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: Yes, the Heat kept their win streak rolling (it’s at 27, in case you’ve been living in a cave or something). No, the Nuggets’ didn’t keep theirs rolling (it ended at 15 games, one shy of breaking the franchise’s all-time mark). But the game we’re going to focus on in this space is, surprisingly, Grizzlies-Wizards. The final score (107-94 Washington) give the impression we had a blowout on our hands all night. That would be wrong, though, as Washington only lead 76-74 heading into the fourth quarter and needed a truly amazing performance from John Wall to put away the always hard-fighting Grizz in this one. As hard as the Wizards have had it this season, there’s a real future for this team if Wall can stay healthy for an entire season.
News of the morning
Wall keeps churning, improving game — If you missed it a few weeks ago, our man David Aldridge did a great job of looking at the youthful-but-lottery-bound backcourts in the Eastern Conference that reside in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington. One of the stars of those backcourts, John Wall, has been on a tear since missing the season’s first 32 games with a knee injury and had perhaps his best game since his return last night against Memphis. Wall burned the Grizz for a career-best 47 points as Washington won to improve to 21-16 since Wall got back in the lineup. Brandon Parker of The Washington Post has more on Wall and his rapid rise:
After recording a career-high 47 points in Washington’s 107-94 win against playoff-bound Memphis, Wall is now averaging 25 points and 9.3 assists during his past nine games. The Wizards have gone 6-3 during that stint and are now 21-16 since Wall’s return from a leg injury.
“I believe in my ability,” Wall said. “I’m very confident and I think whenever you’re in your zone or you’re in a great rhythm like I’ve been in the last couple months, you don’t feel nobody can guard you no matter who it is.”
Wall’s 47 points against a strong defensive team like Memphis puts him on a short list with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. They’re the only two players to score more points than Wall in a game this season, with 54 and 52, respectively.
Before and after Monday’s game, Wizards Coach Randy Wittman touched on how he felt many have underestimated the transition Wall had to go through after missing the first 33 games with a knee injury.
“I think he’s showing you right now what he can be,” Wittman said when asked if Wall was a franchise player. “You don’t really understand what he went through this year. It’s tough to sit for three and a half months and not do anything. And then I get him, the doctor says I can play him and I throw him to the wolves.”
Wall has also shown patience with his jumper, steadily working to eliminate the hitch in his shot and add another dimension to a skill set built on speed and flash. By doing so, he also seems to be indirectly addressing the questions surrounding his value as a franchise and max-contract player.
“The work that he did all summer leading up to his injury in September is starting to pay off,” Wittman said. “And he’s continuing to do that work now. He’s 22. I think we’re beginning to see who John Wall can be.”
Injuries wreak havoc on Pacers’ roster — Last night against Atlanta, Indiana trotted out a starting lineup of D.J. Augustin, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green and Roy Hibbert — a group that had started zero games together. Although the Pacers won, they built a monster lead earlier in the game but had to sweat out a 100-94 victory in the fourth quarter. The unfamiliar lineups may be more of a common thing for Indiana as the season wears down thanks to injuries to the Pacers’ regular starters, writes Phillip B. Wilson of The Indianapolis Star:
Two more Indiana Pacers were affixed the dreaded “day-to-day” injury tag Monday as the starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson sat out against Atlanta at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hill, the starting point guard, is bothered by a left groin strain. Stephenson has a right hip flexor. The Pacers were also without starting forward David West (back strain) for a fifth consecutive game and 2009 NBA All-Star forward David Granger, who has played just five games as a reserve due to a seasonlong knee problem.
“George’s is probably more serious than Lance’s,” Vogel said before the game. “(Hill) still has a good chance of playing on Wednesday, (but) they’re more concerned with his groin than they are Lance’s hip.”
“David is going to be still day-to-day,” Vogel said. “There’s an outside chance he could play Wednesday, but not 100 percent sure. And Danny as well. Those guys both could see action in Texas.”
The tape on George’s left hand was gone, so perhaps that ends the All-Star forward’s pinkie pain. He had taped up his hand for the previous four games.
“They didn’t even tell me about it, that’s how much the trainers were worried about it,” Vogel said. “I didn’t even know about it.”
Lakers revert to bad selves — Don’t look now, L.A. fans, but your squad might be getting back into the funk that dogged the most of the season. After picking up wins this month against the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and scoring romps over the Magic and Kings, it looked like the Lakers were hitting their rhythm and locking in on a playoff berth. Then came the last three games, all of which have been losses, including last night’s defeat in Oakland to the Warriors. That loss, coupled with Utah’s win over Philly at home, trimmed L.A.’s lead for No. 8 in the West to one game. Worse yet, writes Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, the Lakers seems to be fracturing again:
Dwight Howard staring at teammates after their defensive gaffes.
Mike D’Antoni leading huddles that featured multiple players fragmented and away from the group.
Kobe Bryant shooting and shooting and shooting.
Just 10 days after the Lakers looked like a bonded team in their best road victory of the season in Indiana, they dropped back into their early-season mode of not doing the little things that make a team work together and lost to the Golden State Warriors, 109-103, on Monday night.
In a familiar refrain this season, the Lakers only tried harder once they were already being embarrassed.
Apparently the previous two games – losses to also-rans Phoenix and Washington – weren’t enough to get the Lakers’ attention. They lost their third consecutive game, their second since Bryant’s return from the left ankle sprain that limited him to advising teammates beautifully in Indiana.
Bryant scored 36 points but shot 11 for 27 from the field a game after D’Antoni came away steamed at the Lakers’ lack of ball movement in their home loss to the Wizards.
Bryant stressed the need for improved execution, especially in team defense, saying: “I don’t think it’s time to get emotional. Just got to maintain our poise.”
Said D’Antoni: “I don’t know if we have the speed sometimes to play harder.”
Howard got just eight field-goal attempts in 38 minutes and took three stitches to his lower lip from a David Lee elbow. Metta World Peace, the team’s iron man in an injury-filled season, sat out the second half because of a strained left knee. In his second game back from a foot injury, Pau Gasol was three steps slow at both ends.
Nuggets’ Karl shares his playoff idea — Although Denver’s 15-game win streak came to an end last night in New Orleans, the Nuggets’ streak has helped them elevate themselves from the No. 6-8 seeds in the West into the upper-crust of the conference. As it stands today, Denver is the No. 4 seed and would play Memphis in the first round with the Nuggets holding home-court advantage. But there are scenarios in place in which the No. 4 seed could end up as the team without home-court advantage in the first round. Nuggets coach George Karl has thoughts on that notion as well as the overall playoff setup in a playoff-based conversation he had with Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post and other area writers:
So basically, here’s Karl’s idea: The top eight teams from the Western Conference and the top eight teams from the Eastern Conference are put into a playoff pool. At this point, conference affiliation no longer matters. Instead, it’s all about record.
The team with the best record plays the team with the 16th-best record and so on.
And then, like he said, they reseed hockey-style for the next round. And so, the NBA’s “Final Four” could be four teams from the same conference — but, as proven by this system, perhaps the four best teams in basketball.
“I think it would get fans excited, man. It would be crazy,” Karl said. “And we travel with private jets now, so I think you can schedule it to where you’d get two days of rest between games. I think it would be really fun and interesting to see the matchups.”
So if you were commissioner, you would try to make this happen? Like, for real?
“I would advocate it,” he said. “I don’t know if the Board of Governors would pass it, but I would advocate it.”
After George had gone off the map with this idea, I chimed in with a thought — why not just get rid of conferences altogether? Why punish a team that’s ninth or 10th in the West that’s way better than, say, seventh and eighth in the East?
Promptly, Chris Marlowe from Altitude suggested that my thought was “Draconian,” and Karl himself said: “I think you’re going off the map.”
The coach had one other idea on Saturday. Cut the 82-game season to a 62-game season, and then in the middle of the season, “You can take a three-week break and have an NCAA-like tournament. Single elimination is a lot different than a seven-game series.”
World Peace pondering opt out after season — Metta World Peace is averaging 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg and shooting 40.5 percent — all numbers which make for his overall best statistical season with the Lakers since joining them as a free agent back in 2009. While World Peace has experienced a bit of a statistical renaissance, he is also carrying a weighty player option on his contract this summer and can choose to opt out of his deal. Given the new CBA world of the NBA, most players wouldn’t dream of such a move as it sacrifices a guaranteed payday for the uncertainty of free agency. But the Lakers have yet to use their one-time amnesty provision and there is thought that World Peace could be their selection this summer. Our man Scott Howard-Cooper has more on what World Peace may do this offseason:
World Peace has a player option for 2013-14, the final year of his contract, at $7.7 million. He said his agent, Marc Cornstein, will approach the Lakers about an extension, but that will be a very short conversation unless the 33-year-old small forward is willing to take a severe pay cut. And it may be short no matter what.
If World Peace does not terminate the deal, he immediately becomes a candidate to be cut under the amnesty provision. If he does terminate, likely (one would hope) after conversations with team officials to gauge the chances of getting more years at a lot less money annually, it is nearly impossible to imagine the Lakers committing more than two seasons on a new deal to maintain the possible cap room in the summer of 2014.
The choice for World Peace could be to risk free agency in what figures to be a cold market in 2013 or keep the final season of the contract in place at the $7.7 million and possibly have his Lakers career end before he wants. He could also stay in the deal and be traded as an expiring contract to an undesirable destination.
“I think my agent is trying to see if he can get an extension to stay here in L.A.,” World Peace told NBA.com. “I’m really excited about the possibilities of staying here in L.A.”
But would he take a pay cut to help make it happen?
“It’s too early to say those types of things right now,” he said Monday night at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors beat the Lakers 109-103. “It’s too early to say. I don’t know what the Lakers are thinking. I don’t know what anybody’s thinking. I don’t even know what other teams think. I don’t know what’s going on because I haven’t told my agent, ‘Hey, go out there and ask around’ and things like that. I don’t know what anybody’s thinking at this point in time. I just try to keep my game. I’m playing at a good level.”
ICYMI of the night: The move Steph Curry puts on Steve Nash makes the former MVP (an notoriously poor defender) look just silly on defense …: