NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Woodson mulling starting lineup changes — A 2-4 record after a 31-point blowout loss to the Spurs on Sunday has Knicks coach Mike Woodson pondering his starting lineup and how to make it more effective. The names that could join the fray? Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith. Woodson could start Smith tonight against the Hawks (8 ET, ESPN), which could change the role for either Pablo Prigioni or Iman Shumpert. As for World Peace, Woodson is still deciding whether or not to start him as well. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more on the potential changes:
At Tuesday’s practice, Smith wore the starter’s blue uniform while point guard Pablo Prigioni was in the white. In the past two games, Woodson has started two point guards — Prigioni and Raymond Felton.
Smith, the reigning Sixth Man Award winner, would replace either Prigioni or Iman Shumpert. If he replaces Prigioni, the team would have a three-guard alignment of Felton-Shumpert-Smith.
“I’m going to sleep on it tonight,’’ Woodson said. “I tinkered with some things today. I’ll sleep on it and make a decision [Wednesday].
“I’m just searching, trying to get a unit that starts the game on a good note. I thought we overcame that in the Charlotte game [Friday]. I’m hoping we don’t start the game where we’re down 15-20 points right off the bat.”
Woodson called Smith “a possibility’’ to start. Smith’s season debut Sunday in the 31-point loss to San Antonio was dreadful — five points, four turnovers — but Woodson had his eyes on making Smith a starter all offseason.
Asked about Metta World Peace joining the starting fray, Woodson didn’t rule it out. But Smith is a favorite of team owner Jim Dolan and since last May’s exit meeting, there has been a movement to promote him to starter.
“He’s only been back a game,’’ Woodson said. “Yes he was rusty the other night. We just got to be patient and help him grow to get him to play the way he’s capable of playing.
“I’m trying to get a good rotation down and I’ve had trouble with that,’’ Woodson added. “I haven’t found the rotations that I want yet. I’m going to work my butt off to get us to where we need to be.’’
No. 2: Lakers aren’t pondering Nash retirement — Former two-time MVP Steve Nash has played in just six of the Lakers’ nine games this season (although, in his defense, he was held out of a back-to-back set in an effort to help preserve him for the season). Still, Nash is now out at least two weeks with nerve root irritation and, overall as a Laker, has played in 56 of a possible 91 regular-season games with L.A. Some in Lakerland are calling for Nash to just hang it up, but as Eric Pincus and Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times report, the Lakers aren’t doing likewise:
“There’s always going to be a debate but we’re not going to debate it, talk about it,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said Tuesday. “He’s going to try to get ready, he’s going to try to play and we’re going to try to win. It’s really simple for us. It’s not real difficult.”
Nash has already missed three of nine games and is out at least two more weeks because of nerve damage in his back, the latest injury to hit him since he joined the Lakers.
But should he retire?
He makes $9.3 million this season and $9.7 million next season. If he’s found physically unable to play by Lakers back specialist Robert Watkins, Nash still receives full compensation.
The NBA would then do its due diligence, sending a league-appointed physician to verify the findings of Lakers doctors.
If the league signed off, the final year of Nash’s contract would be completely removed from the Lakers’ salary cap — as long as he played in fewer than 10 games this season.
The Lakers have nearly cleared their books for next summer: Nash, Robert Sacre ($915,243) and Nick Young ($1.2-million player option) are the only ones with guaranteed contracts.
Even if the NBA didn’t approve a Nash retirement, the Lakers could use their “stretch provision” to waive him next summer and spread out his final $9.7 million over three seasons.
For now, Nash will work to return to the court, with medical retirement an option only if he is truly unable to make it back.
“Steve will just have to get back as soon as he can and then we’ll see where we are,” D’Antoni said.
No. 3: Dwight says he’s overthinking free throws — In his 10 seasons in the NBA, Houston center Dwight Howard has led the league in free throw attempts four times and is on pace to do so again this season. It’s a common ploy opponents use against Howard, who is a career 57.6 percent shooter from the stripe. Howard says his reason for shooting so badly at the line is easy to figure out, though, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle reports:
Rockets center Dwight Howard has been a target this year for his sub-par free throw shooting. Opponents have gone to the “hack-a-Dwight” method to put the big man at the line.
After another poor performance from the line on Monday night against the Raptors (Howard was 4-of-12), he told reporters he just didn’t want to talk about free throws anymore.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Howard said. “So much has been talked about free throws, just let it go. We talk about it so much, I think about it at the line. I don’t want to think about it. I want to shoot.
“That’s what I do in practice. I shoot in practice and I dont miss because I am not thinking about it.”
Howard said that he is overthinking free throw shots in games, and missing them because of it. He said he is making up for the lack of free throws in other ways.
“I get in the game and I think so much that I tend to miss,” Howard said. “The best thing to do is to let it go. If I make it, I make it. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Even if I do miss, I will be out on the other end, playing defense, getting rebounds, blocking shots and paying back for fouling in that way.”
No. 4: Sullinger OK after having MRI on knee — Since his days as a standout performer at Ohio State, Celtics big man Jared Sullinger has dealt with recurring back injuries and issues. That was the case in his first NBA season as well as a back injury sidelined him after just 45 games. He’s been off to a good start this season, averaging 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds as a valued reserve for the surprisingly successful Celtics. Sullinger banged knees with Orlando’s Maurice Harkless during Boston’s 120-105 win on Monday and needed an MRI yesterday, but the results look good, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:
Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger underwent a precautionary MRI on his right knee at New England Baptist Hospital on Tuesday and the results revealed a bone bruise, according to the team. Sullinger is listed as day to day.
Orlando’s Maurice Harkless slammed hard into Sullinger’s right knee, forcing Boston’s second-year forward to crash backwards late in the first half of Boston’s 120-105 triumph. Sullinger did play 14 minutes, 33 seconds in the second half. He sat out practice Tuesday and departed with trainer Ed Lacerte near the end of the session.
“He’s got a sore knee and they are doing an MRI just to check out and see what’s wrong,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Nothing conclusive, and certainly day to day it sounds like they are looking at, but we just don’t know yet, so we want to make sure.”
If Sullinger is unable to go, it would likely mean an elevated role for veteran Kris Humphries, who has played well (second best on the team at plus-27 overall) in small bursts while waiting for an extended opportunity.
No. 5: Nowitzki climbs the all-time scoring ranks — With his 3-pointer late in the third quarter of Dallas’ eventual victory over Washington, Dirk Nowitzki surpassed NBA legend and Hall of Famer Jerry West for No. 16 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Our own Jeff Caplan was on hand for the event and points out that Nowitzki can still pass more names on the list while also etching a unique place in NBA history as well:
Nowitzki, in his 16th season, now has 25,197 career points. With West’s 25,192 points behind him, Reggie Miller’s 25,279 points is reachable likely within the next three to five games. Soon, only 14 players will have scored more points than the big German, and only a handful are safe from Nowitzki’s final charge over the next few seasons.
“It’s another great milestone, but for now, got to keep working and that’s really about it,” said a rather subdued Nowitzki, whose re-tooled Mavs improved to 5-3. “Like I always say, all these milestones are great once my career is over.”
Nowitzki is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer among international players. Houston Rockets Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, a native of Nigeria, leads that group. The Dream sits No. 9 all-time with 26,946 points. Nowitzki can catch him this season if he averages 21.3 points over the next 74 games.
He’s currently averaging 18.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Nowitzki is in the final year of his contract, but has said he plans to play another two or three seasons, and his intention is to do so with the Mavs.
Seemingly the only thing that can keep Nowitzki, 35, from finishing in the top eight, at least, on the all-time scoring list is health. He’s been extremely durable throughout his career, but has experienced right knee troubles the past few seasons, needing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee prior to last season.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The little brother of Knicks guard J.R. Smith, Chris Smith, is being paid $2 million as an NBA D-League player, by far the richest amount in the league … Warriors guard Toney Douglas is out 2 weeks with a stress reaction to his left tibia … Bulls have brought in ex-Warriors and Bobcats forward Reggie Williams for some workouts … Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge has an interesting way of keeping pressure on himself …
ICYMI Of The Night: Monday night, we saw a veteran (Marvin Williams) get posterized by another veteran (J.J. Hickson). Last night, a rookie (Jeff Withey of the Pelicans) got victimized by a veteran (Lakers swingman Xavier Henry), and the results were just as vicious …