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NBA Links on a Friday: Stanley is back, hopefully here to stay

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Also, Josh Smith plays hero ball in China

Detroit Pistons v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Stanley Johnson is probably back in rotation

An update from The Detroit News:

While Van Gundy called the decision on playing Johnson or Darrun Hilliard “a night-to-night thing,” he was pleased with Johnson’s performance. Now, it’s just a case of putting together more consistent production on both ends of the court.

“I think he’s trying to work with me as much as he can but at the end of the day, he’s used to certain things and that’s what he wants,” Johnson said. “My job as a professional if I want to get on the court for him is to do what he says and show what I have to show.”

...

“It’s about not thinking about making decisions, just playing,” Johnson said. “Just play — that’s all I have to do.

“If I play basketball the way I know how to play basketball, you’ll see what I’m really made of. If I keep thinking out there and second-guessing myself, that’s when you see trash. Play basketball, be efficient, listen to coaches and keep pushing.”

Have the Washington Wizards become relevant again in the Eastern Conference?

As the Pistons visit the Washington Wizards for some Friday night roundball fun, let’s help point out why the Wizards aren’t quite relevant yet. Furthermore, I’m looking forward to Stanimal Johnson putting muscle up against the athletic yet slightly slim lefty Kelly Oubre. Could be a nice little duel.

Areas of Concern

With Beal, Wall and Porter all producing at elite levels, Gortat and Markieff Morris have rounded out the starting unit nicely, but the team will undoubtedly need more production from their bench. Like we mentioned, Brooks has been riding the starters, and Washington's bench sees the second-fewest minutes per game. With the lack of opportunity, the Wizards' bench ranks in the bottom-two among reserve units in points, rebounds and assists per game.

If Washington's reserves are going to up their game, they could use a second-year emergence from Kelly Oubre, who is essentially tied with Marcus Thornton for the most minutes off the bench. Oubre has seen a bump in playing time recently, seeing at least 21 minutes in five straight games, and he put up a career-high 19 points last week against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Here’s a video (from DownToBuck again) of Oubre’s 19-point game.

Was Pistons' loss to 76ers really Van Gundy's fault?

Not to harp more on anything relating to last Sunday’s exceptionally flat home loss to the 76ers, for example like Marcus Morris being the only player to come in and shoot in the morning, but this is more directly related and it has to do with the question of whether how much blame should Stan Van Gundy take for the blunder. As we know, Van Gundy took blame for the loss. Though should it be on him? Jamie Samuelson, for the Detroit Free Press, asks ‘was Pistons’ loss to 76ers really Van Gundy’s fault’? In a word, no.

But shame on the players for letting it happen regardless of what the coaches did. If Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson want to be All-Stars, they’d push their team to win. If Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris want to be considered upper tier forwards in the league and not just underrated, underappreciated talents, they find a way to win. This team needs to get better. But it also needs some internal voice that drives a talented team to win, even on off nights. That’s how you go from a borderline playoff team to a borderline playoff contender.

Nights like Sunday happen. But they are happening too much for the Pistons. Either Van Gundy needs to push different buttons or someone on the roster needs to be pushing those buttons for him. Look at the best teams in the sport and you’ll find that it’s the players doing most of the pushing.

Josh Smith can be a hero, just for one night in China

In recent weeks here I’ve poked some fun at Josh Smith’s Chinese Basketball Association shooting numbers. Though, in awareness of fairness, I will highlight Smith’s good play too. It happened a couple of nights ago in China: Josh Smith — efficient basketball player. We knew the day would come. It’s been a long wait. His line of 9-16 from the field (4-7 from downtown) and 12 rebounds, plus a big crunch time block, were enough to help get the win for his squad.

You may go directly to 3:39 in the video here to see Smith’s block on ex-NBA guard A.J. Price with about 5 seconds left to secure the two-point lead.

Legendary Broadcaster Craig Sager gone at 65

As you have heard or read by now, Craig Sager passed away on Thursday, December 15th, 2016. There are a lot of great tributes and such out there for Craig — here’s one produced by TNT’s Ernie Johnson:

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“I’m not an expert on time, or on cancer, or on life itself. I'm a kid from the small Illinois town of Batavia, who grew up on the Chicago Cubs, and made sports his life’s work, although there’s never been a day where it actually seemed like work. I have run with the bulls in Pamplona. I have raced with Mario Andretti in Indianapolis. I have climbed the Great Wall of China. I have jumped out of airplanes over Kansas. I have wrestled gators in Florida. I have sailed the ocean with Ted Turner. I have swam the oceans in the Caribbean. And I have interviewed Gregg Popovich. Mid-game. Spurs down seven." - Craig Sager