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#pounditFriday, January 22, 2021

Basketball

Paul George was upset he showed ‘weakness’ last season

Paul George

Paul George once again looks like an MVP candidate this season, and the humiliation of last season may be partly to thank.

The LA Clippers forward scored 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting in a blowout win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday. After the game, George said he has been motivated by the way the 2019-20 campaign ended for the team.

“I’m coming back with vengeance,” said George, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “I didn’t like, not so much of the noise and everything around [the way last season ended], but just the fact that people saw weakness.

“And I had to address that,” the six-time All-Star added. “I had to answer that. That fueled me. That put me in a place where I wanted to come back and be myself again.”

In his age-30 campaign, George is now averaging a robust 25.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. He is also posting career-highs of 50.3 percent from the field and a ridiculous 51.5 percent from three. Those are better numbers than what fellow star Kawhi Leonard is even averaging.

In previous months, George seemed to be pointing fingers elsewhere for the Clippers’ embarrassing playoff collapse. But it does sound like he has now found a more positive place to channel that energy.

Spencer Dinwiddie hilariously clowns fan who forgot he was still on Nets

Spencer Dinwiddie

The Brooklyn Nets cashed in almost of their chips for James Harden, but Spencer Dinwiddie was not one of them, contrary to what some might think.

The Nets guard had a funny reaction on Friday to a fan account that tweeted about the new era of Brooklyn basketball. The tweet thanked former Nets D’Angelo Russell, Caris Levert, and Jarrett Allen, all of whom are no longer on the team. Curiously though, it also made mention of Dinwiddie.

Dinwidde hilariously responded to the tweet, writing “Uhhhhhh I’m still on the team guys” with a laughing face emoji.

Dinwiddie, 27, played himself into immense trade value, averaging 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game last season. But he suffered a partial right ACL tear last month, essentially taking him out of trade consideration. The Nets were ultimately able to complete the move for Harden without him.

The injury will effectively sideline Dinwiddie for the rest of the year. But he is still very much on the Nets and still very much bringing heat on Twitter.

Photo: Erik Drost/Flickr via CC-BY 2.0

Vanessa Bryant reveals which colleges daughter Natalia wants to attend

Vanessa Bryant

Vanessa Bryant’s oldest daughter is nearing college age and already has a few schools in mind for where she might want to attend.

Vanessa gave a preview on Instagram during the week about daughter Natalia’s college choices. Vanessa said NYU was one of Natalia’s top schools.

New York is across the country from where the Bryants live in Southern California. For that reason, Vanessa wants to keep her daughter close by. Luckily for her, Natalia has interest in USC as well.

Natalia turns 18 on Jan. 19 and likely is on schedule to begin college in the fall. For those who remember when she was born during the early part of Kobe’s basketball career, hearing that she is ready for college is quite stunning.

Natalia has two younger sisters — Bianka and Capri. Her other sister, Gianna, and father Kobe were among nine who died in a helicopter crash last January.

Report shows just how close Sixers came to acquiring James Harden

James Harden

A James Harden-Daryl Morey reunion in Philadelphia actually came a lot closer to happening than you might think.

Keith Pompey of the Philly Inquirer reported Friday that the 76ers thought that they had a deal for Harden done. Pompey adds that Morey, the team’s general manager, pushed hard to acquire the former MVP. The agents for Sixers youngsters Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle even informed their clients of an expected trade.

Harden instead ended up going to the Brooklyn Nets in a multi-team blockbuster. The trade ultimately sent guard Victor Oladipo, forward Rodions Kurucs, and a large haul of picks back to the Rockets.

It does seem rather head-scratching on paper why the Rockets accepted a package based around Oladipo and Kurucs instead of a seemingly superior package headlined by Simmons and Thybulle.

But as for why the trade with the Sixers ultimately fell through, we have a pretty good idea of that much.

Report: Heat have strong interest in Bradley Beal trade

Bradley Beal

James Harden is officially off the market, so the Miami Heat may be turning their attention to another top shooting guard.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported on Friday that the Heat have a “high” level of interest in trading for Wizards star Bradley Beal. The amount they would be willing to give up for Beal is unclear however.

Jackson notes that Miami was unwilling to give up young guard Tyler Herro, sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, and rookie big man Precious Achiuwa all together in trade talks with the Houston Rockets for Harden.

The 27-year-old Beal appears to be at the peak of his powers right now. He is posting an NBA-leading 34.9 points to go with 5.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. Unfortunately for Beal, the Wizards have not had a winning season since 2017-18. That streak may continue this season with the team off to an ugly 3-8 start.

The Heat would have a lot of salary to absorb, as Beal is owed roughly $100 million over the next three seasons. But Beal’s dynamic scoring would make for a strong fit in a Miami offense whose scoring load is split among multiple players on any given night. He is also fairly close with some of their stars.

Nets GM ‘disappointed’ Kyrie Irving was away from team

Kyrie Irving

Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks admitted that Kyrie Irving’s absence has left the team “disappointed.”

Irving has been away from the team since last week and has missed five games. Marks spoke with reporters on Thursday to announce the James Harden trade, and that’s when he talked about Irving.

“Without a doubt, I’m not going to shy away from it, without a doubt the organization is disappointed with not having any one of our players, in this particular case Kyrie, not amongst us, not in the trenches with us and so forth,” Marks said. “And so I don’t want to speculate and say why he’s out and so forth. I’ve had conversations with him and I’ll continue to have conversations and I look forward to him being back in the gym and he will address this and we’ll sit down with him.”

Irving was fined $50,000 by the NBA for violating COVID-19 protocol and will not be paid for two games he missed while serving part of his 5-day quarantine.

Irving is expected to play in the team’s game against the Magic on Saturday. But as we know with Irving, nothing should be taken for granted.

Isaiah Thomas receiving interest from multiple NBA teams

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas is still looking for a route back into the NBA, and says he has interest from multiple teams.

Thomas recently acquired a new agent, and he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports on Friday that multiple teams have registered an interest in the veteran guard.

It wasn’t that long ago that Thomas was one of the most exciting players in the NBA. His peak season was 2016-17, where he averaged 28.9 points per game with the Boston Celtics. He was ultimately shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the Kyrie Irving trade after that season, and chronic hip injuries caught up with him.

Thomas has said he feels as good as ever following a major hip procedure, and claims he impressed some NBA superstars in an offseason pickup game. If the 31-year-old feels as good as he says he does, he could be a very nice pickup for someone.

Karl-Anthony Towns sends emotional message after testing positive for COVID-19

Karl-Anthony Towns

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has tested positive for COVID-19, and he announced it in an emotional message Friday.

Towns’ family has been ravaged by the virus, as seven members of his family have died from it, including his mother. Towns’ message alludes to that, even concluding with a promise to his niece and nephew that “I will not end up in a box next to grandma.”

Parts of the announcement are legitimately tough to read in light of what Towns and his family have endured as a result of the virus. It’s especially tough when you take into account some of what he’s said recently about how the ordeals of the last year have changed him.

Friday’s scheduled game between the Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies was postponed in part because of the ongoing contact tracing within the Minnesota organization.

James Harden has classic response to question about his conditioning

James Harden gut

James Harden spoke with the media on Friday for the first time since he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. It wasn’t long before the former MVP was asked about his conditioning, and Harden’s reaction certainly made it seem like he has seen all the memes about him.

Harden couldn’t help but bust out a huge smile when a reporter asked him to describe his conditioning level at this point in the season. He only gave a one-word response, but his reaction said it all.

Harden reported to the Houston Rockets late during the offseason, and people immediately took note of how out of shape he looked (check out this photo). Even a famous actor made a joke at Harden’s expense.

That was a few weeks ago, but it doesn’t look like Harden is in any better shape now. A TV announcer cracked a joke about his weight during warmups before Houston’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. You can see that video here.

Kyrie Irving expected to play against Magic on Saturday

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has been away from the Brooklyn Nets for over a week for personal reasons, but he could not return now even if he wanted to due to a violation of COVID-19 protocols. Once he is cleared from that, Irving is reportedly planning to get back to work.

The NBA announced on Friday that Irving has been fined $50,000 and docked two game checks for violating COVID-19 protocols. The disciplinary action stemmed from Irving attending a party last weekend without a mask on. He now has to quarantine for five days and will be eligible to return on Saturday if he continues to test negative for the coronavirus.

But will he return? ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Irving is expected to play against the Orlando Magic on Saturday as long as he is cleared.

The Nets acquired James Harden in a blockbuster trade this week. They are clearly the favorite in the East now, and they will be extremely tough to beat if Irving returns and is focused. That is hardly a given, of course.

Irving is said to be furious with the Nets for a number of reasons. It’s unclear exactly why he took time off or why he is choosing to return this weekend.