Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: After a Feb. 10 win against Denver, Boston was in the midst of a seven-game win streak and feeling good about its place in the East pecking order. But the Celtics’ five-game road trip West hadn’t gone as planned and they found themselves 1-3 with a date against the Jazz entering Monday. The Celtics had every reason to fold up shop, especially after looking listless at times in the first half and unable to contain Gordon Hayward most of the night. Never count out Paul Pierce, though, as he came through big for Boston as Celtics-Jazz ended up being our one to watch. Pierce showed off his Truth-y goodness in the win, particularly in the extra frame, where he scored seven straight in OT to salt away the victory:

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News of the morning

Nuggets beat D’Antoni, Lakers at own game | Horford finds a rhythm | Report: Bulls’ Gibson out 2 weeks | Can Celtics’ lockerroom change players? | Playoff hopes hurt in Toronto

Nuggets run Lakers out of DenverOnce Mike D’Antoni supplanted Mike Brown as Lakers coach, the assumption among some fans was that D’Antoni would employ the high-octane system he used in Phoenix in Lakerland and all would be right in the world. Yet as D’Antoni and the Lakers have learned time and time again this season, playing up-tempo isn’t the fast track to success for L.A. In fact, it’s the complete opposite and was proven so again last night as the Nuggets simply ran the Lakers out of Denver with a fast-breaking offense. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register and Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com have more:

From Ding:

Big picture, the Lakers have still gone 11-5 since the day of their clear-the-air team meeting in Memphis. But the feel-good sentiments were contrasted Monday night by some ongoing cold – or should that be “old”? – realities for this Lakers team.

The Lakers were as slow as ever in letting the Denver Nuggets blow by them. Final score: Denver 119, Los Angeles 108.

Fast-break points? Denver 33, Los Angeles 3.

“Man,” Kobe Bryant said, “that’s a killer.”

The Lakers are last in the NBA in points allowed per game off turnovers, and that’s just how Denver took control of this game – also running off Bryant’s early missed shots. The Nuggets kept control with Dwight Howard shooting 3-for-14 on free throws and Bryant’s individual defensive effort lacking even as he rediscovered his shooting stroke.

From Shelburne:

Those who have been waiting to see what Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense looks like finally saw it Monday night.

Too bad it was the Denver Nuggets playing it.

All that great spacing and shooting and scoring D’Antoni’s teams have become known for over the years … yeah, that was George Karl‘s Nuggets running the Lakers off the court in a 119-108 win Monday night.

“They’re good,” D’Antoni said. “They spread you out and they shoot a high percentage.

“We just couldn’t catch ‘em.”

D’Antoni was glum after the loss, but not unusually so. That wistful, pining, ”If they could only see what I see?” quality he carried around with him during the first few months of his tenure on the Lakers bench is gone now. He’s either squashed it for good or put it in a place where it doesn’t bother him as much.

What’s become clear during the Lakers’ modest revival — they’ve still won 11 of their past 16 games despite Monday’s loss — is that they’re no longer trying to play like one of D’Antoni’s teams.

The coach — and his team — have adapted. Or at least accepted that the up-tempo style is not going to fit this team, this season. There are still elements of it that work, including the pick-and-roll game and the emphasis on spacing and rhythm. But the rest of it has kind of been shelved for now.

For the Lakers, it served as a reminder of the decisions they’ve been forced to make this year. The Nuggets’ run-and-gun style was the vision D’Antoni was hired to bring to Los Angeles. For now, though, with no training camp and injured, ill-fitting personnel, it’s just not to be.

The coach has taken a lot of criticism since he got to L.A. So have many of his players.

It’s way too soon to start praising him. The Lakers are still in great danger of missing the playoffs after Monday’s loss dropped them to three games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

But it’s not too soon to recognize that D’Antoni also has made some difficult sacrifices since taking the job — to his principles, his pride and his legacy.

“There’s no job in the NBA that’s easy,” D’Antoni said, refusing to make a sympathy play. “You don’t just fall out of bed and have things happen. It gets more complicated with injuries. I didn’t know Steve [Nash] was going to be out. I didn’t know Steve Blake was going to be out. I didn’t know Dwight wasn’t healthy 100 percent. So, yeah, there are some side issues. But everything is hard.”

Hawks’ Horford hitting his strideWhen the Atlanta Hawks have been in the headlines on this site and others, the name heard most is Josh Smith and his future with the team as a pending free agent. While we were all focused on J-Smoove, his future and the trade deadline the last few weeks, Al Horford, the lone ex-All-Star selection on the Hawks, has been tearing it up. He’s averaging 24.6 ppg and 12.4 rpg over his last nine games and went wild last night against the Pistons, notching a 23-point, 22-rebound game in the Hawks’ win. Atlanta has won three in a row, sits at No. 4 in the East and much of that is due to Horford, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Al Horford is completely over the hamstring strain that bothered him earlier this season. It shows.

The Hawks center is averaging 24.2 points and 10.0 rebounds with a .679 field goal percentage (55 of 81) over the past five games. He has scored over 20 points in each of those games, a career first.

“I think it just has to do with me being healthy and we are playing through me a lot more,” Horford said Monday before the Hawks played at the Pistons. That helps. I’m able to stay in the rhythm of the offensive.”

Horford said the hamstring is no longer limiting his running and jumping. He also dealt with a calf issue.

“When we have a lot of ball movement and high assists it gets everybody involved not just me,” Horford said. “When that happens I usually do pretty well. When we don’t and we stick, that is when my game gets affected and we tend to struggle as a team. It’s not hard to figure out that if we have a high assist total we are going to have a good chance.”

Report: Bulls may lose Gibson for 2 weeksBulls reserve forward Taj Gibson injured his knee in the second half of Chicago’s blowout loss to the Thunder on Sunday night. Now comes word, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, that the Bulls’ depth — which has been hampered all season by the loss of star Derrick Rose — may suffer another blow following the results of Gibson’s MRI on Monday:

Taj Gibson celebrated the birthdays of Jerry Reinsdorf and Joakim Noah on Monday by having an MRI performed on his sprained left knee.

Well, not really, but the confluence of such events seemed fitting for a star-crossed Bulls team these days. For every celebratory moment — a blowout win in Charlotte, Noah turning 28 — a somber one follows in the form of a convincing loss to an elite team or another injury.

At least Gibson’s MRI didn’t reveal a torn ACL, although it did confirm a sprained MCL that could sideline the defensive-minded forward up to two weeks.

Can Boston’s lockerroom change Crawford, Williams?Depending on whom you ask, new Celtics Jordan Crawford (acquired via a trade with Washington) and Terrence Williams (signed as a free agent) are seen by some as one-dimensional players, talented-but-emotional players or young players in need of some veteran guidance … or a combination of the three. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald brings up a great point in questioning whether the Celtics’ veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the like can do anything to change the careers/league-wide outlook on players such as Crawford and Williams:

It is the common perception that the Celtics dressing room is a healing commune where those of questionable basketball reputation can be saved. A Lourdes of leaping, if you will.

So as the Celts return home today with Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford — two players who would not have been available to them were it not for concerns about their approach to the game and the fact they did not entirely please previous employers — there is the expectation among some, and hope among others, that regularly observing Kevin Garnett and breathing the same air will improve their focus and make them better teammates.

The newest C’s have the opportunity to either prove the perceptions a lie or rip off the old tags and begin anew.

Pierce knows that altering the career course of another adult may be quite a bit to ask, but he also recognizes it’s part of his job as captain and accomplished veteran.

“I think you just try to feel things out with new guys,” he said. “I mean, at this point in the season you usually get a chance to talk to guys in practice, but there’s not a lot of practice time.

“But it seems like these guys, from what you’ve heard about them from other teams, it doesn’t look that way from what I’ve seen in the past few days.”

Doc Rivers is well aware of the upside of both Williams and Crawford, but he’s not banking on his regulars to make them fit into the Celtics’ system.

Beyond that, Rivers tries to avoid preconceived notions. He doesn’t want to read the labels on the players the Celtics acquire.“You know, one of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t listen to hearsay,” he said. “I really don’t. I never have.

“I’ve learned that lesson long ago. There’s been a lot of players who you hear are bad guys or are not great guys that I’ve had that have turned out to be great guys. And I’ve had some that people said were great guys and they’ve turned out not to be.

“So I just don’t ever listen to the hearsay. I give everybody a chance, and if they don’t become that, then they don’t become that. I leave it at that.”

He doesn’t listen even when the comments are coming from his close friend, Washington coach Randy Wittman, who pulled Crawford out of his rotation?

“No, I don’t,’ Rivers said. “I really don’t, because there’s always circumstances. He may be right in what they’re saying, but there could be other circumstances that we can’t see. So I just let it go, and if they turn out to be a bad guy, then they’re a bad guy. Some turn out to be good guys.”

Loss harms Colangelo, Raptors’ playoff hopesRaptors GM Bryan Colangelo has done a decent job of attempting to salvage Toronto’s season given his trade to land Rudy Gay and his deadline-day deal to add point guard depth in the form of Sebastian Telfair. But last night’s loss to Washington not only dropped the Raptors 4 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for No. 8 in the East, but also dealt a bit of a blow to Colangelo and his future in Toronto, writes Eric Koreen of The National Post:

Monday’s game, a 90-84 loss to the Washington Wizards, did not help the Raptors’ chances. They are now 4½ games out of the final playoff spot.

It was a putrid game, particularly the first half, when the Raptors turned the ball over 12 times. Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry both struggled badly from the floor.

While the loss was certainly disappointing, it does not do much to change the Raptors’ position: They are fighting for a playoff spot, even if they are unlikely to prevail.

“That was our goal going into this year,” Dwane Casey said. “We got started off on a rocky start and dug ourselves a huge hole to start the season. We didn’t go about it [the right] way. We kind of got to the point where we wanted to be as far as knocking on the door on the playoffs. I think those are the terms that I used as far as our goal in the building process. [Acquiring] Rudy accelerated that process. I’m happy with our team. I like the direction we’re going in. I like our core group that we have.”

The team’s reality will have untold reverberations on the future. At the nadir of the season, it looked like president and general manager Bryan Colangelo would have to take the fall. If the Raptors fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the first time in franchise history they that have missed the post-season in five consecutive years.

However, minus the specific nature of some of the controversies and concerns that the team has dealt with in the season’s first two-thirds, where the team sits now is exactly where the Raptors figured they would be. In fact, the Raptors trading Jose Calderon and his expensive expiring contract for a dynamic wing player such as Gay would have been an ideal scenario heading into the year. It was, as Colangelo likes to say, part of the plan.

So, where does that leave Colangelo?

In lieu of a franchise superstar — and Gay is not at that level — the person in charge of moulding the roster is arguably the most integral man in any basketball organization. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will have three options: pick up the third-year option on Colangelo’s contract; offer Colangelo an extension beyond next year; or decline to pick up the option, effectively firing him.

ICYMI of the night: If you’re a Laker-hater (or just a Nuggets fan), two plays from last night had to get your attention: JaVale McGee coming over to swat Kobe Bryant and Kenneth Faried powering home an alley-oop over Dwight Howard …:

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One Comment

  1. Celtics will be good w/ the new acquisitions of Crawford, Williams, & big man White once his paperwork clears. Doc is an amazing coach, you have to put him up there w/ some of the all time great coaches, plus w/ Pierce & KG rest of guys will get these new guys in the system real well because the vets & rest of the team are not worried about individual accolades, their only concern is winning & getting better @ doing it as a TEAM!!! They’ll teach them about Ubuntu :)
    GO GET IT CELTS!!!
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!