Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

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No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

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No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

***

No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …

19 Comments

  1. Ressy says:

    kobe does not deserve to been the all star game this is the worst season of his career.. personally i wanna see the best this league has to offer and thats who plays the best basketball, kobe unfortunately isn’t in that list

  2. JP says:

    i agree with Jon, I’m a HUGE CAVS fan,have been for years, but something has to give. JR cant hit a shot, SHUMP is good for defense only, and LBJ is having the worst shooting year of his career. i think BLATT is in way over his head…all these weapons and nobody knows how to use them…something better change soon or they will be lucky to win the east!!!
    P.S. i think LBJ has TIMO so freakin nervous to play that he cant think straight!!!!

  3. VNN says:

    Cavs will not the title this year and David Blatt will not be the coach of the Cavs next season.

  4. JON says:

    The CAVS will not win the championship this year. I’ll like they do but the odds and style of playing basketball is against them. The CAVS are playing too much isolation basketball. Cleveland basketball is base on two players 90% of the time and 5% on LOVE, the other 5% is just the rest of the team. LBJ shooting 5-25 most of the time and shooting three point like he was so good of a shooter, missing free-throws and shooting his extremely inconsistence jumpers, while the rest of the team stand in the perimeter. LBJ needs to learn how to dribble the ball better as well because he is causing the team way too many turnovers. Many times he is almost in the block and he dribbles back to the three point line to play isolation, or accelerate his way to the basket for no reason and at the end is either a turnover or a three point shot that he end up missing. I’m not a LBJ hater he is a good player but he still needs some work in his all around game. In special learning how to play without the ball in hands. The CAVS also pay TT $80 millions for a player that is only providing 10 rebounds, no dribble skills, no shooting skill, completely useless player.

    If you look the way the NBA teams are morphing to a full solid roster from starters to bench are solid. The CAVS only have three good players and two average player in Timothy Mosgov and Anderson Vergao that David Blatt don’t even know how to utilize him. The other factor that play a huge part on the CAVS is the lack of couching ability. David Blatt might have been a good overseas couch but he is definite not a good NBA Couch. In the finals he got out couch by Kerr, and most of the night he get out couch by other couches. The CAVS mess up really bad she they trade Andrew Wiggins (AW). AW would be a huge lift coming from the bench as a second scorer. The CAVS have not Bench comparing with the SPURS, WARRIORS, HAWKS, BULLS, HEAT and THUNDERS. The bench will be key during the playoff and Finals. The CAVS need to stop letting LBJ manage the front office and find better complementary pieces for the bench if they want to come out of the East and win the whole thing.

  5. Pete says:

    Kobe is saying he’s beyond shocked. Yeah right! Who is he trying to kid? He can’t be that naive!

  6. Bigger Tim says:

    Completely agree with ricco903. The All-Star game is not “for the fans” and is not about “who the fans want to see”, it is about the best players in the league that season and to reward them for being that. The general public just make everything a popularity contest. Kobe Bryant’s fans will still be wanting and trying to vote for him many years after he’s retired.

  7. Tyler says:

    Doc Rivers mentioned Michael Jordan’s All Star appearances in 2002 and 2003 as if he didn’t deserve them. In 2002 at February he was a legitimate MVP candidate and had the Wizards in the playoff race before going down for the year to injury. In 2003 he was a legitimate coaches pick, it was Vince Carter who was forced by the media to give up his starting spot, which both he AND Michael did not want Vince to do. Those Wizards teams with Michael Jordan were worlds better than this current Lakers team, which is certainly a sobering thought. I don’t care if he was 38-40 years old though, Michael Jordan still had specific games where he terrorized teams.

  8. ricco903 says:

    Kobe being in the all-star game is a joke…. its called the (ALL STAR GAME ).. for players in the league preforming at the highest leave among the players of the game….. NOT !!! the ( i wanna see my favorite player ) game… Kobe has had a very sub-par, even to say lousy year and does not deserve a spot on the team…. granted he has had a great career, and has been rewarded so by being voted onto 17 all-star teams…. but to exclude a deserving player because the fans vote for who they WANNA see, as in favorite, most popular or local team player, is just not right….. Kobe you had a great career, you know you shouldn’t be on the team. do the right thing and bow out of the game and let the next deserving star enjoy the spot light as you did so many a time…

    • Johny Borisov says:

      Its called ALL STAR GAME cuz it’s for STARS and the fens deside who is a star and who don’t it’s not about who has a better half season it’s about who enjoy the croud more and right now there isn’t many more options then Kobe.

    • Bunbury says:

      Rico– in theory yeah it makes sense, but from a practical standpoint?? Magic played in 92 without playing a single game; Jordan did it 10 years later (voted by coaches which in my opinion makes it worse). let me ask you, if you receive a promotion at work, would you walk away from it if most people at work believe that you don’t deserve it or some one else deserves it?

  9. Noah Jacobs Alexander says:

    Mr Connors,

    I have to disagree on your comment. I have two kids(very blessed) but I will never let them worship Mr. Byrant. How can I explained to them their hero is a rapist who did not admit his crime furthermore pays off his wife so they can pretend nothing had happened?

    Overall the course of my life, I had a few times that I could cheated on my wife. I wanted to but I never did because I know it will ruin my marriage and I will set a very bad example for my kids. If I ever did anything wrong, I for sure will admit it and try to make it right. Not by paying my wife off, she is not a prostitute.

    I feel bad you will blindly let your kids worship someone who raped and didn’t take any responsibility due to your one point perspective on your idol. Money should not be involved in an apology, especially in his case. I hope your kids will stay in school and learn from someone who has better moral. I like a better future for my kids and yours too.

    Love,
    Noah

  10. Travis says:

    Allow

  11. Reginald Connors says:

    The most powerful voice in the history of this game THE FAN is speaking. There’s nothing to talk about .Your single voice is absolutely do do.The starting five in the all star game is not the best five, it is and will always be the five the fans wants to see. The people sometimes get what they want. How many times have the fans choice produced this type of discussion? A few and they always were great players.Why would I waste my time hating an entertainer that has entertained clearly at the highest level in his area of entertainment. I mean Kobe does not know that I’m on this planet.He is one of the best ever.Its hard to love basketball and not acknowledge that.I would fail at most things in life if I could not separate my personal feelings and personal dislike for someone that did not do things my way . Never mind the fact that no one in the history of this sport warrants looking up to now, by Kobe Bryant. What he has done is produced Joy for millions in over 100 countries,and none of the millions has seen a snap shot of me. It’s entertainment man, you don’t hate entertainers, you turn the channel. If you have children, and you have not made them Kobe haters yet,and they appear to like basketball, let them see Kobe,no way they will agree with you.It will be their first opportunity to say that sometimes Dad/or Mom is wrong.

  12. My takeaway from yesterday? That the Thunder lost to the Chicago Bulls (and struggled the entire 48 minutes) and the Houston Rockets beat the Slurs. Nothing else surprised me, including the Cadavaliers losing to the GSW. WOW!!!!!

  13. JD says:

    SMH
    Maybe the king shold ask the league to have teams playing the Crybaby Cavs to have one hand tied behind their back.

  14. Mitra says:

    This Warrior team is playing with both offensive and defensive efficiency beyond imagination. They will be the NBA champion in 2015-16 again, and may be next year too 2016-17.

    CAVS may not be able to clinch Eastern Conference this time; it may be Bulls or Hawks. Overly relying on LBJ and his less than 100% performance in a single night will be a big factor for CAVS.

    Kyre Irvine is less than 100% and who knows when he will be able to play with his full efficiency.

    Kevin Love is a hopeless and overpriced player just like Chris Busch in Miami Heat.

    The other CAVS players are trying their best but it is too insufficient in face of explosive basketball played by Warriors (though they did not play well last evening).

    I was also bitterly disappointed by the poor shooting performance of CAVS yesterday.