Westbrook’s face fixed, will sit Sunday; Irving out; Bosh goes home

VIDEO: Westbrook hurt in loss vs. Blazers

There are sports injuries too gruesome to watch in replay – Joe Theismann’s, Shaun Livingston’s and Paul George’s leg fractures all spring quickly to mind – and then there are those you have to look once, twice, even three times to comprehend.

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook‘s fracture to the zygomatic arch bone in his right cheek qualifies as one of the latter. Westbrook got kneed in the face by Thunder teammate Andre Roberson on an inbounds scramble late in their club’s loss at Portland Friday in a game that saw him record his third straight triple-double. Westbrook, already on the floor, lay on his stomach momentarily. After he got up, photos showed an odd indentation or depression in his face. Royce Young of ESPN.com passed along the day-after basics following surgery Saturday to repair Westbrook’s face:

He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers and will be re-evaluated next week to determine when he can return to play.

Westbrook had his third consecutive triple-double against the Blazers, scoring 40 points with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He had a historic February, averaging 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists, numbers that only ever have been totaled by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Kevin Durant is set to be re-evaluated for a minor procedure he underwent last Sunday and could return as soon as this coming week. In seven games without Durant in February, Westbrook averaged a triple-double — 31.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists.

Westbrook, 26, is averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists in 45 games this season. He missed 14 games in November because of a fracture in his right hand.

Newly acquired D.J. Augustin will start in place of Westbrook on Sunday against the Lakers.

Young also had speculated on what this injury might mean to Westbrook’s well-known sense of fashion:

But here’s the really pertinent stuff:

Meanwhile, Cleveland also will be without its All-Star point guard Sunday at Houston. Kyrie Irving continued treatment Saturday on the left shoulder strain that caused him to miss the Cavaliers’ game at Indiana Friday, his team announced, and will not join the team for its matinee clash with the Rockets. Irving’s status will be updated Tuesday morning prior to the Cavs’ home game that night against Boston.

Craving some good news on the NBA health front? The Miami Heat and their veteran power forward, recovering rather nicely from the condition that ended his 2014-15 season, were happy to oblige late Saturday afternoon:

Anthony Mason, an underdog who became an alpha dog

NEW YORK – Anthony Mason, a fringe basketball prospect who made himself into an NBA All-Star through his indomitable will and unyielding strength, died this morning at the age of 48. Mason reportedly suffered a massive heart attack a few weeks ago, and had been trying to battle back ever since.

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings

Anthony Mason was a key member of the Knicks team that reached the 1994 NBA Finals.

If the news of Mason’s death feels particularly shocking, perhaps it’s because we just weren’t used to seeing Mason lose many battles. A stout, 6-foot-7 forward, Mason played collegiately at the small Tennessee State University, before launching a peripatetic basketball existence. In search of a hoops home, Mason went from Turkey to Colorado, from stints in the NBA to the CBA to the USBL, before finally catching on with Pat Riley’s rough and tumble Knicks in 1991.

In a city defined by its superstars, as a Knick, Mason shined as bright as any of them. His ornate haircuts made him distinctive, but his hard-nosed play made him indispensable. His averages in New York weren’t eye-popping — 9.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg — but Mason provided airtight defense and a post presence, bullying players even when he gave up inches or pounds.

In 1994, the Knicks advanced to the Finals, losing in seven games to the Houston Rockets. The next season, Mason was named Sixth Man of the Year and, with his value at a high and the Knicks looking for a minor rebuild, Mason was traded to Charlotte in a package centered around Larry Johnson.

In three full seasons as a Hornet, Mason developed into a more well-rounded player, averaging a double-double (13.4 ppg and 10 rpg) in his time in the Queen City. He then was reunited in Miami with Riley, and played one season with the Heat, carrying the team while Alonzo Mourning dealt with kidney issues. It was as a member of the Heat that in 2001, at the age of 34, Mason made his only All-Star team, averaging a career-high 16.1 points.

