Morning Shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant boosts his MVP case | LeBron: ‘Tough’ for Heat when Wade sits | Carter reflects on Toronto days | Belinelli picked Spurs because of Ginobili | Bradley injured in loss to Heat

No. 1: Durant boosts his MVP case with play vs. Blazers — If you’re a regular reader of our Kia Race to the MVP Ladder on this very website, you know that it’s been a back-and-forth battle between LeBron James and Kevin Durant for the No. 1 spot. Durant, though, may have helped get a couple more votes — not just in our eyes, but in the public’s as well — with his monster performance last night in leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a comeback win over the contending Portland Trail Blazers. Our own Jeff Caplan was on the scene and says that KD’s play sure looked MVP-like to him:

They’re piling on the Kevin Durant MVP bandwagon now as it barrels through Western Conference contenders with reckless abandon. Its latest victim, the Portland Trail Blazers, was left to dust off a 46-point onslaught and doff its cap as it rode out of town.

“The guy is the best player in the world right now. What can you say about him?” said Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, a salty defender who fended off the pain of a broken left middle finger better than he could Durant, the league’s runaway leading scorer halfway through the season. “When you watch him on TV, like, he is the best. When you guard him in the game, sometimes you have two guys on him and he makes the shot anyway.

“He’s the MVP. He’s the MVP,” Batum repeated, fiddling with his aching finger. “I mean, six years I have been in this league I have never seen a [performance] like that. Six years.”

Durant’s hot zone is the entire court. He blistered Portland for 11 points in the final 3:23, including a terrific drive through traffic and consecutive 3-point daggers from the top of the arc to give him six long balls on seven attempts. The Blazers’ 95-90 lead went up in smoke as did their lead in the Northwest Division. The Thunder (32-10), clamping down with an underrated or under-appreciated or simply under-talked-about defense, pulled out the 105-97 victory for their fourth consecutive win after briefly regrouping following Russell Westbrook‘s latest setback after Christmas.

They’ve knocked down Golden State, Houston, an improving Sacramento squad and now the Blazers (31-11).

Durant, classically and predictably, downplayed his brilliance and praised teammates for doing the hard work to set him up to finish things off.

“You know Perkins giving his body up for me, Serge [Ibaka] is giving his body up, Nick [Collison] and Steven [Adams] , our bigs are doing a great job of getting me open and, like I always say, it’s on me to finish,” Durant said. “So I have to put in the work before and after practice, shootarounds, in order for me to make those shots. My teammates do a great job of setting me up. It’s far more than just me; it’s a small part actually. What I do is more so plays coach [Scott Brooks] calls and the screens being set and the passes being sent. I think the end result is just on me, just trusting in the work and believing in the work to knock those shots down.”

“MVP performance,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I mean, to score 46 points on 25 shots, 6-for-7 from 3s; I think he got two of his shots blocked. I mean it was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered, he took his time, he didn’t force it, he just took what was there and made some great shots.”

“I just like our approach to the game,” Durant said. “We’re just playing hard. We’re moving the basketball. We missed some shots, but that happens. We’re just playing for each other. We just have to stick together no matter what. Defensively, I think we’re doing a good job of using our length. They hit some 3s and tough shots on us, but we haven’t gotten down on ourselves, we haven’t felt sorry for ourselves, we just kept playing and tonight is another case.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant dominates down the stretch vs. Portland

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No. 2: LeBron: ‘Tough’ for Heat to fill Wade’s void — NBA followers are well aware the Miami Heat have made a concerted effort this season to keep the knee of star guard Dwyane Wade as healthy as possible for a long playoff run. To try and make that happen, Wade often rests in the second game of back-to-back sets and, to date, Wade has missed a dozen games this season to rest his knee. But last night’s game against the Boston Celtics marked the first time this season Wade had intentionally missed three straight game. As Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes, LeBron James said before the game that not knowing Wade’s status each game is proving ‘tough’ on the Heat:

With Dwyane Wade missing his third consecutive game to rest his knees, LeBron James said Tuesday that it has been difficult establishing a collective rhythm amid the uncertainty about whether Wade would be available from game to game.

“It’s tough,” James said. “Guys think it’s easy, but it’s tough. We have a team built on chemistry, built on rhythm. With so many of the guys being in and out, and the concern with D-Wade, it’s been tough on all of us. We’ve got to go in with the mindset sometimes that he’s not playing, as opposed to: Is he playing?”

Wade has missed 12 games, but this marked the first time he has skipped three in a row. He admitted feeling “a little soreness” in the knees on Monday but wasn’t available to speak before Tuesday’s game. One of the games Wade missed earlier in the season was because of flu, with “rest” listed as the reason for the 11 other absences.

“What we try to do is not predetermine and have expectations about it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t predict it. You’re going to have some good days and some days where you don’t feel great. We know as long as we stick to the routine, he should get better, quicker and stronger. Now that we’re at home we can get back on the routine of strength training and conditioning.”

Miami entered Tuesday with a 5-6 record without Wade, compared with 11-2 last season and 14-3 in 2011-12.

“We’ve had a little more guys out than just Dwyane this year,” James said. “From a rhythm standpoint, it’s kind of hurt us. We’re a team that is built on rhythm and chemistry, and we’ve had so many guys out with injuries that it’s kind of hurt our performance.

“Me watching the film, some of the things we’ve been able to cover in the past is off. Last year, when D-Wade went out, we had Mike Miller to step in. Mike Miller was in the system for a while, so we could automatically fill that void. Now, with D-Wade out, it’s given more opportunities to guys that haven’t been in the system as many years or as many situations as Mike Miller.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about the Heat’s victory over the Celtics

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No. 3: Carter reflects on Toronto days — The Vince Carter era of the Toronto Raptors is one filled with mixed emotions for the player, the team and the fans. Carter burst onto the scene in the 1998-99 season and ran away with the Rookie of the Year trophy. From there came a memorable Dunk Contest performance, All-Star games, the Raptors’ first playoff series victory.  There were lowlights, to be sure, which led to acrimony between he and the team and ultimately led to him being traded during the middle of the 2004-05 season to New Jersey. As the Raptors prepare to host Carter and the Mavericks tonight, the swingman spoke with The Dallas Morning NewsEddie Sefko about his time in Toronto:

He’s as revered as any athlete in Toronto history who doesn’t play hockey, as evidenced by the dozen or so local reporters who wanted interviews with Carter after the Mavericks worked out at the Air Canada Centre practice court.

In short, he was basketball in this pucks-crazy town.

And Carter, in his second season with the Mavericks, has the memories embedded in his mind like snapshots.

“I remember when Vinsanity started, from an article [in the newspaper],” Carter said. “I remember when Half-Man, Half-Amazing started.

“I remember making the first basket here in history [at Air Canada Centre]. You can’t change that. Winning rookie of the year here, you can’t change that. Winning that dunk contest and putting Toronto on the [basketball] map, you can’t change that. Those are all historical to me. I put all three of those as one.”

At 37, Carter still gets airborne as well as some of the kids that have followed in his ozone layer. He threw down a remarkable dunk against Portland on Saturday, and he breaks out those jaw-droppers on occasion.

But when he walked into the Raptors’ practice gym, he could really appreciate the trip back in time to when his aerial “wow” moments were plentiful.

“Of all the times I’ve been back, this is probably just my second time to come back to the practice facility,” Carter said. “This is where everything was created. This is where it was all built. Me, the team, winning our first playoff game — this is where it started. This is where I can say Oak [Charles Oakley] grabbed me over there at the 3-point line and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make you a player in this league.’ That’s where the memories were made.”

Carter played for Toronto from 1998 to Dec. 17, 2004, when he was traded to New Jersey. Carter’s jersey will be retired someday by the Raptors. It’ll happen after his career is over. It wouldn’t be surprising if Toronto signed Carter to a ceremonial one-day contract so he could retire a Raptor.

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No. 4: Playing with Ginobili helped Belinelli pick SpursA quick look at the season leaders in 3-point percentage reveals that new Spurs guard Marco Belinelli is fitting in quite well in Texas. Belinelli leads the league in accuracy from deep and is in the top 30 or so of 3-pointers made. His shooting touch has proven key for San Antonio as it is among the West’s leaders in wins as the Spurs are again chasing the No. 1 spot in the conference. Dan McCartney of the San Antonio Express-News details how Belinelli has fit in with the team and explains how he passed on bigger offers because he wanted to play with his idol — Manu Ginobili:

To hear the involved parties describe it, Marco Belinelli’s free-agent signing with the Spurs was less a transaction than a match made in basketball heaven.Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, always on the prowl for smart, competitive players to plug into his hive-like collective, had long admired the Italian combo guard.

“He’s not afraid to take big shots. He’ll make big plays,” Popovich said. “When he became available at the end of last season, that was our main goal to try and sign him.”

Belinelli, meanwhile, said he had more lucrative offers than the two-year, $5.6-million deal he eventually signed with the Spurs. But the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the NBA, alongside long-time idol Manu Ginobili, was too good to pass up.

“I know money is important,” he said. “But I’m a young guy and I want to improve my game. Money will come. I just want to win.”

In no other area does Belinelli’s hoops IQ manifest itself better than his consistent ability to create space for himself by moving without the basketball.

Nearly 84 percent of his buckets are assisted, while he’s taken just five isolation shots all season — and missed them all. That’s a tribute to the Spurs’ emphasis on ball movement, and their wealth of willing passers. But Belinelli does his part with tireless movement, which results in more than 40 percent of his made field goals per Synergy Sports (defined as off screens, cuts and hand offs).

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No. 5: Celtics’ Bradley could miss next gameWith a combination of Rajon Rondo at point guard and Avery Bradley at shooting guard, the Boston Celtics can boast perhaps the best defensive backcourt in the game. However, Rondo has played in just three games this season (he returned from season-long ACL surgery and rehab on Friday) and is still getting his bearings on the court. But it seems that Rondo will have to work with a new running mate in the backcourt after Bradley suffered an ankle injury last night in Miami and could miss at least the next game, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

The Boston Celtics were having a tough time with the Miami Heat early on, and it only got rougher following Avery Bradley going down with a sprained ankle injury.The 6-foot-2 guard was unable to return as Boston went on to lose 93-86 to the Heat.

While it is unclear if Bradley will play in Wednesday’s game against Washington, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens didn’t sound too optimistic.

“He didn’t seem like he was walking great,” Stevens said. “If I had to guess, I’d say no (he won’t play) but it would be a guess.”

Bradley limped off the floor early in the second quarter and immediately headed to the locker room with team trainer Ed Lacerte next to him. Moments later, team officials said he would not return.The 6-foot-2 guard, who has started in all 43 games this season, has had an injury-riddled career up to this point.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Magic center (and Shootaround fave) Nikola Vucevic isn’t sure when he’ll return to the lineup Ricky Rubio has fun playing catch with little girl during the middle of last night’s Wolves-Jazz game … Warriors forward Andre Iguodala isn’t a big fan of playing in national TV games … Good look at the longstanding feud between Raptors fans and their former star, Vince Carter … Solid profile piece on Commissioner David Stern and his legacy in the NBA … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is pushing Taj Gibson for some Sixth Man of the Year love

ICYMI of The Night: Nets play-by-play man Ian Eagle makes just about any dunk call sound great and his label for Andray Blatche‘s slam over Kyle O’Quinn gives this dunk a little extra oomph: 


VIDEO: Andray Blatche powers home a jam over the Magic’s Kyle O’Quinn2014/01/21/20140121-daily-zap.nba

22 Comments

  1. okc2014-your not the only one impressed w/ the Celtics, but i’m not surprised. They play hard & hustle, they just got to be more consistent. On Vinsanity-top 5 prolific style player all time.
    GO CELTICS!

  2. okc2014 says:

    Correction, sorry: “How do you like THOSE apples!

  3. okc2014 says:

    Kevin Durant wins MVP! OKC2014! How do you them apples!

  4. okc2014 says:

    Am I the only one is impressed with the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics? Considering everything?

  5. Sid says:

    If the Raptors ever had a real superstar player on the team that provided success since Vince Carter then the idea of retiring his jersey would be ridiculous, but since the team hasn’t found anyone remotely close to as popular and gifted a player as Vince was in his raptors days then who else does the organization turn to when retiring a jersey. should the raptors just never retire anyones jersey ever. hes the only logical choice. VC really did put Toronto on the map that’s for sure.

  6. squala96 says:

    One can only wonder how the Raptors would have fared if Carter, McGrady and Bosh played together. But Toronto is like Denver; they’ve had superstars but never maximized them, losing them to other teams and never had a serious playoff run since. Whatever it was they had with Vince, they should have worked around it.

  7. Alex says:

    I am a raptors fan since I came to Canada in 1996, I used to love Vince but he let us down big time, it would be a slap in the face to give him any kind of recognition from the city and the country that he disappointed, I still remember his lack of desire to play the last year and half that he was here, he is just part of a group of players that at certain time of their carrier, when they are at the top think they will be there forever, they are so short sighted that dont see that there is life after basketball and legacy, I expect he will be booed everytime he touches the ball at the ACC, and Calderon – a true warrior- will be applauded

    • bball says:

      Vince Carter was a great player and had great years in TO. Near the end, he basically stopped trying and forced the Raptors to trade him away.

      • bball says:

        While Toronto fans have forgiven him somewhat and can now appreciate the good years he had with the Raptors, signing a 1 day contract to retire his jersey would be in bad taste. I don’t see it happening.

  8. rapsto says:

    are you insane? sign VC to a 1 day contract so he can retire as a raptor? clearly you have no idea how Toronto raptors fans feel about vince carter. Just because Vince, in more or less words, admits now that he was too young and stupid to understand what he was leaving in Toronto doesn’t change what happened. Maybe many years after his retirement when there is a new generation of raptors fans his jersey may get retired. But this generation will never allow him to be signed to a 1 day contract.

  9. dustydreamnz says:

    The Heat need LBJ AND D-Wade to win title. In 2006 D-Wade was a better player than he is now and Shaq was still going strong.

  10. Durant defines unguardable!! What a great guy on and off the court! And he doesnt cry, winge or moan like lebron! He makes a much better poster boy for nba than lebron! And a true modern day athlete! All he needs is a ring this year and maybe 2 or 3 rings in next 3 to 4 years to complete his goal as the best player in nba! OKC, Indiana and Portland, 3 young teams with bright futures which are going to be major threats in post seasons for next 3 to 5 years.

    • GO HEAT says:

      Too bad for these 3 young Teams maybe another season they might win. This year’s final AGAIN is—SPURS vs HEAT—by the way YOU ARE A LEBRON HATER, and you need to SHUT UP.

      You say, Duurant doesnt cry, winge or moan like lebron!——you’re right,

      Well Durant dosen’t have 4 MVPs, 2 RINGs, and 2 Final MVPs like LeBron.

  11. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    If Wade continues to struggle with his health, this might a HUGE impact on LeBron’s decision this summer…. The whole reason he came to Miami was to play with Wade… How bad are Wade’s knees going to be next year ? and the year after that ? … If this continues then I can see LeBron back in a Cavs uniform

  12. Red says:

    I don’t like Carter at all but he’s the best dunker of all time in my opinion.

  13. RapsLyfe says:

    That’s insane u get ur jersey retired for doing great things like winning! iv been a raptors season ticket holder since 95 and if I never see VC again it’ll be too soon!

  14. Name says:

    I think they should start keeping flops on the stat sheet.

  15. Dyron from Belize says:

    Bron you cry too much

  16. Dyron from Belize says:

    GOOOOOOOOO SPUUUUUURRS GO!

  17. realist says:

    Notice durant was in a 3 pt shooting slump since westbrook injury
    he was KEY WORD “WAS” 7-34 19 % and was still shooting 50 % fg
    def mvp and underrated defender

    • Pacers Eastern Champions says:

      Durant will win the season MVP, All Star MVP and the Finals MVP this season.. If Durant will continue to play at this level with or without R.Westbrook he could take as more as 5 to 6 MVP’s for he is only 25.. Lebron is turning 30 this year and he is almost done.. Lebron is getting old..

      If I’m the G.M. now I will take Durant over Lebron.. It’s very clear that K.Durant is more skilled than Lebron.. Durant CAN CARRY his team without Russel Westbrook but it’s very clear now that Lebron CAN NOT carry Miami without D.Wade.. Lebron stating that “Miami team is built with chemistry” I don’t think that Durant’s team is not built with chemistry.. if you are really a great player you have to step up and do everything with your skills and heart to make your team win just like what Kobe and MJ’s proves in the history.. If Durant continues to play at this level with or without Westbrook.. Lebron is done..

      • GO HEAT says:

        YOU ARE A LEBRON HATER

        Leberon is Right, Miami is built with chemistry. and of course he needs D-Wade and Bosh to carry Miami. If Durant don’t have chemistry with his teamates for the play-off, good luck for him winning a chanpionship. Because one thing I know is that, the play-off is not the regular season, one man cannnot do it all, it requires team chemistry, like Miami. Lebron does not need another MVP trophy, he has 4 already. All he needs is the 3rd RING. While Durant will see OKC eliminated in the second Round, just like last Season, Ha ha ha.