NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Brown not about to overreact to Cavs’ slow start — The Cavs remade their roster in the offseason, bringing in center Andrew Bynum, stable veteran guard Jarrett Jack and versatile forward Earl Clark as the highlights of their free-agency remodel. With those moves on the dockett, plus having an All-Star guard (Kyrie Irving) in the fold and the return of rebounding maven Anderson Varejao from injury, Cleveland was thinking a playoff run was a near sure-thing. Yet the Cavs awake this morning with a 4-8 mark, second-worst in the Central Division, and haven’t looked anything like a postseason contender. Despite the early struggles, coach Mike Brown isn’t about to hit the panic button on the season, writes Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & Morning Journal:
Even though there’s panic running rampant throughout the fan base, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown isn’t about to follow suit.
His team has lost four of its last five games and is embarking on a rugged two-game trip this weekend.
The Cavs (4-8) are 1-6 on the road this season.
His biggest obstacle is getting his team to compete.
Playoff projections seem almost absurd after the way the Cavs have started the season.
But Brown isn’t about to overreact.
“It’s too early for that,” Brown said after practice on Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Don’t get me wrong — we want to win games while we’re going through this process. Nobody likes to lose. But I don’t know if I’m a guy who would panic, anyway. What does panicking do for you?
“I’ve got a job, and my job is to help this team get better and try to win games. If I panic, they’re going to panic, and it would just be chaotic. I don’t care where we are. I’m not going to do that.”
“There should be a lot of expectations,” he said. “I didn’t take this job to just say, ‘I’m OK getting 10th, and that’s an improvement from last year.’ I took this job because I think we can get to the playoffs. Is it going to be a process? Yes. Is it going to happen overnight? No.
“I didn’t take the job to hope that there wouldn’t be expectations placed upon us, because that’s what you play for. You play to compete. We’ve just got to bounce back.”
After their 98-91 loss to Washington on Wednesday, Cavs guard Jarrett Jack said the coaches shouldn’t have to nudge players to compete.
“There’s no remedy to effort,” he said. “That’s the one thing you control. It’s nothing Coach can do. Nobody should have to ask anybody to play hard.”
“You can’t buy into anything if you don’t put forth the necessary effort for it to be successful. At this particular point, that’s our biggest problem. One through 15, it’s something we all have to get control now, or we’re going to lose control of this before it’s too late.”
Jack said playing hard is not an acquired taste.
“We’ve got to grasp a hold of that concept, because playing hard is a skill,” he said. “It’s not anything anybody can teach you, but bringing it each and every day is a learned skill that you have to have in this league in order to be successful.”
No. 2: Dolan gives Woodson a vote of confidence — The Knicks, much like the Cavs, haven’t lived up to their lofty expectations so far this season. A 3-8 record and talk of panic from one of the team’s better players are proof that things aren’t going so hot in New York. When things start this slowly — especially in a media fishbowl of a town like the Big Apple — talk turns to the man leading the troops, in this case Mike Woodson, and whether or not he’s lost the team. Knicks boss James Dolan, however, answered that question (and many others about the future of the Knicks) in a wide-ranging interview with the New York Post‘s Mike Vaccaro:
MV: I’m sure you heard the chants that have already started to fire Mike Woodson, which comes with the territory, naturally …
JD: Yeah …
MV: How patient will you be with him? He understood when he took the job the expectations that go with it. Will you give him a long rope?
JD: I have a lot of confidence in Woodson, and one thing I can say about Mike is he has the respect of all the players. They all respect him. And he treats them fairly and relatively equally, and that’s part of where the respect emanates from. And those are hard things to get from a coach. When a coach loses a team … that’s when a coach is kind of done.
MV: The Knicks started 18-5 last year and it didn’t end the way you wanted it to; at this point I assume you’d flip that script?
JD: You know what? I wouldn’t take last year’s team for this year’s team, because this year’s team is more designed to be a playoff team, whereas last year’s team was 18-5 but look who was playing: we had Rasheed Wallace who was doing everything for us, right? And we just started losing player after player … by the time we got to the playoffs that 18-5 team wasn’t the team that was playing in the playoffs. If they were I think we would’ve beaten Indiana.
MV: So this bad start …
JD: It’s going right according to plan (laughs) …
MV: Do you think you’re a good owner?
JD: Yeah. I do.
JD: I think I watch out for my fans. I try to give them a good product. I care for the teams. I’m emotionally involved and intellectually involved. I think an owner needs to be present. When an owner is not present that’s when things tend to go awry. The players, the coaches, the fans know there’s somebody in charge. They may not like what I’m doing but it’s much better than having nobody there. Nobody there just leaves you in despair.
MV: For Knicks fans there’s one word that riles their passion more than any other: Isiah.
JD: Amazing, isn’t it?
MV: And you surely know the panic that ensues when a Glen Grunwald gets fired and people wonder, “Is Isiah coming back?”
JD: I can’t control what’s in other people’s minds. I can tell you that he’s a friend of mine. We speak, but not as often as we used to because he’s really involved in other things now. We’ll message back and forth once in a while. We used to talk a lot more often. He seems to be moving into another phase of his life, he’s not as basketball-centric, he’s doing a lot of charity work, he got his masters [in education, from Cal-Berkeley], he actually uses me to bounce business ideas off of …
MV: Do you still consult him, too, about basketball ideas?
JD: Not really. For Isiah, I don’t know that he’ll ever be able to work in New York. I just don’t know that he’ll ever get a fair shake, going forward in New York?
MV: If you could take a mulligan on the $100 million Amar’e contract …
MV: Because the first year was that important?
JD: We would not be where we are today without Amar’e. That summer, the summer of “The Decision,” there were a whole bunch of free agents, and the guys put their thing together in Miami, and Amar’e agreed to come to the Knicks, gave us a launch pad by which we could convince the other guys like Tyson [Chandler] to come, and ultimately Carmelo to come play with us. Do I think Carmelo would have come if we didn’t have Amar’e? No, I don’t think he would’ve. These free agents, when you get to this level of player — the Carmelos, the LeBrons, the Durants — the first thing they want before the money or anything else is to be on a winning team. They’ve got to believe they have a shot.
MV: So does it sadden you to watch him in a diminished state?
JD: I still have hope. You cannot ask for a guy to be more dedicated, more disciplined, than Amar’e. He does his rehab, he does his workouts, he does everything, he’s on it every day, and that’s worth a lot, too. If there’s justice in this world, his knee will heal up to the point where he can play more minutes and make the contribution he wants to make.
MV: What are your impressions of Mikhail Prokhorov?
JD: I don’t get to see him much but he clearly wants to win, which is a good thing. He’s the only guy paying more taxes than we are which is a club I wouldn’t necessarily want to be part of with him (laughs). I think he wants to win, I know he wants to win, he wouldn’t be putting the resources in that he is otherwise. But, I mean, he’s still my competitor. As a person I kind of know him, I’ve had lunch with him but other than that I don’t really know him well.
MV: One thing you share is that you’ve both expressed belief your teams can win a title this year. Do you really believe the Knicks can or was that just a usual declaration of high expectations?
JD: I think this team can win a championship.
MV: As presently constituted?
JD: I think there are a lot of teams that could win the championship this year. I think the Clippers can win. Are they going to? I hope not. I hope we win the championship. I think we have the pieces in place to do it. The skill level is there but there’s so much more to the game than that, and it’s really in the hands of the players. They have to believe in themselves, they have to put in the work, the effort, the discipline, they have to listen to the coach, they have to execute a strategy and put an effort in every game. And they have to get themselves to be the best team they can be at the end of March. It’s OK right now not to be the best team you can be. Last year by the end of the year we were struggling. I’d rather see it go the other way. I’m not happy, believe me, about the record where it is now. But the warts that are showing up now are things you can work on, things you can fix. Now you test the character of your team to see if it’s willing or able to do that, if the coach is able to do that, to make those fixes. Can they win the championship? Yes. They definitely can win the championship. There have been other championship teams that weren’t nearly as talented as this one. But they had something that this team needs to develop.
No. 3: Pistons working to improve pick-and-roll defense — A quick jaunt over to the NBA.com/Stats tool reveals that the Pistons have struggled to keep opponents from scoring in the paint, which may be coming as a direct result from Detroit’s problems slowing down the pick and roll. After a 93-85 loss to the Hawks in Atlanta, Detroit’s big names say locking down the defense on that play has become a top priority from here on out, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:
Josh Smith says the Detroit Pistons need a little more physicality.Maurice Cheeks and Greg Monroe say the Pistons are physical enough.
But all three agree the Pistons must get better at guarding the pick-and-roll. That was theme yet again in the Pistons’ latest loss — a 93-85 loss Wednesday to the Atlanta Hawks in Smith’s return to his hometown.
The Hawks shot 50.7% from the field, and the Pistons’ defense is last in the NBA in allowing opponents to shoot 48.5%.
The Hawks’ very first play featured a pick-and-roll from Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Paul Millsap. Millsap set the pick and rolled to the basket without any resistance where Teague found him for an easy lay-up. Andre Drummond was way late to provide help.
“It’s multiple things,” Monroe said. “I think we have to guard it with more than two people.
“In this league, there will be a lot of plays where they might beat those two people, but it’s the second line of defense that we’re having a little bit of trouble with.”
Cheeks pointed out it’s tough to provide another defender when you are concerned with spot-up three-point shooters such as the Hawks’ Kyle Korver.
But maybe things should be simplified. The team can try to adjust to personnel, but maybe they should just have a couple coverages to eliminate confusion.
No. 4: ‘Foreign Legion’ working wonders for Spurs — The Spurs, like last season, find themselves at the top of the Southwest Division thanks to the play of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, right? Well, not exactly. San Antonio has surged to the top of the division standings and is among the West’s best because of that star trio most know, but moreso because of their bench play, which has affectionately been dubbed the ‘Foreign Legion’ by Dan McCartney of the San Antonio Express-News:
Depth has long been a Spurs hallmark, particularly during their recent ascent back among the league’s elite.It isn’t just a luxury. With Tim Duncan approaching 40, Manu Ginobili not far behind and Tony Parker coming off a grueling summer of international hoops, having a strong bench capable of providing an assortment of options is absolutely essential in their quest to capture another championship.
“It’s something we depend on,” head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs beat Boston going away on Wednesday, 104-93. “We’ve got a good, focused second group. They play very aggressively. We look for that and we need it.”
They certainly got it against the Celtics, dominating the battle of the bench 34-16 to account for the winning margin and more. It was another strong performance from a unit that ranks fourth in bench scoring (39.7 points per game), total production and production differential.
The bulk of that output is provided by the Foreign Legion of Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills, who have combined to break open numerous games already. Not just a collection of cool accents, they have the No. 6 plus-minus, at 16.6 points per 100 possessions, among 20 four-man lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together, and the second-best among units that do not include either Duncan or Parker. Their collective offensive rating of 117.2 points per 100 possessions is 14 points higher than the team’s average.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki is donating $20 for every 2-pointer the Mavs make this season to help fund research on a rare disease called Hunter syndrome … Mike Dunleavy is the new starter in Chicago while Jimmy Butler is on the shelf … Magic swingman Arron Afflalo may be making a quiet push for an All-Star spot …
ICYMI Of The Night: Kenneth Faried, aka “The Manimal”, has always been a favorite around these parts …