VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 7
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Kings’ Karl trying to right team’s ship — Sacramento Kings coach George Karl made it through the weekend, surviving the swirl of rumors that he could be fired before the sun came up this morning. But the day is just getting started, the Kings visit the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (7 ET, NBA League Pass). And Karl still doesn’t have any answers for his team’s current slide after Sunday’s 128-119 loss in Boston, the Kings’ third straight and seventh in their last eight games. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has more:
Boston scored the most points by a Sacramento opponent in a quarter and a half this season. The Celtics’ total also matched the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors for the most points allowed in regulation by the Kings this season. The Nets beat the Kings 128-119 Friday.
Lately, nothing seems to spark the Kings at the game’s outset – neither the possibility of falling further behind in the race for the final Western Conference playoff berth nor speculation coach George Karl’s job is in jeopardy.
Karl isn’t sure how to fix the defense or prevent the team’s slow starts.
“I think we’re all pulling our hair out trying to figure that out,” Karl said of the defensive issues. “But this is not a time of year you get a lot of practice time. Do you want to zone up? Do you want to come up with a gimmick pick-and-roll defense? I think we’ve tried just about every one that I know of. I just think we’ve got to actually simplify and try to find something we can do more efficient.”
In the offseason, the Kings added more veterans to handle predicaments, but no one seems to know how to contain the opposition early in games.
Said Rajon Rondo, known for his dry humor: “Just try to hold the ball? Don’t take a shot? I don’t know what we can do to try to stop teams from scoring 30 (in the first quarter).”
Added DeMarcus Cousins: “I guess we’ve got to find a better energy and effort as a team. Be more engaged.”
The Celtics might have scored more if not for 24 turnovers, the most by a Kings opponent this season. Boston shot 56.0 percent and benefited from Sacramento’s perpetual inability to stop three-point shooters, making 13 of 24 from beyond the arc.
In the first quarter, Boston sank seven three-pointers and scored 12 of its 23 second-chance points.
Until the Kings figure out something, they’ll continue being the team opponents circle on the schedule in anticipation of a big offensive game or an opportunity to get on track.
“If that’s what teams are thinking, we’ve got to find a way to change that,” Cousins said. “That’s a bad a way for a team to be feeling, that a team is coming in and, oh, they can have an easy night. We’ve got to find a solution because right now whatever we’re doing isn’t working.”
Said Karl: “Our focus has got to be better. It’s got to be stronger; it’s got to be more defensive-minded. We just can’t give up the numbers we’re giving up.”
No. 2: Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time — Gerald Henderson was something of a forgotten man since moving across the country from Charlotte to Portland. But the Trail Blazers’ veteran swingman is hitting his stride at just the right time (ahead of the NBA trade deadline) to assist in his team’s chase for a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian provides the details on Henderson’s rise ahead of the Trail Blazers’ trip to Memphis tonight (8 ET, League Pass):
Has Gerald Henderson been playing better? Yes. Does he finally seem comfortable in a Blazers uniform? Definitely. But the dunks and the blocks and the athletic plays — the bounce — that’s the tell-tell sign Henderson is back to his old self.
“He’s got some bounce,” Damian Lillard said. “He can get up there and hang up there, too. He can jump with the best of them.”
The Blazers (25-27) are playing their best basketball of the season, which coincides, perhaps not coincidentally, with the improved production of Henderson, a seven-year NBA veteran who said he feels as fit and healthy as he has all season. The Blazers won for the sixth time in the last seven games Saturday night at the Toyota Center, trouncing the Houston Rockets 96-79. Henderson scored 16 points — four more than the entire Rockets bench — which just so happened to be the sixth time he’s reached double figures in the last seven games, including a season-high four in a row.
In three February games, Henderson is averaging 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25). He’s been more lively and dependable on defense, more assertive in huddles and postgame locker room pow-wows and more of a factor in wins. All of a sudden, after a disappointing three months, Henderson is evolving into the player the Blazers thought they were getting when they acquired him in the Nicolas Batum trade last summer.
“He’s been on a roll,” coach Terry Stotts said.
When asked about that trademark “bounce” — which he revealed multiple times against the Rockets — Henderson grinned.
“I feel good,” he said. “That’s how I’m used to playing.”
But will Henderson endure a different kind of bounce later in the month? Will he be bounced from Portland in a trade?
Henderson’s improved production has come at the same time his playing time has significantly increased. He’s played 20 or more minutes in eight of the last nine games after doing so just nine times the rest of the season. It’s become a sports talk hot take to postulate that the young and rebuilding Blazers are showcasing the veteran to potential trade suitors in the buildup to the Feb. 18 deadline.
While that’s a nice theory, there’s another possibility.
“I think he’s just healthy,” Lillard said. “He was coming off hip surgery, so it took some time for him to get in shape. He missed training camp. He had to get in shape, he had to get his rhythm back, he had to get his feel back, get comfortable with our sets, comfortable being out there with the guys. I think the last couple of weeks, you’re starting to see him get comfortable. He’s finally back.”
No. 3: Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way — The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks will line up and do it again tonight (8 ET, NBA TV), but for that one shining moment Sunday, when Nikola Vucevic‘s buzzer beater lifted the Magic over their Southeast Division rivals, it was all good. And as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel points out, it was a much-needed confidence boost for a Magic team searching for some light and the end of a dark stretch:
That great move, and even greater shot, arrived at a crucial time for the reeling Magic, who had lost 15 of 17 games heading into Sunday.
The tailspin would’ve worsened if the Magic had lost to the Hawks.
Orlando took a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter and responded to a subsequent Atlanta surge by going ahead by eight points with 3:41 to go.
“I think the way we won, too, was big — to finally get something kind of going our way,” Payton said. “A lot of times, we’d be on the other end of this.”
For a time, it looked like the Magic (22-28) might rout the Hawks (30-23).
A left-ankle injury prevented Tobias Harris from playing Sunday, prompting Skiles to start Fournier at small forward in Harris’ place. The starting quintet of Payton, Oladipo, Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic had played a total of just 25 minutes together this season before Sunday.
They brought a level of defensive energy and cohesion their team hasn’t shown in weeks. The Hawks looked flat at the outset, and the Magic capitalized. Orlando held Atlanta to 39 percent shooting for the entire game and also forced 12 first-half turnovers.
Teague scored a game-high 24 points, causing Payton problems on defense.
But on offense, Payton broke out of his slump.
In the fourth quarter, Payton scored seven of his 12 points and delivered five of his game-high 12 assists.
The final last assist came on Vucevic’s game-winner.
“I’m just glad we got the win,” Vucevic said. “After a rough month with a lot of losses it’s good to come out and win against a good team like the Hawks are.”
Vucevic not only managed to escape Al Horford‘s clutches, but he also got the shot off cleanly despite having to shoot over Horford’s outstretched right arm.
“You can’t guard him any better than that,” Millsap said.
The shot was Vucevic’s second game-winner of the season. On Nov. 11, he made a turnaround, fadeaway jumper from 20 feet over Roy Hibbert to lift the Magic to a 101-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
That night, Vucevic celebrated by running down the court with his right index finger held high over his head and an ear-to-ear grin on his face.
On Sunday afternoon, Vucevic stood still and allowed his teammates to mob him.
“I thought it was a real man’s celebration,” Fournier said. “I thought he looked like a baby on the other one.”
No. 4: Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50 — A great week for Stephen Curry that included a trip to the White House to visit with President Barack Obama after a 51-point outing against the Washington Wizards was just the beginning. Saturday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the night before Super Bowl 50 was the perfect appetizer to Sunday’s game, where Curry’s hometown Panthers took on the Denver Broncos. And Curry was front and center, pounding the drum as Cam Newton and the Panthers took the field. The Bay Area News Group chronicled Curry’s big day (which ended on a sour note as the Panthers fell 24-10 to the Broncos):
Curry has been on top of the sports world for the last year-plus. But Sunday was a dream come true for the Warriors’ star.
Curry, a Charlotte, N.C. native, has been a die-hard Panthers fan since the franchise was created in 1995. So his team playing in the Bay Area in the Super Bowl is as perfect as it gets.
His day began with his wife, Ayesha, at an exclusive tailgate party at chef Michael Mina‘s restaurant. Donning a Curry No. 30 Panthers jersey, she made porchetta biscuit sandwiches inspired by Carolina: red pepper jam, Crystal’s hot sauce mayo and a fried egg. Curry helped.
Curry then got a special treat before the game. The Panthers tabbed him to pound the drum in advance of the Panthers taking the field. It’s a team tradition — banging a big drum that reads “Keep Pounding” — that Curry got to do at a game in Charlotte back in September. The shirt Curry was planning to wear on Sunday was a custom made Under Armour tee with an illustration of him pounding the drum.
He stood on the sidelines with his wife before the game, both wearing black No. 30 Panthers jerseys with Curry on the back. When the Panthers ran off the field, both running back Mike Tolbert and head coach Ron Rivera stopped by to give Curry a hug.
Curry bought six tickets from Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson. But his family will sit in those seats and he will be in the Under Armous suite at Levi’s Stadium with brand CEO Kevin Plank.
VIDEO: Go behind the scenes from Saturday’s battle between the Warriors and Thunder
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks will hold Tiago Splitter out until after the All-Star break … The Indiana Pacers are preparing a tribute of some kind for Kobe Bryant as he makes his final visit to Indianapolis tonight … The Chicago Bulls are pointing fingers at themselves (and not coach Fred Hoiberg) for their late-game failures … Kevin Durant took in the festivities at Super Bowl 50 as well, but with a media credential … Derek Fisher agrees with Rajon Rondo, the triangle would not be a good fit for the veteran point guard … Heat backup point guard Tyler Johnson might miss the playoffs …