Thunder’s Durant out against Wolves

Kevin Durant sitting out a game is always chilling to anyone devoted to the Thunder, including those who saw Durant miss the first 17 games this season to a foot injury. But this isn’t one of those injuries.

He sprained his left big toe Sunday in Cleveland, and it’s still too sore to use for cutting and planting, so he was scratched from OKC’s visit to Minnesota. In these situations, it’s better to use caution. And it helps that OKC is playing the Wolves. So the Thunder is going sans Durant, which also serves to deny a Durant matchup with Andrew Wiggins, often viewed as a younger version of Durant.

Durant could also get a break from the next game in more ways than one. Not only are the Thunder scheduled to meet the Knicks — another foe that allows teams to rest their stars — on Wednesday but the game might not be played because of the heavy snowstorm. Monday’s Knicks-Kings game was postponed.

Perry Jones is expected to see extended minutes in Durant’s absence and Dion Waiters should get more shots.

 

Kobe to have surgery Wednesday on shoulder, done for season?


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kobe Bryant will have surgery to repair the torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder on Wednesday, which could bring the season to an end for the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar.

The Lakers released a statement this afternoon confirming an earlier diagnosis of the injury, suffered last week, but gave no official timetable for his return. There won’t be an official timetable given until after his surgery. But if the normal 6-8 month rehabilitation time for the procedure applies, that would end Kobe’s 2014-15 season.

Bryant, who climbed to third on the NBA’s career scoring list this season, surpassing Michael Jordan for that No. 3 spot, is 36 and dealing with a major, season-ending injury for the third straight season.

NBA postpones tonight’s games in New York area due to weather conditions


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA has postponed the New York Knicks-Sacramento Kings game and the Brooklyn Nets-Portland Trail Blazers game tonight due to blizzard conditions expected in the New York area.

The Kings-Knicks game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. The Blazers-Nets game has been rescheduled for Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m. ET at Barclays Center.

The Trail Blazers-Nets game was originally scheduled to air tonight on NBA TV but has now been replaced by the Minnesota-Oklahoma City game at 8 p.m. ET.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

***  

Report: Nets, Hornets talk Joe Johnson trade

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Will Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King pull the trigger this time?

The Nets have been looking to unload one or more of their three biggest contracts for a while now. Last week, they reportedly came close to dealing Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City in a three-team trade, but pulled out because they were hesitant to take back Lance Stephenson.

Now, they may be bringing Stephenson home to Brooklyn in a different trade. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Nets and Hornets are in discussions to swap Joe Johnson for Stephenson and a couple of his teammates …

The Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets have restarted trade discussions, this time focused on guard Joe Johnson, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Hornets and Nets are discussing a larger package that would likely include guards Lance Stephenson and Gerald Henderson and forward Marvin Williams, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Johnson said Saturday that he has tendinitis in his right knee and left ankle. But he would be a boost to a Charlotte offense that ranks 28th in efficiency. The Hornets have won nine of their last 11 games to make a charge toward a playoff spot, but have done it with some ugly basketball.

The deal wouldn’t save the Nets much money (assuming Henderson exercises his player option next season), but it would give them some added depth in the wake of the news that they’ve lost Mirza Teletovic for the season, and it would make them a little more flexible if they want to make future deals. The Henderson/Stephenson/Williams trio would conceivably give them more shooting, but none of the three have shot particularly well this season.

Wojnarowski additionally reports that the Nets have talked with the Denver Nuggets about a deal for Lopez.

Reports: Jennings lost for season, Pistons seek help at point

In the age of social media, pro athletes not only circumvent traditional media to break news but to break hearts as well.

That was the case Sunday with injured Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings. While reporters and fans waited for and relied on traditional channels for the official word on Jennings’ status – the point guard went down in anguish with an apparent torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of Detroit’s game at Milwaukee Saturday – it was Jennings who actually delivered the bad news.

Jennings put out a non-confirmation confirmation of the injury with a simple Tweet that spoke to the expected surgery-and-rehab for such an Achilles tear:

Jennings followed up with a message to his followers that seemed to capture what those next six to nine months are going to be like for him:

There were early reports that the Pistons might get active in the trade market or look to a D-League addition like Lorenzo Brown, who went to camp with the Pistons and made the minor league’s first all-star team during last week’s Showcase.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 | Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings | Waiters believes he has grown | Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly?

No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:

Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”

Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”

Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”

More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”

 

Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:

Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.

Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.

“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.

***

No. 2: Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:

“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.

If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.

Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.

“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”

The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.

Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.

“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”

“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”

A Pistons teammate who suffered a shared his experience with the Detroit Free Press:

Jonas Jerebko, who tore his Achilles in 2010 in the first preseason game of his second season, said he had a chance to talk to Jennings.

He wouldn’t say what was discussed, but recalled his injury.

“It was like learning to walk again,” Jerebko said with a slight chuckle. “You really started off there, but you know we have the best in the business with [physical therapist] Arnie Kander.”

***

No. 3: Waiters believes he has grownDion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.

“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”

Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.

The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.

“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”

While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.

“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”

***

No. 4: Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.

In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.

That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.

Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.

So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Washington’s John Wall wants Ray Allen to join the Wizards, but the All-Star point guard is busy enough without adding recruiting duties. … Brooklyn’s players and coaches admit they were shocked to learn of forward Mirza Teletovic’s season-ending condition … Houston’s Jason Terry still intends to play until he’s 40, and he’s surprised Shawn Marion won’t. … The photographer who first snapped Michael Jordan in that iconic, soaring pose is suing Nike over its use of the Jumpman logo. … Charlotte’s Marvin Williams did suffer a concussion when he took that elbow from New York’s Jason Smith.

