VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 24
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Lue was right pick to replace Blatt — The Cleveland Cavaliers fell flat in Tyronn Lue‘s debut as head coach. But the collective confidence in Lue as David Blatt‘s replacement remains strong after his first weekend on the job, even if he is still searching for his first win as the man in charge. Lue didn’t mince his words about the Cavaliers’ shortcomings after they lost to Chicago Saturday night and his refusal to do anything but shoot everyone straight, LeBron James and the rest of the locker room included, is what makes him the right fit. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:
As it became apparent to Cavs management over the past month that the team was not responding to Blatt with the coach-player dynamic expected in what was supposed to be a championship culture, Lue was the clear choice as a replacement. Had the team made a coaching change last summer, a league source told ESPN.com, there would have been heavy consideration for Tom Thibodeau. But 41 games into the season, after witnessing Lue continue to straddle the nearly impossible line of being a loyal assistant to Blatt while growing organic connections to the team’s stars, management felt there was no one else more qualified to take the team where it wanted to go.
“Man, he’s a gamer,” said James Jones. “Ty lives and breathes this game.”
Jones is one of six players on the Cavs’ roster with more than 10 years of NBA experience. Lue carved out an 11-year NBA career himself as a journeyman point guard, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists while playing for seven teams.
Jones was the player charged with gathering the players on their off day to the Cavs’ practice facility on Friday to inform them of the coaching decision. Rather than make 14 phone calls to spread the news, Griffin told Jones and knew he would take care of it. “He’s a magician like that,” Griffin said. Within 45 minutes, 13 players reported to Independence, Ohio, to hear about the franchise’s change of fate (one unidentified player did not make it, as he left his phone in his car while he was inside his house).
Lue retired from playing in 2009, so those half dozen Cavs veterans had all competed against him at one time or another. He and Richard Jefferson, in fact, were teammates for a season in Milwaukee.
“He’s extremely detail-oriented,” Jones said. “He can tell you anything and everything about every player he played against. He’s perceptive. And I think that’s why he was able to be successful in all the various situations he was in. Good teams, bad teams, leadership role, major minutes, support [role], as an assistant coach and as an associate head coach. So, I just know that, even when you talk about his personal life, nothing is more important than the game. And that’s what’s so respected about him.”
While Lue was far from a star, never averaging more than 13.5 points in a season, his path was star-crossed. He was teammates with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and was coached by Phil Jackson. He played alongside Michael Jordan for His Airness’ final two seasons in Washington. He later teamed with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.
He always had an ability to relate to the marquee guys, even when they were on the other side. Maybe it was because they saw Lue across from them — listed generously at 6-foot, 175 pounds — with his passion being really the only thing fueling his place in the league, and it made them want to work harder to get the most out of the physical attributes and skills bestowed upon them.
LeBron James was one of those opponents who couldn’t help but gravitate to Lue. “We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old,” James said.
And Lue’s Forrest Gump-like path through the league the past two decades has given the Cavs faith he’ll be equipped to handle his current challenge in Cleveland.
“There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen,” James said. “He’s played for Phil Jackson, he’s coached with Doc [Rivers], he’s been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now.”
No. 2: Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty — It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for, the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Golden State Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). It’s also the individual battle Tony Parker can’t wait to dive into, his tilt with the NBA’s reigning MVP and frontrunner for a second straight trophy, Stephen Curry. Parker knows the challenge is daunting, but that’s why he’ll get some assistance, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News:
At some point in Monday’s ballyhooed matchup at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry will rise up and launch from somewhere south of Santa Clara, and Parker will be powerless to stop it.
Parker confirmed Sunday what most expected. He will draw the black bean assignment of guarding the NBA’s most lethal scorer. He hopes to have help.
“They won’t leave me (on Curry) by myself,” Parker said after the Spurs’ hour-long practice at the University of San Francisco. “Obviously it takes a whole team to slow him down.”
Parker is enjoying what coach Gregg Popovich calls his best defensive season, but expecting the 33-year-old to be anything more than a speed bump in Curry’s path is asking a big much.
The NBA’s reigning MVP, Curry is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points, shooting 45.1 percent of his 3-pointer and unleashing nearly 20 field goal tries per game.
“He’s the ultimate test,” Parker said. “He’s playing his best basketball. He’s the best player in the league.”
The Spurs, you might have heard, have a pretty decent defender in Kawhi Leonard. Last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he expects to see a little time on Curry, but mentioned Draymond Green and even 7-foot center Andrew Bogut as potential assignments.
However Popovich opts to defend the Warriors on Monday, expect him to leave a few tricks up his sleeve for future meetings, particularly a potential playoff matchup.
“Pop always has some stuff that he keeps for the playoffs,” Parker said. “(Monday) will be one of those games where maybe you’ll see a little different stuff. Overall, we’re pretty much going to do the same stuff we’ve been doing.”
No. 3: Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo, defense — The same three things that, according to most pundits, could prove to be the downfall for the Sacramento Kings this season are same things that have fueled their current five-game win streak and rise into the top eight of the Western Conference playoff mix. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Rajon Rondo and their team defense were all considered the Kings’ biggest problem at one point or another earlier this season. But not now, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, not with the Kings looking like they have sprouted playoff legs just in time for the midseason push:
The mood surrounding the Kings has been upbeat lately, and for good reason.
Sacramento has won a season-high five games in a row.
DeMarcus Cousins has been brilliant over that span, averaging 32.6 points and 14.8 rebounds.
But the Kings’ improved defense might be a bigger key to the streak than Cousins’ dominance.
The defense has been bad for much of the season.
The Kings allow the most points per game (107.2) in the NBA and rank 20th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454).
During the five-game winning streak, Sacramento has held opponents to 96.4 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting.
No one would call the Kings an elite defensive unit this season, but as long as they progress from the worst in the league, they like their chances most nights.
“We’ve picked it up,” Cousins said. “I still think we could do better, honestly.”
What’s changed? Besides Cousins playing like a superstar, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein has started the last five games and injected a defensive spark.
That change came after the Kings’ last loss, Jan. 13 against New Orleans, when defensive intensity was lacking most of the night.
“I can give credit to Willie,” Cousins said. “He’s come in and, as a rookie, changed the whole identity of our team. That’s huge, especially for a rookie. So it just shows his impact on this team, and he does so many things for us that don’t show up on paper.”
The Kings have held their last three opponents under 100 points, and perhaps their most impressive win during the streak, a 91-88 victory Thursday over Atlanta, showed they can win when their high-paced offense is not clicking.
Scrappy teams that slowed the Kings’ offense have given them fits for most of the season.
In the Atlanta game, and even in Saturday’s win over Indiana, the Kings made critical stops late, as there appears to be more pride on defense lately.
“Not only Willie, but I feel like everybody’s picked up the defensive identity, and it’s helping us win games right now,” Cousins said. “So we’ve just got to keep going.”
No. 4: Raptors on a roll — They haven’t partied like this in Toronto in over a decade. But there is no denying coach Dwane Casey‘s team right now, not after they’ve piled up their best run during his tenure and sit just one game shy of the franchise’s best win streak since they won nine straight in 2002. They’re doing it with a deep roster filled with seasoned pros who all know their roles. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star provides the details:
Most nights it’s one guy or maybe two who have produced while others have struggled and the inconsistency of the Toronto Raptors’ bench has been a thing every now and then, even though the team has survived well enough.
But on a night when four guys have it going at the same time, it’s all fun and good times and easy baskets and stops.
Smiles all around.
Getting 51 points off the bench — the highest production by substitutes this season — the Raptors rolled to an easy 112-94 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.
It is Toronto’s eighth win in a row and an impressive thumping of a quality opponent.
The Raptors can equal an all-time franchise high on Tuesday against Washington with a ninth straight win.
And if the team’s four backups — Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo — play then as they played Sunday, Toronto will be hard to beat.
“I think (Sunday night) was probably one of our best games collectively as a second unit,” Patterson said.
Now settled into a consistent rotation after dealing with a series of injuries that muddled things, a successful routine is developing.
“There’s no uncertainty,” Patterson said. “So you know when you’re coming in, you know when you’re coming out and you know how much effort you can give, you know where your shots are going to come, you know the focus you have to have.
“If there’s uncertainty there’s a lack of energy, a lack of confidence, you tend to get frustrated so now that you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, who you’re going to be in the game with, everyone’s just more comfortable out there.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Four serious candidates have emerged for the Nets’ GM job, including Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ferry … Stephen Curry has his mind on the Spurs for tonight’s clash of NBA titans, but as you might imagine. the Charlotte native had a few other things on his mind Sunday with his Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50 in nearby Santa Clara … No surprise here, the “young Lakers” are getting schooled by the opposition this season … Snow Way! Brooklyn stuns Oklahoma City to cap off wild blizzard weekend … Jazz point guard Trey Burke is thriving in a reserve role … The Detroit Pistons are struggling on defense, with deficiencies in both effort and communication …