference is difficult? Your remaining schedule is difficult? Young guys are "comfortable with defeat", or anything that passive and aggressive gibberish could use to shine the spotlight on ill-adjusted veterans, the front-office – with LeBron's blessing – inexplicably coupled with him? (Paying Michael Beasley what was actually the Brook Lopez pay slot could have been the most incredible decision that was made by a team last summer.)
ESPN's Zach Lowe, Kirk Goldsberry and Adam Amin join the Bucks-Lakers retransmission on Friday's Full Court Press (10:30 pm ET), featuring the innovative way to see the Second Spectrum game. Grant ESPN3!
The Lakers are at a Kings game in ninth place and two in the defeats column behind the Clippers in eighth place. They have a chance to win a tiebreaker on both. Kings are solid but inexperienced. The Clippers are ambivalent about the playoffs. There are 20 games left. LeBron and a young core can not defeat these two teams?
LeBron is still recovering from an injury. It switches between Chill mode and complete destruction in attack. In defense, he (as usual) hides on the worst player and spends the least energy possible.
The Lakers do not have a consistent organizational principle at both ends of the floor. This concerns all stakeholders: LeBron, Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, Luke Walton and others. They have been on the defensive in the last two months. If they want to qualify for the playoffs, it's the fruit at hand. They alternate desperately between types of alignments and patterns, leaving everyone puzzled as to what they are supposed to do. They have switches. A person on the weak side speaks and makes remarks, but the person he is referring to does not listen to or understand. They lead the league in non-shared scoring.
LeBron is getting closer to the sliding levels of eyes and shrugs of the "Thank you to everyone" last January:
Not to play in the playoffs would be a complete failure of the organization, even in the case of injury and commercial (self-created) melodrama. There is no way to turn it around.
2. André Drummond we were waiting
Six weeks ago, I dripped Drummond on Bill Simmons's podcast to show nothing to Sacramento. Two weeks ago, I told her "not to like" here to play ping pong, basically for all non-dunks – mainly linear training hooks – and for playing defense. I maintain all this.
But since returning from the concussion protocol on Jan. 25, Drummond has been a different player. Over this period, Drummond is averaging 21 points and 16 panels out of 63% of the shots.
What I have most noticed: his arms and his hands. Drummond has always had soft, fast hands, perhaps the best among the centers.
But he never dismantled them like that. In pick-and-roll, Drummond deploys all of its wingspan and moves each arm up and down, blocking high and low pathways. It is the windmill on the miniature golf course.
Do you think you can sneak a rebound in his arms?
He has a great time to hit the ball:
It seems easy to keep your arms up in the air. It takes a real effort amid the fatigue of an NBA game. Many fat people do not do it. Drummond has not done it as often until the last three weeks.
The work appears in figures below the surface. The Pistons are destroying teams since the end of January when Drummond holds the fort without Blake Griffin – segments that had been a weak spot earlier. Opponents of this region draw only 54% on the rim with Drummond nearby, against 61% previously, according to NBA.com.
He also stopped forcing the offensive. Drummond has averaged only 3.7 postings every 100 minutes since his brief absence, up from 7.5 previously.
This is the best part of Drummond's career. It's not a coincidence that Detroit won seven out of nine. If Drummond continues its momentum, Detroit will annoy somebody in the first round.
3. Harry Giles, thief
Speaking of big men and big arms: I'm not sure I remember a big man threatening to attack such ball players.
Giles extends his arms this way a lot. It's a bit scary. He is a panicked Dementor with those long fingers. It seems to crack open your chest cavity and rip you off your soul.
4. This is Trae Young
Young sailed the first two months of the season with a strange caution. He pulled 3 pick-and-roll points at an average rate for a starting point guard. He barely tried to turn around.
It was not, like, a crisis. Young knew how to take advantage of the threat of his 3-point shot to set up controls and cuts. He immediately imposed himself as an elite smuggler. (Seriously: he has each pass, and he releases the ball a beat earlier or later – depending on what does the most damage – than the typical NBA playmaker. Such bizarre timing is the mark of a smuggler's genius.) Atlanta wanted Young to build his game upside down.
But the skills are interconnected. Young would prove himself dangerous and unpredictable as an off-the-bounce bomber would force his defenses to put more pressure on him – and give him easier training opportunities. Shooting makes it possible to pass.
Young became nervous.
Since Jan. 1, Young has managed to make 3 pick-and-roll points about six times out of Atlanta's 100 possessions – the league's fourth-leading scorer (behind James Harden, Kemba Walker and D'Angelo Russell) and about double his advance. season rate, per second spectrum. He made five half-backs in his first 34 games, tied for 38th. He has played 12 in his last 28 games, the seventh highest number of games per second.
Young recorded an average of 23 points and nine cents in February on 44% of the shots in depth, and closed the month with consecutive eruptions of 36 points. And this is not the case for someone who accumulates numbers by breaking the offense of a tank team. Atlanta has 15-18 in his last 33 games. Young people chasing for more shots improved the Hawks.
Young's improvement certainly helped John Collins. Collins draws 60% with Young on the floor and only 47% otherwise, according to NBA.com.
These are the Young the Hawks imagined when they made a decisive bet for the franchise during the repechage night.
5. Stop doing this, Joker
There will be skepticism about Denver as a playoff team until he wins a series. That's how it happens when you have not won anything and when your franchise superstar does not look like a normal franchise superstar. Will the pressure defense – 16th points awarded per possession since Jan. 1, even though its stamina is on the rise since Denver is healthy – can withstand elite fouls in playoffs?
We will see. What we can not see: Nikola Jokic continues to make mistakes of frustration.
This grumpy clothesline was Jokic's fourth foul – at 10 o'clock on Sunday, at the third-quarter mark against the Clippers:
He sits for the next 10 minutes. Denver extended his lead without him. Can you imagine the heckling (justified) if it happened in the playoffs and that Denver's opponent participated in a sealing race?
We assume that Jokic will disable the grumpy switch in April and May. But the stress then increases. Calls and non-calls that send it out will now count. We will not know that Jokic can relax until he does it.
P.S .: The most efficient pick-and-roll combination in the league, according to Second Spectrum data? The inverted goodness of Jokic who dribbles around the screens of Jamal Murray. Unstoppable.
6. What are the Spurs?
The Spurs, tired of the road, play an offensive style with their starters, and another when DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge rest. They were bad at defense almost independently of the staff or project.
They have three players in rotation aged 23 to 29 – the age group in which Kawhi Leonard has already centered the lineup: Derrick White, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes. White is the best player among these three players, and by far the most important in the San Antonio screening. They also have Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray, all of whom have their choice in the first round and one in Toronto. The San Antonio coaches were confident that Murray was ready for a mega-jump before tearing his ACL. A Murray-White backyard should be spicy – and stuffy on defense.
The West could open if Kevin Durant left Golden State. If Murray and White go up next season, it is possible that the Spurs' current lineup will be fighting for this place.
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It is also possible that Aldridge and DeRozan send some of them before the best young players in San Antonio are ready, and that the younger core does not have a future all-star long-term candidate.
Spurs are generally cautious. They will probably spend next year to see what this group can do. But they have not united around any identity this season – "I hate the 3s" – is not an identity – and they are facing some major issues. The next two years and up is the Spurs' biggest challenge in building team spirit since Tim Duncan's writing. I can not wait to see how they attack it.
7. The situation of Anthony Davis remains worrying
So this is the ideal solution: Davis works under a ceiling of 20 minutes, which allows him to heat the bench during difficult times and to rest back to back? What exactly is the purpose of this competition pretense? What's he doing beyond retaining a potential complaint from Rich Paul, the Davis agent, and a legal battle against the players union? This may be the only thing this imperfect compromise is designed to accomplish.
It is otherwise superficial – a sham for the NBA to save face. The league would say that such a flawed compromise is the best it can do under unprecedented circumstances and its (somewhat self-imposed) constraints. In a sense, it's just right.
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But by allowing New Orleans to turn Davis into a symbolic starter who does not even fit into certain matches, the league tacitly admitted that the Pelicans had an interest in wanting him to sit. And if they have a point – if the league grants that level of control – then why can not New Orleans manage the situation as it sees fit without risking a fine from the league? How much will everyone involved see if Davis tears his LCD for the first six minutes of a meaningless match in April? We all know what Mike Ehrmantraut said about half measures.
The Pelicans do not try to win by giving Davis the treatment of Keith Bogans. They barely satisfy Davis' request to play. Did Davis make it clear that he was cool sitting at the time of crisis? If anyone wants to play, does not he especially want to play with high leverage minutes?
All this is very ridiculous and the league only wants everyone to turn their eyes away until the season ends and the Pelicans exchange Davis. That's what most fans and the media will do. Hooray, I guess.
