NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: CP3 hoping to return for All-Star Game — L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul is a perennial All-Star now, but as a member of the (then-)New Orleans Hornets in 2008, he made his debut at the league’s showcase event. That the game was held in New Orleans that season was icing on the cake for Paul and is a memory that has stuck with him throughout the years. Paul, who is nursing a shoulder injury he suffered on Jan. 3, said he hopes to be able to play in this season’s All-Star Game (which, coincidentally is in New Orleans again), writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with a separated right shoulder, said he hopes to be back on the court in time for the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16 and would like to play in the game.
“If I can play, I’m going to play, I love to play that much,” Paul said Wednesday. “The All-Star Game is in New Orleans and that’s part of me. That’s where I played my very first All-Star Game at. Anytime you have that opportunity, I’m not going to pass that up because it’s not guaranteed to happen next year.”
Paul had been the leading vote-getter to start at point guard for the Western Conference before his injury, but has since been passed by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who is expected to be named the starter.
When Paul was injured, the initial timeline for his return was six weeks, which would put his return around Feb. 14, which could mean Paul’s first game back may be the All-Star Game.
“I think the goal is to make sure I get healthy,” Paul said. “Everybody knows how eager I am to get back and play and stuff like that, but at the end of the day you have to look at the big picture. When I’m ready, you’ll know.”
Paul said he’s making progress in his rehabilitation. He stayed in Los Angeles during the first half of the Clippers’ two-week, seven-game road trip but joined the team in Charlotte before Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
“I feel better,” Paul said. “I’m still trying to get the range of motion where I want it at. Right now, the only good thing about this thing is nothing happened to my legs so I’ve been able to do conditioning.”
Paul said his right shoulder is “still in the healing process,” but was happy to be back with the team after watching them on television for the past three games.
No. 2: Bulls, Gibson get better of Deng, Cavs in reunion game — Just 16 days ago, the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers completed a swap that sent forward Luol Deng to Ohio for some future Draft picks and such. Both teams have done pretty well since making the trade, with Chicago going 7-2 since Jan. 7 and the Cavs posting a 4-4 record during the same span. Last night, Cleveland hosted Chicago in what was Deng’s first appearance against his old squad and, despite some early talk from Deng, it was all Bulls all night long, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com:
They’d been asked for days, “What’s it going to be like?” “How would it feel?” “What would you say?”
So when Taj Gibson Wednesday in the Bulls anxiously awaited first game against former teammate Luol Deng got a defensive switch onto Deng, Gibson was ready.
“ ‘Lu, I know every move you want to do,’” Gibson chided the new Cavs small forward. “’I know you want to pump fake and make me jump in the air. I know all your moves.’
“ ‘All right,” came Deng the next time down court after Gibson forced Deng into a turnover. “’I’m going to turn it up. I’m about to play even harder.’
“Wow, Lu,” Gibson said he thought to himself.
But there would be no “wow” moments for Deng nor the Cavaliers as Deng had a quiet 11 points while Gibson with 26 points and D.J. Augustin with 27 points both matched career highs and the Bulls pulled away from a three-point game in the last three minutes to defeat the Cavaliers 98-87.
“It’s different than anything we imagined at the start of the season,” said Mike Dunleavy, who with Augustin made big threes down the stretch—four between them—as the pair combined for 18 of the Bulls 27 fourth quarter points. “But not a bad thing. This team has a lot of resilience and is playing well now. It’s all about the journey. It’s been a rocky one and it’s only half way. But we’re headed in the right direction. Which is most important.”
“One of things I respect about our team is they respond to every challenge,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “They have a lot of heart. They play smart and play hard and play together. Each day they have the right approach, not looking ahead or behind but concentrating on what they have to do to win. We’re shorthanded. We understand how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win. Someone is out, the next guy gets in there and does the job and what is necessary to win. So we don’t have to change plays or anything. Just go in and get the job done.”
It was a frustrating night for Deng in many respects. He was barely part of the offense, shooting two of 11 and rarely involved. He was the kid who had to go onto the other side in the schoolyard to fill out a team and play against all his buddies. With the kids who already had a team. Deng and the players had talked about it for days, and Deng went over before the game to hug Thibodeau and some of the players and coaches. Afterward, it was like a greeting line and Deng rushing to catch the Bulls bus before it left the arena for one last farewell. No, he didn’t get to go this time. Nor fare as well.
“Obviously I’ve never been traded,” said Deng. “It was weird. I said I wasn’t going to be emotional, but when I went over to hug Thibs, when I went over to the bench, that’s when it hit me a little bit. But when the ball went up, seriously, I knew what they were running the whole time. I knew what they were trying to do on defense. They just played great D.”
He expected that, however.
“I tried to really play the game within myself,” said Deng, who did look disengaged at times as it’s clear Cavs coach Mike Brown has no idea how to use him as yet. “I missed shots. I’m not happy with my performance. That’s a good defensive team. We’ve just got to keep growing. We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on as a team. I really believe that we can get there. We’ve just got to lock in. In terms of me, I could have played better. It would have hurt less if we got the win. Even if I shot the way I shot or played the way I played.
“As much as my ex-team was hyped up, we’ve got to understand that there’s a next game coming in two days,” said Deng, whose trying to be the Cavs Thibodeau. “What was this, my sixth game? Seventh game? Guys gotta get used to me. I’ve got to get used to some of the guys. When you play a great defensive team like that, they’re going to take away the easy point. They’re going to make you go into you second and third option. I thought tonight we settled for the first option.”
No. 3: Knicks may have hit rock bottom — Just when the New York Knicks likely thought things couldn’t get much worse, they likely have. Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers — one of the league’s worst teams — came into Madison Square Garden and delivered a 110-106 loss to the Knicks to send them to their third straight home loss and fifth loss in a row overall. What made this loss worse than perhaps any other, though, was reports of Carmelo Anthony reportedly cursing out a fan mid-game and the team being booed off the court in the game’s final minute. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more:
In the final minutes of another disastrous Knicks loss, a fan shouted at Carmelo Anthony “Nice defense, Melo.” According to an eyewitness, Anthony shot back “Go f— yourself,” drawing a reaction from other fans in the area.
After the game, a fan on Twitter wrote “Carmelo told me to F off. Huge Philly fan and I got in his head.’’
Yes, the Knicks have hit rock bottom. Beleaguered coach Mike Woodson defended his defensive schemes before the game and then the Knicks continued to prove they can’t master them in a horrendous 110-106 loss at the Garden to the rebuilding Sixers.
The Knicks dropped their fifth straight Wednesday as the Sixers racked up 61 points in the first half and held off a Knicks’ charge in the fourth quarter when they took a six-point lead and blew it.
“Right now we are so tight,’’ Woodson said. “I thought we played great offensively, but defensively we weren’t there. We gave up 110 points and that’s too much.’’
Asked about Woodson’s future, Anthony, who did not address any of the late-game heckling, remained ambivalent.
“As far as that, I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “I don’t listen to any of that stuff. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and it’s out of my hands.’’
Guard Evan Turner tore up the Knicks defense for 34 points as four of the Sixers’ starters scored at least 18. Meanwhile, Anthony looked disinterested for much of the night. He finished with an inflated 28 points, thanks to two late 3-pointers in the final seconds with the game out of reach.
No. 4: Jackson continues to torment Spurs — Oklahoma City point guard Reggie Jackson has gotten some well-deserved praise for his efforts this season in holding down the fort while Russell Westbrook recovers from injury. Jackson is in the midst of one of those stretches now and his play has been no less impressive than his earlier stint. In particular, though, Jackson has thrived against one of OKC’s nemesis in the West, the San Antonio Spurs. He finished with 27 points in last night’s win and came up big down the stretch time and again as Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman notes:
There’s something about that San Antonio silver and black. It seems to get Reggie Jackson going.
Jackson has scored 21 or more points in five games this season. Three have come against San Antonio. Combined in the three games, he has 71 points on 30-of-45 shooting.
He’s a confident young man,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s taking no prisoners, he’s not deferring to anyone, he’s not doing it gingerly, he’s being aggressive and he’s playing to win. That’s impressive.”
“And then secondly,” Popovich continued, “he’s made pretty darn good decisions. A young guy can come out, try too hard, try to do too much on his own, not find open people, but his decision making has been really good.”
No. 5: Celts lose Bradley for ‘a couple of weeks’ — As we mentioned in this space yesterday, the Celtics got a bit of an injury scare on Tuesday night when shooting guard/defensive stopper Avery Bradley went down with an ankle injury. That scare got a lot worse on Wednesday night as coach Brad Stevens told ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg that Bradley is now slated to be out a couple of weeks with the injury:
Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday that shooting guard Avery Bradley is “probably out a couple weeks” after spraining his right ankle during Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat.
Bradley planted awkwardly trying to defend Mario Chalmers near halfcourt early in the second quarter of Tuesday’s game. He arrived for Wednesday’s game in Washington wearing a walking boot and utilizing crutches.
Bradley had started Boston’s first 43 games of the season, averaging a career-high 14.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting over 31 minutes per game. Just three games after Rajon Rondo returned to game action, Boston will again be without its preferred starting tandem as Bradley recovers.
The Celtics have seen their backcourt depth eroded recently. Last week the team traded MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford to Golden State and excused Keith Bogans from the team due to his frustration with a lack of playing time. Jerryd Bayless, acquired earlier this month in another trade, is expected to miss more than a week after spraining a toe in his left foot in Sunday’s loss in Orlando.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on this later today, but here’s a report on who’s likely to be in the USA Basketball player pool … If you don’t like “Durantula” as Kevin Durant‘s nickname, The Oklahoman is open to your suggestions for a new one … Toronto’s Terrence Ross is already gearing up to defend his Dunk Contest title … Paul Millsap is taking on a bit of a leadership role with the Hawks …
ICYMI of The Night: Lots of great dunks on folks last night from the likes of Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Miles Plumlee (x2), Joakim Noah (scream included for free) and, of course, Earl Clark. But we’re going with a guy who was in the zone last night — Jeff Green — and his bucket that helped tie up the Celts-Wizards game late in the 4th: