NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Paul expected to return to lineup Sunday — The L.A. Clippers have held up pretty well since All-Star point guard Chris Paul went down with a shoulder injury on Jan. 3, going 11-6 during that stretch. They’ll likely be happy come Sunday, though, as Paul is expected to be back in the starting lineup, writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
Point guard Chris Paul, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with a separated right shoulder, likely will return to the starting lineup Sunday when the Los Angeles Clippers play the Philadelphia 76ers.
Paul has been participating in contact drills and shootarounds, but the Clippers have not had a full practice in almost two weeks, preventing him from practicing with the team.
The Clippers canceled practice Thursday and are expected to sit Paul for Friday’s game against the Toronto Raptors. If Paul practices Saturday without any problems, he will play Sunday.
“He did some one-on-ones today at shootaround and looked pretty good, so I think he’s very close,” coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. “I don’t think he’ll play Friday but he could play after that. He took contact today in one-on-ones, but it’s still not a 5-on-5.”
VIDEO:Doc Rivers talks about how Chris Paul is healing up and more
No. 2: Lillard embracing his busy All-Star weekend — As of a week ago, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard locked up his first All-Star berth when he was named as a Western Conference reserve. Apparently, just playing in the NBA’s showcase event wasn’t enough for him as Lillard yesterday was announced as a participant in All-Star Saturday’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout. In short, Lillard is going to be a busy guy in a week or so, but tells USA Today‘s Sam Amick he’s more than looking forward to a jam-packed couple of days in New Orleans.
“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports by phone.”So I just felt like it was something that had never been done, and I’m capable of doing all the things that need to be done in all the competitions, so I figured why not go out and be the first one to do everything and get that experience?”
As Lillard knows, though, there will be some who question his decision to take on so many tasks during this time that serves as a much-needed breather for most of his colleagues. And as is typically the case when it comes to Lillard, he’s not concerned with the critics.
“The skills competition takes two minutes on the court, the dunk contest maybe will be three or four minutes on the court, and three-point shooting is about two minutes,” said Lillard, whose Blazers (35-14) are the surprise team in the NBA this season. “And it’s not like the rookie-sophomore game is a real regular season game, so I mean I’m looking at maybe an hour total of actual activity with all five things. People think there’s more energy being exerted than there actually is. It’s really not that much when you think about the time that you actually spend doing it.”
Lillard said he’s looking forward to the three-point contest more than the rest.
“That’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
As for the dunk contest, he’s in the beginning stages of coming up with a creative way to compete with the likes of defending champion Terrence Ross (Toronto), Paul George (Indiana), John Wall (Washington), Ben McLemore (Sacramento) and Harrison Barnes (Golden State).
His personal favorites from years past were Dwight Howard’s 13-foot dunk in 2007 and James “Flight” White‘s flight crew jam from the most recent All-Star weekend.
“I like stuff like that,” Lillard said. “When there’s a story attached to it, I like all that…The dunk (contest) will be fun. I think there will be a lot of surprises. People don’t really know that I can dunk.”
No. 3: Tension rising between Pistons’ Cheeks, Bynum — A near-complete overhaul of the on-court product in Detroit hasn’t gone how the Pistons’ brass has hoped it would this season. New coach Maurice Cheeks has had his struggles with frontcourt stars Josh Smith and Andre Drummond this season and now, he and veteran Detroit guard Will Bynum aren’t getting along. In Detroit’s blowout loss to Orlando on Wednesday, Bynum was pulled from an ugly loss to the Magic about midway through the second quarter. Bynum got into a heated argument with Cheeks and had to be pulled away from him by Chauncey Billups and Smith. Brendan Savage of MLive.com has more on the spat between player and coach:
After practice Thursday, Cheeks said he hadn’t spoken with Bynum about the incident – Cheeks also became testy when pressed about it – while Bynum said he wouldn’t initiate a conversation with Cheeks and didn’t think they’d speak.
“It was in the heat of the moment,” said Bynum, who was the last player off the practice floor. “I care. It’s hard for me to sit back and act like I don’t care because I do. All I’m really concerned with is winning. If I see something that’s not right, sometimes in the heat of the moment you kind of say something.
“I don’t regret it. I regret the fact that maybe I was a bit too passionate about it. But other than that, I don’t.”
Will Bynum approach Cheeks?
Does he think they’ll speak?
“We’re going to have disagreements,” Cheeks said. “You’re not always going to agree. That’s part of it. At times you’re going to have disagreements. That’s OK. They don’t agree with everything I say and I don’t agree with everything they say.
“That’s part of it.”
Bynum, in his sixth year with the Pistons, has come off the bench in 28 of the 31 games he’s played this season. Bynum started the first three games of the season when Brandon Jennings was sidelined with a fractured jaw and impacted wisdom tooth.
Cheeks admitted that – like many coaches – he’ll give his starters a little more leeway when they make mistakes.
“That’s been around a long time, been around for years,” Cheeks said. “Starters sometimes get a little bit more leeway than guys come off the bench. That’s the way it is. I’m probably a little bit harder on guards and point guards than normal because I think they have a huge impact on the game.”
When the line of questioning went back to the incident with Bynum, Cheeks appeared a bit irritated and asked a reporter if he was defending Bynum.
“If I’m going to have a conversation with Will, if I have a problem with Will, he and I will probably have a conversation at some point,” Cheeks said. “I will say this again: Through my years – coaching, playing – starters usually have a bit more stretch. They do.
“That’s probably not going to change. That’s it. I don’t know any other way to say it.”
No. 4: Noel looks solid in drills for Sixers — The last we heard about Philadelphia 76ers rookie Nerlens Noel in mid-January, he was cleared by the team for some on-court work and could play in an actual NBA game in a few weeks from now. That timeline appears to be in tact as Noel was seen working out yesterday with Philadelphia’s assistant coaches and put on an impressive display of low-post moves, writes Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:
For nearly 30 minutes after the team’s practice yesterday, Nerlens Noel put on an impressive display of moves close to the basket under the guidance of assistant coaches Greg Foster and Billy Lange. The workout mostly consisted of baby hooks from each hand after quick moves across the lane. Noel also caught passes on the wing and made quick, one-dribble moves to the basket, mostly finishing with dunks where his head was close to the rim. His surgically repaired left knee seemed very sound for the workout and his excitement couldn’t be denied.
“You can see, even though it’s just sort of shadow boxing, you can’t help to see how quick he jumps, his athleticism, his length,” said coach Brett Brown. “It is exciting to just look out there and see what you project to be. He doesn’t appear to favor [the knee] at all. Things are going well. All those things that we have to get through in order to at some point get him on a court, are going well.”
Brown said that the next steps are to get Noel to play with others and, of course, against others. That’s when he will have to make unscripted cuts that will be the true test of how strong his knee is.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carlos Boozer sat out the Bulls’ game against the Warriors because he hurt his calf muscle while warming up in the locker room … Kemba Walker thinks the Bobcats deserve (and need) to be in the playoffs more than they need to be in the Draft lottery again … Former Knicks, Nets and Timberwolves star Stephon Marbury was ejected from his first game back in the Chinese Basketball Association for throwing a punch …
ICYMI of the Night: Two blowout-ish games last night but that doesn’t mean we’ll deny Draymond Green his props for this nice dunk on Joakim Noah …