NEWS OF THE MORNING
Smith-Woodson tension boils in Charlotte | LeBron ‘jealous’ of Durant on offense? | Gasol’s return lifts Grizzlies’ spirits | Self-policing style marks Pacers’ success | Report: Clips may soon sign Turkoglu
No. 1: Smith sits vs. ‘Cats; Woodson mum on situation — Knicks swingman J.R. Smith was fined $50,000 by the NBA for his various shoe-untying incidents on Jan. 8 and since then, he has appeared in two of New York’s next four games, playing roughly 25 minutes in each game. Smith was a DNP-CD in the Knicks’ win over the Heat on Jan. 9 and was given the same treatment last night in New York’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Smith’s relationship with coach Mike Woodson can best be characterized as tense of late and things may be coming to a head after last night’s game. Woodson refused to answer questions about Smith’s lack of playing time while Smith himself says “communication from my end is over” with the Knicks. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more on the fallout from last night’s game:
The J.R. Smith-Mike Woodson feud escalated Tuesday, putting the future of the Knicks’ sixth man under a dark cloud.
Smith didn’t play again, but this time the Knicks didn’t win again and afterward he called the whole thing “ridiculous.’’
Woodson’s latest sending-a-message-to-J.R. ploy backfired on a night the Knicks needed a spark. But Woodson stuck to his guns and benched Smith, and the team’s five-game winning streak ended in a 108-98 defeat to the Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Wednesday is the first day Smith can be traded under a quirk in the NBA bylaws for 2013 free agents, but a despondent Smith had his bags packed for Indiana and flew with the club. His future, however, is in question as a viable member of the team after being benched for the second time in four games.
But perhaps the sneaker-lace caper was the final straw for Woodson and Knicks owner James Dolan, whom The Post had reported was already irate over Smith’s public complaint of being “betrayed’’ by the recent waiving of his brother, Chris Smith.
“For [the sneakers] to be the trigger point and for all this to happen is ridiculous,’’ Smith said in the quiet of the Knicks’ locker room.
Asked if he wanted to be traded, Smith said, “I’m not worried about that. I’m trying to fix what’s going on here.’’
Woodson, who sat Smith on Thursday in the win over the Heat, wouldn’t reveal what went into his latest decision to bench Smith after playing him in Philadelphia on Saturday and against the Suns on Monday.
“I’m not even commenting on J.R.,’’ Woodson said. “I just didn’t play him tonight, just didn’t play him.’’
When asked if Smith would play in Indiana on Thursday, Woodson said, “I’m not commenting on that.’’
Carmelo Anthony said he hopes Smith plays in Indiana.
“The only thing I could do is keep giving him positive energy,’’ said Anthony, his teammate in Denver. “That’s the only thing I could do. Whatever’s going on with him and Woody, they have to deal with that. Of course we missed him. He’s a big part of our team. Sometimes the way he goes, we go. We miss him. Hopefully this will be it.’’
No. 2: LeBron ‘jealous’ of Durant? — The battle for they mythical title of “best player in the NBA” in the minds of many fans is a two-man race between the Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. While James sports multiple MVP trophies, two NBA championships and two Finals MVP trophies, Durant has three NBA scoring crowns and something that James apparently wants: near-complete offensive freedom. In an interview with ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh, James says he wishes he could shoot as much as he likes in the Heat offense (much like Durant does for the Thunder):
“I get jealous sometimes when I look over at KD and he’s like 16-for-32 (from the field) and then 14-for-34. … Man,” James told ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh.
While the Miami Heat star is shooting a career-high 59.1 percent from the field this season, he is tied for just 18th in the league in field goal attempts (580) with an average of 16.1 per game.
With that kind of efficiency, James could stand to take more shots but explained, “I’m not much of a forced-shot guy.
“But there are games where I have it going, and then at the end of the game, I’m like, damn, I shot just 12-for-16? Why don’t I get up at least six or seven more? I definitely notice it.”
“First of all, you have to have an unbelievable mindset to get up 30 shots,” James said. “I always think about it, though. If I get up high-20s, 30 shots a game, what could I do today, with the way I’m playing?”
No. 3: Gasol’s return lifts Grizzlies’ spirits — Memphis, in short, has spent most of this season trying to rediscover the magic that made them a 56-win team and a Western Conference finalist last season. When All-Star center Marc Gasol suffered a knee injury on Nov. 22 that would lead to him being out eight weeks, Memphis went from a 7-6 team that evening to a 17-19 squad before last night’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But thanks to Gasol’s trademark passing and defense, the Grizz got a solid home win and are hoping things will pick up even quicker for them, writes Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal:
The shot clock running down, the ball found its way to Marc Gasol a good 20 feet from the hoop.
So he shot the thing. It went in.
Whereupon, Gasol laughed, headed back down the court, leapt in the air and — there is no other way to put this — slapped himself on the butt.
It was a joyful slap.
It was a slap of pure glee.
And let me just say that if any of you feel like leaping in the air and slapping yourself on the butt this morning, nobody will blame you.
Big Spain is back.
He played like the same grizzled guy you remember.
There was that set shot from 20 feet. There was a gorgeous high-low bounce pass to Mike Conley. But the most Gasol play of all may have come with 4:28 left, on the defensive end of the court.
Kevin Durant was eviscerating the Griz. He seemed bent on ruining the party. The Grizzlies were obliging him in this effort, letting him sail right to the basket.
“We got out of the way of four or five opportunities to take charges,” said Griz coach Dave Joerger. “You’ve got to step in there and take one.”
So Gasol stepped in there and took one. The guy with the bum knee. He went down, popped back up, and roared in triumph.
Gasol wound up with 12 points and four rebounds in 28 minutes. He will need some time to knock off the rust. But with that one play, he reminded everyone exactly what the Grizzlies had been missing.
“That was a big play by Marc,” said Joerger.
That was a huge win for the home team. Because now the Grizzlies are just one game under .500 and just three games out of a playoff spot.
No. 4: Pacers’ players, not Vogel, do the policing in Indiana — With last night’s blowout victory against the Sacramento Kings, Pacers coach Frank Vogel clinched the right to coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans. As much as the win was a milestone for Vogel and the rest of the Pacers’ brass, it also provided a prime illustration of how Vogel’s style and demand that the Pacers trust each other works for that team. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on the Pacers’ unique self-policing ways:
One of Frank Vogel’s best attributes as a coach is his unwavering belief in his players.
“It seems like we’ve grown together. I’m happy for him,” said Paul George, who will almost certainly join Vogel in New Orleans for the Feb. 16 All-Star game. “This is going to be a fun trip. I’m looking forward to being down there with him.”
Vogel does not have spend time shepherding egos, because he has shaped a locker room where the words “sacrifice” and “togetherness” spill from everyone’s lips. Neither does Vogel have to stay on Stephenson, the one Pacer most likely to explore the full range of his emotions for all to see, because he has empowered his players with responsibility over themselves.
Nearly 3 minutes had expired in the second quarter when Vogel stepped in and called a timeout to break up the momentum Sacramento was building with a 31-29 lead. On his way to the huddle, Lance Stephenson appeared rattled and fumed from an earlier pass he tried shoveling inside but that Ian Mahinmi couldn’t handle. So as Stephenson barked, Luis Scola followed his teammate back to the sideline and told him to cut it out. Then, David West took over, standing up with a menacing scowl and letting Stephenson hear it. Finally, Vogel and the coaching staff walked over. The players turned their attention toward his clipboard and listened. Back to business.
The scene described here does not color the Pacers as a divided team, but rather one that freely communicates and polices its own transgressors.
“We check each other,” West said. “Before it gets to the coaches, that’s something correctable by us. Obviously, we hold each other accountable and we coach each other up.
“I feel like that’s a good formula for success, so we go with it.”
This is the atmosphere that Vogel has worked so hard in developing since the day the ‘interim head coach’ tag dropped from his name. He might have been a relative unknown to the NBA back in 2011, but in Indianapolis, Vogel already had earned the respect.
“I came in here with him,” George said. “He’s the one dude I respect the most on this team. He’s really coached me through a lot of things and made me better as a player. So it’s amazing.”
“Frank has proven himself based on what he has done with this group,” West said. “Finding the right balance for this group, transitioning from assistant with some of these guys to taking on a different role as a head coach.
“He’s done his job and he’s done a good job in that.”
No. 5: Report: Clippers close to signing Turkoglu — Ex-Magic swingman and former Most Improved Player of the Year winner Hedo Turkoglu was cut by Orlando on Jan. 3, but since then, his name has been closely linked to the Clippers. It appears that his move to Los Angeles could happen as soon as today, as both ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markasi report a deal seems likely for Turkoglu:
The Los Angeles Clippers could be signing veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu soon, coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday.
“We could. We’re looking at him strong. I can say that much,” Rivers said.
The Clippers brought in Turkoglu for a meeting and a workout Thursday and liked what they saw. The Clippers signed point guards Darius Morris and Maalik Wayns to 10-day contracts last week. Their deals will expire before the Clippers’ start a 12-day, seven-game road trip Thursday, when Turkoglu potentially could sign.
“He made shots from everywhere,” Rivers said after the free agent’s workout. “He looked good. It was a good workout.”
Rivers and the Clippers have had their eyes on Turkoglu since he became available.
“I just like him as a player,” Rivers said last week. “I think he’s out there and we should look at him. I’ve always liked him. He can play [the] three and four. It’s a position that we can use in some ways, so we’re looking.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Does Oklahoma City need a more structured offense? … Cavs coach Mike Brown isn’t concerning himself with restricting Luol Deng‘s minutes … Surprise, surprise: Derrick Williams is just a little excited about playing the Timberwolves tonight … Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson are learning, slowly but surely, how to play together
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …: