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Morning shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s absence could be brief | Butler: Hoiberg ‘holding me accountable’ | Kobe relishes final Boston trip

No. 1: Curry’s injury absence may be brief — The Golden State Warriors are 29-1 this season with reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry in the lineup … and 0-1 without him. Last night, the Warriors suffered a 114-91 throttling on the road in Dallas as J.J. Barea carved up the Golden State defense time and again. The good news for Golden State fans, though, according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, is that Curry isn’t going to miss much more time:

The Warriors seemingly got good news Wednesday when the results of the MRI exam on StephenCurry’s lower left leg showed only a bruise, possibly costing him just one game.

Interim head coach Luke Walton, who is saddled with filling the gaping hole left by the league’s MVP — as seen in the Warriors’ 114-91 loss to Dallas on Wednesday — said the only real relief would have been a medical report declaring Curry healthy and available to play right away.

“We told the guys that we need everyone else to step up, but not with an individual attitude: ‘I’m going to go get these points for us.’ It’s got to be: ‘We are going to do this, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to look for our shots, we’re going to attack, and we’re going to create for our teammates,’” Walton said. “It’s got to be a team effort to fill that type of void.…

“It’s always interesting to see how guys will rise to that challenge and still get after it and compete. I think we have guys who will try to do that.”

Curry headed to the team bus after the game, wearing a Chewbacca backpack and electing not to talk to reporters about his injury.

The MVP is considered day-to-day, with the Warriors even leaving open the chance of him playing at Houston on Thursday. Walton said being without Curry for a brief time won’t change the way the Warriors approach games.

Shaun Livingston started Wednesday, and Andre Iguodala also logged point-guard minutes, but the Warriors like to monitor the minutes of the players in their 30s with injury histories. So Ian Clark, who scored a personal-high 21 points Wednesday, could receive extended playing time until Curry returns.

“Knowing Steph, he’ll want to get back on the court as soon as possible,” Walton said. “Having the record that we do is definitely a luxury, as far as it not being necessary for him to come back too soon.…

“But he’s one of those guys who wants to be out there. He wants to be with his team, and he wants to be competing. A lot of that will be decided between the medical staff and Steph.”


VIDEO: Dallas drops Golden State in Texas

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No. 2: Butler: Hoiberg ‘holding me accountable’  — A little more than a week ago, Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler made it known that he didn’t think new coach Fred Hoiberg was coaching the team hard enough. Consider that message received by the Bulls’ new boss. Since that point, the Bulls have gone 3-2, including last night’s thrilling, come-from-behind overtime win over the rival Indiana Pacers. Afterward, Butler told ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell how he and Hoiberg have a new line of communication:

“I still got respect for him,” Butler said after scoring 28 points in a 102-100 overtime win over the Indiana Pacers. “I don’t think it’s a different light. Nothing I do is to disrespect anybody. I think he realizes I’m going to be here, I realize he’s going to be here, so we got to deal with each other anyways. I think that he’s holding me accountable for everything. He talked to me whenever I was low energy last game, and I fixed it. That’s the type of guy he is. He has the utmost confidence in me because he continually put the ball in my hand when he didn’t have to.”

Butler, who scored the winning basket after tipping in a Pau Gasol pass, was reflective after the game about his relationship with Hoiberg. He praised the way Hoiberg, 43, has been trying to communicate with him.

“I think we’re both learning a lot about each other,” Butler said. “He’s probably learning how moody I am on a daily basis, to tell you the truth. And it’s hard, but I think he lets me be who I am. He handles everything that I do very well. I’m not a big communicator, I’m not great at it, but he’s always talking to me. He’s always asking, ‘How are you doing? What can we do?’ He’s always asking my opinion on a lot of things. Yeah, it helped a lot.”

Butler, who scored only five points in Monday’s win over the Toronto Raptors and had not spoken to the media in a couple of days, said he did not want to go into specifics as to why he did not put up his usual numbers Monday.

“There’s always something going on in my life,” Butler said. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter. I can’t let it affect my on-the-court play.”

As for his relationship with his teammates in the wake of his comments, Butler said he believes that bonds remains strong. ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote recentlythat Butler’s rise to stardom has caused “some minor hard feelings within the team.”

