Morning Shootaround — March 22

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: Props to the Kings, who with their win last night over the Timberwolves have won three of their last four and are .500 in March. As nice as it is to see them playing better basketball, we’ve got to obviously go with the Sixers-Nuggets game this morning. Seemly only fitting that with the NCAA Tournament underway that a one-time NCAA hero, Corey Brewer, would be the man stepping up to keep Denver’s win streak in tact. His clutch 3-point shooting down the stretch and his uber-clutch three free throws that won the game for the Nuggets gave a semi-routine NBA game the feel of March Madness. And Brewer’s celebration after the Nuggets salted away the game was more than NCAA-worthy, too.

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News of the morning

Iguodala ups Nuggets’ defensive trust | Millsap getting over recent benching | Pistons’ Frank: ‘Eyes are always on you’ | Harrington likely done for season

Iggy increases trust factor for NuggetsIn rolling up 14 straight wins to set a franchise record for consecutive NBA wins, the Nuggets have turned up their defense whether they are at home or on the road. That defensive acumen wasn’t apparent during the majority of last night’s game against Philly, but as the Nuggets pulled off a miraculous comeback, the defense (and some fortunate breaks) came through to keep Denver rolling. Benjaman Hochman of The Denver Post has more on that defensive focus and the play of Andre Iguodala, who has spearheaded the charge:

Why do the Nuggets win games they should lose? I can give you a lot of fancy stats about fast-break scoring and improvements in all facets of defense, but the incalculable intangible is that they’re among the league leaders in trust.

“We talk a lot about the word trust,” Nuggets coach George Karl said, “trusting each other, trusting the concepts, trusting the intensity. The word trust has been in our game plans a lot. And I have to trust them, they’ve earned that trust.”

Trust is most important on the defensive end. And for however fun it was watching Allen Iverson and Melo pour in 25-plus a night, there was little trust on defense. Heck, there was little defense. Iverson was so insignificant on defense that occasionally he literally wasn’t even looking at the play (as such, many around the Pepsi Center believe that Denver somehow winning 50 games in 2007-08 was one of the greatest accomplishments in franchise history).

Now, Denver has the opposite of A.I. in, well, A.I.

“I think there’s a confidence that comes with having an Andre (Iguodala) on your defensive end of the court,” Karl said. “And when you can take a major opposing player and kind of control him with one individual, then you don’t need a lot of concepts, you don’t need a lot of tricks and cover-ups and rotations. And for a young team, that’s good, because if we had to gimmick up the game, I don’t know if our young players have done that enough to feel comfortable with it.

“There are a lot of concepts that your partner is supporting you in. you must go and trust that he’s going to be ready for you. And you also have to trust that the weakside defense will support you, so your defensive assignments probably involve more trust.”

Millsap not thrilled over benching in HoustonThe Jazz find themselves 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West, but of late, Utah has struggled. It is 3-7 in March and has lost six of its last eight games, with a mix of blowouts and heartbreakers sprinkled among the defeats. The latest knock came on Wednesday in Houston, where the Rockets won 100-93, but had a double-digit lead most of the night and had their way with the Jazz’s defense. Once the game started spiraling out of control, coach Ty Corbin pulled starters Paul Millsap and Mo Williams for a younger crew that staged a semi-comeback in the fourth quarter. Millsap, as one would expect, wasn’t too thrilled and talked to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Bill Oram about riding the bench against the Rockets:

When Paul Millsap was benched for the entire fourth quarter of a game in late December, he was asked whether the coaching decision upset him.

“What you think?” he responded. “I’ll let you answer that.”

But after being benched for the final 14:47 of the Utah Jazz’s 100-93 loss at Houston on Wednesday, Millsap found himself faced with the same question at Thursday morning’s practice.

“It’s tough for me not to play at all, period,” he said. “I want to be on the court at all times.”

Starting point guard Mo Williams, who also did not play in the fourth quarter, said he was “absolutely” fine with the move.

Millsap, in the final season of a four-year contract with the Jazz, was left on the bench as Derrick Favors closed the game. Favors’ numbers — five points, three rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes — paled when compared with Millsap’s 16 points, four rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes. However, the burgeoning backup was part of a resurgent unit that cut a 26-point deficit to five against the Rockets. Favors was part of a group that included Al Jefferson, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Marvin Williams that coach Tyrone Corbin praised for a defense that, while it made mistakes, “it wasn’t as many times as the group before.”

Millsap described himself as “positive by nature” but was clearly troubled by the reduced role. He is third on the team in minutes per game at 30.2, and has spent more time on the floor this season than every player with the exception of Jefferson.

But the second-round pick turned franchise cornerstone seemed Thursday resigned to a change.

“Obviously,” he said, “it’s going to be that way. So I got to live with it.”

Detroit’s Frank mindful of futureThe Pistons sport the fourth-worst record in the league and have just 13 games left in what has been a disappointing season. Four players on the roster — Jose Calderon, Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum and Corey Maggette — can become free agents this summer. Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said he’s well aware of the tenuous relationship some of the players have with the team heading into next season and, as he tells MLive.com’s David Mayo, nothing is guaranteed for next season:

“Eyes are always on you,” head coach Lawrence Frank said.  “No one’s going to write it off.  No, no, this is how you evaluate.  We’re evaluating our guys every single day.  That’s how the league is.

Frank hasn’t been back on the job long.  He returned this week from a six-game absence to attend to his wife Susan during and after a major surgery in New Jersey.

But his warnings of careers on the line extended beyond the eight players whose contracts will expire or can be terminated or bought out after this season.

“I look at it as a coach, the job, how we’re playing, that’s reflective of my performance.  As a player, same thing,” Frank said.
The Pistons have plenty to spend in the summer trade and free-agency periods and cleaning up the roster usually is a an accompanying chore.

“To me, there are no guarantees,” Frank said.  “When you’ve won the amount of games that we’ve won, I don’t care who you are, no one should feel safe.  Me as coach, player. … There shouldn’t be a player on the roster with a record like we are who thinks, ‘Oh, I’m here next year.’  Well, we only one ‘X’ amount of games.”

Magic unlikely to have Harrington this seasonVeteran big man Al Harrington will always be a part of Orlando Magic lore as one of the players the team acquired in the Dwight Howard mega-deal of last summer. Since joining the Magic, Harrington has appeared in 10 games with Orlando but hasn’t played since March 15. Although Harrington is healthy, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn plans to run with his younger players down the stretch and Harrington, who still has three years left on his contract, will sit more. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn intends to play his young big men — 20-year-old Tobias Harris, 22-year-old Kyle O’Quinn, 22-year-old Nik Vucevic and 23-year-old Andrew Nicholson — as much as possible in the Magic’s final 13 games.

And that won’t leave much, if any, time for Harrington, a 33-year-old veteran.

Harrington hasn’t played in Orlando’s last three games, including Wednesday night’s 106-94 loss to the New York Knicks.

“It’s really nothing to do with his knees,” Vaughn said.

“It’s a coach’s decision. I’ve talked to Al just about the remaining games that we have. He’s helped us in the wins at Philly and New Orleans. He’s proven that he can still play this game at a high level, and I’m going to give the opportunity to play to some of our young guys and give them some experience. I think he has experience at this game a little bit already.”

He probably doesn’t fit into the rebuilding franchise’s long-term plans.

Next season, he’s due to earn about $7.1 million, but only $3.55 million of that is guaranteed. In 2013-14, he’s due to earn $7.6 million, but only $3.8 million of that is guaranteed.

If the Magic were to waive him outright this summer, the team would be required to pay him the guaranteed portions of both seasons.

ICYMI of the night: The Bulls were never really in the game against the Blazers, but at least Nate Robinson provided this Dunk Contest-worthy jam last night …:


2 Comments

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