After two more seasons in Milwaukee, Mason retired and returned home to Tennessee, though he made occasional appearances at Knicks games over the years, always to thunderous applause. Perhaps nowhere is an underdog embraced the way they are in New York City, a city built on the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens who feel if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

And nobody defined the underdog quite like Anthony Mason.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”

***

No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”

***

No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”

***

No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for NBCSports.com, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

Wizards seemingly out of magic

VIDEO: 76ers drop Wizards

One game, the Wizards set a season low for points against Minnesota. The next game, the Wizards fail to put up a fight in Philly.

If this were isolated situations, fine. But this is suddenly habit for the Wizards, who are in a total free-fall that could, but probably won’t, drop them out of the playoff picture in the East.

They’ve had an awful February, much like the weather in the Northeast, and have now lost 11 of 13. Hard to believe, but weren’t they 29-13 at one point and hearing talk about having the best young backcourt in the league and being a team to watch?

That seems like many months ago, and now, at 33-26, they’re a lot closer to .500 than expected. Suddenly, Randy Wittman‘s job appears in jeopardy, John Wall isn’t the franchise player many thought and Washington looks like a team that shouldn’t make the playoffs — although they probably will. Only because they play in the East.

After hosting the fast-improving Pistons on Saturday, the Wizards play 7 of their next 11 on the road. Hopefully for their sake, Bradley Beal will be back in action and the misery index will be a lot lower than it is now.

Wall shot just 7-for-26 against the Sixers with four turnovers. He had eight turnovers last week against the Warriors. Not to place a burden on Wall, but has he progressed or regressed? His shooting problems, once a thing of the past, have haunted him lately (34 percent in his last 5 games, including .083 from deep).

Losing 89-81 to the second-worst team in the league is cause to sound the alarm, especially given how lousy the Wizards have been since the last week of January. They’re still eight games ahead of the last playoff spot, but if this keeps up, that number, along with patience in Washington, will, shrink quickly.

 

Unique 2008 draft continues to evolve


VIDEO: GameTime: What’s Next For Chicago?

Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love went in the top five, Brook Lopez the top 10, and that makes perfect sense. All were smart picks that at the very least paid a decent return on the investment and in one case, Westbrook to the Thunder, was the direct hit of a prospect with no experience as a point guard becoming a star as a point guard.

But Tim Reynolds was right in his Associated Press story. The 2008 draft has continued to veer toward the strange, most recently with Rose’s knee injury. And that’s beyond the typical perspective of time of some lottery picks going bad (Michael Beasley second to the Heat, Joe Alexander eighth to the Bucks) and later selections building successful careers (several).

Reynolds’ research:

  • Miami’s Mario Chalmers is the only one among the 60 picks on June 26, 2008, inside Madison Square Garden to win a title. He has played in 29 games in June, compared to 28 combined for everyone else in the draft class.
  • Only four first-rounders have even played in the Finals: Courtney Lee when he was with the Magic, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka with the Thunder and Beasley as part of his on-again, off-again (and back-on-again) relationship with the Heat.
  • Rose’s knee problems have become well documented. Lopez was sidelined the better part of two full years with foot issues. Knee problems cost Eric Gordon more than 100 games over two seasons. Danilo Gallinari and his knees. That’s four lottery picks.
  • Only 10 first-round choices have at least 30 starts in 2014-15. Fifteen are averaging double-figures in scoring. Six have not played in the NBA this season, although it is also noted that rate of attrition of 24 in the NBA now is good compared to some other draft classes of the same general time (13 first-rounders from 2006, 18 from 2007 and 22 from 2009).

And there is the uniqueness of the selections that goes beyond the usual hits and misses. With years to go before a final read on 2008, the relatively early storyline is of a draft that has turned out so bottom heavy, with the majority of the best players coming from beyond the lottery and even beyond the first round: Robin Lopez at 15, Roy Hibbert at No. 17, Ryan Anderson at 21, Lee at 22, Ibaka at 24, Nicolas Batum at 25, George Hill at 26, Nikola Pekovic at 31, DeAndre Jordan at 35, and Goran Dragic at 45.

So much for teams putting a premium on size — that’s a lot of starting centers outside the top 14. Nearly seven years later, the NBA world has seen how much Lopez, Hibbert, Ibaka and Jordan in particular can impact on defense alone.

The ultimate analysis is still pending, because a lot of the players have years to go before their careers can be defined. And, yes, because of Rose. How his injury saga turns out will have an impact on how the Class of 2008 is viewed.

NBA to release officiating reports from close games

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Since taking over as NBA commissioner a little over a year ago, Adam Silver has spoken often of his commitment to increasing transparency between the league and fans. He’s made several moves designed to make more clear the thought process behind the decisions that are made, particularly when officiating has been involved. For instance, flop warnings and point of emphasis memos are now released to the public via an officiating site.

In a new move designed to further heighten transparency, today the NBA announced that beginning next week, they will share what are being called “Last Two Minute” officiating reports, which will break down each officiating decision from the final moments of close games with a play-by-play break down.

According to a press release from the NBA…

“Our fans are passionate and have an intense interest in understanding how the rules are applied,” said Mike Bantom, Executive Vice President of Referee Operations. “NBA referees have the most difficult officiating job in sports, with so many split-second decisions in real time. We trust this consistent disclosure will give fans a greater appreciation of the difficulty of the job and a deeper sense of the correct interpretations of the rules of our game.”

The league will release assessments of officiated events in the last two minutes of games decided in regulation that were within five points at the two-minute mark. Also, the reports will include plays from the last two minutes and overtime of OT games. Each play will be reviewed by a senior referee manager or basketball operations manager who will provide the assessments. Every play on the report will include a video link to that specific play.

The league will post the “Last Two Minute” reports on the NBA.com/Official website by 5:00 p.m. ET the day following each game.

Fans may not agree with every call, but at least now they’ll get an official explanation for each call. Officiating may never be perfect, but it continues moving closer to complete transparency. Which may be as perfect as it will every get.

Bulls expect Rose back before end of season


VIDEO: Bulls GM Gar Forman discusses the latest on Derrick Rose

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It’s been a whirlwind few days in Chicago, where earlier this week we learned that point guard Derrick Rose had been diagnosed with a meniscus tear in his right knee, the same meniscus he tore in November of 2013, which kept him out for most of last season. The new injury meniscus injury was at least initially feared to require another season-ending surgery for Rose, which would make this Rose’s fourth consecutive season cut hideously short by injury.

But it soon became apparent that Rose’s injury wasn’t as severe as was previously feared. And following the procedure this morning, Bulls GM Gar Forman announced at a press conference that Rose should return in 4-6 weeks, meaning Rose should return before the end of the regular season.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”

 

Earl Lloyd, NBA’s first black player, dead at 86


VIDEO: Earl Lloyd was a pioneer as the NBA’s first black player

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to play in a NBA game, died Thursday at 86.

A 2003 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame as a contributor, Lloyd served as pioneer and true barrier breaker for generations of African-American players and other players of color who followed his path into the league.

Lloyd suited up with the Washington Capitols on October 31, 1950. Charles Cooper and Nat Clifton would join him in the 1950-51 season, an arduous journey during those tumultuous times, but one that Lloyd, a former West Virginia State star, survived all of the drama and won a championship in 1955 with the Syracuse Nationals. Lloyd finished his 10-year playing career with the Detroit Pistons and when he retired he was 43rd on the NBA career scoring list with 4,682 points.

Lloyd went on to become one of the NBA’s first African-American head coaches, with the Pistons from 1971-72.

 

Kings’ Collison could be done for season with hip injury

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Add another player to the list of guys who are likely done for the season.

Yahoo’s Marc Spears reports that Kings point guard Darren Collison will have surgery on his right hip next week …

The team said Thursday the operation is to repair a “core muscle injury.” Collison has missed the past seven games with what the team said was a strained right hip flexor. Collison is to meet with Dr. William Meyers on Monday in Philadelphia. Collison will have surgery Tuesday and be re-evaluated in three to six weeks.

Collison has had a solid season, was key to the Kings’ strong start, and is a part of the third-best starting lineup in the league. Through all their ups and downs this season, the Kings’ starters have outscored their opponents by 16.4 points per 100 possessions in more than 400 minutes together.

Second-year guard Ray McCallum has started the last three games in Collison’s place, though Andre Miller has played an equal number of minutes off the bench.

Collison is under contract for two more seasons, at a little over $5 million per year.