Morning Shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Love gets boos, win in Minny return | Smith hears it in Detroit return | Report: Howard might be out a month | Hawks run table in January

No. 1: Love gets interesting return in Minny–This was nothing like LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland — the intensity in the Quicken Loans Arena five years ago was searing — but it wasn’t exactly the usual hospitality that Minnesota often shows its visitors. Heck, for the first time all season, there was passion inside Target Center and for that, Kevin Love should be commended. He was heckled in player introductions, spoofed in a Wolves-produced video (that coach and part-owner Flip Saunders hated) and also feted by the Wolves for his contributions both on and off the court. All in all, it was a decent return by Love if only because the Cavs won — their 10th straight now — and Love grabbed 17 rebounds. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more on No Love For Love:

Earlier this week, Love had called the promotional video “hilarious” and said it played to his “dry sense of humor.” He reiterated after the game that he “didn’t take it wrong at all.”

“I know Flip has a good sense of humor but I guess being in the front office and also being the coach and having played a number of roles in different organizations, Flip usually has the last word and holds a lot of power. So I feel like maybe he sees it a different way,” Love said.

However, Mike Miller, who ended up being the butt of the joke, also wasn’t so impressed.

“It is what it is,” said Miller, who played just one season in Minnesota, averaging 9.9 points per game in 2008-09 for a Wolves team that went 24-58. “I’ll never [have an] answer for anything that happens between [the] marketing [side]. Their job is to market and sell.”

Saunders seemed to think their job should include running their videos by him before releasing them to the public.

“Would San Antonio do that? No. They wouldn’t do that,” Saunders said. “Our players didn’t like it. They have to play against [Love], too. They didn’t like it. It just doesn’t send the right message. … So, was it funny? Maybe people thought it was funny.

“For me it wasn’t great having to deal for three or four hours the last two days having people call me and talk about it as I’m trying to prepare for games. Maybe you think it’s OK. That’s up to you. But I don’t look at it that way — as someone who is running an organization and has to go out and has to recruit players and has to do those things to get those players.

“[Love] might have thought it was funny. But I know, deep down in his heart, no one would like that. It’s human nature.”

hink if it was anybody else in his position, I think this probably would’ve crumbled already,” Anthony said after scoring 19 points in 29 minutes. “I think he’s doing a great job of keeping everybody focused on the task at hand and believing in what we’re trying to do.”

During a first-quarter timeout, the Wolves had a brief presentation on their video board to honor Love. The public address announcer mentioned Love ranking second in rebounds, third in scoring and second in 3-pointers made in Minnesota franchise history. Love’s charitable efforts, including collecting winter coats for the needy, also were mentioned. However, the graphic that displayed his accomplishments classified Love as a two-time All-Star, rather than the three-time All-Star that he was during his time in Minnesota.

“We have to acknowledge that Kevin, when he was here, he was a great player for us,” Saunders said before the game. “He was an All-Star. He won an Olympic gold medal, did a lot of positive things. And, last year, at this time, everyone was patting themselves on the back for getting him selected into the All-Star Game for us.

“To not acknowledge that, to go the other way, I would say would be hypocritical. So I have addressed some of the people, told them of my displeasure [about the spoof video]. And that, as an organization, that’s not the direction we want to go.”

 

Report: Dwight Howard out for ‘weeks’

Dwight Howard's knee problems don't seem to be going away (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard’s knee problems remain a major issue (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Up to this point, the Rockets have been pitching in by committee to replace Dwight Howard in the middle of the lineup and succeeding. They are 11-5 this season without their starting center.

But now the task of battling for one of the top playoff positions in the Western Conference has likely gotten significantly harder as continuing problems with his right knee will keep Howard out of the lineup for weeks.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com says the Rockets are bracing themselves for playing without Howard for an extended period as he continues to get advice on how to best treat the recurring problem with his knee:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets, while confident that Howard has enough time to bounce back for the regular-season stretch run and playoffs, fear their defensive anchor will be lost for a period of “weeks” as opposed to days.

Howard is still in the process of getting additional consultation from various doctors to determine the best treatment course for the knee.

Yet sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets already acknowledge that a period of rest “likely measured in weeks” will be the minimum requirement before their defensive anchor is ready to the return to the lineup. But sources say Houston nonetheless remains confident that Howard will be able to come back “in plenty of time” to ramp up for the postseason, even if the absence stretches into the six-weeks range.

The Rockets dodged another bullet when the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden went to the floor in the second quarter Saturday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills with a bone bone bruise in his left knee. But Harden returned in the second half of Houston’s 114-101 loss to Detroit.

Howard did not accompany the team on the two-game road trip to Boston and Detroit. He is averaging 16.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots this season, but had a string of eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances end this week when he was not added to the Western Conference roster by vote of the coaches.

Love video spoof no joke to coach Saunders


VIDEO: GameTime: Love and Saunders on return

Stay classy, Minneapolis.

That’s all Flip Saunders was asking when his Timberwolves welcomed Kevin Love back to town for the first time with a round of boos and mocking video.

The promotional video #TheReturn was a spoof that made fun of Love’s first visit to the Target Center since joining the Cavaliers by pretending the night was all about Mike Miller, who played one season in Minnesota.

According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, the joke did not sit at all well with Saunders:

“I was not aware of the video a lot of people are talking about,” Saunders, the Wolves’ coach, president of basketball operations and part owner, said before Minnesota hosted the Cavaliers on Saturday night. “Didn’t know about it, didn’t approve of it. I think as an organization we should be above that.”

As Love expected, he was showered with boos in pregame introductions before the Cavs beat the Wolves 106-90.

Earlier this week, Love called the video “hilarious” and said it played to his “dry sense of humor.” Miller, who ended up being the butt of the joke, wasn’t so impressed.

“It is what it is,” said Miller, who played just one season in Minnesota, averaging 9.9 points in 2008-09 for a Wolves team that went 24-58. “I’ll never [have an] answer for anything that happens between [the] marketing [side]. Their job is to market and sell.”

Saunders seemed to think their job should also include running their videos by him before releasing them to the public.

“Would San Antonio do that? No. They wouldn’t do that,” Saunders said. “Our players didn’t like it. They have to play against [Love], too. They didn’t like it. It just doesn’t send the right message. … So, was it funny? Maybe people thought it was funny.

“For me it wasn’t great having to deal for three or four hours the last two days having people call me and talk about it as I’m trying to prepare for games. Maybe you think it’s OK. That’s up to you. But I don’t look at it that way — as someone who is running an organization and has to go out and has to recruit players and has to do those things to get those players.

“[Love] might have thought it was funny. But I know, deep down in his heart, no one would like that. It’s human nature.”

Love scored 14 points and had 17 rebounds as the Cavs had the last laugh in their 10th consecutive victory.

Hawks complete greatest month in NBA history


VIDEO: Hawks soar past Sixers for 19th straight win

So what was your New Year’s resolution?

Drop a few pounds? Quit smoking?

Can’t touch those Hawks.

All the NBA’s hottest team has done since ringing in 2015 is shed its reputation for being bland and gave up losing altogether.

Now with their 91-85 victory over the 76ers on Saturday night, the Hawks stretched their team record winning streak to 19 games and just so happened to cap off the single greatest month in NBA history.

17-0 for Atlanta in January.

Move aside, Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. The Hawks topped the 16-0 mark by the Lakers in December 1971 on the way to their NBA record 33-game win streak.

Slide on down, future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat went 17-1 in March 2013 during their 27-game win streak, which ranks second-best of all time.

Nobody has yet mentioned enshrinement for Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague – the three players chosen for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game — but along with Kyle Korver, Dennis Schroeder and the rest, the Hawks keeping right on soaring with a 33-2 record since Thanksgiving.

Not that things came easy this weekend. The Hawks had to come from five down in the fourth quarter to beat the Trail Blazers on Friday night and then got an unexpected push from the lowly Sixers on Saturday. After building a 21-point lead in the first, the Hawks found themselves down 83-81 with less than three minutes to play before Horford rose up to carry them home and into the history books with the greatest month in NBA history.

Just remember, those 1972 Lakers and 2013 Heat teams both went on to win the championship. The fun might only be starting.

Rondo out after taking knee to head


VIDEO: Rondo takes inadvertent knee to face

As if losing four of their past five games wasn’t painful enough, the Mavericks lost point guard Rajon Rondo when he suffered a head injury in the first quarter Saturday night at Orlando.

Rondo was on the floor when teammate Richard Jefferson started to run down the court on a fast break and caught him squarely in the face with a knee. Rondo remained on the floor with blood gushing from his nose and was eventually helped to the locker room by members of the Mavericks’ staff.

Team doctors will do further examination on Rondo when the team returns home following tonight’s game, the last in a three-game road trip.

The Mavericks also played without starting forward Chandler Parsons, who was out for a second straight night with an illness.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

***

 

Lillard calls All-Star snub ‘disrespect’


VIDEO: Lillard feels disrespected

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Last season, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game. He followed that up by leading the Blazers into the postseason and showing just how clutch he could be even on the biggest stages.

This season, Lillard continued his growth, averaging 21.8 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds for the 32-14 Blazers. But it apparently wasn’t good enough to earn an All-Star selection from the Western Conference coaches, who voted in Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul ahead of Lillard. This caused some outrage in Portland, to the point where the Portland Police Department tweeted that they may have to look into the perceived robbery …

Earlier today, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that to replace the injured Kobe Bryant he was appointing Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. (According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Cousins was ahead of Lillard in the voting of the coaches.)

With the Blazers in Atlanta to take on the red-hot Hawks tonight, Lillard spoke to the media about his All-Star non-selection, and promised to use it as fuel to continue his season.

“I’m definitely going to take it personal,” Lillard said. “I said I’d be pissed off about it. And I am. I just felt disrespected. Because I play the game the right way, I play unselfishly, I play for my team to win games and I produce at a high level. I think what I bring to the game as a person, my makeup mentally, how I am toward my teammates, how I am toward the media, how I am toward fans; I think what an All-Star represents in this league, and what you would want people to look at as an All-Star, I think I make up all those things. For me to be having the type of season that I’m having, which is better than any one that I’ve had before, and my team to be third in the Western Conference, I just see it as disrespect. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to say, ‘Oh, I should be in over this guy or that guy.’ I’m not a hater. I’ve got respect for each guy that made the roster. And I think they deserve to (make the team). But at the same time, I feel really disrespected, and that’s just honestly how I feel.”

Cousins to replace injured Bryant on West’s All-Star roster

cousins

DeMarcus Cousins is averaging career highs in both points (23.8) and rebounds (12.3). (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Western Conference All-Stars just got a boost of Boogie.

With Kobe Bryant out for the rest of the season following shoulder surgery, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Friday that Bryant will be replaced on the Western Conference All-Star team roster by Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins. The announcement comes just hours after the All-Star reserves were announced, a list that did not include Cousins.

In his fifth NBA season, Cousins is averaging 23.8 points along with 12.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, career highs across the board. Over the last 20 years, only five players — David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kevin Love — have averaged at least 23 points and 12 rebounds in a season. Cousins is the first Kings’ All-Star since 2004. He also played a key role on last summer’s USA Basketball championship team at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and seems to have curbed his enthusiasm for picking up technical fouls, with just five so far this season after racking up 16 last season.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will tip off Sunday, Feb. 15, at Madison Square Garden. The game will be seen by fans in 215 countries and territories and will be heard in 47 languages. TNT will televise the All-Star Game for the 13th consecutive year, marking Turner Sports’ 30th year of NBA All-Star coverage.

Pacers could take advantage of rough Eastern Conference


VIDEO: Recap: Rodney Stuckey scores 22 points as the Pacers defeat the Knicks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are fighting for the final playoff spot. And, unless the Dallas Mavericks continue to slide, two of those teams will miss the postseason.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, we’re going to have two playoff teams out of a group that includes …

  • The 20-25 Miami Heat, who are missing Dwyane Wade for the next 2-3 weeks.
  • The 19-27 Charlotte Bobcats, who have the league’s worst offense outside of Philadelphia and are without Kemba Walker until at least mid-March.
  • The 18-27 Brooklyn Nets, who are looking to trade their three highest paid players and are 3-17 against teams currently over .500.
  • The 16-28 Boston Celtics, who have already traded two of their three highest paid players and just lost to the 8-37 Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The 17-30 Detroit Pistons, who are 0-3 with a 20-point loss to the Sixers since losing Brandon Jennings for the season.
  • The 17-31 Indiana Pacers, who rank 28th offensively and are 2-8 in their last 10 games, with losses to the Sixers, Wolves, and Hornets.

Oof.

The good thing about the East is that there’s some fresh blood at the top. The top six teams in the standings won a total of one playoff series last year, so we’re going to have a lot of new faces in the conference semifinals.

But who will take those last two playoff spots? The numbers could help us with the forecast.

First, with apologies to Bill Parcells, let’s accept the notion that the standings don’t tell us everything about how well or how poorly a team has played.

Point differential is a better predictor of future success than wins and losses. And there’s a formula to calculate how many wins a team should have (“expected wins”) based on their point differential. That formula says that both the Pacers and Celtics should have about three more wins than they do.

20150130_expected_wins

Indiana has a better NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) than Brooklyn, but is 2 1/2 games behind the Nets in the standings, in part because the Pacers are 11-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, and the Nets are 11-11.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have the eighth best NetRtg in the East (just a hair behind the Heat), but are 8-16 in close games.

Among the group of teams listed above, the Pistons, Heat and Hornets have played the toughest schedule thus far. But the Celtics aren’t fare behind. And going forward, the schedule favors the Pacers.

Indiana actually has more games remaining vs. teams that are currently at or above .500 than vs. teams that are below. But they have six more home games than road games and have 13 games left against teams that are playing the second night of a back-to-back.

When you adjust for those situations, the Pacers have the easiest schedule of the six teams that have between 17 and 20 wins in the East …

20150130_future_sched

Of course, the Pacers are just 9-12 at home and just 4-7 against teams on the second night of back-to-back. As noted above, they’ve lost to both the Wolves and Sixers this month.

But when you take into account some bad luck in close games and a favorable future schedule, they have a decent chance of moving up from 12th to seventh or eighth.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe aiming for September return | Report: Howard could miss ‘extended time’ | Report: Vaughn on thin ice in Orlando | Shaw blasts Nuggets’ effort

No. 1: Kobe targeting September return; Kupchak still back Bryant — The torn rotator cuff in Kobe Bryant’s right should was officially surgically repaired on Wednesday. With that out of the way, most are wondering when (or if) he’ll be back on the court for the L.A. Lakers. According to a report from ESPN.com, Bryant is aiming to play again in September and, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant still has the full support of GM Mitch Kupchack.

Here’s ESPN.com’s report on Bryant’s shoulder:

Kobe Bryant addressed his expectations a day after shoulder surgery Thursday night in a brief interview with ESPN, saying he planned on being ready to play come September for the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve “a lot of patience.”

“Sore, but it’s OK,”  Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

Bryant was back at the Staples Center for a brief visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before the Lakers faced the Chicago Bulls.

The former teammates spoke privately before Bryant left. Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday.

If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year.

And here’s Bresnahan on Kupchack talking about the Lakers’ future with Kobe and beyond:

Kobe Bryant was all smiles when he talked about his $48.5-million contract extension in November 2013, saying he would “run through a wall” for the Lakers to prove they were right and everybody who doubted them was wrong.

But were they right?

It’s a simple question that goes directly to the center of a struggling franchise and its rapidly aging megastar.

“One hundred percent. We have no regrets at all,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday.

Why?

“Because he’s worth every penny of it.”

Kupchak acknowledged that the Lakers, who ended a nine-game losing streak Thursday and are foundering with a 13-34 record, would need a talent upgrade next season. The catch: They have room for only one maximum-salaried player.

“To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the off-season,” Kupchak said.

“Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct [Coach] Byron [Scott]. That’s why they’re here.”

One player Kupchak expected to return next season was Bryant. It would be his 20th, all with the Lakers.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “I spoke to him [Thursday] morning. The doctor’s prognosis was released yesterday and [Bryant] said he was looking forward to training camp. That’s what we expect.”


VIDEO: Mitch Kupchack addresses Kobe Bryant’s comeback trail and more

***