Cuban rides with Silver on gambling

HOUSTON — If NBA commissioner Adam Silver needs a wing man to help his bid to get sports betting legalized in the United States, Mark Cuban is just a text message or phone call away.

The Mavericks owner agreed with Silver’s recent op-ed column in The New York Times on the subject of gambling on professional sports and says he expects it to be legalized in the U.S. soon.

“I agree 100 percent,” Cuban said Saturday night before his Mavs played the Rockets at the Toyota Center. “I think we’re the world’s biggest hypocrites when we say, ‘Oh, we don’t want you betting on our games,’ and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL. I mean, it’s hugely hypocritical.

“I just think that Adam did the exact right thing. I think by focusing on the federal regulations and making the changes there, that it will change. It’s just a question of when. I think over the next three to five years, it will change.”

In his piece in the Times, Silver said gambling on the NBA and other sports leagues should be subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards and the U.S. could take a lead from the sports betting laws in England. Outside of Nevada, sports betting is currently illegal in the U.S.

“All you’ve got to do is look overseas,” Cuban said. “You can go and legally bet on the NBA in the U.K. and a bunch of other countries, and they’re actually big customers of NBA video.

“It’s crazy that we allow it in the rest of the world but it’s really upsetting that sports leagues don’t think Americans are good enough to gamble on our sports, but the rest of the world is. That’s un-American.”

Unexpected beasts, leasts suggest surprisingly wide-open East


VIDEO: The NBA TV crews divines the Raptors hot start

Don’t poke at your remote or punch at settings on your touchscreen if you feel a little cross-eyed looking at the Eastern Conference standings. They aren’t what we thought they’d be, to do a 180 on the NFL’s Dennis Green/Bears rant from a few years back.

They aren’t even close, actually, after three full weeks of the 2014-15 regular season.

Most of the respected media outlets didn’t imagine Toronto as the East’s top dog, nor Milwaukee as a playoff team, nor Cleveland as a team that grind along below .500 as Thanksgiving approached.

Few if any expected Orlando to be well in front of New York at this or any other point of the schedule, and Charlotte was a trendy enough pick that some imagined home-court privileges for the Hornets in the first round.

Not many knew what to make of Atlanta, though it generally wasn’t good, but the Hawks weren’t dismissed nearly as readily as Boston was in the “experts’ ” preseason picks. One thing all the geniuses could agree on was Philadelphia’s spot at the shovel end of this circus train, but that had less to do with crystal balls and algorithms than it did with the Sixers’ stated ambition of zero ambitions.

But look where everyone is now.

The East standings are so jumbled, compared to what most expected, that it raises a few questions:

1. Might the door be open for some upstart teams like the Raptors and the Wizards to challenge presumed favorites, the Cavaliers and the Bulls?

2. Will clubs like the Bucks and the Magic have to reassess their goals and factor in playoff possibilities?

3. At what point, if any, do the Knicks borrow from the Sixers and start playing for the bottom in a stink-tank for lottery odds?

4. Who pays all these so-called experts in the first place?

Here’s a look at the predicted order of finish in the East by three heavyweight NBA outlets:

Sports Illustrated: 1) Chicago, 2) Cleveland, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Miami, 6) Charlotte, 7) Brooklyn, 8) New York, 9) Indiana, 10) Atlanta, 11) Detroit, 12) Milwaukee, 13) Boston, 14) Orlando and 15) Philadelphia.

BleacherReport.com: 1) Chicago, 2), Cleveland, 3) Toronto, 4) Atlanta, 5) Washington, 6) Charlotte, 7) Miami, 8) Brooklyn, 9) New York, 10) Indiana, 11) Detroit, 12) Milwaukee, 13), Orlando, 14) Boston and 15) Philadelphia.

ESPN.com: 1) Cleveland, 2) Chicago, 3) Toronto, 4) Washington, 5) Charlotte, 6) Atlanta, 7) Miami, 8) Brooklyn, 9) Detroit, 10) New York, 11) Indiana, 12) Milwaukee, 13) Boston, 14) Orlando and 15) Philadelphia.

The real standings, as of Saturday morning, looked quite different from any of the three lists above. There were myriad reasons, from the small sample size of games played and untimely injuries to the friendliness of some clubs’ schedule in opponents or road demands.

Those sorts of things will equalize to some degree as the season plays out. But other factors specific to each team, good or bad, could linger and become part of who they are and where they finish come April.

