Sunday, December 17, 2017


For six-and-a-half seasons in the “Big Apple,” Carmelo Anthony had some good times, and some rough times as the face of the New York Knicks. With a fourth straight season with no playoffs a season ago, the question was will “Melo” stay in New York, or would they grant his demand for a trade, that he would okay because of the no-trade clause in the contract he signed back in the summer of 2013. He was eventually traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 Second-Round Draft pick. He would make his long-awaited return to Madison Square Garden, and the contest would go just like his time in NYC. 
A video tribute was played on the overhead scoreboard as part of the welcome back to Anthony from the fans, and the organization. It consisted of his stellar moments on the court, like his Garden setting 62-point, 13 rebound performance in a 125-96 win versus the then Charlotte Bobcats, to his charitable work in the community. The video finished with a simple conclusion, “Thank you Melo,” with his former jersey number, No. 7, and his last name in the middle. 
When he was introduced during the introduction of the starting lineups, he received a warm ovation from the 19,763 in attendance. 
When the game got underway, the Thunder, and Anthony got off to a strong start, where they led after the first quarter, the Knicks (16-13) found their footing, and defeated the Thunder (14-15) 111-96 on Saturday night, to win their fourth game in a row. They also stopped the Thunder’s three-game road winning streak, who won in triple-overtime 119-117 at the Philadelphia 76ers (14-14) the night before on ESPN. 
Anthony, who received boos from the Garden once the contest began, and every time he touched the basketball scored all 12 of his points on the night in the first half, but was just 5 for 18 from the field, going 0 for 5 from the floor after intermission. It was just the fourth time in Anthony’s career that he has gone scoreless after halftime in game where he played 30-plus minutes. 
“I’m glad that people basically understood what he put into this team,” NBATV analyst Brendan Haywood said of the ovation Anthony on the early Sunday morning edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia Motors. “How much he sacrificed, and how many long hours he put in trying to be there leader, and he had a lot of great games, and great times here as well.”
Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook led had a team-high 25 points, to go along with seven rebounds, seven assists, and two steals on 9 for 18 from the field. Paul George had 18 points, nine boards, four assists, and two steals, going 4 for 7 from three-point range. Patrick Patterson had 12 points off the bench, going 4 for 6 from three-point range. Backup guard Raymond Felton had 10 points. 
The Knicks, who were without star Kristaps Porzingis because of knee injury sustained in their 111-104 win at the Brooklyn Nets (11-18) on Thursday night were led by the game-high, and season-high of 30 points from Michael Beasley, on 11 for 18 shooting, with five rebounds, four assists, and two block shots. They were also without Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is no the shelf because of a leg injury. 
“We always want to give guys like that a good homecoming, but it’s better for the upset in my book,” Beasley, who registered the 14th 30-point game of his career in 38 minutes on the night said to Madison Square Garden Networks’ Rebecca Haarlow after the win. 
Courtney Lee had 20 points. McDermott had 11 of his 13 points off the bench in the second half, with eight points in the fourth quarter, and made 3 for 5 from three-point range on the evening. Jarrett Jack had 12 points, eight boards, seven assists, and three steals. His understudy Ron Baker had 11 points off the bench, hitting three triples himself. Kanter had 10 points, and five boards.
The Knicks avenged their defeat at the Thunder 105-84, on Oct. 19. Anthony had 22 points, despite going 8 for 20 from the floor, including 3 for 10 from three-point range. George led the way with 28 points, and six boards, hitting 6 for 13 from distance. Russell Westbrook had the first of his 10 triple-doubles on the season, and 89 in his career with 21 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds. Starting center Steven Adams, who did not play on Saturday night due to a concussion had 12 points, and five boards in that victory.
Following the Thunder’s triple-overtime win at the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, Anthony addressed the media at his locker about what he expects when he takes the Garden floor. 
“I think it will be an appreciation,” he said about how he expects to be greeted by the fans. “It’s not like I was there for a year, or a season, or two seasons. I spent a lot of time there, almost seven years there. It was great times, it was bad times, and regardless, I always stuck with it. I always remained professional. I always came in, and did my job, whether people liked it or not. So, hopefully the recognized that.” 
The fans did recognize the great contributions from Anthony, who scored 27 points in his Knicks debut at the Garden on Feb. 23, 2011, a 114-108 win versus the Milwaukee Bucks. 
Two straight First-Round exits in the postseason by the Celtics, and the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat 4-0, and 4-1 respectably, the Knicks defeated the C’s in the opening round of the 2013 postseason in six games. The would go down in the Semifinals in six games to the Eastern Conference runner-up that season the Indiana Pacers. 
The Knicks thought that the 2012-13 season, where they won their first Atlantic Division title since the 1993-894 NBA campaign, and Anthony led the NBA in scoring with an average of 28.7 per contest was a sign that being an elite team in the East, and a serious title contender was a real possibility. 
Unfortunately, what followed was four straight seasons of not making the playoffs, and the isolation offensive style that made Anthony, a perennial All-Star, and the third highest scoring average in Knicks’ history at 24.7 suddenly became a lightning rod for criticism from the local New York media, and the national media. 
Things really came to fruition about Anthony’s eventual departure a season ago when former Knicks president Phil Jackson criticized Anthony seemingly daily in the press. 
While all of this took place, all Anthony did was show the kind of professionalism, respect, and focus that should have been shown by the front office. Anthony especially showed that to the press, win or lose, and it was mostly after losses.  
“I think somebody who wanted to be here,” Anthony, who in seven of the Thunder’s last nine games has scored under 15 points said after game on how he wanted people to remember him about his six-plus seasons as a Knick. “Came here. Did what he had to do night in, and night out, whether people liked it or not. Remained positive through all the negative situations. All the negative times. Stuck with it, through good times. Through bad times. Never wavered. Somebody who stayed professional throughout my seven years here. And somebody who had hopes, and dreams of winning a championship here in New York, and fell short at that.” 
That ability to handle a difficult situation, which would have broken even the toughest, and greatest of pro athletes made Anthony a hero in the eyes of Knicks fans, and earned him a lot of respect from his now former teammates, and a NBA champion from the 2004 Detroit Pistons. 
“Melo represent so much of what New York is all about. He really conducted himself like a real New York guy,” center Joakim Noah said. “I love being around Melo.” 
“From one side, I was sad that he wasn’t going to be here with us anymore this year. But I was also happy for him that he found a team where he can be close to what he wants to achieve, and take on a new challenge,” Porzingis said. 
“I’m going to miss ‘Melo,’” Lance Thomas said. “’Melo’ my best friend on this team. He knows that I wish him the best, and I want him to be as successful as he wants to be.” 
“I thought he handled himself really well. Very professional,” former Pistons guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton said. “Guy like myself, I don’t know if I would have handled myself just as great as he’d done. He always answered every question in the media. Always came to play each, and every night. Performed at the highest level. Never got down on his teammates. I thought that it was the year that he had all the veterans, Jason Kidd, and Rasheed (Wallace). A lot of veteran guys around him. Then the team kind of went young, he never put his head down. Always played with the team that he had. Never got down on coaches, and things like that. So, thought he handled his time in New York, very, very professionally.” 
When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony nearly seven seasons back, they thought that they would build themselves into a team that would be in position to win their first championship since 1973. 
While Anthony worked his way into becoming the No. 7 leading scorer in franchise history with 10,186 points; No. 3 in three-pointers made at 762; and 10th in field goals made at 3,627, the record of the team in those 6.5 seasons was an abysmal 221-283. 
He had 84 total teammates in that span, and a total of five head coaches, Mike D’Antoni, who is now the head man of the Houston Rockets; Mike Woodson, who is now an assistant coach on the Los Angeles Clippers coaching staff; Derek Fisher; Kurt Rambis; and current Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek. 
“The ‘Melo,’ I would characterize it as a lot of great stats. A lot of great individual performances. Fell short in the wins department, but you can’t have everything,” Haywood said. “‘Melo’ is definitely going to be a Hall of Famer, and a lot of that is going to be because of some of these big time, and performances he had in a New York Knick uniform.” 
Right now, Anthony’s main concern is helping the Thunder, who had high expectations this season, have really struggled, and so as Anthony, who came in averaging career-lows of 18.0 points, on 41.0 percent from the field, the third lowest in “The Association” for the 34 qualified players who average 15-plus shot attempts per game this season. George at 40.8 percent coming into the game on Saturday night was the second lowest, and Westbrook at 38.4 is the lowest.
If there is anything that we learned about Carmelo Anthony from his time in the “Big Apple,” is besides being a great basketball player, he was a leader on, and off the court. The previously third best scorer per game in Knicks’ history behind Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo (26.7), and Bernard King (26.5) had a respect for the position he was in. He took the challenge of being the face of the New York Knicks. He cultivated friendships with his teammates that continue even though is with a new team. Above all, he was, and is the truest definition of a professional athlete, and the only thing left for him to achieve is to win a championship. Whether that will happen remains to be scene, but the four-time Olympic Gold Medal winner will surely put his best foot forward to make that happen. 
“I became entrenched into not just the Knicks, but the city as a whole,” he said on Thursday night. “Those are my roots. The people there, I became one of them. I’ve embraced New York City. I embraced the culture. I embraced everything about that city. I’m definitely motivated.”
He elaborated on that by saying after the loss, “I will always be kind of a part of this culture here, and for me it’s different than any other basketball player that comes through here that play with the Knicks because it’s deeper than basketball when it comes to me, and this city.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 2/23/17 www.nytimes.com article “Anthony Makes Knicks Debut with 27 Points,” by Jonathan Abrams; 12/16/17 7:30 p.m. contest Oklahoma City Thunder versus New York Knicks on the Madison Square Garden Network, presented by Chase with Mike Breen, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Al Trautwig, and Rebecca Haarlow; 12/17/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia Motors with Matt Winer, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, and Brendan Haywood; www.nba.com/games/20171216/OKCNYK#/boxscore; www.espn.com/nba/standings; http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/20141240NYK.html;  www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/ny/new-york-knicks; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_Knicks_seasons.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

J-Speaks: The Present, and The Future in Cleveland, OH


Before he was a four-time NBA MVP, a three-time NBA champion, and three-time Finals MVP, perennial All-Star of the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James was a young 18-year-old rookie trying to find his way in the MVP. He was also someone who had players he idolized like Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Michael Jordan. Fifteen years later, James became all the things that they became, and he is the person that a lot of today’s young players, and rookies idolize, pattern their game after, and look to for guidance. A few of those players faced off against the James, future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, and the Cavs when the talented, and Young Los Angeles Lakers came to town. While the Cavs won the game, and James was remarkable, it was a conversation he had with a player that was in the same position as he was a decade-and-a-half ago that made headlines. 
In the Cavs (21-8) 121-112 victory versus the Los Angeles Lakers (10-17) on TNT on Thursday night, their 16th victory in their last 17 games, James had his fourth triple-double of the season with 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists. It was also the 59th triple-double of his career, which tied him with Bird for No. 6 all-time. 
The late great Wilt Chamberlin (78); Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City Thunder (88, and counting); Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd (107); “Magic” Johnson (138); and Oscar Robertson (181) have garnered more triple-doubles in their careers. 
Love led the way with 28 points, and 11 rebounds. Jose Calderon had 17 points, and six assists. Jae Crowder had 11 points, while Wade, and Kyle Korver contributed 10 points each off the bench.  
However, it was a conversation that he had with the most scrutinized rookie this season in “The Association,” Lakers starting lead guard Lonzo Ball, who had 13 points, 11 assists, and eight boards on the night. 
“I didn’t tell him anything. I didn’t tell him anything,” James, who had that conversation with Ball, the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft with his mouth being covered by his jersey said to NBA on TNT sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow after the win. “It’s not for everybody. There’s enough noise out there already with ‘Zo,’ and it’s not for me to discuss, but he has a bright future like I said the other day in my quotes.” 
There are a select few rookies that have entered the NBA in its existence, at the close of their adolescences, and have seemingly the whole world suddenly comes to know you by your first name, and the vessel of so many people’s opinions from the media to the likes of people conversing in a barbershop. When people see you, in anyway they want to see you, ignoring what is actually right in front of them. 
None of us know what it is like to be where the 20-year-old Ball is as he’s trying to navigate his way through his rookie season. There is someone though who knows exactly what Ball is experiencing this season, and that is James. 
Thursday nights game was the first time the two met on the hardwood quickly became a parlor game of what did James say to the Southern California product? 
Through the help of an enterprising ready user posted the hot microphone of the language feed, which allowed the NBA on TNT to release the sound of that conversation on last night’s edition of “Inside the NBA,” presented by Kia Motors. 
James said to Ball after game, “Find your zone, and just stay (expletive) locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day. It’s (expletive) white noise to you. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.” 
What is ironic about that postgame chat between a man who will go down as one of the best to ever play the game in James, and the other hoping to reach those heights in Ball is this is the same night James tied Bird as mentioned earlier for the sixth most triple-doubles in NBA history. 
When speaking with reporters at his locker, James said that being in the same company as Bird is humbling. 
“He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” he said. “Kid from French Lick (Indiana). Boston. He just played until he literally couldn’t play the game no more. He gave everything he had. And for you young guys that don’t know him, they think of Larry Bird as a jump shooter. But, he was so much more than that. He was a passer. He averaged double-digit rebounds. He defended. He took charges. And its just straight up complete basketball player, and me as a small forward, Scottie (Pippen), Bird, Doc (Julius “Dr. J.” Erving), George Gervin, the guys I kind of looked up to being a small forward.” 
James continued by saying, “I’ve always been a fan of Larry Bird, and if I’m linked with any of the greats, especially like him, it’s pretty cool.” 
One of the biggest differences between those greats of the professional hardwood, and todays star players is the 24-hour news cycle. 
When Bird came into the NBA in 1979 with the Boston Celtics, who he led to three NBA titles, he dealt with crazy expectations. He was called in the early part of his career, “The Great White Hope.” There was a major circus that followed him, and “Magic” Johnson into the NBA out of their meeting when Indiana State took on Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. Then the fact that people did not have faith that Bird could deliver an entire league that struggled to maintain its popularity. There was a time that NBA games were on tape delay. 
When James entered the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick back in June 2003, had to take on those same expectations, and having to do so during the rise of the internet, and then eventually social media. 
James has often said that he is the most scrutinized athlete in American history, and while he might be right, that will not be true for very long. 
Ball before he even played a single minute in “The Association,” had his own reality show, and his own shoe, “Big Baller Brand.” On top of that, he has 3.6 million Instagram followers. 
“NBA: The Jump,” host Rachel Nichols said jokingly on her show on Friday afternoon that in five years from now Ball will have a chip in his brain which will direct broadcast across the globe. 
“If it exists, you know LaVar Ball (Lonzo’s father) will find it,” Nichols said. 
In the present though, Ball is just another trying to find his way with a very sparkling spotlight magnifying his every move, both on, and off the court. It can be a tough, and sometimes lonely place. The good thing for him is that he has a prime example one of the rare pro athletes like James who have been there, and come out on the other side. 
For those that may not remember, James in the summer of 2010 announced on ESPN to then sideline reporter for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” Jim Gray that he was leaving the Cavs in free agency to sign with the Miami Heat. 
He received massive criticism from everyone from the sports media, to the fans. Some of those fans in Cleveland even burned his jersey in expression of their anger. 
All James did was lead the Heat, along with Wade, and Chris Bosh in the face of all that to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks, and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki in six games.
The Heat, and James would battle their way back to The Finals over the next two years, winning back-to-back titles over the Thunder in five games in 2012, and the San Antonio Spurs in seven games in 2013. 
The Heat got back to The Finals in the 2013-14 NBA campaign, but lost to the Spurs 4-1, and in the summer James opted out of the final year of his contract, and returned to the Cavs. 
Since his return, James has led the Cavs to three straight appearances in The Finals, where they defeated the then defending champions the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Finals in seven games, delivering the city their first pro sports title since 1964, when the Cleveland Browns led by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown won the NFL championship. 
For James, who has appeared in The Finals the last seven seasons in succession, and is looking to make it eight this season, he has had a lot of personal growth in his game on the court as well as his leadership both on, and off it. 
During his MVP seasons in 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, and 2012-13, James has average 28.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.4 assists, on 52 percent from the field, and 26 percent from three-point range. 
This season, James is averaging 28.2 points, his most since 2009-10. Career-highs of nine assists, 58 percent from the floor, and 42 percent from three-point range. His 8.2 boards per game is the second most of his career. 
James’ improvement in making perimeter jump shots has basically made him flat out unguardable now. Teams before in their attempt to slow James down was to give him space, and make him shoot from the perimeter, that is not the case now, and should give any critic of Ball, and his 33.2 percent from the floor, 26.5 percent from three-point range, and 48.6 percent from the free throw line pause. 
James is someone who put the time during the off-season to improve the areas that needed to be worked on, and we have seen from his rookie season to today that improvement. 
If Ball is willing to put work in, he can be as good a player as James, if not better. We have seen in flashes that he can put the ball in the whole, as well as his ability to make an impact on the game in other areas. 
On Oct. 20 in the Lakers’ 132-120 win at the Phoenix Suns (9-21), Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists on 12 for 27 from the field, including 4 for 9 from three-point range. 
In the Lakers’ 98-90 loss at the Milwaukee Bucks (15-11) on Nov. 11, Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double with 17 points, 13 assists, and 12 boards, making 7 of 12 from the floor, including 3 for 5 from three-point range. 
His second triple-double of 11 points, 11 assists, and a career-high of 16 rebounds in the Lakers 127-109 versus the Denver Nuggets (15-13), Ball at 20 years, and 23 days old equaled James as the youngest player to record his second triple-double of his career 12 seasons back. He also equaled his boss in “Magic” Johnson as the only Lakers to have multiple triple-doubles in their rookie seasons. Johnson had seven triple-doubles back in the 1979-80 NBA campaign, where he led the Lakers to their first of five titles in the 1980s. 
The shooting, and lapses of aggressiveness at the offensive end, Lonzo Ball has been solid. Does he have room for improvement? Yes. Does he need to become a better all-around shooter, Yes? Will that happen, only if he puts in the work, and he will get better in time. 
It takes time, and commitment to become great, and Lonzo Ball has the greatest example of that the player he, and the Lakers faced on Thursday night, LeBron James. He put in the work. Look adversity from every angle in the eye, and beat it. If Ball can do that, he has a chance of being that transcendent player, and living up, and cashing the checks his father LaVar seems to write every time he opens his mouth in front of a microphone. 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 12/14/17 8 p.m. contest Los Angeles Lakers versus Cleveland Cavaliers on TNT, presented by State Farm with Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, and Kristen Ledlow; 12/15/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Ramona Shelburne, and Tracy McGrady; www.espn.com/nba/player/gamelog/_/4066421/lonzo-ball; and www.nba.com/20171214/LALCLE#/boxscore/recap.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

J-Speaks: Soaring Rockets


The Houston Rockets won at the Golden State Warriors on opening night 122-121 on Oct. 17. The victory was the back story on that night because they lost their newest lead guard in perennial All-Star Chris Paul to a knee injury that would cost him the next 14 games. While the Rockets still played solidly without Paul, the question was will he, and last season’s runner up for MVP in All-Star James Harden be able to play well together. They have not only played well together since Paul’s return from injury, the Rockets have yet to lose a game. 
With their latest victory, 108-96 versus the Charlotte Hornets (10-17) this past Wednesday night on ESPN, the Rockets (22-4) won their 11th game in a row; their 6th win in succession at the Toyota Center, and their 17th win in their last 18 games.

Their 11-game winning streak is their longest since 2008, and those 11 straight wins have come with Paul back in the lineup. The team has averaged 119.6 points during this streak, on 48.8 percent shooting from the floor, and 41.2 from three-point range.  
He led the way for the Rockets with a season-high 31 points, and 11 assists, to along with seven boards, and two steals. 
Paul, who was 10 for 18 from the field, including 5 for 9 from three-point range, became the first player in NBA history to help a team to victory in its first 12 games with him as a starter since the Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman with the Chicago Bulls back in 1995-96.

"It's a lot of fun man," Paul, who for the 38 time in his career had 30 points, and 10 assists, tying  him with six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said to Scott Van Pelt on the midnight edition of ESPN's "Sportscenter" after the win.
"The way we share the ball. The pace we play at. The comradery that we have, it's a lot of fun."
Paul also said of tying “MJ,” to Van Pelt, “MJ had 10 assists that many times? Tell him I said it too.” 
Jordan’s former teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer, and six-time champion Scottie Pippen said jokingly “He passed the ball later in his career, later on.”
Harden, who has scored 20 points or more in all 26 games this season had 21 points, and eight assists, even though he shot just 8 for 22 from the floor, including 3 for 10 from three-point range. Gordon had 17 points off the bench, going 4 for 9 from distance, and Trevor Ariza had 13 points, and six boards, going 3 for 7 from three-point range. 
In a contest, where Paul had his finger prints all over the game, it was Harden who led the way for the Rockets in their prior victory, 130-123 versus the New Orleans Pelicans (15-14) on Monday night. The previously MVP runner-up in two of the last three seasons had 26 points; tied a career-high 17 assists, with a franchise tying 14 of them in the opening half and six steals, going 8 for 16 from the field, including 4 for 10 from three-point range.
Harden’s electric night put him on a list of players to put up 25-plus points, 15-plus assists, three-plus three-point makes, and five-plus steals in a single game in NBA history. He joined current Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, who did it twice, along with Hall of Fame lead guard of the Utah Jazz John Stockton. Former Indiana Pacers’ and Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis; former Jazz, New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Deron Williams; former Warriors’ and Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway, Sr., the father of New York Knicks guard, and former Atlanta Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr., and former Portland Trail Blazers guard Terry Porter also accomplished this. 
Paul had 18 of his 20 points in the second half, along with nine boards, six assists, and three steals. 
“James has been carrying us all season long. It was nice to give him a little help tonight,” Paul said after the game. 
The team was led on this night by center Clint Capela with a career-high 28 points, on 13 for 14 from the field, with eight boards, and five block shots. Gordon had 27 points off the bench, going 9 for 12 from the field, including 5 for 6 from three-point range.
“Clint was amazing man as good as [DeMarcus] Cousins is, when he was down here, he’s expending a lot of energy. So, we just wanted to run him. Put him in pick-and-rolls,” Paul said of Capela’s performance against one of the best big men in the game. “Clint definitely MVP of this game.” 
It took a total team effort by the Rockets, who had to overcome big nights from the Pelican guards, where All-Star Jrue Holiday had 37 points, five assists, and four steals, going 16 for 21 from the field, including 4 for 7 from three-point range. E’Twaun Moore had a career-high 36 points, hitting 15 for 20 from the floor, including 6 for 8 from three-point range. All-Star guard Rajon Rondo had a triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists. Fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins had a double-double of 24 points, and 14 boards, with eight assists. 
The Pelicans were scoring hot from the field right from the jump, scoring 41 points in the opening period, which was followed by 35 points in the second quarter. The Rockets held a two-point lead, 78-76 at intermission, thanks to a 43-point second quarter. The Pelicans had a 103-96 lead entering the fourth, but the Rockets outscored their visitors 34-20 in the fourth quarter, with Harden scoring 12 straight points in the final frame to rally the Rockets. 
“We met right there before the fourth quarter started, said our little group had a chance to do something special. To pick up the energy right here,” Paul said about the Rockets approach before the fourth after the win. 
“We just tried to make them be more aggressive on defense, because they were just in a rocking chair. Rondo was quarterbacking, making all the plays. They was hitting threes.”
Harden was able to come in, and finish off the Pelicans, thanks to the fact that the supporting cast of the bench led by Gordon out scored the visitors reserves 38-3, and dominated them in the paint to the tune of 58 points to 40. 
The Rockets made an even bigger comeback over the weekend in the Pacific Northwest by pulling out of a 14-point hole at the Portland Trail Blazers (14-13) on Saturday night to earn a 124-117 win, thanks to a 40-point output in the final frame. 
Harden, who had a game-high 48 points that night, and Paul had 26 points, scored a combined 25 points in the fourth, and the Rockets went 15 for 18 from the floor in the final period, with Harden, and Paul going a combined 9 for 10 shooting, including hitting five layups.  
This game also represented the first time that Harden, and Paul had been on the floor together in crunch time this season. The games prior to this one that Paul has played in have been won by the Rockets by double-digits. 
Rockets color analyst for AT&T Sportsnet Southwest Matt Bullard said that with Harden, and Paul on the floor together at the Trail Blazers scored in the first seven clutch possessions of the fourth quarter, and their offensive rating was 228 points per 100 possessions.

"We spent a lot of time together this summer," Paul said to Van Pelt on how he, and Harden built the kind of chemistry on the court that has shown well during the Rockets winning streak.
"I think communication was key, but we still have a ways to go."   
Speaking of getting to the basket, the Rockets who are a team that scores it points from the three-point line, at the rim, and at the foul line, were 34 for 42 from the charity stripe, while the Trail Blazers attempted just 12 free throws, making nine. 
Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after the game about the Rockets, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, “They’re the best team in the league right now, and we competed, and came up short…We took out their passing. We took out their threes. And they beat us with good one-on-one play.”
There were times in that game where Harden had the Trail Blazers on their heels, and he could get to the basket anytime he wanted to. 
Even when the opposition has defended the Rockets well on a few occasions during this season, their star backcourt of Harden, and Paul in the final seconds of the shot clock can still beat you with their ability to make shots from long range. 
ESPN NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz said on Monday afternoon’s addition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols said that Harden has an effective field goal percentage of 55.1 on his 51 stepback attempts from three-point range inside the final five seconds of the 24-second shot clock, which is something he worked on diligently over the summer.  
“So, even when you everything correct, their last ditch, break the glass. In case of emergency play is stepback, three-pointer off the dribble, 55.1 percent effective,” he said. 
“It used to be literally the dumbest. Last ditch shot you could make in a game. And now, it is part of strategy.” 
There was a time over the summer when the Rockets acquired Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers, where the question was can Harden, and Paul, two ball dominant players co-exist together? The new question became when Paul returned is can he fit in to a team that was playing at a high level without him?  
He has fit in like a glove, and the signs were very clear in his first game on Nov. 16 at the Phoenix Suns on TNT. 
The Rockets put up 90 points. That’s right 90 points in the opening half at the Suns (9-21) in their 142-116 win. It was the fifth most points in a half all-time in NBA history, right behind the Rockets 94-point half on Jan. 10, 1991. The Philadelphia 76ers put up 95 points in a game back on Dec. 20, 1967. The Atlanta Hawks scored 97 points in a half on Feb. 11, 1970. The most points ever put up in a half was done by the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 10, 1990. 
Harden was incredible with 48 points, on 12 for 22 from the field, including 6 for 11 from distance, and a perfect 18 for 18 from the foul line. Paul had a double-double in his return of 11 points, and 10 assists in 21 minutes. Anderson had 24 points, going 6 for 10 from three-point range. Gordon had 13 off the bench, and backup center Nene had 10 points. Capela had a double-double of 12 points, and 10 boards. Ariza also contributed 11 points. 
To bring the impact Paul has had into clearer context, according to the site Second Spectrum, Anderson is scoring on 79 percent of his three-point attempts when feed by Paul. 
In the first 15 games without their lead guard, whose nickname is “CP3” returned to the lineup, the Rockets were shooting a respectable 34 percent from behind the three-point arc, No. 25 in the NBA, making 15.1 threes. In that period, their assists-to-turnover ratio has been 1.3, and their point differential was a +13.1. They have averaging 110.4 points, on shooting 45.3 percent overall from the floor, while averaging 21.3 assists.  
In the first 10 games of their now 11 game winning streak since Nov. 16 with Paul, the Rockets rose that ranking to No. 2 in the NBA at 41.5 percent from distance, making 17.2 triples. The Rockets have averaged 120.0 points per game; shot 48.7 percent from the field; had a 1.77 assists-to-turnover ratio; a point differential of +17.6 and averaged 24.6 assists.  
In the Rockets 112-101 win at the Utah Jazz (13-15) on Dec. 7 on TNT, the Rockets connected on 10 of 14 threes off a pass from Paul. On triple tries that came off passes from Harden, and the other Rockets, or when they came off no passes, the team was a dismal 8 for 28, according to Second Spectrum. 
The other question that the Rockets have had to answer, especially over the last couple of seasons has been their play at the defensive end. That too has gotten better with Paul, a seven-time member of the NBA All-Defensive First-Team coming back, along with the off-season additions of swingman P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute.  
They are No. 6 in rebound differential in the NBA; No. 3 in steals per game at 9.4 and tied for No. 8 in forced turnovers at 15.2. 

Even with that progress, Paul said to Van Pelt that there is still room for the Rockets to improve, especially the way they start games. 

"We're winning games, and stuff right now, but it's big picture," he said after the win versus the Hornets. "We still have to keep building. We got to get off to better starts, and we got to keep building out defense."
What this 11-game winning streak, and the Rockets rise to the No. 1 Seed in the West this season, for now signals is that Paul, and Harden have made this partnership on the basketball court work, and it helps when you have an offensive genius in Mike D’Antoni leading the way from the sidelines, and the plethora of shooters that can make shots at a high clip. 
Paul though has put in the work to evolve himself into a player that many thought he would struggle to become. A guy who can share the point guard responsibilities with Harden. That he can shoot three-pointers at a consistent rate, shooting a career-high of 41.8 percent, with four games this season of four three-point connections, or more. He has attacked the basket when the opportunity has presented itself to score or find the open man rolling to the hole, on spotting up at the three-point line, and has taken less mid-range jumpers. 
While the Harden, and Paul have answered the question can they put it all together on the court, and the Rockets as a team have demonstrated that they can play the type of defense that can get you far in the playoffs to this point in the 2017-18 NBA campaign, the question is can they put it all together when we reach the middle of April, and the months of May, and June? 
While they have played well, the Golden State Warriors (22-6), who have won seven games in a row are the defending champions, and their interstate, and Southwest Division rivals the San Antonio Spurs (19-9) have five titles to their name, and defeated the Rockets in the Semifinals a season ago in six games. 
The Warriors, and Spurs have been down this road before of positioning themselves to be at their best in the postseason. Also, they both have former MVPs in two-time MVP Stephen Curry of the Warriors, along with last season’s Finals MVP, and 2014 league MVP Kevin Durant, not to mention All-Stars Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, and the likes of Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili who played big roles in the Spurs winning five of their six NBA titles.
The Rockets are trying to figure it out, and while they have made positive steps to this point, the team, and Harden, and Paul will be judge on what they do in the spring. Counting their first tilt of the season with the Spurs on Friday night on ESPN, the Rockets will have a combined six more contests with their Conference rivals, and five of those six will be in the New Year. 
From that point on, we all will find out if what the Rockets are a serious threat in the West, or a team that will flame out again when the pressure, and expectations are at there highest. 
Information, quotations, and statistics are courtesy of 12/8/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Amin Elhassan, and Tracy McGrady; 12/11/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, and Kevin Arnovitz; 12/11/17 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; 12/13/17 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; 12/12/17 6:30 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia Motors, with Kristen Ledlow, and Brent Barry; 12/14/17 12 a.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter with Scott Van Pelt:” 12/14/17 7 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “The Starters,” presented by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, with Tas Melas, J.E. Skeets, Leigh Ellis, and Trey Kerby; 12/15/17 3 p.m. edition of "NBA: The Jump," on ESPN, with Rachel Nichols, Ramona Shelburne, and Tracy McGrady; www.nba.com/games; www.espn.com/nba/statistics; www.espn.com/nba/standings;  www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/hou/houston-rockets; www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/2779/chris-paul; and www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/3992/james-harden.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

J-Speaks: The Return of A Former All-Star Pacer


Over the summer, the Indiana Pacers, and Oklahoma City Thunder completed a blockbuster deal sending All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist Paul George down south for guard Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis. On paper, the Thunder seemed to get the better end of the deal acquiring George to team up with fellow perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony, and last season’s league MVP Russell Westbrook. On the season so far though, it has been the Pacers that have played better than the Thunder, led by the break out season of Oladipo. On Wednesday night, George played in his first game as an opponent at in Indianapolis, IN, and while his play was less than stellar, his team produced the same result as they did two months back, thanks to the play of the supporting cast. 
On a night when George, who spent seven season with the Pacers struggled mightily scoring just 12 points, going 3 for 14 from the field, including 2 for 7 from three-point range, and was booed repeatedly by those in attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Thunder (13-14) won at the Pacers (16-12) thanks to the 23 points, and 13 boards of starting center Steven Adams, who also shot 11 for 16 from the floor. 
“Yeah, I’m happy the circus is over with. Everybody can move on,” George, who has 19 field goals made, and 20 turnovers in his last four games said after the just the Thunder’s fourth win on the road in 14 tries, but their fifth win in their last seven games. “I understood what the environment was going to be, so it wasn’t a surprise.” 
Anthony also struggled offensively also, scoring just 12 points himself, going 4 for 14 from the field, but did have three blocks. 
While he was just 3 for 17 shooting, and just 3 for 7 from the charity stripe, Westbrook garnered his ninth triple-double of the season, and 35th of 2017, and the 88th of his career with 10 points, 17 boards, and 12 assists. The 35 triple-doubles by Westbrook this calendar year is the most in NBA history. He had shared the mark of 34 with the Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in 1961. 
Head coach Billy Donovan’s Thunder also got contributions from Alex Abrines, who had 14 points, going 4 for 6 from three-point range. Jerami Grant had nine points, six boards, and three blocks off the bench, and Patrick Patterson had eight points, hitting a couple of triples. 
George did manage to sink two crucial free throws with 10.7 seconds left to seal the victory for the Thunder, to capture the season series 2-0 over their Eastern Conference opponent. 
The Thunder took down the Pacers in their place, Chesapeake Energy Arena 114-96 back on Oct. 25, and George struggled on that night as well scoring just 10 points in 19 minutes, and fouled out. 
Oladipo led the Pacers in a losing cause with 19 points, but shot just 9 for 26 from the floor, including just 1 for 9 from three-point range, but did have five boards, and six assists. Sabonis had eight points, and six boards off the bench in 18 minutes.
“It was the first time I’ve had a defender guard me like that since I’ve been on this team,” Oladipo said of his rough shooting night being guarded by George. “They were just trying to deny me, and he (George) can move his feet.”
To say that this was very different day for George of this NBA season to this point. Everything was different for the four-time All-Star from locating the visitor’s locker room; to having the 18,165 fans in attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that cheered him for his seven seasons in Pacers’ country to one fan shouting out to him when he first came on the court for pregame warmups, “traitor!” Being booed at a high crescendo during the starting introductions, and every time he touched the ball during the game. 
The only time that he got any cheers from those in attendance was when he was called for a foul or made a mistake from missing a shot, which he did plenty of on the night, to turning the ball over, which he did four times.

"I'm in my comfort zone when I'm on the court," George said before the game on Wednesday. "I might be nervous off the court being booed, but on the court, it's my comfort zone. It's basketball. It's what I do. I'm not going to lose sleep over it. I'm living my dream, getting to play in the NBA, playing basketball. So, I get booed, I get booed. It's part of the game. It will make for a good show, and I'm looking forward to it."
George elaborated on those thoughts by saying, “If for whatever the reason, I’m booed, I’ll embrace it,” George said earlier in the week about dealing with the fans reaction to his return. “I’m going to thrive on it, and that is going to give me the energy to play better.” 
George did embrace it, and while he struggled for most of the game, he would have the last laugh by making the previously mentioned two free throws to seal the win for the Thunder, but he came up with the final steal of the contest on Oladipo, and he pumped his arms, and he, and his teammates savored that moment. 

The former Pacer began his postgame presser with the question of "Vic is there guy here right? Right?"

His answered his own question was, "Don't let him get the ball. It's Simple. Ball game." 

George then tap his right hand on the table to close his case, and he walked away from the table. 

When this trade took place over the summer, it was considered highway robbery where Oladipo, and Sabonis were considered as valuable as a ham, and cheese sandwich of an elementary school kids’ lunch. 
To bring this point into clearer context, the Oklahoma City Police Department tweeted @OKCPD about the trade Thunder General Manager Sam Presti pulled back on June 30 said, “Thanks for the tweets reporting the “theft” of Paul George by @okcthunder. Our investigative findings: totally legal & very savvy.” they would begin an investigation to the theft the Thunder, and General Manager Sam Presti pulled off. 
One person who really liked that tweet very much was Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard.
Things have turned out well for the Pacers to this point in the 2017-18 NBA campaign season as they entered their Wednesday night tilt versus the Thunder No. 5 in the Eastern Conference. 
A major reason for that has been the career-year turned in by Oladipo, who as the No. 2 overall pick by the Orlando Magic in 2013, who entered the game averaging 24.5 points, 5.3 boards, four assists, and 1.8 steals per contest, on 48.5 percent from the field, and 44.4 percent from three-point range. He has also had five games so far scoring 30 points or more. 
In the Pacers 126-116 comeback win in overtime versus the Denver Nuggets (15-13), Oladipo scored a career-high of 47 points, on 15 for 28 from the field, hitting 6 for 12 from three-point range, and 11 for 13 from the free throw line, with seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals. This was on the heels of a 33-point performance, going 11 for 24 from the floor, hitting six more triples on 13 tries, with eight boards, and five assists last Friday versus the Cleveland Cavaliers (20-8), ending their 13-game winning streak. 
For Oladipo, this season has been one where he has come into his own. Is that rare player that has shown he can thrive for a small market sports organization, and he simply made it a point to play at a high level, and if he keeps this could earn his first All-Star nod of his career. 
“I’m kind of sick getting sick, and tired of being compared with Paul George, and myself,” the former Indiana Hoosier said leading up the game versus the Thunder about him being compared to George. “He moved on, and I moved on from my situation. Life takes its course. I’m happy here. I wish him all the best. I’m feathery right now as a Pacer. I don’t have any disrespect toward him. I’m just grateful to be able to put on this jersey every night.” 
In his first two stops with the Magic for his first three seasons, and with the Thunder last season, Oladipo, who hails from nearby Washington, D.C. put up okay numbers, but he never lived up to where he was chosen in the draft. 
What needs to be remember though is he was selected by a team in the Magic that was trying to rebuild itself back into a playoff team with the departure of All-Star center Dwight Howard, and things never worked out. 
In his lone season with the Thunder, who acquired him during the June 2016 draft along with Sabonis for then forward Serge Ibaka, he was expected to be the sidekick to Russell Westbrook. An injured wrist, and an inability to find any chemistry with the reigning 2017 league MVP hampered those dreams, and resulted in Oladipo, and Sabonis coming to the Pacers where they both have thrived. 
“It’s another game we’re looking forward to on our home floor,” Oladipo said of the highly anticipated matchup. “We want to win every game really bad, no matter who we’re playing. I hope they feel that way about every game.”
For both the Pacers, and Thunder, their second matchup of the season brought a lot of hype, and the crowd was heard loud, and clear throughout the game.
That seemed to be the only consistent thing because both teams did not play with any flow at all on the night. The Thunder shot just 40.9 percent from the field, 62.5 percent 15 for 24 from the charity stripe, though they shot 13 for 29 from three-point range, and had 20 fast break points. The Pacers shot 44.9 percent from the floor, 11 for 31 from three-point range, but just 4 for 6 from the foul line; were out-rebounded 52-42; had just 18 assists; and gave up 17 points off 14 turnovers. 
Despite the loss to the Thunder on Wednesday night, their first loss in five games on their current six-game homestand, and look like a team that has a chance of making the playoffs, which seemed like a fantasy at the start of this season. 
It also gave the fans a chance to express their feelings on George leaving a team that he was a big part of them making themselves into a championship contender in the early part of this decade, where their dreams were shattered on three occasions in the postseason by four-time MVP LeBron James in his time with the Miami Heat. 
“He did so much for Indiana, and how well he played, and carried us when he was here. I think he’ll get more cheers than boos,” George’s former teammate Lance Stephenson, who had nine points, and eight boards off the bench said prior to the game. 
For the Thunder, this victory was major for them in the fact that it took the bitter taste out of their mouths from an abysmal 116-103 loss they had versus the Charlotte Hornets (10-17) just 48 hours prior. It was their sixth victory by five points or less, bringing their record in those games to 6-10, and they avoided their ninth loss this season where they had a double-digit lead, which was 11 points at one point in their game at the Pacers. 
As mentioned earlier, this was the Thunder’s fourth win on the road this season, bringing their record to 4-10. Coming into Wednesday’s action, the Thunder on the road were dead last in “The Association,” 30th in field goal percentage; tied for 25th in three-point percentage; 25th in assists; and 29th in points in the paint. 
Prior to their 102-101 overtime win at the struggling Memphis Grizzlies (8-20) last Saturday night, the Thunder had lost eight straight road games, and was averaging just 96.4 points per contest, which was ranked No. 29 in the NBA during that time. Their 40.3 percent from the field was ranked dead last, 30th. Their 30.1 defensive boards in those eight straight defeats was ranked 27th, and their 19.1 assists average was ranked 28th
Anthony had 21 points, and nine rebounds, even though he was 7 for 20 shooting. Adams, who has averaged 19.0 points, 10.1 boards, on 71.3 percent from the field the last seven games, where the Thunder have gone 5-2 also had 21 points, and nine rebounds. Westbrook had a triple-double of 20 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds, while he shot just 7 for 29 from the field. Alex Abrines also had 20 points, which was a career-high, going 6 for 8 from three-point land.  
Entering their Monday night contest versus the Hornets, Westbrook, Anthony, and George, who returned from a two-game absence because of a calf contusion have shot a combined 10 for 42 from the floor in clutch situations, standing for with under five minutes left in the game, with the scoring margin of five points or less. 
On top of that, the Thunder as a unit with their win on Wednesday brought their record to 4-6 in games decided by five points or less. 
The reality is the Thunder expected to be better than this. The newest “Big Three” of Westbrook, Anthony, and George expected to be coordinated on both ends of the court, especially offensively. Even with their victory, they still look uncomfortable, and unless that changes, the talks of perhaps trading George, who is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end will continue. 
“It’s up to us honestly,” Westbrook said about what the Thunder need to do to turn things around after the loss to the Hornets on Monday night. “We just have to figure it out, and play the same way every night.” 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 12/10/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV's "Gametime," presented by Kia Motors with Matt Winer, David Griffin, and Brendan Haywood 12/11/17, and 12/13/17 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “10 Before Tip,” with Jared Greenberg; 12/11/17 NBA.com article, “Victor Oladipo ‘Sick, and Tired’ Of Paul George Comparisons;” 12/14/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV's "Gametime," with Jared Greenberg, Dennis Scott, and Shaquille O'Neal; www.nba.com/games/20171213/OKCIND#/matchup/boxscore/recap; www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/4251/paul-george; www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/2527963/victor-oladipo; and www.espn.com/nba/standings.