8. Hey, Kyle Lowry!
Lowry has been strangely passive all season with Kawhi Leonard also on the floor. Some had a pure heart: making the extra pass to raise others, including Serge Ibaka (in the half-court) and Pascal Siakam (in transition). (Lowry is perhaps the best passer of the league.) Some come from persistent problems. But his game was unbalanced. Lowry would lose his chances of scoring without dribbling or watching the edge, and would entrust the offense to a person in a worse situation.
The lack of aggression seemed almost aggressive: had Lowry launched a prolonged and subtle crisis on the DeMar DeRozan trade, or another reproach?
Lowry is still the second best player in Toronto. The Raptors need him to look for scoring chances, if any. They need defenses to fear him.
This Lowry is back. He tears the ground and ends by contact at the edge:
He pulls away from the depths when he is open, and sometimes even when he is not. He cuts to score. Almost all his extra passes are productive now; he will eliminate the contested layups to get good shooters in corner 3. (Did you check the percentage of Siakam from the corners? whoa boy.) His rate of use with Leonard on the floor is still too low, but he plays again with determination.
For the NBA finals, the Raptors need this Lowry at any time.
9. Some relevant rotations for the playoffs worry you
• Houston's forward position (there is only one, unless Kenneth Faried is in the corner), and the possibility that the Rockets wear PJ Tucker's wear.
• Orlando resting all three of Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier. In Magic, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross are present. Such formations have no passions center in attack and have struggled to score throughout the season. They blew points in Orlando's disastrous loss to New York on Tuesday – a defeat that fearsome wizards will miss if they miss the playoffs. (Bouncing back with a win against Golden State on Thursday eased the pain, the lineup went well in this game, Isaiah Briscoe is back in Jerian Grant's place, I still do not trust them.)
• Portland banned Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard in favor of Enes Kanter. Collins will surely have another chance. Kanter can score against anyone, and the crowds up and down on the Portland benches need a point of support.
Zach spoke to Joe Harris of the Nets and Sarah Kustok of YES Network about Joe's victory in the 3-point shootout and the good season in Brooklyn.
He is now a star player, but the Bucks will need an even better version of Middleton to reach their top with Giannis.
But Terry Stotts' confidence in a group of five men has weakened; now, he often keeps one of the players, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the ground, or limits the full play time to just two or three minutes.
With a star in the field, Collins will be better than Kanter in some duels. He is a better shooter and a much more reliable and versatile defender.
• The Clippers may have lost more than they thought in the case of Tobias Harris. They are permanently small, relying on three-goal and goal-scoring lineups until Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell leave the bench. Opposing defenses can now throw everything to Danilo Gallinari.
10. Mitchell Freaking Robinson
Have you stopped watching Knicks tankers? Start again now. You will not be able to leave Mitchell Robinson with his eyes. He had almost made this space a month ago, with this clip highlighting the peril and promise of his game:
The promise: it scares Jeremy Lamb without the hacker, or jumping from a false eyebrow. The danger: he goes too late to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's carpet and leaves the glass naked.
During the past month, Robinson has begun to solve the problem of "peril". He was less fouled after spending the first three months of the season tinkering with everything. He stays on more and more fake pumps and hesitation dribbles, and keeps his hands in the air while tracking the little guys on switches:
And he blocks the holy hell of everything. He is Billy Madison against the children of the elementary school.
Robinson is averaging 5.5 blocks per 36 minutes over his last 15 games. No player has even sniffed this brand in a full season in nearly 30 years.
He leads the league with 13 3 points rejected, one more than Ben Simmons and Jrue Holiday, per second spectrum. Holiday and Simmons both recorded more than 2,000 minutes. Robinson did not crack 900. You're not supposed to erase the 3 points with this frequency.
It already has real gravity as a political threat in attack; Defenders stay close to Robinson on the pick-and-roll in fear of an alley, and this fear paves the way for drivers for New York's ball coaches. Robinson is a voracious attacking rebounder.
He remains a handicap on defensive glass – an excessive block fighter who does not box enough. It can get lost in space when the Knicks are rotating; you can sometimes see him turn his head in all directions, frantically and Bargnani-esque, looking for the ball. He still makes too many mistakes.
But Robinson has already made progress and he has the potential to be special in defense – a terrifying rim protector with the speed of staying in front of guards on quick switches and springs to clear their riders.