NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix — After his team set a franchise-record low for points in a half, and then provided relief for the rodeo road-weary Spurs, Suns forward Markieff Morris addressed the issue of support for the Suns. You could argue the Suns didn’t deserve much on Saturday when they were wiped out by San Antonio and really didn’t put up much of a fight all night. Also, keep in mind that Morris was perhaps speaking out of frustration, realizing the Suns’ playoff chances might be slipping away in the West. Still, he went on a measured rant, wondering why the building never seems noisy enough for the Suns. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic was willing to listen:
“I don’t think we have a home-court advantage,” Markieff said. “It does not feel like a home-court advantage at all. Some games are going to be bad. You can’t win every game. That comes along with sports. Nobody wins games. We need the support. We need, as a team, to know that our fans are going to be behind us and I don’t feel like this year they’re behind us enough.
“I feel like we do have those genuine Suns fans but, for the most part, I feel like we had more San Antonio than Phoenix fans tonight.”
In the first Spurs visit of the season, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver apologized to fans and offered refunds for a preseason game in which the Spurs did not play their stars. After this Spurs 101-74 drubbing included their stars, the fourth sellout crowd of the season received only advice.
“They don’t boo, but they don’t cheer that much, either,” Markieff said. “We feed off, for the most part, off the energy. I know we’re a lot better than that. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. Like I said, we have a lot of genuine fans that cheers for us – the ones that are in the first row, in the second row, in the third row. Once you go up, you feel like people were just at the game, just watching.”
Markieff made a point to say the sentiment was not specific to Saturday night. The Suns are 17-13 at home this season with six of the home losses coming to losing teams.
“I speak for me and my teammates,” Markieff said. “It depends on who’s playing here. When we have the LeBrons and the D-Wades, we need to be heckling them. We need the fans to win games. We need the energy from them to win a lot of games, and we need that every night, not just certain nights.
“Every night is not going to be a great night. It’s going to happen. Stuff like that is going to happen. We expect more from them because I know they expect more from us.”
No. 2: Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? — The MVP debate, heating up in recent weeks, will take a turn Sunday when the Cavs play the Rockets and more specifically, LeBron James shares the floor with James Harden. As you know, LeBron is a 4-time MVP winner, Harden is looking for his first, and has a solid chance. He leads the league in 40-point games (6) and 30-point games (25) and has the Rockets squarely in the hunt in the West despite missing Dwight Howard. In fact, an amusing moment happened at the Sloan analytics conference over the weekend when Rockets GM Daryl Morey sat on a panel with Warriors GM Bob Myers had an exchange when asked their thoughts on the MVP race. Morey said Harden; Myers noted that Steph Curry and the Warriors have a better record and are 4-0 against the Rockets. Also on the panel was agent Arn Tellum, who chimed in for his client: “Russ Westbrook is better than both of them.” Anyway, Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk had this:
“Take James Harden off our team, and we’re nowhere,” Morey said.
Fodder for Mark Cuban? Yes.
True? To a degree. Harden has successfully carried a heavy load with Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup due to injury. Houston outscores opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions when Harden plays and get outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he sits.
Of course, Morey has long admired Harden, trading for him in 2012. That deal has been revisited countless times with the Thunder grading out poorly in hindsight – despite how reasonable the deal seemed at the time.
But perhaps Oklahoma City deserves criticism for negotiating poorly, given how badly Morey says he wanted Harden.
“We basically told the owner, ‘We should just give them everything. Like, literally, every possible thing that isn’t bolted down with the Rockets should be traded,’” Morey said.
No. 3: Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washingtonn — The Wizards have had better weeks and months, but at least Saturday was a better day — barely. They slipped past the Pistons and in the process brought themselves some relief from a 6-game slide and a pair of embarrassing losses to a pair of 12-win teams. The good news is Bradley Beal returned from his injury and so did Paul Pierce. No disrespect to Pierce, but the Wizards missed Beal the most. They don’t have a solid backup at his two-guard spot and as a result, John Wall forced too many shots from distance, the kind he doesn’t usually make. The Wizards scored 60 points in the first half against the Pistons and shot 55 percent. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to match the mojo they had early in the season. And if they don’t, well, plenty of speculation will surround coach Randy Wittman, because this team was expected, by management, to take a considerable step in the East. The playoffs will tell. Anyway, Wittman acknowledged the Wizards have been underperforming. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post had this from the coach …
“First and foremost, I’m the leader of this, of the group, and I’ve got to do a better job,” Wittman said. “I’m not doing a good enough job of putting guys in position to succeed better, instilling the confidence in these guys to go out and play. It starts with me. . . . I’ve got to do a better job, obviously, of getting our guys through tough times. That’s my job.”
Beal and Pierce provided what the Wizards’ offense was sorely lacking — dynamic play on the wing. Both players spread the floor with three-point shooting and attacked seams off the dribble, areas that were glaring liabilities during their previous two losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.
Their imprint was evident in the first half: The Wizards scored 60 points, shot 55.8 percent from the field and made six three-pointers. Washington played with a sense of confidence and freedom not apparent during much of their rut as Wittman incorporated rotation adjustments. In addition to having Beal play with the second unit, which he often did before his eight-game absence, Wittman added Pierce to the lineup.
“We came out as good as we’ve come out both defensively and offensively,” Wittman said. “Again, it starts with me, and I have to figure it out. I can’t explain to you how you play one half and then as soon as a team makes any kind of run we stop playing. That’s what we do — we stop playing. I have to figure out how to help the guys overcome that.
No. 4: Rondo back, coping in Dallas — OK, so it’s over, the Rajon Rondo snit with coach Rick Carlisle. Where do we go from here? As Rondo made his way back into the lineup after a 1-game suspension due to conduct detrimental to Carlisle, both the coach and player have had discussions on how to be on the same page philosophically. Rondo has struggled since arriving from the Celtics and feels the system might need tweaking to his liking. Carlisle seems agreeable to that, but only if it’s in the best interest of the Mavericks, and not just one player. Hey, they’re making an honest attempt here! Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas offers up this:
“That’s just the way it is,” Rondo said almost an hour after the Brooklyn Nets handed the Dallas Mavericks a 104-94 loss, having wrapped up an extended postgame shooting session. “That’s the system. I’m still learning, and I’ll find a way.”
Of course, it’s Carlisle’s job to help Rondo find a way. That’s why they’ve spent hours talking over the past four days. Some of the plays Carlisle called proved his willingness to adjust, attempting to make the Mavs’ midseason blockbuster-trade acquisition comfortable.
Case in point: Dallas repeatedly ran sets designed to run the offense through Rondo on the block, a new wrinkle for these Mavs but old hat for the four-time All-Star point guard.
“I think he’s mixed some stuff up as far as what worked for me in Boston a couple of years back when we had a great run,” Rondo said. “Just put the ball in my hands in different situations, not just pounding up top. Getting in the post and making plays for my teammates and for myself.”
The results weren’t great in Rondo’s return. He posted a so-so statistical line — eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 turnovers — but the Mavs were minus-22 in the 27:43 Rondo was on the floor.
In fairness, Rondo and the Mavs were forced to play without three of their regular starters. Center Tyson Chandler (hip) and small forward Chandler Parsons (ankle) wore sport coats and sat on the bench while nursing injuries. Shooting guard Monta Ellis (4-of-16 shooting) just didn’t show up.
But perhaps the Mavs’ biggest issue is figuring out how to make the square peg that is Rondo fit into the round hole that is the point guard’s role in Carlisle’s system.
If Carlisle had his way, the Mavs would never have to call a play. They’d just play free-flowing offense at all times. But that doesn’t work with Rondo, whose shooting woes allow defenses to dare him to beat them from the perimeter, screwing up the spacing for everybody else.
So the Mavs must adjust their offensive scheme to mask Rondo’s weaknesses and maximize his strengths.
“We’re in a situation where his abilities mesh with our team a certain way, and there is more play-calling when he’s on the floor because that’s been the most successful way for us to play offensively,” Carlisle said earlier this week. “He and I early on talked a lot about the right plays to call and the right tempo to play at and things like that, and we got away from it in recent games. We’ve got to get back to it. That’s on both of us.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Russell Westbrook underwent surgery on his right cheek and will not play Sunday … Bismack Byiombo of the Hornets is a good dude, taking the homeless to lunch… Hassan Whiteside grabbed 24 rebounds Saturday and the Heat still lost to a Hawks team resting three starters …