Here’s a snapshot three weeks in of a conference that didn’t figure to be deep or great when play started but at least looks (euphemism alert!) more interesting now:

1. Toronto (10-2)

Average predicted finish (in ranking cited above): Third

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Attitude. The Raptors played for development long enough. After four years with coach Dwane Casey and 48 victories in 2013-14, the time was ripe to play for something bigger. The roster is deep, the schedule was kind and the Raptors ranked high at both ends (second in ORtg, seventh in DRtg). But the sense of mission hasn’t been greater in years.

2. Washington (8-3)

Averaged predicted finish: Fourth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Home court. The Wizards had no homecourt edge last season and it cost them when they dropped four of their five playoff games at Verizon Center. This season, they opened 4-0 at home, then followed up a disappointing loss to Dallas with an in-command triumph over Cleveland.

3. Chicago (8-5)

Average predicted finish: First

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Injuries. Even folks who thought Derrick Rose might have to sit some nights while battling soreness in his second comeback from knee surgery didn’t imagine him racking up two sprained ankles and a strained hamstring so soon in this season. Joakim Noah started slow after offseason knee clean-up, and Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson all have been hurt recently. “Next man up?” More like the setback are starting to catch up.

4. Atlanta (6-5)

Averaged predicted finish: Seventh.

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Passing. The Hawks have been moving the ball great, and that’s essential when you have a balanced offense that can’t – and doesn’t have to – feed just one particular scoring star. Their 64.4% assist percentage is third highest in the NBA. [Note: SI fell prey to trendier picks, put Atlanta 10th and dragged down its predicted finish.]

5. Milwaukee (7-6)

Average predicted finish: 12th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Defense. The Bucks ranked last in defensive rating in 2013-14, but Jason Kidd and his staff seem to have lit a fire under their overhauled bunch. The Bucks have pretty good depth for a mediocre or worse team, interchangeable parts that can reward Kidd’s search for a hot hand.

6. Miami (6-6)

Average predicted finish: Sixth.

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Dwyane Wade. The Heat are about where folks expected, but they were 5-3 until Wade started missing games. Without LeBron James, they can’t overcome his absences the way they did in the past.

7. Cleveland (5-6)

Average predicted finish: Second

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Unfamiliarity. It’s harder to put together an insta-contender than we thought, perhaps. When Boston did it in 2007-08 and Miami did it (with a few more growing pains) in 2010-11, they had stars in sync – players who knew themselves and each other well enough to fit securely and quickly. The Cavaliers have James in mid-prime but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love fresh from lottery-team training wheels. And a rookie NBA head coach. Might take months rather than weeks.

8. Orlando (6-8)

Average predicted finish: 14th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Youth. In this case, the Magic’s heavy lifters might be so young they don’t yet realize what their limitations are supposed to be. Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo have overachieved, even as Aaron Gordon suffered a broken foot and Elfrid Payton took a step back.

 

9. Brooklyn (5-7)

Average predicted finish: Eighth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Schedule. The Nets weren’t happy but they were 4-2, until heading West for an 0-3 slap. They haven’t recovered, dropping home games against beatable Miami and Milwaukee. With as many vets as Brooklyn has, it should travel better.

10. Indiana (5-7)

Average predicted finish: 10th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Deep reserves. For all the Pacers’ injuries and setbacks – not just Paul George (leg fracture) and Lance Stephenson‘s departure but having David West, George Hill, C.J. Watson, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles sidelined too – some of the bench players (Solomon Hill, Luis Scola) have stepped up. And late addition A.J. Price stepped in nicely. Keeping things afloat might keep Indiana in a playoff hunt.

11. Boston (4-7)

Average predicted finish: 13th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Potency. Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley have contributed offensively without much fanfare and Boston’s offense (third in FG%, second in assists) has swamped several opposing defenses.

12. Charlotte (4-9)

Average predicted finish: Fifth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Lance. Though we’re loathe to put too much rise or fall on an individual, there’s no denying everyone had higher hopes for Stephenson in the early season, including himself. The defense isn’t up to Steve Clifford standards either (18th, down from sixth last season).

13. New York (3-10)

Average predicted finish: Ninth

Biggest factor in rise/fall: The triangle. ‘Cuz Adam Silver said so. Also disjointed, sometimes at cross-purposes and lots of pedigree that hasn’t proven anything here yet.

14. Detroit (3-10)

Average predicted finish: 11th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: Scattershooting. Offense has been in scarce supply for the Piston, who rank 28th in offensive rating, 29th in effective field-goal percentage, 29th in true shooting percentage and 27th in assist percentage. The disappearance of center Andre Drummond (from a 22.6 PER last season to 11.5) is vexing as well.

15. Philadelphia (0-12)

Average predicted finish: 15th

Biggest factor in rise/fall: None. The Sixers are right where they wanted to be and right where the basketball world picked them. Congrats, fellas!

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall aces crash course | Crisis time in Cleveland? | Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal | Scene of the ouch! for Bulls

No. 1: Wall aces crash course — Two nights earlier, Washington point guard John Wall had been in the middle of a crash-and-burn against the Dallas Mavericks. Coach Randy Wittman directed some criticism directly at his point guard while imploring the Wizards to prove they truly had grown up.
That crash-and-burn turned out to be a crash course for them, Wall in particular, as Washington righted itself in a key third-quarter stretch to beat the highly touted (if currently sideways) Cleveland Cavaliers in the first sellout of the season at Verizon Center. Here’s how Michael Wallace of ESPN.com saw the performance as more than just a one-off for the hungry Washington team:

Two days after Wall was called out and took responsibility for the Dallas loss, he shouted back with one of his most complete games of the season. It was a transformation from third-quarter scapegoat on Wednesday to third-quarter catalyst Friday, having scored 17 of his game-high 28 in that period.

Wall relished the opportunity for redemption on several levels. In addition to his stretch of turnover problems Wednesday, Wall also missed 12 of his 17 shots against the Mavericks. That kept him in the practice facility for an extended shooting workout that lasted nearly an hour after Thursday’s practice.

Another motivating factor, although Wall repeatedly downplayed it publicly, was his matchup with point guard Kyrie Irving, who was selected No. 1 overall a year after Wall was taken with the top pick in 2010. Wall has felt overlooked and underappreciated nationally when compared with Irving.

And it was also an opportunity for Wall to shine in a nationally televised game and return some of the same lessons on patience and process to the star-studded but struggling Cavaliers that [LeBron] James, then with the Miami Heat, used to routinely offer to Wall during tough stretches for the Wizards. The Wizards (8-3) are off to their best start in 40 years, but they lacked a signature victory over a quality opponent after losing to Miami in the season opener and recently to Toronto and Dallas.

***

No. 2: Crisis time in Cleveland? — At the other end of the floor in Washington on Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in such disarray that even those inclined to cut them slack – Hey, this is what Miami went through with its initial Big Three team in 2010 – were backing off that rationale. These Cavaliers have issues specific to them, because their roster is different from that Miami squad and so is their personality. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are not Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in terms of their games or their accomplishments when they teamed with LeBron James four years ago. And though he might over time establish himself as a peer, coach David Blatt is an NBA tenderfoot compared to Erik Spoelstra when he had “The Heatles” land in his lap. Spoelstra already had coached two full NBA seasons, which gave him 164 games and two playoff appearances in this league more than Blatt arrived with this summer. The Cavs’ senior traveling beat writer, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, offered his impressions after the disconcerting, double-digit loss Friday in his enumerated fashion. Here are some of his thoughts:

1. Eleven games into the season, the Cavs are in the dark, David Blatt is concerned about everything and LeBron James is quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. If there is a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” fire alarm inside Cleveland Clinic Courts, you get the feeling Lou Amundson is looking for the hammer.
2. I’m not sure how we’ve advanced so quickly from James saying he was happy with the progress the Cavs made in Thursday’s loss to the Spurs to now James writing this King quote on Twitter: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It all feels like a bit of an overreaction, even though admittedly this was a terrible loss to a quality opponent.
3. The most alarming part of this loss, at least for me, was the awful body language displayed by most everyone – beginning with James. He failed to get back defensively on multiple plays, hung his head and walked off the floor when he was clearly irritated with a Dion Waiters 3-point attempt and simply did not set the right example. He wasn’t alone, but as the leader of the team the rest of the players are going to follow his lead.
4. He got away with some pouting in Portland. I understood the message he was delivering about sharing the basketball and selfish behavior. But he can’t keep doing it. James admitted Friday he saw the bad body language displayed by just about everyone.

7. In their recent four-game winning streak, which included victories against the Nuggets, Pelicans, Celtics and Hawks, the Cavs averaged 119.3 points, 28 assists, 11 turnovers and shot 51 percent. In the three losses since they’re averaging 88.3 points, 18 assists, 17 turnovers and are shooting 41 percent.
8. There is no excuse, ever, for a team with this much offensive firepower to score 78 points in a game. It was easily a season low, as was the 36 percent shooting night.

***

No. 3: Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal — Given the length of the suspension (24 games) imposed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor for his domestic assault case, it was expected that the NBA players’ union would step up to challenge the penalty. It was, after all, far longer and more harsh than had been imposed in the past for similar and even worse transgressions, as pro sports and the culture at large look anew at such incidents. What wasn’t expected was that Taylor might opt not to appeal, accept Silver’s determination rather than seek arbitration, get his name and reputation out of the media and serve out the final 13 games (on top of 11 already missed) before resuming his NBA career. But that’s what Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:

Despite the pronounced public backing of his union, Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor will not file an appeal to the NBA for a 24-game suspension centered on a domestic abuse incident, league sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday.

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts ripped NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s punishment as “excessive and without precedent” in a statement on Thursday. The union was eager to challenge the NBA on the severity of the suspension based on the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Nevertheless, Taylor, 25, and his agent chose to accept the suspension and sit the remaining 13 games until he can return to the lineup. Taylor has already missed 11 games stemming from the incident, which occurred prior to the start of the Hornets’ training camp in late September.

Taylor could’ve appealed the decision to an independent arbiter, but Silver and the NBA believed strongly that the commissioner has wide authority to consider domestic violence cases on a per-incident basis.

Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Michigan. Taylor had a physical encounter with a woman with whom he was having a relationship at an East Lansing, Mich., hotel.

***

No. 4: Scene of the ouch! for Bulls — Maybe no one ever promised the Chicago Bulls a Rose Garden on their visits to Portland, but this Moda Center trend is getting ridiculous. Playing in the arena where they lost Derrick Rose last November to a second season-scuttling knee injury, the Bulls knew a day earlier they’d be without Rose again (left hamstring), as well as Pau Gasol (left calf) and Kirk Hinrich (chest contusion) when they faced the Trail Blazers on Friday night. So the outcome, a lopsided 105-87 loss, wasn’t a surprise. But adding another injury — Taj Gibson (left ankle) to their already lengthy list of sidelined vital pieces was. And it won’t service Chicago well as it continues its lengthy “circus trip” that won’t end until December. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com had details:

Every time the Bulls come to Portland lately it seems as if something bad happens. Friday night’s game was just the latest example of that. Damian Lillard dominated a depleted Bulls’ squad … The Bulls came into the game having lost eight of their last 10 games in Portland, giving up an average of 101.5 points in each contest according to ESPN Stats & Information. After the Trail Blazers’ latest triumph, the Bulls have now lost seven straight games here.

Aside from the loss, the bigger issue on this night for the Bulls was the fact they lost [Gibson] to a sprained left ankle that could keep him out a little while. Gibson had to be helped off the court by his teammates in a scene similar to the one Rose endured last season. While Gibson’s ankle injury isn’t nearly as serious as Rose’s knee injury was, it had to feel like déjà vu for Bulls’ personnel to see Gibson head to the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot after the game.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t want to hear about the parallel storylines after the game, believing the injuries Rose and Gibson sustained could have happened anywhere.

“I don’t get caught up in that stuff,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. If a guy gets hurt, he gets hurt. But it’s not the building, it’s not any of that stuff. Injuries are part of the game so you just deal with them.”

His players understand that, but they didn’t feel the same way about the bad mojo that seems to come their way every time they play in Portland.

“F— this place,” one player muttered in the locker room as he peeled off his jersey.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Breaking: Indiana’s Paul George is still out – and likely to stay that way, no matter how good he looks in civilian life. … Ever wonder what Dallas owner Mark Cuban has to say during games (other than to referees, that is)? HBO’s Real Sports provides answers. … Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoewalks back” some of that bravado about the University of Kentucky being able to whomp the Philadelphia 76ers. … That might have changed anyway if a report about Andrei Kirilenko landing in Philly proves to be accurate. … The Minnesota Timberwolves walked in the Indiana Pacers’ shoes, having to face the NBA champions without four-fifths of the Wolves’ starting lineup. And no, wise guys, it wasn’t a good thing.

 

Durant, Westbrook set to practice

Is that a bugle call we hear just around the corner? Is that cloud of dust from the cavalry kicking up a storm and charging to the rescue?

The Thunder took another tough one on the chin with a 94-92 home loss to the Nets Friday night. But the good news is the All-Star pair of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will rejoin their teammates for a practice on Saturday.

Westbrook still wore a splint, but shot with his surgically repaired right hand and Durant made a couple of dunks off his surgically repaired right foot at Friday’s shoot around.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks told Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman that the pair of Thunder stars will now take the next step in their rehabilitation:

“They had good workouts the last couple days,” Scott Brooks said.

And the positive injury news didn’t stop there. Brooks also revealed that the two superstars will participate in parts of Thunder practice on Saturday afternoon — the first team work for either since their injuries.

“Probably not any of the contact stuff,” Brooks said. “(But) they will go through some of our practice and we’ll go from there.”
The two seem to be healing at an accelerated rate and a return by the end of next week — particularly for Westbrook — isn’t out of the question.

Per the NBA’s hardship rule, neither of the stars (or Mitch McGary or Grant Jerrett) are allowed to return until the Nov. 28th home game against Derek Fisher’s New York Knicks.

The news can’t come too soon for the Thunder, who have now dropped to 3-11 on the season. In order for OKC to reach the 49 win mark that was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference last season, the Thunder have to finish up 46-22 (.676) the rest of the way.

Howard gets plasma treatment on knee

Dwight Howard doesn't know what happened to his knee (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard is unsure what happened to his knee (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Dwight Howard still doesn’t know exactly when it happened or how he hurt his right knee. But he has stepped up the level of therapy by getting a “PRP treatment” in hope of getting back onto the court as soon as possible.

Platelet-rich plasma therapy is the same procedure that Kobe Bryant had performed on his knee in 2013 and Howard turned to it after missing Wednesday’s 98-92 loss to Bryant and the Lakers.

The injury comes at a time when Howard’s Rockets have hit their first two-game losing streak of the season and have been in an offensive slump for two weeks. After scoring more than 100 points in five straight double-digit wins to open the season, the Rockets have cracked the century mark just once and are 3-3 since Nov. 8.

Now Houston faces a Saturday night visit from the NBA’s top offensive team, the Mavericks, without their All-Star stopper in the middle.

According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Howard is still holding out hope to get back onto the court right away, but Rockets coach Kevin McHale is thinking that Howard is “probably out:”

“It feels a lot better,” Howard said. “I had to get a shot in it to clear some of the stuff out it. I’m trying to do whatever I can to get back on the floor.”

In a platelet-rich plasma therapy a patient’s blood is placed in a centrifuge and spun to separate the platelet-rich plasma. The concentrated platelets are then injected back into the injured tissue. Rockets athletic trainer Keith Jones confirmed Howard underwent “platelet rich protein therapy,” another term for Howard’s PRP treatment.

PRP therapy is generally used as a long-term treatment, rather than to promote a quick recovery for a player seeking to return to the court, though Howard held out hope that he would not miss too much time.

“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” Howard said. “I was in a lot of pain after the Memphis game. I (said) it was just bumps and bruises. I thought it was just something I could sleep off. But when I got home and the next day, any movement I tried was causing a lot of pain.”

Howard said does not recall any incident during the Memphis game on Monday, but said that after the game that he “couldn’t really walk on it.

“Last game, I tried to do everything I can to play, did every drill, everything possible until the game started and there was nothing I could do,” Howard said. “Hopefully, it feels better tomorrow.
“I did everything to get myself ready to play. It just wasn’t happening. They wanted me to play in the post-season and later on in the season. I didn’t want to sit out. I was very upset about it.”

Asked if he is definitely out on Saturday, Howard said, “I have no idea.”

Report: Nets’ Kirilenko may soon be bought out or traded

It seems almost inevitable now, according to the New York Post, that small forward Andrei Kirilenko is facing a limited future with the team.

The 6-foot-9 Russian forward wasn’t with the Nets on their trip to Oklahoma City Friday and San Antonio Saturday for personal reasons apart from basketball. But Kirilenko’s lack of involvement when around – just 36 minutes in seven games, scoring a total of three points – had the Post’s Tim Bontemps assessing the likelihood that the player and his $3.3 million expiring contract either will be traded or bought out:

Sources said no buyout negotiations have taken place yet, but that it’s possible the team could try to trade Kirilenko and his $3.3 million expiring contract. If such a trade were to materialize, it would likely be after Dec. 15, when all rookies and players signed to contracts this summer are eligible to be moved.

If a trade doesn’t materialize, it seems inevitable that a buyout would be reached at some point.

When asked if he could elaborate on the situation after the team’s morning shootaround [in Oklahoma City, coach Lionel] Hollins said he could not. Asked if he was expecting Kirilenko back with the team once the Nets returned home, Hollins said, “I don’t know.”

Either way, it’s hard to see Kirilenko in a significant role with this team again.

He was made a healthy scratch for losses to the Heat and Bucks at home this week, and after the Miami defeat on Monday said he felt fine physically and had “no idea” what he had to do to get back into Hollins’ rotation.

Those who thought Kirilenko’s kinship and shared heritage with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov would serve him well (and even smelled something fishy) when he turned down a one-year, $10 million option from Minnesota to sign a two-year, $6.5 million deal with Brooklyn might want to reconsider, if they haven’t yet.

Back issues limited Kirilenko to 45 games last season in which he averaged 19 minutes, 5.0 points and 3.2 rebounds. As Bontemps noted, he wasn’t used in two of the Nets’ 12 playoff games against Toronto and Miami, and his hopes of a greater role with Hollins replacing Jason Kidd as coach have not materialized.

Relax? Easier said than done for LeBron


VIDEO: LeBron James says being patient this season has been a challenge for him

Maybe if Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers weren’t otherwise indisposed, LeBron James could have called on him to offer words of advice to Cleveland fans worried about, and NBA experts critical of, the Cavaliers’ unimpressive 5-5 start.

But it’s not clear that James’ message is as simple as “Relax.”

James’ needle was pointed in that direction when he announced his return to Cleveland in July, though that part of his message might have gotten swamped in the exuberance of The Decision II. He has said at various times in the preseason and early season that it would take time for the re-tooled Cavs to find their groove and identity. Heck, James said it in several ways as recently as Wednesday night, after a 92-90 home loss to San Antonio had them sifting through the disappointment for bright spots like some wannabe lottery team.

But his tone had shifted significantly by Friday morning, after Cleveland’s shootaround in Washington for its game with the Wizards (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Had Rodgers shown up to drop a “R-E-L-A-X” on James at the Verizon Center, the four-time MVP might have sacked him. As reported by Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

“That’s my biggest test,” [James] said. “My patience, I have a low tolerance for things of this nature, so it’s something I’m working on as well, which I knew from the beginning, that it was going to be my biggest test to see how much patience I have with the process.

“What helps me out is that I’ve been through it before, but at the same time, I’m a winner and I want to win and I want to win now. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not down the line. I want to win now. So, it’s a fine line for me, but I understand what we’re enduring right now.”

That differs from the essay James penned with SI.com’s Lee Jenkins when he chose to return to Cleveland over extending his stay with the Miami Heat. Remember?

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested.

For the record, the Heat started 9-8 in James’ first year in south Florida, teaming with stars (Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) who were more advanced in their own careers than Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But they figured things out in time to reach The Finals.

Also for the record, the Cavs faced a tough back-to-back this weekend against the Wizards on the road and then home against Toronto Saturday. Oh, and the Packers were 1-2 when Rodgers urge calm on the cheeseheads of Packers nation. They’ve gone 6-1 since.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce: Rivalry with LeBron ‘misunderstood’ | Cavs’ Love still searching for his role | Van Gundy fires back at Markieef Morris | Rivers standing by Redick

No. 1: Pierce: Rivalry with LeBron ‘misunderstood’ — The Cleveland Cavaliers from LeBron James‘ first tour of duty there took on Paul Pierce‘s Boston Celtics crew in two separate East semifinals series (2008 and ’10), losing both times. Those matchups — plus others between James’ Miami Heat teams and Pierce’s Celtics, and later, Brooklyn Nets — spurred a notion that Pierce and James don’t like each other personally. In an interview with J. Michael of CSNWashington.com, though, Pierce says that’s hardly the truth:

For Friday’s showdown between the Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, there are so many subplots in play: The preseason war of words between the backcourts; the rivalry between the teams during LeBron James’ first stint with his hometown team; and Eastern Conference playoff position. But the main plot will focus on Paul Pierce and James.

“I think a lot of it is misunderstood. If I see LeBron walking down the street, it’s not going to be no fistfight. I got a lot of respect for him,” said Pierce, who had triumphs and failures against him as a member of the Boston Celtics and last season with the Brooklyn Nets. “The competitive nature of both of us, being at the same position, being on top teams, gunning for the same trophy year in and year out, that’s where that comes in to play. It’s like fighting for the same girl. Why do I want to be cool with that guy?

“I’ve got total respect for him as a person. It’s just the things that we go through are all on the court and that’s where we leave it.”

“It’s something about great players when they play in certain arenas, when they play against other great players they elevate their play,” Pierce said about the stakes being raised Friday. “LeBron is one of those guys. He feels the moment. He understands the moment. This could be a moment tomorrow. We’ve got to be prepared for it.’

More wisdom from Pierce:

  • On the Cavs now: “Their record doesn’t show how good they’re going to be. … We’re going to have a lot of games like this throughout the course of the year. We got to be ready for this. We got to start expecting playoff-type atmospheres, playoff-type level of play. It’s time for us to start raising our level of play when these type of teams come in, Dallas, Cleveland, whoever.”
  • On James’ return home: “I was definitely surprised. With the run that they had in Miami, them going to four straight Finals that that wouldn’t deter him, losing in the Finals. I thought they built something special there. Obviously, Cleveland has a special place in his heart and he felt like he left something behind but it’s good for him. It’s good for the game of basketball. Shifts the balance of power. We know how tough it is to  put together a team and try to win a championship in that first year which makes the Eastern Conference that much wide open.”

 

Rose, Gasol out vs. Kings

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Nothing new on the Derrick Rose front. He’ll miss his third straight game with a strained left hamstring when the Chicago Bulls visit the Sacramento Kings on TNT Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET).

The Bulls will also be without Pau Gasol, who’s dealing with a strained left calf, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell reports

“[They're] just not ready,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before Thursday’s shootaround.

This will be the third straight game Rose has missed after initially injuring the hamstring in last Thursday’s win over the Toronto Raptors, and the seventh game total. He missed four games earlier this season because of sprained ankles. Gasol, who along with swingman Jimmy Butler has now missed two straight games because the calf injury, is hopeful he will be back on the floor soon.

“I didn’t feel a pop,” Gasol said of the injury. “It just started bothering me. It started being sore. I was hoping I got hit but I couldn’t recall getting hit. So then you had to figure it was a muscle strain and strains usually take their time to heal and scar. So I’m just trying to let it heal.”

The Bulls are 4-2 without Rose, but have been better on both offense and defense with him on the floor. They beat the Clippers on Monday without Rose or Gasol.

One Stat, One Play: No D, No Run, No Dunk


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: The Clippers’ up-close problems

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers are generally considered to be a title contender.

They were one of four teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. They were a possession away from taking a 3-2 lead in the conference semifinals. And they’re in their second season under Doc Rivers.

But the Clippers are off to a disappointing start, holding a 6-4 record after Wednesday’s win in Orlando. Their four losses are all to teams with winning records, but haven’t looked sharp on either end of the floor, have home losses to the Kings and Bulls, and are one of four teams that has regressed by at least two points per 100 possessions on both ends of the floor.

One disturbing stat is that the Clippers rank last in shots in the restricted area. They’re the only team getting fewer than 20 attempts per game from the most efficient spot on the floor.

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That’s a problem when you have two of the league’s best finishers. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were two of five players who shot better than 70 percent in the restricted area on at least 300 attempts last season.

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Griffin’s attempts in the restricted area are down from 8.1 per game last season (48 percent of his total shots) to 6.2 this year (34 percent).

Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper and his mid-range field goal percentage has improved from 35 percent in 2012-13 to 37 percent last season to 39 percent this year. And part of his reduced attempts at the rim is a desire to show off his improvement from the outside.

“When you’ve deposited a lot of money,” Griffin said early this season about the work he’s put in on his jumper, “you feel good about writing checks.”

But another part of it is that Griffin isn’t getting out in transition as much as he has in the past. According to SportVU, just nine percent (15/166) of Griffin’s shots of come in the first six seconds of the shot clock, down from 18 percent last season.

That takes us to the Clippers’ defense, which ranks 22nd through Wednesday, allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions, 2.2 more than they did last season. And fewer stops leads to fewer opportunities to run.

The video above is our fourth installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at how the Clippers have been scrambling defensively after sending their big man away from the basket to aggressively defend pick-and-rolls. Does that scheme need to change or do the Clips just need to buckle down and execute it better?

They visit the Miami Heat in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.