HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Welcome back Cleveland. And hello Chicago.
The two Eastern Conference favorites from the preseason find themselves looking up at the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors a little past the halfway point of this NBA season. There is still plenty of time, of course. Nothing is set in stone just yet.
But it’s time for the Bulls and Cavaliers, fourth and fifth in the standings, respectively, to crank it up. And they’re going in different directions. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are rolling of late, winners of six straight games.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are just 4-6 in their last 10 games and have replaced the Cavaliers in the crosshairs. No one is questioning David Blatt‘s coaching ability these days. LeBron James the leader? Not a problem when you’re rolling.
But in Chicago, folks are wondering about these Bulls.
Was Derrick Rose right to go off about his team? Has Tom Thibodeau‘s act finally worn thin? And is Joakim Noah really as valuable as it seems? We answer all of those questions and plenty more on Episode 187 of The Hang Time Podcastfeaturing NBA.com’sSteve Aschburner …
No. 1: Hollins addresses stats slander — It’s a players’ league and a young man’s game, so one of the worst things that can be said about an NBA coach or front-office executive is that he’s set in his ways, out of touch and otherwise resistant to change. That was the impression left in 2013 after Memphis coach Lionel Hollins wasn’t brought back by the Grizzlies -– he wasn’t adept at advanced analytics, or so they said. And that’s a subject with which Hollins took some umbrage recently, according to the New York Post:
“I’m going to take a breath,” Hollins said after a long pause, “and say it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard because every coach uses stats.
“Now, do I understand some of the stats that are out there that are new? No. But I can learn them.”
As a former player — Hollins was the starting point guard of the 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers — and longtime member of the league, it’s easy to assume Hollins has no interest in looking at the advanced stats that have become a key part of how the league is analyzed, viewed and run.
But Hollins has referenced advanced statistics throughout the season, particularly in terms of lineup data, and said he uses stats to try and reinforce why he’s making various decisions with his players.
“When I talk to a player about his play, I have to have stats to show him,” Hollins said. “When I talk about lineups, I have to have stats that show why I’m making a change and not just because I’m making a change. Players like to know that.
“It’s a part of the game. I know which combinations play well together from stats. I look at stats just about every day. So it’s a misnomer, and it was what it was and it’s over.”
No. 2:Kobe’s ‘Jordan as teammate’ scenario — It’s fun for sports fans to indulge their zaniest “What if?” fantasies, kicking around hypothetical scenarios and imagining all sorts of different results (What if the Red Sox hadn’t sold Babe Ruth? What if Bobby Orr‘s knees had held up? How might things have gone differently had Michael Jordan not retired that first time?). Apparently, it’s fun for some of the principal players to indulge in the daydreaming as well, and Kobe Bryantoffered up a doozy to the Washington Post when he talked about his notions, sparked by friction with Shaquille O’Neal, of teaming up with Jordan on the Wizards more than a decade ago.
According to two people with knowledge of the situation, after Jordan decided to sell his minority ownership stake to resume his playing career with the Wizards, Bryant informed him several times he wanted to play for the Wizards — under the assumption that Jordan would return to the front office once his playing days were over.
The Wizards never had the assets to discuss a trade for Bryant, so the only chance the organization would have had to make a run at him was when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2004. Jordan, however, wasn’t allowed to recruit Bryant because [owner Abe] Pollin decided in May 2003 not to let him continue running the team. While Jordan’s ability to land Bryant was no guarantee, a person close to him said Jordan was “confident” he would have made it happen.
With the Wizards taking a different course under Ernie Grunfeld and eliminated as a possibility, Bryant resisted overtures from Chicago, New York, Denver and the Clippers and elected to remain a Laker. Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract the day after the Lakers dealt O’Neal to Miami, ensuring there would be no extreme Alpha-male contest for control of the team. Had he joined Jordan in Washington, Bryant is certain only one result would’ve unfolded.
“We would’ve put together a great team and we would’ve won championships,” Bryant said. “Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”
No. 3:Wall: Wizards deserve two All-Stars — A more current and probably realistic scenario involving Wizards teammates is the prospect of point guard John Wall having company on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad next month in New York. Wall, who will start for the East, believes that Washington’s first-half performance in 2014-15 and its place in the standings merit another such honor when the conference coaches’ ballot determines the All-Star reserves. They’ll be named Thursday, with Wall among the team’s fans in pulling for center Marcin Gortat or shooting guard Bradley Beal:
Gortat is averaging 12 points and ranks 20th in the NBA with 8.2 rebounds per game. His 13 double-doubles are 21st in the league. Beal is averaging 14.8 points and is seventh in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 44.1 percent. He missed the Wizards’ first nine games due to a fractured left wrist and came off the bench for four games upon his return. Beal is in his third season, but is still the youngest player on the Wizards at 21 years old. For what it’s worth, analyst Shaquille O’Neal thinks both Gortat and Beal should join Wall.
“Right now it’s up to the coaches, but if I end up losing it then I think it’s going to be more about politics,” Gortat said with a smile.
The Wizards haven’t sent two players to an all-star game since Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison represented the organization in 2008. This year, Gortat and Beal face stiff competition. Gortat will be up against Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Joakim Noah, Nikola Vucevic, Paul Millsap and Al Horford in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague are among the choices.
“I think someone else from my team should be in there with me,” Wall said. “And it’s crazy that if [Anthony] had surgery, if his knee didn’t get better, then [Gortat] would’ve been a starter. That would’ve been the funny part about it. But yeah, I think someone from my team, whether it’s him or Brad [Beal], is well-deserving of another spot from my team.”
No. 4: Shaw cries foul over ruling — The debate rages on –- do you foul or do you not foul when your team has a three-point lead near the end of the game? –- but the Los Angeles Clippers were spared any second-guessing Monday against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers fouled not once but twice, yet avoided sending Danilo Gallinari to the line with a chance to tie when Matt Barnes‘ contact with the Nuggets forward was ruled a non-shooting foul. Which was an interpretation quite different from the one Nuggets coach Brian Shaw had as he watched the moment play out, as reported by the Denver Post:
Down three points with nine seconds left, the Nuggets ran a play that got Danilo Gallinari a good look at a 3-point shot. And he pulled up for that shot. As Gallinari went up, Clippers forward Matt Barnes pulled down his right arm — his shooting arm. Gallinari switched the ball to his left hand and put the attempt up.
A foul was called. But not a shooting foul.
Gallo was deemed to not be in the act of shooting. So instead of getting three free throws for one of their best shooters from the stripe, the Nuggets, instead, had to take the ball out of bounds again. The Clippers then fouled Darrell Arthur and put him on the free throw line to shoot two.
Asked about his level of frustration with the non-call, Gallinari simply grinned and said, “I’ll let the people watch the replay and make their own judgment.”
Shaw, however, steamed.
“It’s frustrating when night-in and night-out all of those kind of calls go against us,” he said. “And the explanation of i changes all the time, when we get an explanation. Or they admit that they made a mistake after the fact when it’s already cost us a game.”
Kevin Durant sitting out a game is always chilling to anyone devoted to the Thunder, including those who saw Durant miss the first 17 games this season to a foot injury. But this isn’t one of those injuries.
He sprained his left big toe Sunday in Cleveland, and it’s still too sore to use for cutting and planting, so he was scratched from OKC’s visit to Minnesota. In these situations, it’s better to use caution. And it helps that OKC is playing the Wolves. So the Thunder is going sans Durant, which also serves to deny a Durant matchup with Andrew Wiggins, often viewed as a younger version of Durant.
Durant could also get a break from the next game in more ways than one. Not only are the Thunder scheduled to meet the Knicks — another foe that allows teams to rest their stars — on Wednesday but the game might not be played because of the heavy snowstorm. Monday’s Knicks-Kings game was postponed.
Perry Jones is expected to see extended minutes in Durant’s absence and Dion Waiters should get more shots.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kobe Bryant will have surgery to repair the torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder on Wednesday, which could bring the season to an end for the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar.
The Lakers released a statement this afternoon confirming an earlier diagnosis of the injury, suffered last week, but gave no official timetable for his return. There won’t be an official timetable given until after his surgery. But if the normal 6-8 month rehabilitation time for the procedure applies, that would end Kobe’s 2014-15 season.
Bryant, who climbed to third on the NBA’s career scoring list this season, surpassing Michael Jordan for that No. 3 spot, is 36 and dealing with a major, season-ending injury for the third straight season.
No. 1:Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:
Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.
The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.
Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.
And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.
“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.
Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.
“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.
First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.
With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.
Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.
Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.
Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.
Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Will Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King pull the trigger this time?
The Nets have been looking to unload one or more of their three biggest contracts for a while now. Last week, they reportedly came close to dealing Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City in a three-team trade, but pulled out because they were hesitant to take back Lance Stephenson.
In the age of social media, pro athletes not only circumvent traditional media to break news but to break hearts as well.
That was the case Sunday with injured Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings. While reporters and fans waited for and relied on traditional channels for the official word on Jennings’ status – the point guard went down in anguish with an apparent torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of Detroit’s game at Milwaukee Saturday – it was Jennings who actually delivered the bad news.
Jennings put out a non-confirmation confirmation of the injury with a simple Tweet that spoke to the expected surgery-and-rehab for such an Achilles tear:
There were early reports that the Pistons might get active in the trade market or look to a D-League addition like Lorenzo Brown, who went to camp with the Pistons and made the minor league’s first all-star team during last week’s Showcase.
The Detroit Pistons are “strongly considering” calling up Lorenzo Brown from the D-league. (Via Shams Charania)
No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:
Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”
Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”
More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”
Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:
Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.
Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.
“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.
No. 2:Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:
“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.
If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
“Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”
The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”
“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”
No. 3:Waiters believes he has grown — Dion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.
“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”
Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.
The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.
“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”
While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.
“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”
No. 4:Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.
In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.
That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.
Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.
So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.
Brandon Jennings, a driving force as the Pistons recovered from a terrible start to win 12 of 15 games and get in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, suffered an undisclosed leg injury Saturday night in Milwaukee.
“It doesn’t look good,” coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Bucks’ 101-86 victory.
There was no further word on the specific injury or the potential severity. More will be known after follow-up examinations, but Vincent Goodwill Jr.wrote in the Detroit News that “Bucks point guard Brandon Knight pushed off Jennings to receive an inbounds pass in the third quarter Saturday night, then Jennings’ left leg appeared to give out on him — as he writhed in pain on the baseline, yelling out and spinning on the floor multiple times before team medical personnel were able to get to him.
“Jennings could put no weight on his leg as he was helped off the floor, possibly ending his recent resurgence — and facing the possibility of a long recovery from what could be a torn Achilles.”
Jennings later posted on Twitter: “We gotta just keep pushin’ WE (Pistons) worked to hard to get down about anything right now. We gotta stay focus on the main Goal. Playoffs!”
He did not mention the injury.
UPDATE (12:23 a.m. ET): Adrian Wojnarowski adds a bleak rumor on the Jennings saga
Strong belief within the Pistons that guard Brandon Jennings tore his Achilles tonight, but won't know for sure until MRI on Sunday.