The feeling from many within the organization is that Butler’s personality has changed over the past year during that rise, which included Butler signing an extension for more than $90 million over the summer. Butler has been open about the fact that he is adjusting to his new role as a leader, a mantle he has never had to wear on a daily basis before.

Butler said he believes the open communication he has with Hoiberg and the rest of the coaching staff is only going to help him.

“Always something going on in my head, that’s what it is,” he said of his mindset. “I could come in a happy-go-lucky guy, or when something’s bothering me, it’s I don’t got no energy, and you can really tell, and he’s always like, ‘Yo, you want to sit down and talk?’ Whether it’s him, it’s [Jim] Boylen, it’s Charlie [Henry], it’s Randy [Brown], they’re checking in on me, man. That’s a lot of love. It’s very important to me.”

 

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No. 3: Bryant saves his best for old Boston rivals — As is the case with any of his Eastern Conference stops this season, Kobe Bryant‘s visit to Boston marked his final such trip to that NBA city. But, of course, a game between Bryant and the Celtics is anything but rote given the storied past between not only he and the franchise, but the two teams’ shared rivalry over the decades. He put on quite a show in Boston last night, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and a late dagger 3-pointer. Our Ian Thomsen was on hand and has more from the scene:

So often this year Kobe Bryant has looked like one of those opponents that he used to devour. But something happened on Wednesday to reverse that trend. He came to the arena of his enemy. The booing was familiar and soothing, like a homecoming that only he could appreciate.

“It felt great to get booed,” said Bryant after he finished off a shocking 112-104 Lakers victory over their rivals with the biggest shot of his final game in Boston. “As soon as I touched the ball and they booed, I was like ‘Ahh.’ It felt great.”

His preceding 28 games had combined with the initial 46:20 of this night to set up the happiest ending he could have imagined. He was going to generate 15 points (to go with his 11 rebounds) on a sorry 5-for-18 night of shooting. And yet all of it made sense. It was as if all of those difficulties throughout this farewell season could be seen as the investment that enabled him to do what came so naturally to him with 1:40 left in the game.

The Celtics were charging back and the Lakers’ lead had dwindled from 14 points down to two when the former Celtic forward Brandon Bass saw Kobe alone atop the three-point arc.

“I was thinking of using as much legs as possible,” said Bryant, who had been wearing an ice pack around his sore right shoulder before returning for the final 7:23. “That’s what I was thinking about. I couldn’t really use my shoulder too much, and I was like, ‘I’ve really got to get my legs under this shot. Really jump forward on this shot.”’

After 20 NBA seasons, he was talking himself through the most basic fundamentals. All he wanted was to remember how it used to be, especially with his wife and children watching him courtside.

Bryant had missed 14 shots when he made this one. This is the one that will be remembered.

“I think it’s right up there with Philadelphia for me, in terms of most emotional,” said Bryant, who attended high school in Philadelphia. “This place has really meant a lot for my career. I can’t stress that enough. And this is why I wanted my kids here. I wanted my family here. I wanted them to be able to be in the building. I wanted them to be able to see this and experience this.”

In other NBA cities Bryant’s vindictive, punishing style has been either forgiven or forgotten this season. It’s as if the opposing fans have been cheering for someone who never really existed. But that was not happening here. This polarizing and ruthless winner, this villain who thrived on conflict, was being celebrated with a refreshing honesty.

The reaction to Bryant was as complicated as his career has been. The Celtics fans had every right to berate the champion Laker, and for the better part of two quarters their loathing was rewarded as Bryant missed his first eight shots from the field. Then he made his next two, late in the opening half, and for the rest of the night a debate roared between the chants of Kobe-Kobe-Kobe vs. those who wanted the last laugh at his expense. Back and forth they went; these different reactions that he incited.

“I think I’ve matured quite a bit as a person,” said Bryant. “I think at the same time I think the maturity, I’ve lost a lot of the edge because with maturity comes a more docile approach to the game. Whereas back in the day there’s no compromise, there is no understanding. As you get older you start to get more perspective. It’s a great thing as a person, but as a player not so much.”

The steam had been taken out of his career. The main goal was always to win championships, and that was no longer available. All there was left for him was a night like this, a reward both unexpected and welcome.

 

Winning this game was becoming more important to everybody, and the conflicting spirit seemed to infuse Kobe. He led the Lakers with nine points in the fourth quarter while making two of his three 3-pointers.

When the last one went down, when his fundamentals took hold and he finished what he had started so long ago, the response reminded everyone here, briefly and yet undeniably, of an NBA Finals game.

“I just can’t believe this is the last time I’m going to be here, you know?” said Bryant. “I can’t believe — it seems like yesterday we were playing the Finals here. This is crazy.”


VIDEO:
 GameTime’s crew discusses Kobe’s final game in Boston

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No. 4: Rockets can’t close deal vs. Hawks, keep sputtering out West — More often than not in 2015-16, the Houston Rockets have been marked by a lack of urgency in games. That’s a point our Fran Blinebury dug into yesterday before a showdown with the Atlanta Hawks, who sported an Eastern Conference-best 20 wins. The Rockets built a 19-point first half lead on the Hawks last night, but eventually lost focus and bogged down on offense as the game wore on in a 121-115 loss. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com was on hand for the loss and has more on the state of once-contending Houston:

It doesn’t matter that the Hawks had played in Indianapolis the night before, losing to the Pacers. They could have played in Vancouver for all anybody cared, because the Rockets just aren’t good enough, no matter what they say they have on paper and on the floor, to become a consistent team.

At the start of the season, the Rockets had the look of an elite team. Now, with a 16-17 record, they have the look of a floundering group holding onto the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

Sure, the rest of the conference behind Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City is suspect, but from what we’ve seen of this Rockets team, there is no reason to believe they will do any damage if they reach the postseason.

Rockets players can’t explain why they’ve been so up and down this season.

“It’s probably a common theme,” Ty Lawson said. “I guess at times we do stop and hold the ball or just don’t move it as much. We miss shots, and they get runouts to easier 3s and layups. Our offense creates bad defense for us.”

Added Trevor Ariza: “It’s pretty frustrating, but we’ve got to fight through it, and we have to continue to play and find ways to win down the stretch.”

The Rockets dominated the Hawks in the first half, setting season highs in points (71) and field goal percentage (.692). Then the next 24 minutes started, and the Rockets team that had played with crisp ball movement and tight defense disappeared.

“I think we just should’ve stuck with the same game plan we had in the first half,” Dwight Howard said. “We did a really good job at moving, playing fast. In the second half, we just kind of got lazy as a team, and you know we can’t do that. We’ve got to get better.”

The final box score will tell you the Rockets shot 54.2 percent from the floor and 55 percent from 3-point range. According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, Houston became the first team this season to shoot that well and lose a game.

The last team to pull a feat like this was Portland, which shot 58.2 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from 3-point range in a 112-102 loss to Utah in April 2013. But unlike the Rockets, who were ahead the majority of the game, Portland never led, trailing 7-0 at the start.

“We’re all frustrated,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, we’re not getting the results that we would like to get. There wasn’t a lack of effort. It wasn’t a lack of trying. Guys did the right things. We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays, and sometimes that’s an offensive or defensive rebound. Sometimes it’s a loose ball, those types of things.”

It’s always something with the Rockets, and as the season progresses one thing is pretty clear: More things need to change.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose says there’s no link between him ditching his protective facial mask and him playing better … Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr could return to the lineup as soon as this weekend … San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hasn’t gotten swept up in ‘Boban Mania’ … Could the New York Knicks be interested in trading for Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings? … A must-read today by ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes: the 1996 Draft and how the Boston Celtics worked out/thought about taking Kobe Bryant … The Toronto Raptors had a fully healthy roster for the first time in months last night … The Denver Nuggets picked up Kostas Papanikolaou‘s contract for the rest of the season … One Philadelphia 76ers follower thinks the team should think about trading Nerlens Noel

2 Comments

  1. Let’s Go Hawks!!!!!!

  2. Rosscoach says:

    Side note for more NBA basketball junkies:

    Sacramento Kings losing to the Philadelphia 76 means a bottoming out for the Kings and a need for change. Could this be the signal that Cousins is officially on the trade block. Mike D’Antoni’s presence is not a system not suited for Okafor’s style of play and may be a commitment to Noel over Okafor and an imminent trade. Both trades can definitely change the landscape of the league. I think Boston is best positioned to pursue either at this point.

    I love trade season.


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