 

Pistons’ Jennings suffers leg injury


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Brandon Jennings’ injury

Brandon Jennings, a driving force as the Pistons recovered from a terrible start to win 12 of 15 games and get in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, suffered an undisclosed leg injury Saturday night in Milwaukee.

“It doesn’t look good,” coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Bucks’ 101-86 victory.

There was no further word on the specific injury or the potential severity. More will be known after follow-up examinations, but Vincent Goodwill Jr. wrote in the Detroit News that “Bucks point guard Brandon Knight pushed off Jennings to receive an inbounds pass in the third quarter Saturday night, then Jennings’ left leg appeared to give out on him — as he writhed in pain on the baseline, yelling out and spinning on the floor multiple times before team medical personnel were able to get to him.

“Jennings could put no weight on his leg as he was helped off the floor, possibly ending his recent resurgence — and facing the possibility of a long recovery from what could be a torn Achilles.”

Jennings later posted on Twitter: “We gotta just keep pushin’ WE (Pistons) worked to hard to get down about anything right now. We gotta stay focus on the main Goal. Playoffs!”

He did not mention the injury.

 

UPDATE (12:23 a.m. ET): Adrian Wojnarowski adds a bleak rumor on the Jennings saga

 

Australia celebrates historic NBA week

What in the NBA was viewed as a typical lineup change, albeit with the added interest of involving a 2014 lottery pick/ international sensation, was also cause for national pride as Australia continued a historic rise to basketball prominence.

The decision by Quin Snyder to replace incumbent Trey Burke with Dante Exum as the Jazz starting point guard Thursday in Milwaukee — the first time that had happened with Burke healthy — would have been big enough Down Under, where Exum is the embodiment of Australia’s new NBA influence. That his backcourt partner was a fellow Aussie rookie, Joe Ingles, made it an even bigger deal a hemisphere away. And that Snyder’s move came just two games and four days after four Australians were on the floor together for the first time in league history — Ingles and Exum along with Patty Mills and Aron Baynes of the Spurs on Sunday in San Antonio — added to the groundbreaking week back home.

That’s some hot streak for a country that has supported the NBA in impressive ways and has long sent players to North America (Andrew Bogut, Mills, Luc Longley, others) but only in the last couple years has been appreciated for regularly producing top talent. It continued Saturday night in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz stayed with the Exum-Ingles backcourt, and were expected to do so into at least the near future.

The view from Melbourne, via Simon Legg, the chief editor of NBA.com/Australia:

“We’ve seen Patty Mills and Aron Baynes win a championship with the Spurs, Danté Exum get drafted inside the top five — becoming just the second player from Australia to be selected so high, and a record seven players in the NBA over the last seven months. As you can imagine, it’s been an incredibly exciting period for Australian NBA fans. The excitement and the buzz has been around for a little while now, but it felt like it was at fever pitch in the past week as we saw four Australians on an NBA court for the first time, and then Danté and Joe starting together for the second time against the Bucks, and both play well in a gritty victory. Since the season started, the mainstream media has joined in on the excitement, and it’s just continuing to grow as we see new records being created. The Australian fans are very knowledgeable. While they’re excited for Danté, they also know that he has a long way to go and we need to temper our expectations and let his game develop, but the media and the fans are handling his development, and the development of all of our players fairly well. It just gets hard to not be swept up in it sometimes.”

Australia was big business for the NBA even before this, ranking as the No. 1 country outside North America in League Pass subscriptions and No. 1 in eCommerce business heading into 2014-15, according to league officials. The talent pipeline getting stronger in recent years through the Draft and with second-round picks James Ennis (Miami) last season and Jordan McRae (Philadelphia) this season choosing to play there rather than Europe or the D-League adds to the relationship.

“There’s a few things that are helpful,” Scott Levy, the senior vice president and managing director of NBA Asia & India, which overseas Australia and New Zealand, said before the season. “One, it’s a very strong economy. Everyone has credit cards. There’s good Internet penetration, so you can watch a 2½-hour game and have a consistent, secure connection and be able to access that and you can pay for the service as well. That helps. And the consumption by Australians around sports in general – not just NBA, but all sports – if you were to compare that to the amount spent on all sports in any country in the world, Australia would rank right up there at the top per capita. There’s just an incredible passion for sports in that country.”

All-Star weekend will be the next step. Bogut won’t be on the Western Conference squad, but his play with the Warriors has been a major factor in Steve Kerr earning the spot as West coach in New York next month. The Rising Stars Challenge, formerly the rookie sophomore event, could include several players from the region. Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers/Australia) and Steven Adams (Thunder/New Zealand) have a good chance to get picked while Ingles and Exum are both possibilities.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge to return tonight for Portland

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge injured his thumb during Monday’s win over the Sacramento Kings. After a few days of testing, on Thursday the Trail Blazers announced that Aldridge was diagnosed with a radial collateral ligament tear in his left thumb, an injury that require surgery and keep Aldridge out of action for 6-8 weeks. The Trail Blazers are currently 31-13 and in third place in the Western Conference, but without Aldridge for an extended period, that could prove a perilous position.

Then today, in a surprising turn, the Blazers announced that Aldridge has decided to postpone surgery until the end of the season and continue playing…

Aldridge, in his ninth season, is a three-time All-Star and averaging a career-best 23.2 ppg along with 10.2 rpg. His return is a huge boost for a Portland team already without center Robin Lopez, out recovering from a broken hand.

The Blazers certainly seem excited about the development…