J-Speaks: Nets/SIxers Trade


Two years ago, center Jahlil Okafor was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Behind a stellar rookie season where he averaged 17.5 points, seven rebounds, shooting 50.8 percent from the field, he made the NBA All-Rookie First-Team. Injuries, the emergence, and improved health of star center in the making Joel Embiid made Okafor expendable, which resulted in his numbers, and playing time dropping as quick as a rock falling off a cliff. Last Thursday, the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, who led the Duke Blue Devils to the 2015 national title was granted his wish of a fresh start. 
The Sixers traded Okafor, who averaged 11.8 points, and 4.8 rebounds last season, shooting guard Nik Stauskas, the No. 8 overall pick of the Sacramento Kings in the 2014 draft, and a 2019 Second-Round pick to the Brooklyn Nets, for veteran forward/center Trevor Booker, who averaged 10.5 points, and 6.8 boards on 52.1 percent from the field in 20 games with the Nets. 
“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor, who has averaged just 5.0 points, 4.5 rebounds in just two games played with the Sixers this season said on Monday during his introductory press conference with his new team the Nets on Monday. “It just never really was the right fit.” 
Besides the injuries issues that limited him to just 53, and 50 games in his first two seasons, Okafor had some problems off the hardwood in his time in the city of “Brotherly Love,” from getting a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour, and was suspended by the Sixers for two games after getting in an altercation with a heckler outside a Boston nightclub. 
“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said of the situation. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you, and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past it, and I’m looking to better times now.” 
Those better times hopefully will be with a Nets team that has played better than expected this season, and now has another young player in Okafor, who turns 22 years of age on Friday, Dec. 15 they will have a chance to look at along with Stauskas to see if they can be core parts of their team in the future. 
Okafor, who as mentioned earlier was chosen No. 3 overall in the draft two seasons back, will be joining guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick from that draft. 
Russell, who the Nets acquired, along with center Timofey Mozgov over the summer from the Los Angeles Lakers, for center Brook Lopez had off the court problems of his own with the team that drafted him. He received swift criticism for recording a conversation with then teammate Nick Young of how he cheated on then girlfriend Iggy Azalea. That incident, among other things is why the Lakers essentially gave up on Russell, traded him to the Nets, and drafted Lonzo Ball, ironically No. 2 overall back in June. 
“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said of himself, and his new teammate Russell, who is on the shelf right now after knee surgery. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now, he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder, and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.” 
While the Nets got the main player in this deal in Okafor, the big initial question though is who got the better end of this trade between the Atlantic Division rivals. 
This is one of those rare trade that helped both teams out. The Nets got two players in Okafor, and Stauskas that are hungry to prove that they belong in the NBA. Both are young players who have shown flashes of what they could be, but have not been consistent in their play. 
In the case of Staukas, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario, he was traded from the Kings on July 10, 2015 from the Kings along with forwards Carly Landry, and Jason Thompson, and a future First-Round draft pick, and the rights to swap First-Round picks in 2016, and 2017 to the Sixers after just one season. 
While he had two okay years with the team, where he averaged 8.5, and 9.5 points per game respectably, the addition of J.J. Redick over the summer, along with the acquisition of the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft, which was guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington, Stauskas’ days were numbered. So much so that he only saw action in just six games with the Sixers.  
Here with the Nets (11-15), who scored a 103-98 win versus the Washington Wizards (15-13) on Tuesday night, both know that they will have a chance to show that they play at a high level, and give themselves a chance to still have solid careers in the NBA.  
These are players who fit the mold of what Nets GM Sean Marks wants on the roster. Players with a chip on their shoulder. Eager to show that being overlooked by their previous team was a mistake. Player who were praised at one point in their high school, collegiate or early in their pro career like Okafor, but now are having to start from bottom, and work their way up the latter. 
The Nets know though, it will take time for Okafor, and Stauskas to get acclimated to their new team, and new teammates, which is what head coach Kenny Atkinson said to the press before their Tuesday night tilt versus the Washington Wizards. 
“Anytime you incorporated new players, it takes time,” he said. “It takes time to learn a new system, on both sides of the ball. Getting familiar with their teammates. Just integrating them into the squad takes a little bit. So, where in the process. We had a practice yesterday. We had a practice yesterday. Got one under our belts, so that was good.” 
The other thing that worked against both Okafor, and Stauskas is that they began their NBA careers under tough circumstances. Being selected in the Top 10 of the NBA draft, you are expected to come in, and have an immediate impact on changing the direction of the team that drafted you. In Okafor’s case he was part of what was dubbed, “The Process,” by former Sixers General Manager Sam Hinkie. As mentioned earlier, that process consisted of him, Embiid, Noel, along last season’s No. 1 overall pick forward/guard Ben Simmons. While Okafor did show flashes that he could be the guy who leads them back to respectably, the team had the belief that Embiid, who missed his first two season because of injury, and played in just 31 games last season, would be that franchise changing player, and he has become that this season for the Sixers, along with Simmons. 
This put the current Sixers GM Brian Colangelo in a tough spot, he gambled on the fact that Embiid would eventually get healthy, and be the anchor of the team, which is why he traded Noel to the Dallas Mavericks a season ago, and last week traded Okafor. 
The Sixers (14-13), while they gave up a draft pick, all be it a 2019 pick, did get a solid veteran player in Booker, who will another presence in the locker room along with Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, and J.J. Redick, who have been very valuable assets to head coach Brett Brown with their experience, and knowledge they have accumulated in their years in the NBA. Booker gives the Sixers another rebounder, defender, and a player who will always be ready to play off the bench whether he plays one minute, or 25 minutes. 
This trade was summed up best in a statement by Okafor’s agent, “The organization (Philadelphia 76ers) is in a great position moving forward, and we are very happy that Jahlil can go, and establish himself in a new situation.” 
How Okafor, and Stauskas make the most of this new situation will determine a lot of what happens to them for the remainder of their careers. Coach Atkinson said in his press conference before the Nets’ contest versus the Wizards that he, and his coaching staff will do everything they can to put both in position to succeed here for the rest of this season. 
“We want to both of those guys in position to succeed. In position to help the team,” Atkinson said. “Luckily we have another practice day coming up. So, that will be good. I wish we had four days where we can do a mini training camp, but that’s not the case. So, we as a staff, we’re going to work hard to get those guys up to speed, and ready.” 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 12/7/17 8 p.m. contest of Los Angeles Lakers versus Philadelphia 76ers on TNT with Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, and David Aldridge; 12/11/17 1 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Casey Stern, Sam Mitchell, and Brent Barry; 12/11/17 “The Associated Press” story via NBA.com, “Jahlil Okafor Excited For Fresh Start with Brooklyn Nets,” by Michael Scotto; 12/12/17 7 p.m. edition of the Brooklyn Nets Pregame show on Yankees’ Entertainment, and Sports Network (YES), presented by Infor with Chris Shearn, report from Nets sideline reporter Michael Grady; www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/2991042; www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/3135048; www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/4270; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jahlil_Okafor; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nik_Stauskas.