Morning Shootaround — Feb. 28

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: Between the late-game heroics of Monta Ellis in Houston and the all-around, game-long goodness of Steph Curry in New York, it would have been easy to pick either of those games as our one to re-watch this morning. Those two games are definitely worthy of another look, but rather than pick one over the other, we’re going in a different route as we often like to do. Our choice instead is Mavs-Grizzlies from the Grind House in Memphis. It wasn’t as pretty offensively as the Bucks-Rockets or Warriors-Knicks games, that’s for sure, but watching the Grizz go on a franchise-record 24-0 run to climb from a 25-point hole sure was something. We’re a fan of solid big man play around here and the Grizzlies’ combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were at their best, pounding the Mavs for a combined 43 points and 22 rebounds.

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News of the morning

Nash still ‘happy’ he chose Lakers | Horford keeps on rolling | Grizzlies comeback astounds | Stotts gets praise, even in losing | Report: Oden won’t decide fate until July | Howard surprises fans

Nash reinventing himself in L.A.The dreams Lakers fans had of Steve Nash directing the offense, pick-and-rolling teams to death with Dwight Howard and harmoniously fitting in with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt haven’t all come to pass as expected this season. First, there were the early weeks of the season that saw Nash recovering from a leg injury. Nash recovered from a leg injury. Then, once Nash returned, he was the off-guard in L.A. while Bryant put on his best Magic Johnson impression. Now, Nash is finally getting comfortable in his role in Lakerland — although it is far from the one he used to play as point guard for the Phoenix Suns. USA Today’s Sam Amick has more on the changes Nash has gone through:

Two-time MVPs aren’t typically asked to reinvent themselves, but 39-year-old Nash is doing just that for a Lakers team that has seven weeks to salvage its season and avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs. At 28-30 — and with those summertime proclamations of league-wide dominance seeming so far away now — they are 2½ games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

And so, Nash — the Picasso of point guards, a masterful orchestrator of offenses — has been asked to change. He plays off the ball, watching Bryant take his old job for long stretches before he’s able to put his old hat on. He does what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, his friend and longtime coach with the Phoenix Suns, has asked them all to do: sacrifice.Since changing to this counter-intuitive style in a Jan. 25 win against the Utah Jazz, with Nash handling roughly half the playmaking duties he did before and his assist numbers during that time (5.5 a game) barely half his norm over the past eight seasons, the Lakers have won 11 of 16 games.

“His desire to figure out a way to make it work is remarkable,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “He’s always prodding, always making the sacrifice. Yet you have to catch yourself and say, ‘This is a two-time MVP.’ He could certainly say, ‘No, I’m not changing. You’ve got to do it my way.’ How many two-time MVPs are as accommodating as he is?”

This isn’t exactly what Nash and D’Antoni had in mind when they reunited Nov.12 — largely because of the broken left leg Nash suffered Nov. 3 that kept him out for seven weeks. They envisioned Nash as the engine in D’Antoni’s high-octane system, ignoring how an aging team might fare in a system that pushes the accelerator every time out.

Yet Nash insists he’s content with the compromise in large part because this decision was never just about basketball. His agent, Bill Duffy, calls the three-year, $27 million sign-and-trade deal that brought Nash to Los Angeles from Phoenix a “family values contract” because of how Nash bypassed opportunities in Toronto and New York last summer so he could be closer to his three children.

“Ten out of 10 times, I make the same decision again,” Nash told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “I’ve gotten to see my kids probably four times as much as I’d seen them if I’d have gone back East. That’s first and foremost. Second of all, it’s a great experience to play for the Lakers organization. … I’m happy here.

“I’m beyond playing for the credit or the adulation. I feel secure in myself as a player. I just want to help this team, regardless of what it means for me personally.”

“If L.A. wouldn’t have worked, I honestly think he would’ve considered retiring,” Duffy says. “He said that three or four times from July 1 to July 5 (during free agency), and I was saying, ‘If he wants to retire, I have to respect it, but let’s piece this thing together so you can get what you want and continue to play.’ “

“It’s been different. It’s been an adjustment,” Nash says. “But I want to embrace these challenges. I’m at a stage of my career with a new club where I’m playing with Kobe — he’s a great player — and finding that balance and accepting and embracing that opportunity is key. It’d be nice, in some ways, to have a bigger impact on the game. You have to balance it with all the guys, all their needs and personalities. I embrace it.

“I really appreciate it. I could still be in Phoenix and have the ball in my hands the majority of the time and probably be out of the playoffs again, so it’s worthy of trying something new — especially since the upside here is potentially great.”

Red-hot Horford keeps Hawks soaringAs our own Sekou Smith mentioned in Hang Time just a few days ago, the Atlanta Hawks in the post-trade deadline world are operating like the Atlanta Hawks we saw the first two months of the season. Elite-level hoops has returned thanks to the standout play of Al Horford in particular, who burned the Jazz last night with a career-high 34 points (two days after a career-best 22 boards in Detroit), punishing a solid Utah frontline featuring Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors. As the Hawks move into the second half of their six-game road trip (they’re 3-0 thus far), a perfect run is within reach, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The Hawks led by as many as 20 points and held off a late rally en route to a 102-91 victory over the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.

Al Horford was at the center of the victory as he scored 16 of the Hawks’ 20 fourth-quarter points on the way to a career-high 34 points.

“He was big,” coach Larry Drew said. “We were running plays for him. When the shot wasn’t there he was passing the ball. He got everything within our offense. The guys were doing a good job of finding him. He is really playing at a high level right now. I mean an extremely high level.”

The Hawks (33-23) won their fourth straight and sixth in the past seven games. It was also the fifth straight road victory for the Hawks, who surpassed the 100-point mark in each. The Hawks have won four straight over the Jazz.

Horford continued his torrid streak over the past seven games, scoring over 20 points in each. He added 15 rebounds. Over this stretch of games, Horford is averaging 25.4 points (178), 12.4 rebounds (87) while shooting .681 percent (79-116).

The Hawks sealed the game by opening the third quarter on a 24-12 run to lead by 20 points, 80-60.

“The start of the second half was the bigger of the two,” Josh Smith said of the Hawks’ first- and third-quarter efforts. “We wanted to be able to control the momentum of this building. It’s a hostile environment. They have awesome fans who definitely heckle the visiting team. We knew we were going to receive a big punch in the second half and being able to answer in that third quarter was huge for us.”

The Jazz got to within eight points in the fourth quarter but there was not stopping Horford. He and Smith scored all 20 of the Hawks’ points in the final period.

“It was one of those things where in my mind I was like we’ve built this lead and we’ve worked too hard to give it up,” Horford said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want to lose so you do whatever you have to do. We just kept fighting. I just kept fighting. I’m proud of my teammates.”

Grizzlies comeback an astounding featWe gave the “Hang Time Grizzlies” some love above in our recap of the night, but Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has some more interesting tidbits from Memphis’ club-record comeback against Dallas last night:

The Griz tossed aside a 25-point deficit and changed the makings of a lopsided loss with their defense to earn a dramatic 90-84 victory over the Dallas Mavericks before 16,017 fans who still might be wiping their eyes in disbelief.

“Grit, grind, heart, sacrifice I could name 10-15 words (to describe) this,” forward Zach Randolph said after the Grizzlies extended their winning streak to eight games. “It was one of those games.”

A game in which:

• Griz coach Lionel Hollins called time out twice in the first 3 ½ minutes.

• The starters were benched in the first five.

• The Mavs racked up 38 points in the opening period and enjoyed a 51-29 lead with 5:25 left in the second quarter.

• Memphis outscored Dallas 36-4, which included a franchise record 24 unanswered points, during a stretch that bridged the second and third quarters.

• Dallas looked feeble throughout a five-point third quarter — a Memphis franchise-record low for an opponent in any quarter.

“A lot of it was pride,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “We felt the grumbling in the stands. We were embarrassed.”

Stotts has Blazers going right directionAfter a surprising 20-15 start that had Portland in the thick of the playoff race, the Blazers have gone 6-16 since and are more or less assured of a place in the Draft lottery. But with the emergence of likely Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard, as well as the contributions by J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, things are looking somewhat bright in the Rose City. Depth has been a problem for the Blazers all season, but as John Canzano of The Oregonian notes, coach Terry Stotts has Portland headed for a breakthrough sometime soon:

Because the only difference-maker Portland really needs is Terry Stotts. He’s been here all year, and if owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey get Stotts some depth this summer and add some smart peripheral pieces, I’m convinced he’ll be the Blazers coach who finally breaks through.

Nate McMillan was at his best in 2009-10, overcoming an absurd run of injuries to finish with the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. But Stotts is staying relevant with a roster that was broken from Game 1, refusing to make excuses or join the rest of us in declaring this season done. Stotts lost again Wednesday, this time, 111-109 to a more dangerous, deeper, better NBA team that ran circles around the Blazers but could never quite get away.
Yes, even after a loss, it’s clear that Stotts is doing a terrific job.
This season isn’t headed to the playoffs. Nobody is going to hang a banner commemorating it. But we’re witnessing the finest job of Blazers coaching in more than a decade, and Stotts very nearly pulled it off again against the Nuggets. Forget the playoff teams, forget the teams that won more games, and just look at the lineup and teaching that Stotts used to combat the 48-minute relay-race the Nuggets put on.
Those who have spent time around Stotts this season say he’s a master at compartmentalizing a larger task. He walked into a meeting earlier this season with the Blazers facing a daunting road rip, and according to support staff and players announced, “We have six games in front of us. Let’s break down these six games.”
The coach proceeded to splinter off the games, making each stand alone. By the time he was finished talking, nobody was focused on the road trip. Everyone was locked onto what it was going to take to win a single game, the first one.
“I’m doing a different kind of teaching now,” Stotts said. “The stuff I was doing early was more about getting people to understand what we wanted. Now, we’re taking that further, and focusing on the next level.”

Report: Oden won’t choose team until summerIt seems like every few weeks, we hear something new about former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden: he’s interested in the Cavs, he’s going to sign with the Heat, he’s unsure of his future … take your pick. The latest chatter surrounding the oft-injured big man, according to Sam Amico of FoxSportsOhio.com, is that he won’t decide which team he’ll sign with until at least July:

Former NBA center Greg Oden will not decide on his next team until July, sources close to the situation told FOX Sports Ohio.

Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., has said Oden is 100 percent and could become a future All-Star.

Oden, 25, is currently taking classes at Ohio State — the school he led to the NCAA title game in 2007, when it lost to Florida. The Trail Blazers drafted the 7-footer one spot ahead of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant.

Sources told FSO earlier this month that Oden was leaning heavily toward signing with the Cavs. However, no commitment has been reached by other side.

“We’ll see,” Cavs general manager Chris Grant said last week. “We’ll still talk to them and see what their position is and see what his goals are. Just like any other free agent, if something happens that makes sense, we’ll do it.

“If not, that’s OK. Who knows? From our standpoint, we have no idea.”

Howard surprises a few fansLakers fans are a pretty loyal bunch, especially in California. So when fans were presented with the opportunity to show off their team gear at an adidas photo booth in L.A., throngs of them showed up. None of them knew, however, that Dwight Howard (and adidas pitchman) would be there, too (H/T Pro Basketball Talk): 

ICYMI of the night: After rejecting Kobe Bryant on Tuesday night, JaVale McGee adds another superstar name to his swat list this week: Portland rookie Damian Lillard

6 Comments

  1. bulbulito says:

    oden should sign with the cavs, coz he will be teaming up with the youthful cavs and maybe he will be an all-star in the future,not unless he will blow out his knees again. :(

  2. iSHAQ or SHAQTOLOGY says:

    AL THORNTON is better than GREG ODEN or KWAME BROWN…
    DELONTE WEST is better than GREG ODEN or KWAME BROWN…
    GILBERT ARENAS and DREW GOODEN is…. u know already…

    i hope Andrew Bogut will not be named “Sam Bogut” (Sam Bowie)….

  3. IanK says:

    If Portland wants Oden, Oden should consider going back there first. They were loyal to him through all those years, and even gave him a new contract, which meant he also got people to help him through rehab. I don’t know if Portland needs him, but I doubt they’d say no to having a (potentially) effective big man.

    But sure, after that, the Cavs are the team to go to.

  4. JeloX says:

    ODEN will go to the HEAT!

    Imagine that!