VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does
No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:
In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.
It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:
“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”
And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.
If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.
Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.
Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.
One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .
VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double
No. 2:Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons — Jimmy Butler doesn’t want anything to do with the Michael Jordan comparisons being made after Butler’s latest heroics. His 40 points after halftime in Sunday’s win over the Toronto Raptors is going to make that request a bit difficult, since it’s the greatest scoring effort in a half by a Bulls player since Jordan dropped 39 in the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 16, 1989. Like it or not, Jimmy, you and MJ are linked together, writes ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell:
Butler, who endorses Jordan’s shoe and clothing lines, wanted no part of any comparisons to one of the greatest players of all time.
“Don’t compare me to him,” Butler said. “That’s exactly what I said [when I found out]. I don’t want to be compared to him because then people are going to think I got to do what he did. I’m trying. But we’re nowhere near the same player.”
Butler, who scored two points in the first half, acknowledged that he was upset after being elbowed in the face by Raptors swingman DeMarre Carroll in the second quarter.
Butler didn’t believe the elbow was intentional, but he was fired up after leaving a significant trail of blood on the floor. He was taken to the locker, and one stitch was used to close a cut near his lip.
“He was a man possessed [Sunday],” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said of Butler. “He was so mad, so mad when he got hit in the mouth. You can tell, so much blood flowing everywhere, he was so mad. I’ve never seen him get that mad before.
“He’s been in a rough game before, but especially getting his lip busted. But he came back a man possessed. Just going, trying to get stops, kept attacking the basket. It was just one of those nights where you just can’t miss. When he hit that corner three [in the third], I knew it was his night.”
Butler’s performance helped the Bulls come back from a 15-point deficit and left his teammates and coaches in awe, especially given that he did it without Derrick Rose (sore right knee/hamstring), Joakim Noah (shoulder) or Mike Dunleavy (back surgery).
“It was an unbelievable performance by Jimmy,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The way they were pressuring us in the first half, we couldn’t get the ball reversed or swung, so we just put the ball in Jimmy’s hands. Either ran isolation plays or had Pau [Gasol] or Niko [Mirotic] set a ball screen for him, and he just made play after play. He was unbelievable with the ball in his hands. Hitting fade-aways, hitting shots, that last three, getting himself to the free throw line. Just a really, really good individual performance.”
VIDEO: Butler’s big game against the Raptors
No. 3:Heat starters finally in positive territory — The Miami Heat’s starting unit has been battling all season to prove that they are as good metrically as they appeared to be on paper before the start of this season. The New Year is just a few days old, but they’ve finally hit the mark. And they’ll bring that and some serious energy into a showdown with the Indiana Pacers tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at AmericanAirlines Arena. Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald explains:
When told Friday that the starting lineup had finally moved into positive plus-minus territory for this season, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng had the same request:
Somebody tell Spo.
Bosh even suggested slipping the statistic under Erik Spoelstra’s door.
Turns out that the Heat coach was already quite aware, though he was pleased that his players considered the number important. He has been tracking that unit’s effectiveness regularly since the start of the regular season, when, because of some well-chronicled fit issues, it was pacing well behind many of Miami’s other combinations. He has held at least three private meetings with the group. He has asked them to search for some answers, or else he would have no choice but to make a change.
Spoelstra did stick with the group of Bosh, Deng, Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside after a choppy November, and it has rewarded him of late. The lineup was a plus-20 in December and plus-6 in the first game of January, even though it’s time together was limited because Wade wasn’t available until the second quarter.
“You’re never there, but they’ve owned it, and they’ve worked at it,” Spoelstra said. “The first few weeks, you can’t dance around it. It’s a negative. OK, what are going to do about it? And that took a lot of work, took a lot of practice time, it took some meetings, it took film sessions and it’s taken minutes in games, under pressure, under failure, under adversity, to go through all those things to make it better. And we’re still not where we want to be. But at least right now you’re starting to see them get more comfortable.”
Spoelstra said they had to learn how to be aggressive offensively while defending at a high level and making the game easier for each other.
“And it’s taken some introspection on my part, too, to learn how to get them all in a place where they’re most comfortable,” Spoelstra said. “But I really commend them for working at it and not getting frustrated to the point of not finding solutions. We’ll continue to get better, especially as you go through the competition of it, of an NBA season.”
On Sunday in Washington, the group was a plus-8 in the first half — the first seven minutes and the final play — and was flat during its only second-half stint.
No. 4:Z-Bo remains a bright spot for the Grizzlies — The Memphis Grizzlies are a team in transition, one trying to shed the negativity of their grit and grind image while adapting to the NBA’s pace and space influenced style of play today. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been able to rely on big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the anchors of the grit and grind movement. Randolph, who has adjusted to his new role coming off the bench, continues to shine bright as the Grizzlies head back to his old stomping ground in Portland tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Randolph’s acceptance of the change has been critical to the Grizzlies’ success this season, writes Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal:
He arrived in Memphis as a bit of a savior in some circles.
The Grizzlies acquired power forward Zach Randolph in a 2009 trade and he immediately became a polarizing figure.
Off the court, critics considered Randolph a thug and anything but a winner. On the floor, Griz decision-makers knew they were getting a highly productive scorer and rebounder for a young team that frankly didn’t know how to win.
By all accounts, Randolph delivered.
He brought certified toughness and grit. He also instantly became the catalyst for wins and the team’s ascension in the Western Conference as the franchise’s go-to guy.
Fast forward to today and, sure, Randolph has slowed down physically. But he hasn’t lost a bit of mental toughness and that will to beat the odds. The Grizzlies are at a crossroads and Randolph is still marching like a soldier, trying to help direct them to victories.
The difference now is Randolph will play off the bench Monday night when the Griz face the Portland Trail Blazers, with whom he began his career 15 year ago. This will be the 11th time in the past 12 games in which Randolph will be a reserve — a change that he’s publicly embraced with his words and punished backups for with professional pride.
“It took me a little while to adjust, but I’m doing what’s best for the team,” Randolph said. “I’m going to do the best I can for the guys. I’m going to play hard and bring energy no matter how many minutes I play. I’ve accepted my role.
My teammates are important to me. I’m going to play the same way Zach Randolph plays, and that’s hard and relentless and with force.”
The Grizzlies have never known a more forceful player and it’s not as if Randolph is missing in action now that he’s a backup. In fact, Randolph has been more efficient, shooting 53 percent in 25 minutes off the bench since Dec. 13.
Randolph shot 46 percent in the 20 previous games he started. Proof of Randolph’s unwavering work ethic is that he’s compiled two of his seven double-doubles as a reserve in six fewer minutes on average.
There were also three games when Randolph missed a double-double by a couple of rebounds or points.
“He’s been unbelievable as far as handling it,” Griz center Marc Gasol said. “But I also know what this business is like and how players think. That could have gone two different ways, so I appreciate him handling it like this because it shows how much he truly cares about everything that goes on here.
“Professional pride is something that can’t be taught. It comes with maturity. It’s a love for the city and your teammates. If you don’t respect your teammates, you wouldn’t do it. It shows a lot.”
No. 5: Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does — Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant did not suit up last night for a home date against the Phoenix Suns. Still, no matter how many games Bryant does or does not play in this season, the story of 2015-16 in Lakerland is ultimately about it being Kobe’s farewell tour. Fans know that, players know that and even the man making the decisions knows that, too. The Los Angeles Times‘ Eric Pincus caught up with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchack, who chimed in on how Bryant’s farewell tour is shaping this season:
Ater Kobe Bryant retires, the Lakers will eventually hang his jersey in the rafters at Staples Center.
Which of Bryant’s two numbers will the Lakers honor?
“I don’t know the answer. Obviously it’s going to be 8, 24 or it could be both,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak at a season-ticket holder event Sunday at Staples Center.
Bryant played the first half of his career with No. 8, winning three championships. He wore 24 for the Lakers’ most recent two titles.
Kupchak said the Lakers need to turn the page once Bryant steps away from the game.
“We cannot move on as a team until Kobe leaves,” Kupchak said. “Part of that to me is painful because I’ve been here 20 years with Kobe.
“This is a year that’s dedicated to Kobe and his farewell. From my point of view, it gives me complete clarity. … We know what our [salary] cap situation is going to be like.”
Is Kupchak conflicted when the Lakers win games, given the franchise could lose its draft pick to Philadelphia if it doesn’t get through the NBA draft lottery with a top-three pick, as part of the Steve Nash trade?
“The answer, of course, is yes,” Kupchak said. “Our players and our coaches are instructed to do only one thing, and that’s to win the game, and you let the chips fall where they may.
“If it’s destined that we’re one, two or three, then so be it. If it’s four, five or six and it goes to Philly and we have our five guys and we have our cap room, we’ll move on.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Before you judge LeBron James for not using influence and platform to weigh in on anyone else’s situation off the court, you might want to ask yourself if you’d do the same if you were in his shoes … Denver’s Kenneth Faried is feeling much better following that neck injury he sustained over the weekend in a loss to the Warriors … Arron Afflalo went wild from deep to lift the Knicks over the Hawks at Madison Square Garden … Rodney Hood carried the Jazz to a big win over the Grizzlies, and he might have to do it again against the Houston Rockets tonight with Derrick Favors out …