Morning shootaround — March 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’ | Mirotic steps up for banged-up Bulls | Can LeBron’s milestone entice Ray back? | Duncan: No time to panic

No. 1: Smith calls Hawks fans ‘bandwagoners’Josh Smith brought an enormous bundle of skills to Atlanta and hung out his shingle for the Atlanta Hawks for nine years. But he eventually came to represent unfulfilled potential and a little bit of indulged stardom, to the point his services no longer were required. Smith left in 2013 to sign a fat free-agent contract with Detroit and has been a target ever since of however many fans cared to populate Philips Arena. The difference this season is that there are more of them, and their booing rankled Smith, on a mediocre night individually, in his return Tuesday with the Houston Rockets. Here’s Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com:

The interplay between Smith and the Philips Arena crowd was lively throughout the night. Smith, an Atlanta native who played his first nine NBA seasons with the Hawks, was booed loudly whenever he touched the ball. The catcalls grew louder in the third quarter, after Smith drained a 3-pointer that rattled around the rim several times before dropping in. Smith then shushed the crowd by placing his finger over his lips as the Hawks called timeout.

“I mean, those fans are fickle, very fickle and bandwagoners,” Smith said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

Despite qualifying for the playoffs in Smith’s final six seasons in Atlanta, the Hawks never finished in the top half of the NBA in attendance. This season, the Hawks are faring better at the gate and averaging just more than 17,000 per game, their highest total since Smith came into the league.

Smith was a polarizing player during his nine seasons in Atlanta. Chosen by the Hawks with the No. 17 pick in 2004 draft, Smith dazzled fans with his acrobatics, shot-blocking and athleticism. But despite being only a 28.3 percent 3-point shooter, Smith attempted more than 942 shots from beyond the arc as a Hawk. Toward the end of his tenure, a groan would emanate from the crowd at Philips Arena whenever he elevated for a long-range shot.

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No. 2: Mirotic steps up for banged-up Bulls — No Derrick Rose, no Jimmy Butler, no Taj Gibson? No problem for the Chicago Bulls, as long as rookie forward Nikola Mirotic continues playing the way he did against Washington Tuesday night. The undermanned Chicago team got a second consecutive strong game from the reserve import, burning the Wizards for 23 points after going for 29 against the L.A. Clippers Sunday. It’s been another-bearded-star-is-born few days for Mirotic as he soaks up available minutes for the Bulls, according to the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson:

Several times this season, Joakim Noah has referred to Nikola Mirotic as the Bulls’ X-factor.

Mirotic’s secret is out. And with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson out injured, Mirotic is looking like one of the go-to closers.

The rookie scored eight of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter of the Bulls’ 97-92 victory over the Wizards on Tuesday night at the United Center. Repeatedly, Mirotic recognized his matchup, taking larger defenders to the perimeter and smaller defenders to the post.

Not only did Mirotic post back-to-back 20-point games for the first time in his young NBA career, he now has scored 24 fourth-quarter points since Butler joined Rose and Gibson on the sidelines.

“Niko’s a stud,” Noah said. “Floor spacing is very important in this league. Niko can do that very well.”

With Gibson still in a walking boot, Rose out four to six weeks after knee surgery and Butler out three to six weeks with a grade 2/3 ulnar ligament sprain and small bone impaction injury in his left elbow, Mirotic’s role will be important. “He has been playing great, making the right reads,” Aaron Brooks said. “Every game, it seems he gets smarter. He has the game. It’s just adjusting it to the NBA.”

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No. 3: Can LeBron’s milestone entice Ray back? — The Cleveland Cavaliers have been on a roll, that Sunday game against Houston notwithstanding, and LeBron James helped boost the Cavs to another victory while achieving another milestone in his burgeoning career. This time, James passed a familiar face on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, and liked the idea afterward that a little competition between pals might spur Ray Allen to get off his couch yet this season. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal numbers his blog items and enumerated these points in his post-Celtics beatdown edition:

12. The Cavs are evolving into an analytical dream of focusing their shots around the 3-point line and at the rim. The only player to really take what would be considered “bad” shots Tuesday was James, who conceded in the morning the best shots are 3-pointers and layups. But after the game he made clear that doesn’t always apply to him.

13. “I can shoot wherever,” James said. “I can take any shot and be effective. I can go midrange, I can go in the post, I can go shoot 3s. What’s better for our team is when I’m attacking … and getting my guys opportunities. But when I’m flowing it doesn’t matter.”

14. James passes his good buddy Ray Allen to move into 21st place on the all-time list. At his current scoring rate, he’ll only need about 12 more games to surpass Patrick Ewing and move into the top 20 in scoring. With 20 games left, that’s a safe bet.

15. James laughed when asked if passing Allen will be enough incentive to draw him back onto an NBA roster since James now leads him by one point. “Make one 3 and then retire?” he joked. “I’m going to call him. I’ll say something about it.”

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No. 4: Duncan: No time to panic — Now is not the time for fans of the San Antonio Spurs to panic, says franchise guy Tim Duncan. But then, given Duncan’s stolid demeanor, he could be sitting in a packed theater where the walls suddenly were set ablaze … on a cruise ship that just veered into an iceberg … with a blimp overhead about to combust and land on the ship’s deck … and he wouldn’t lose his composure. Now, all three referees whistling Duncan for fouls in rapid succession 10 seconds apart, that might be a time when he might panic. But the San Antonio Spurs’ unfamiliar spot down in the pack of the Western Conference? Nah. Duncan preached calm to reporters:

“We had a rough patch but that’s kind of how it goes,” Duncan said Tuesday. “It can domino sometimes. You lose a close one and then it goes from just losing a close one to feeling bad about it to lose another one. It kind of dominoes. We went through that. We learned from that. Hopefully, we’re better because of it.”

The Spurs hold a 3½-game lead over the eighth-place Oklahoma City Thunder, but at 36-23 already have three more losses this season than they had all of last season. They also went just 4-5 (including four straight losses) on their annual rodeo road trip — a stretch that usually solidifies the Spurs ahead of their typical postseason push.

“When you lose games, three or four in a row like we have, people start to panic and want to change something or change everything,” Duncan said. “You have to stay steady with it and understand it’s a work in progress and we’re not in as bad a position as it may seem at the time. We get some wins together and start feeling good about ourselves then we’ll be in the right place during the playoffs.”

San Antonio’s relative woes this season can be tied to a rash of injuries that caused starters Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard to miss extended time.

Leonard missed a 15-game stretch this season with a hand injury and has sat out 18 total, while Parker has missed 14 games this season.

Parker has played in all but one of the Spurs’ games since the calendar turned to 2015, but said he is still not 100 percent after suffering a hamstring injury.

“I have not been the same since I came back, and [the hamstring is] still bothering me,” Parker told Yahoo! Sports. “Everybody knows. I am not going to use that as an excuse. I am just going to work it out until it gets better.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There’s plenty of blame to go around in Denver after the Nuggets pink-slip head coach Brian Shaw. … Tony Allen was suspended for a game for violating a team policy, and his Memphis Grizzlies lost at home against Utah. Not good. … A whole bunch of teams reportedly are interested in bought-out big man JaVale McGee‘s services, and a whole bunch of coaches are interested in the Denver Nuggets’ vacancy now that Shaw is out. … Channing Frye has enough performance issues to focus on without getting into a he said-they said debate with his former employers in Phoenix. … Longtime L.A.-based NBA writer Mark Heisler wants to see more basketball and fewer replay reviews and free throws at the ends of games. … The Lakers are so banged up, they looking to add a 16th player to their roster …

5 Comments

  1. harriethehawk says:

    Josh Smith is a bum.

  2. dustydreamnz says:

    4. You can never write off the Spurs.

  3. Nick says:

    Why would Ray Allen come back to play for Cleveland when all he will do is watch Lebron play one-on-one until the “king” deems it appropriate to “get my guys opportunities”?

  4. William says:

    Parker hasn’t played well enough this year to be a starter.

  5. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    Indiana’s own Jeff Teague..