NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Celtics gearing up for Rondo’s return — The last time Rajon Rondo played in a game for the Boston Celtics, it was a 123-111 loss on the road to the Hawks on Jan. 25, 2013. Since then, much has changed around Boston, including the departure of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as the team has undergone a complete roster overhaul. But barring any unforeseen setbacks this morning and afternoon, Rondo will make his 2013-14 debut for the Celts as they host the Lakers tonight (7:30 ET, League Pass). Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com has more on what to expect from Rondo tonight in terms of minutes played, his role and more:
Fifty-one weeks have passed since Rondo has walked onto the court as Boston’s starting point guard. That streak will finally come to an end tomorrow, but as team president Danny Ainge warns, we should not think that Rondo’s fight is over.
“What I’ve seen throughout my professional basketball career is that the ACL injury is something that every player has to overcome and come back mentally, not just physically,” Ainge told reporters on Thursday. “So I anticipate some adjustments and just getting used to playing and confident in playing and returning to the player that he was.”
As you might expect, Brad Stevens is on the same wavelength as his boss. Stevens views tomorrow’s game as the next step in Rondo’s rehabilitation.
“I don’t think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo tomorrow,” Stevens said. “This is part of this process to getting back to full go, and now the next step is to play a maximum number of minutes in a game.”
That maximum, according to Stevens, will be approximately 18-20 minutes per game. Ainge stated that Rondo would play about five minutes a quarter, but it sounds as if Stevens and Rondo will have the final say as to how those 18-20 minutes will be used throughout the game.
…“I think it’s just guys feel more comfortable in where they are, the position they’re in,” said Stevens. “I think people will be in position to take advantage of their best strengths, and hopefully that continues as Rondo gets into games, but in practice, it’s clearly shown itself true that he kind of lifts everybody around him.”
Come Friday, Rondo will finally have an opportunity to make those adjustments in live game action. He will play 18-20 minutes, and he’s bound to make an enormous impact on the game.
That being said, we all need to temper our expectations for Rondo in the immediate future. This is a guy who hasn’t played a basketball game in a year, and he plays what could easily be described as the most challenging position in the NBA.
There will be some moments in which Rondo will not look like his old self. That’s an inevitable part of this process. If you’re in Ainge’s boat, though, you don’t expect those struggles to last for very long.
“I anticipate him coming back quicker than any of us think,” Ainge confidently stated. “He’s a guy that I think will fight through the adversity.”
No. 2: Prokhorov defends himself, Nets coach Kidd — Since taking over as owner of the Nets franchise back in 2010 when he bought the team for $200 million, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has been outspoken about his team, taken a couple of shots at the crosstown New York Knicks and gone as far as to promise Nets fans a title before too long. But Prokhorov also maintains a mostly hands-off approach to the team — at least in terms of being visible at every game — and has taken flak for that in the media. He addressed that complaint, as well as the barbs that have directed at coach Jason Kidd this season, as he met with the media in London before yesterday’s Nets-Hawks game at the O2 Arena. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News has more on what Prokhorov had to say:
The Russian billionaire, making his first appearance around the Nets since the season opener, predictably backed coach Jason Kidd and threw in his usual witty one-liners during his first session with Nets reporters since July. But Prokhorov changed his tone, if only briefly between jokes about a Soviet author and carrier pigeons, when asked about whether he’ll attend more games in Brooklyn. The Moscow-based businessman went to several games last season after being a no-show for the entire 2011-12 campaign.
“Frankly speaking, there’s a lot of criticism that I am not in Brooklyn. But I just have a question for you: Do you really think you need me sitting in the arena to see a game?” said Prokhorov, noting that he has been busy preparing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi as the president of Russia’s Biathlon Union. “My friends, we are living in the 21st century. And in spite of the fact I have no computer, I still have a subscription for NBA games and, for me, it’s like enough to even have a look on the stats so you can understand what is going on. …So like I’m full in, I’m all in for this team and I think it’s the only way how to reach championship.”
Despite the team’s high expectations and abysmal start, Prokhorov said he never thought about making a change – a contrast to last season, when he fired Avery Johnson after a 14-14 start. Prokhorov hinted again that Johnson lost the locker room, while Kidd has maintained control in the midst of a 15-22 record before Thursday’s game against the Hawks.
“What is more important is that Jason Kidd is becoming more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players,” Prokhorov said when asked about the difference between coaches. “And that’s the only way how we can conduct together. So everything is okay because, of course, we can’t make any excuse with injuries. And what I’m glad to see is the players stepping up in the situation. Now everything is more or less okay.”
Prokhorov said he even called Kidd after a bad loss, urging him to ignore the critics in the media.
“I told him about a very famous Russian writer is Mikhail Bulgakov, who said, “Don’t read Soviet papers before breakfast,’” Prokhorov said. “In other words, so don’t pay any attention for what they are writing about. So just keep doing your job.”
On Friday, Prokhorov was more cautiously optimistic than brazen, though clearly encouraged by the stretch of five wins in six games before Thursday. He also seemed to back away from his light-hearted guarantee that he’ll get married as punishment if the Nets don’t win a championship by 2015, saying, “Time will tell. We’ll see in a year.”
“Of course at the beginning (of this season), I wasn’t jumping over the moon. But it’s a sport. It’s a procedure. And now the team is playing much better. So we’re on the right way,” he said, adding later about his championship guarantees, “I still think we have a chance to be a championship, if, of course, stars align. I think we like sport because, of course, it is unpredictable. So it’s unpredictable, but possible.”
No. 3: Smith back in Knicks’ lineup; Stoudemire, Martin injured vs. Pacers — The latest turn in the well-documented J.R. Smith/Mike Woodson saga in New York wasn’t much of a turn at all. Smith, who has been in out of the coach’s rotation for the last week or so, played 27 minutes in the Knicks’ blowout loss to Indiana. He had previously been benched during New York’s loss to Charlotte days earlier. Bigger news for the Knicks, though, may be more injuries: forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin both suffered them in last night’s game, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
J.R. Smith’s one-game benching ended on Thursday, but while he returned, the Knicks may have lost three others. Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin both sprained their left ankles during the 117-89 loss to the Pacers, and neither forward will be available for Friday’s home game against the Clippers. There is a strong possibility that Stoudemire and Martin will miss multiple games.
Also, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. re-injured his surgically repaired left wrist but indicated that he will play Friday. X-rays came back negative.
The more immediate concern is the health of Stoudemire, who has played well over the last three weeks, and Martin, one of the Knicks’ top defenders.
“Amar’e sprained his ankle really bad,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Kenyon said his ankle felt different than it did before. We lost two of our big guys. We’ve got a couple other big guys out there that we’re going to have to utilize.”
Early Thursday, Woodson indicated that Smith would likely play.
“There’s nothing (that) needs to be said,” Woodson said. “I expect J.R. to be a pro and concentrate on playing basketball. That’s why he’s wearing a Knick uniform. That’s any guy on this team. It’s a privilege to play in this league. You got to do all the necessary things, the right things on and off the court to be a pro in this league.
“I don’t take coaching for granted. I don’t think any player should take it for granted. When he’s in uniform, his job is to play. When he’s out of uniform, his job is to concentrate on being a pro and playing basketball. It’s as simple as that.”
No. 4: Oden says knees are ‘fine’ after first game action — The top NBA story Wednesday night and into Thursday, perhaps, was the successful (albeit brief) return Heat big man Greg Oden had in Miami’s loss to the Washington Wizards. Oden was playing in his first game since 2009 and although he was on the court for just eight minutes, most around the league were happy to see the oft-injured former No. 1 pick playing healthy again. He took part in yesterday’s Heat practice and says his knee is doing well after seeing some full-speed NBA action, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:
Miami Heat center Greg Oden emerged from his first NBA regular-season game in more than four years with no significant pain or swelling in his troublesome knees, and will be re-evaluated before his status is determined for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Oden, the No. 1 draft pick in 2007, was back on the court Thursday, a day after his productive and encouraging seven-minute stint during the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards in Washington. The Heat had a lengthy film session before players took the court for individual workouts at Temple University on Wednesday. Oden wasn’t involved in any scrimmage work, but did participate in some light conditioning and shooting drills.
After the workout, Oden said his knees responded “fine [with] no swelling” from his first meaningful game action since Dec. 5, 2009, when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden finished with six points and two rebounds in eight minutes in the 114-97 loss to Washington. He started the second half after initially entering late in the second quarter.
“It’s nothing I can’t manage,” Oden said Thursday of the minor soreness he attributed to general wear and tear from playing in a game. “I’m just looking forward to playing in the next game. I got to play in a game. That’s what it really is, when you’re able to battle and be out there. I would have loved for us to win and say I was able to give us a spark. But you just move on to the next game, and hope I can play.”
Oden’s performance Wednesday provided a bit of a spark for the Heat, who trailed Washington by as much as 34 points in the first half before they cut the deficit to nine. However, they couldn’t get any closer on the way to their third straight loss. With the Heat trying to search for answers to their recent poor play, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden was a bright spot.
“We were all very happy that he was able to get out there and compete, even for a short period of minutes,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “We know the struggle that he’s been in, and just to see the smile … we allowed one guy to have a smile on his face after [Wednesday’s game], and that was Greg.”
But Spoelstra also said it’s too soon to know what, if any, role Oden will have in the rotation at this point. Oden remains on a specific training regimen designed to improve his conditioning as well as to strengthen his hips and the leg muscles around his knees.
He paused for a few seconds when asked Thursday if he’s reached the point where he can trust his knees to hold up in his latest and most extensive comeback.
“Honestly, when I was out there [Wednesday], I didn’t even think about my knees,” Oden said. “So it’s just a matter of if they feel good. I’m not worried about what’s going to happen. I’m worried about just getting out there and playing.”
No. 5: Durant responds to James’ comments — Earlier this week, ESPN.com published a story in which Heat star LeBron James said he is at times ‘jealous’ of the offensive freedom that Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant enjoys on offense. Last night, Durant took the time to briefly address James’ comments — which he had heard — and didn’t seem too worried about what James can or cannot do in Miami, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
Kevin Durant tried to act as though he hadn’t seen or heard LeBron James’ latest comments about him.”What he say?” Durant asked, rhetorically.
“How can I not see it? It’s been on CNN. It’s been on ABC, FOX Sports. Man, it’s been everywhere. Ya’ll blowing that out of proportion, man. I mean, I’m pretty sure, matter of fact, I’m 100 percent sure LeBron can do whatever he wants.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Apparently, not even the Rockets themselves knew just how awful they were in the second half of their loss to OKC on Thursday night … Ex-Hawks big man/tough guy Ivan Johnson, who has been toiling in the Chinese Basketball Association, is drawing interest from Atlanta … Celtics assistant coach Jamie Young plans to run in the Boston Marathon … ICYMI yesterday, the NBA unveiled the All-Star Game uniforms for this year’s contest. Our own Lang Whitaker breaks ’em down … Should the Pacers try to sign Andrew Bynum if for no other reason than to ensure the Heat don’t pick him up? …
ICYMI(s) of The Night: Pacers fans (and Knicks fans) surely have their own good (or bad) memories of Carmelo Anthony driving to the rim for a dunk in the 2013 Eastern Conference semis and Roy Hibbert stopping it. But, in case that moment was foggy for anyone, there was a nearly identical recreation of it last night: