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Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors keep chugging along | Kidd-Gilchrist needs MRI on shoulder | Prokhorov, Nets readying GM short-list | Love (shoulder) not expected to miss time

No. 1: Warriors roll into All-Star break at 48-4 — From the start of the season, the Golden State Warriors have been the story to follow. From a 24-0 start to their dazzling offense to the exploits of reigning MVP Stephen Curry, Golden State is dominating opponents and having fun along the way, too. They head into the All-Star break a game ahead of the pace the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls set when they won an NBA-record 72 games. After last night’s win in Phoenix, the players and coaches talked about how that record is firmly in their sights, writes Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group:

Klay Thompson described the record the Warriors have as surreal, with them rolling at a record pace without any sign of a championship hangover.

Whatever you want to chalk it up to, people saying it was a fluke, yada, yada, you just want to go out and prove that we’ll be here for a long time,” Thompson said.

Despite uncertainty at head coach with Steve Kerr missing much of the first half of the regular season, the Warriors held steady and dominated the competition. They notched 30-point wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs after starting the season 24-0 under interim head coach Luke Walton.

“I think that streak sort of gave guys extra motivation through the first quarter of the season,” Kerr said. “And then since that time, we’ve been on a good run.”

Said Stephen Curry: “We handled a lot of challenges pretty well this first half of the season and kept our high level of consistency.”

In garbage time, rookie Kevon Looney got in on the action and managed to bank in the first 3-pointer of his career.

Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson traveled to Toronto, where they will participate in festivities during All-Star weekend and play in Sunday’s game

The rest of the Warriors will get to rest and focus on what the Warriors have to do in the second half.

“Just play with great focus, because when we do that, we’re almost impossible to beat,” Thompson said.

Kerr was among those who could use time to relax. He didn’t feel well following the Warriors’ win against the Houston Rockets the previous night at Oracle Arena, explaining he was dealing with a headache and he appeared uncomfortable during Tuesday’s brief postgame news conference.

“I still have symptoms from everything I’ve been dealing with, so I wish everything was clear and gone away, but it’s not, so at times I have to deal with stuff,” Kerr said.

Kerr will travel to his home in San Diego for the All-Star break after having won all nine of his games on the bench this season. He missed the first 43 and indicated upon his return three weeks ago that his symptoms were manageable following a leave of absence caused by complications from an offseason back surgery.

“I don’t want to go into detail with all this stuff, but there’s a lot to it in terms of my protocol that I’m going through,” Kerr said. The All-Star break will give me a chance to get through some of that, too.”

***

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl staying in Sacramento after all | Report: Evans done for season | Anthony sticking by Jackson, Knicks

No. 1: Divac keeping Karl around after all — Overnight on Monday, news broke that the Sacramento Kings were preparing to fire coach George Karl sometime before the All-Star break. It seemed a near certainty as national media and local media had similar reports on the goings on. But then yesterday afternoon, the Kings decided to reverse field and keep Karl around. Why the sudden change of heart? Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has the explanation:

Instead of firing his coach as had been reportedly imminent, Kings general manager Vlade Divac began discussions with George Karl on Tuesday about how to pull the team out of its slide.

“We are not firing George,” Divac told The Sacramento Bee. “We have to sit down, work together and figure out how to turn this around.”

The Kings (21-31) have lost four consecutive games and eight of nine. They are in 10th place in the Western Conference and end a four-game trip Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers in their last game before the All-Star break.

Before this slump, the Kings won a season-best five consecutive games and moved into the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Entering Tuesday, they were five games behind the eighth-place Utah Jazz.

Tuesday’s conversation between Divac and Karl focused on the Kings’ three-point and transition defenses and overall lack of defensive energy – three areas that have plagued the team all season.

Divac does not believe firing Karl is the solution.

“We have some issues, but it’s not that we can’t win,” Divac said. “This is how we are now. It can be painful to watch. I can only imagine what it’s like for the fans.”

The Kings are giving up a league-high 10.7 three-pointers per game and 14.6 fast-break points per game, 23rd in the league.

Players have been unhappy with many of the defensive schemes and what they see as a lack of adjustments to address the problems.

“We’ve just got to take pride in defense,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday’s loss at Cleveland.

Rondo noted the Kings have allowed at least 120 points in five of their past eight losses.

“We’re giving up 30 a quarter a night; we’re giving out career highs, season highs, first of whatever. It’s frustrating,” he said. “We just can’t keep laying down. We’ve got to have some kind of fight and find a way.”

The ease with which opponents score has caused many to question the pride of the players and their commitment to defense.

***

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Karl to be fired before All-Star break | James ’emotional’ over Kobe’s farewell tour | Communication issues dogging Bulls

No. 1:UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.

With the earlier news passing as an almost foregone conclusion all day long regarding coach George Karl‘s future, the Sacramento Kings reversed field Tuesday afternoon and decided they will not be firing Karl anytime soon, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Reports: Karl to be fired soon — On Jan. 23, the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers behind a monstrous 48-point night from All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. That victory was the Kings’ fifth in a row and had them solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But, oh, how things have changed since then. Sacramento has lost eight of its last nine games and is on a four-game slump, all of which has turned those good feelings a few weeks ago back into turmoil for the Kings. And in the wake of coach Derek Fisher surprisingly being fired by the New York Knicks on Monday, it seems Kings coach George Karl is next in line to be fired. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more, as does ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

League sources said the Kings will fire coach George Karl in the coming days amid the team’s worst stretch this season.

The sources said Karl will not keep his job beyond the All-Star break. The Kings’ final game before the break is Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

A season that looked to be on the upswing last month has gone awry, leaving the players to wonder if they have the fortitude to turn things around.

“I hope that’s the case,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday night’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. “But with optional shootarounds, it’s tough. We’ve lost eight of nine. When three or four guys show up for shootaround (Monday) morning, how can you expect to win?”

Optional workouts are nothing new for the Kings under Karl. But with the team in a tailspin and its defense faltering, players questioned the logic behind making anything optional.

After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style.

Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.

Players’ rumblings over the lack of defensive adjustments have grown louder during the current rut as offensively challenged teams like the Brooklyn Nets post multiple season and career highs against Sacramento.

The Kings often look unprepared defensively, leaving shooters open and watching as opponents execute the most obvious game plans against them. They’ve given up 120.8 points per game during their current four-game losing streak.

“We go into the game knowing that we’ve got to protect the (three-point) line, knowing that LeBron (James’) favorite target is J.R. (Smith),” Rondo said. “And what do we do? We come in and let LeBron find J.R. We’ve got to stop making excuses; that’s the bottom line. We make too many excuses as a team.”

A separation between Karl and the players has existed at various levels throughout the season. But it is at its greatest when the Kings are playing at their worst.

As the point guard, Rondo was supposed to be a bridge between Karl and the players. Rondo has even said he believes he and Karl should speak more to each other.

Asked if his talks with Karl still are productive, Rondo said, “After every meeting on a game-day shootaround, we talk. He asks me questions, and sometimes I give him my feedback and sometimes I don’t say anything.”

After Monday’s loss, Karl acknowledged a lot of “mental frustration” was surrounding the Kings.

And here’s Stein’s breakdown of the situation in Sacramento:

The Sacramento Kings are going ahead with a coaching change and plan to fire George Karl in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.

NBA coaching sources told ESPN that the Kings have decided internally that a change on the bench is needed and is likely to happen after Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Within the organization, according to sources, concerns have been mounting for weeks that Karl was not providing the stewardship Sacramento expected when it hired the 64-year-old from ESPN during the 2015 All-Star break to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin.

Sources said rising dismay, both within the front office and among players, with Karl’s defensive schemes, practice policies and general leadership have had a demoralizing effect on the players, who have slumped into a 1-8 funk in the wake of a recent five-game win streak that briefly had Sacramento in the West’s eighth playoff spot.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made no secret of his hope to see his team reach the postseason and bring a halt to the franchise’s nine-season playoff drought in its final season at Sleep Train Arena before moving into a new building in Sacramento.

Divac, sources said, is seeking only an interim coach for now and wants to take his time with a proper coaching search, in hopes of bringing some much-needed stability to the position and the organization.

The Kings’ next coach will be their league-most ninth since 2006-07, the season that began the postseason drought.

Sources said Ranadive, who took ownership of the Kings in May 2013, has left the decision of whether to fire Karl fully with Divac. The owner twice bucked NBA convention by hiring a coach — first Mike Malone, then Karl — before hiring his GM.

Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who played alongside Divac on Sacramento’s best teams in the early 2000s, essentially called for Karl’s dismissal on the team’s local postgame show after the Brooklyn defeat.

Karl has an estimated $10 million in guaranteed money left on his original four-year, $15 million contract with the Kings. His ouster would be the sixth coaching change of this NBA season, which is two shy of the league’s record of eight before the All-Star break, set during the 2008-09 season.


VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl unsure how to fix Kings’ issues | Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time | Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way | Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50

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):

https://twitter.com/StephenCurry30/status/696542942656266243

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 failuresKevin 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 …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 7



VIDEO: Highlights of Saturday’s 10 games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

George Karl hanging by a string? | Mark Cuban says leave hacking strategy aloneKobe reflects on Lakers-Spurs, Popovich | What’s in the future of the struggling Wolves?

No. 1: Karl hanging by a string? — If it’s Sunday, then George Karl‘s job must be in jeopardy. Every other week, it seems, the Kings coach is headed out the door, and the most recent reports of trouble were intensified when the Kings were clobbered in Brooklyn, of all places, and DeMarcus Cousins said some cryptic statements that hinted of a possible coaching change. Well, Karl will coach Sunday in Boston — at least we think — and did take time to answer questions about his future (or lack thereof). Would the Kings really fire Karl and bring yet another coach to the franchise? Yikes. Here’s Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writing about the latest on Karl:

Karl seemed amused by a string of questions about his future after he led the Kings through a 90-minute off-day workout Saturday at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion, but he kept steering the conversation back to Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics.

“I don’t have any control over what other people are thinking or saying. That’s their storm,” Karl said. “My preference would be it wouldn’t be there. But there’s always energy today. Then once something gets out, it magnifies and grows and becomes a storm. That’s not my storm. My storm is the Boston Celtics.”

Added Karl: “I have no control of what other people think or whatever people are circulating. My job is to get prepared for Boston. We had a good practice [Saturday], and I’m happy with the practice. Boston’s playing at a great level. Probably the best they’ve played in two years. Their win [Friday] night [in Cleveland] was pretty impressive. They kept coming after a team that thought they had them beat about four times and stole the end from them. It was really a gutty win by the Celtics.”

Increasingly concerned about their floundering play under Karl, the Kings entered the weekend hoping to delay any decision about the coach’s future until the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Sources said the nature of the team’s 128-119 loss Friday night to Brooklyn — Sacramento’s sixth defeat in seven games — and the fallout it generated have the Kings contemplating an immediate coaching change.

Does Karl believe he’s in danger if the team is mulling a change?

“I don’t think I’m in limbo,” he said. “I think I’ve got a heckuva challenge [against] a team that’s played damn well — probably it’s best basketball in the last six weeks. If you want to overreact to the last four or five games, that’s somebody else’s reaction, not my reaction. I think this team is still in a place that we can solve some problems and be good.”

Kings point guard Rajon Rondo said he hasn’t paid much attention to the chatter surrounding his coach.

“I haven’t heard it,” he said. “I talked to my agent this morning, but it was just about how the team is doing, how the team morale was. But I haven’t bought into it or read into too much of [the Karl reports]. It’s just part of the business. Coaches fired, players being traded — there’s no difference.”

Both Rondo and Karl noted that the Kings had been playing better before a recent funk. Rondo said it’s not time to panic … yet.

“When we don’t have an opportunity to get into the playoffs, that’s when we can panic,” Rondo said. “But the last 10 games, I think our record is 5-5. It’s not the worst; it’s not 3-7. We started off the season 1-7, so we’ve hit a tough stretch, some games we could have won. Brooklyn played amazing [Friday] night, shot the heck out of the ball. That’s part of it. There’s going to be games like that. Hopefully we can turn it around and get a win [Sunday] afternoon.”

Added Karl: “Ten days ago, we were on a five-game winning streak. … Every NBA season has scheduled parts that say, ‘Hey, this is a tough time.’ And since our beginning, our bad start, we’ve been a .500 team. We’re still a .500 team.”

Karl said it has been a process to get everyone on the same page, given the roster turnover this past summer.

“The whole season, when you change your roster with 10 players, you’re consistently trying to build better communication and a better connection and trying to get a commitment that’s a winning commitment,” Karl said. “Players question coaching. Coaching questions players. That’s the way it’s going to be. The truth of the matter is I think this team has hung together pretty well through a lot of ups and downs this year.

“Our perseverance level has been maybe not an A but a B-plus. And when we play good teams, we usually play well. Our weaknesses have been home court, intensity and maybe overlooking a team with a bad record. But you can watch that film last night. Brooklyn played damn well.”

***

 No. 2: Cuban says leave hacking strategy alone — The technique of intentionally fouling poor free throw shooters is the rage among coaches and another kind of rage among fans. There’s the belief that the game is worse off when DeAndre Jordan is shooting 15 free throws, although others believe that it’s part of the game and the league shouldn’t alter the rules just to relieve pressure from a half-dozen players with severe free-throw issues. Count Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the latter group. Cuban doesn’t feel it’s necessary to make drastic, if any, changes to the intentional fouling rule, or fouling players off the ball. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last Friday that he may favor a change. We’ll see. Here’s Tom Haberstroh of ESPN on Cuban:

On Friday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today Sports that he was “increasingly of the view” that the league will implement new rules this summer to prevent intentional fouling of poor free throw shooters.

“At the end of the day,” Silver said, “we are an entertainment property, and it’s clear when you’re in the arena that fans are looking at me shrugging their shoulders with that look saying, ‘Aren’t you going to do something about this?'”

Cuban disagrees with the notion that it is hurting the game’s entertainment value and told ESPN.com on Saturday morning that he believes fans actually feel more part of the game in hack-a-player situations, citing the example of fans getting on their feet to challenge an opposing player at the free throw line.

Cuban also said hacking adds an element of intrigue.

“Will they leave him in or leave him out?” Cuban said. “How do both teams feel about it? How will they foul? Is it a new creative way, or is it just chasing?”

The hack-a-player strategy has been on the rise around the league. As of Friday, according to tracking by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton, there had been 266 hack-a-player instances this season, already far exceeding last season’s total of 164. There were 52 instances through the All-Star break last season, and the NBA has surpassed that total by more than 200 ahead of next week’s All-Star Weekend in Toronto.

The majority of intentional fouls have come against tall, poor free throw shooting big men such as Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard.

Cuban said hack-a-player strategies offer a teachable moment for fans and young athletes, especially parents who could spend time “watching the shots and telling your kids why practice matters and how amazing it is that they can do something that an NBA player can’t.

“Will a 7-foot man try to run and escape a foul so he doesn’t have to do what so many 12-year-olds do in games every day?” Cuban added.

Cuban argues that the chess match of hack-a-player makes the game more fascinating for fans.

“Does he make the free throws?” Cuban said. “If he makes one or two, will they do it again? Did the strategy work?”

Cuban contends that the league might be overreacting to a small minority of “basketball purists” outside the media.

“We have to realize that the number of basketball purists that aren’t in the media is probably under 1,000 people globally,” Cuban said. “There is no special basketball beauty in walking the ball up the court and dribbling around the perimeter. Will we change that too?”

***

No. 3: Kobe sounds off on Lakers-Spurs, Popovich — If nothing else, Kobe Bryant is in a reflective mood in this, his final NBA season, especially in places where his memories are deep and meaningful. San Antonio is such a place, and Kobe spoke glowingly about the Spurs, and what they’ve meant to his development as a future Hall of Famer, and also his thoughts on Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. As Kobe spoke, his thoughts were recorded by Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

What do you recall of the Spurs-Lakers battles?

It was fun. The most fun was when they had home-court advantage, and we had to come up here and play, and we wound up getting both games up here. It was intense — we knew what they could do, we knew how they would play, we knew their momentum, we knew how they liked to execute — but their were just some nights where we never could get in front of them. Their ball movement, we were always kinda chasing the game. I do miss The Dome, though. I do miss that. I remember playing in there, there was something about the rims there that I really enjoyed. Then when they moved here, the first couple of games really threw me off. I hated playing here. I couldn’t shoot for crap. But, playing at The Dome was a lot of fun.

How has your relationship with Gregg Popovich evolved?

It’s been amazing. I mean, he’s been so open with me and I’ve been a sponge every chance I get to be around him. I talk to him a lot about the game, I ask him questions about the game, how he teaches the game. One of my favorite times that I spent with him was during the All-Star game when he was coaching. He came up to me right before practice and he said, ‘Hey, should I do a real practice or like a whatever walk-through All-Star practice?” I said, ‘Do a real practice, because I want to see what the hell goes on in San Antonio, so you’ve got to do all the real stuff.’ The guys were kind of looking around like ‘What the hell.’ Tim just looked at me like, ‘You’re killing me.’ I wanted to see what goes down.

Is that going to be the plan for this All-Star Game?

“I hope it is because it’s rare to play for one of the all-time greatest coaches. I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I’ve had Phil and played under Pop for several times. It’s been great.”

Was Tim’s success ever a driving force for you?

“It’s strange. No, because the competitiveness was always centered around us vs. them. You have to beat them. In the process of us getting to the next level you wind up beating Tim Duncan but against San Antonio you cannot afford to think individually for one second because they’ll burn you so I never had that personal rivalry with him.”

Is it weird to play them without Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan suiting up?

“Nah. I’ve played against them for so many year, it’s like, ‘enough already.’ We’ve had all those battles before.”

Can you compare facing Bruce Bowen to facing Kawhi Leonard?

“It’s very difficult to give you a very intelligent … I could give you a BS answer but it’s hard to make that comparison. I saw Bruce so many times. Kawhi I’ve only played against one-and-a-half times and nothing at a really high level of a matchup. So it’s very hard for me to compare the two. From what I see on TV Bruce uses length a lot more. He was kind of in and out, tapping the arms and trying to break your rhythm, things of that nature. Kawhi tends to use his body a lot more and plays position a lot more. But they both have phenomenal hands.”

Could you have imagined playing for Pop for 20 years?

“Of course.”

That wouldn’t have been a problem?

“Nah. I’d have won a lot of championships.”

Does this rivalry mean more to you than the Celtics?

“It’s more personal because it’s the rivalry that I played through. The Celtics rivalry is something I grew up watching. IK played against them a couple of times in The Finals. But San Antonio was year in and year out. The year we won the championship it was like, ‘Well, Tim was hurt so it really doesn’t count.’ So the second run it was, ‘OK, you guys had a shortened season and we had Tim when he was hurt so now let’s see what’s up.’

“That rivalry was what fueled the majority of my career.”

How do you think you would have dealt with Pop wanting to sit you if you were dinged up or tired?

“I’d have been fine because he never would have known I was dinged up or tired … ‘You on the training table? No. I’m good.’ “

You said last year there is some jealousy Tim’s had the same coach all these years … you had that a bit with Phil but he’s gone. Is there a jealousy factor for Spurs having that continuity, the group of players who have been with him so long?

“I think that starts at the top with Pop, starts at the top with the ownership. They’re very clear on what the identity is, very clear on what they stand for, what they represent. They’re very clear on the style of player that they want to have. They’ve been consistent with that year over year. That’s why it becomes easier for them to select certain players to draft, certain players to trade for. Because they’re looking for certain type of player. That leads to consistency.

We’ve had changes. We have Dr. Buss passing away, have Jeannie and Jim, you have Phil coming and going. You have all these things going on and so as a result system changing as well. So there’s a lot of inconsistency. What they’ve done here which is phenomenal, probably compared to the Patriots, is had so much consistency from top to bottom.”

Ever wonder what you could have done with that kind of consistency around you?

Of course, you wonder that. But just for fun. I can’t sit here and complain. I’ve eaten pretty well. So I can’t complain that there’s no dessert left.

***

No. 4: What’s in the future for the struggling Wolves? — These are interesting times for the Wolves. On one hand, they appear headed in the right direction for the first time in over a decade, with a batch of intriguing young players on the roster and a possible lottery pick coming in June and plenty of room under the salary cap. However, there are questions about the leadership of this team, from Glen Taylor (who has resisted overtures of selling the majority of the team) and GM Milt Newton and the coaching staff led by Sam Mitchell, a situation that was thrown in question with the passing of Flip Saunders. Despite all of their promise, the Wolves have struggled this season and therefore it wouldn’t be surprised if they underwent an off-season shakeup. Here’s a report from Chip Scoggins of the Star-Tribune:

Kevin Garnett joined the chorus of people who have offered reviews of Sam Mitchell’s coaching acumen, stumping last week for his head coach and friend like a savvy politician.

“I feel real good about the progression of this team since Day 1, and I think it needs to be said and needs to be understood that I’m endorsing Sam Mitchell and our coaching staff and this organization,” Garnett told reporters.

KG’s comments served as a rebuttal to a groundswell of public sentiment that believes Mitchell’s stint as Timberwolves interim coach should last only until the end of this season.

Mitchell’s job performance rating has become a popular talker with respect to the nucleus of young talent in the organization and whether he’s the right coach to oversee their future.

The attention paid to Mitchell has deflected focus from an issue of equal importance, if not greater: What will owner Glen Taylor do with his top leadership position?

Will he keep interim basketball boss Milt Newton in place, or look outside for someone else to run the operation? Another theory floated is that Taylor perhaps could retain Newton as general manager and hire a president of basketball operations.

Kevin Garnett joined the chorus of people who have offered reviews of Sam Mitchell’s coaching acumen, stumping last week for his head coach and friend like a savvy politician.

“I feel real good about the progression of this team since Day 1, and I think it needs to be said and needs to be understood that I’m endorsing Sam Mitchell and our coaching staff and this organization,” Garnett told reporters.

KG’s comments served as a rebuttal to a groundswell of public sentiment that believes Mitchell’s stint as Timberwolves interim coach should last only until the end of this season.

Mitchell’s job performance rating has become a popular talker with respect to the nucleus of young talent in the organization and whether he’s the right coach to oversee their future.

The attention paid to Mitchell has deflected focus from an issue of equal importance, if not greater: What will owner Glen Taylor do with his top leadership position?

Will he keep interim basketball boss Milt Newton in place, or look outside for someone else to run the operation? Another theory floated is that Taylor perhaps could retain Newton as general manager and hire a president of basketball operations.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are the Bucks simply experiencing growing pains, or is it something more troubling? … Jimmy Butler is feeling good about his chances of returning to the court soon, maybe within days … Can Russell Westbrook average a triple-double for a season and pull an Oscar Robertson? .. The Sixers should extend their talent search overseas, given their dire straits …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 6


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin not going anywhere, says Doc | Time for a Pistons’ shakeup?Lue remains work in progress | All eyes on Warriors vs Thunder

No. 1:Griffin not going anywhere, says Doc — Well, that was quick. When the day began, there were rumors floating that Blake Griffin and the Clippers were on the outs and he was headed elsewhere by the trade deadline. On the surface, that didn’t seem plausible; why would the Clippers be willing to break up a potential 50-win team at mid-season? ell, the denial of sorts came quickly; Doc Rivers emerged to back his power forward. There was also other Griffin news; ESPN reported that his hand required an additional surgery to repair the injury, although the timetable remains the same, four to six weeks. Here’s James Herbert of CBS Sports recapping the Griffin trade buzz, from start to (we think) finish:

The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets reportedly talked about a Blake Griffin trade, but it sounds like the superstar isn’t going anywhere. Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers strongly denied the rumors before Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“Blake’s ours and he’s going to stay ours,” Rivers told reporters, via the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch.

Forbes’ Mitch Lawrence reported that the Clippers are calling teams, including the Nuggets, about Griffin, and Denver is “somewhat leery” of doing a deal because he can enter free agency after next season. The Orange County Register’s Dan Woike, however, reported that the Nuggets placed the call about Griffin and the Clippers weren’t interested. The Times also reported that multiple teams had reached out about Griffin, but the Clippers, again, plan to keep him.

Given that Griffin is a top-10 player by any measure — we ranked him No. 7 before the season and he outperformed expectations before he hurt his quad and, later, reportedly punched the Clippers’ equipment manager — it is easy to take Rivers at his word. Perhaps, if Los Angeles suffers another disappointing loss in the playoffs, it will make sense to consider breaking up the core of Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. There is no reason, though, to rush into a trade now, unless an unbelievable offer is sent the Clippers’ way.

As CBS Sports’ Matt Moore noted, Rivers’ team is in win-now mode. There are not many scenarios where trading away a 26-year-old franchise player helps you win in the short term. It’s OK to fire up the trade machine and dream up some crazy swap, but don’t count on anything actually happening.

The trade deadline is Feb. 18.

***

 No. 2:Pistons need a shakeup? — These are weird times for the Pistons. On one hand, they’ve clearly established themselves as a playoff-caliber team this season, and boast first-time All-Star Andre Drummond, the first Pistons No. 1 pick to be named to the game since Grant Hill in 2000. On the other hand, the Pistons often seem that they’re stuck in mediocrity, and you wonder if coach Stan Van Gundy, who doubles as the organization’s shot-caller, will attempt a trade in order to quicken the rebuilding process. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press thinks that would be a good idea:

The Pistons need a trade, especially if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s core muscle strain sidelines the athletic defensive specialist longer than they hope. The conjecture might make Van Gundy uncomfortable, but he must make a realistic expectation for his team in the second half of the season. If he defines a successful campaign as simply ending the franchise’s six-year playoff drought, then he should ride out KCP’s absence and the roller-coaster inconsistency of a young team that frustrates as much as it excites.

But if Van Gundy believes the right trade at the right price could make the Pistons a genuine first-round playoff threat instead of an early sacrifice, coach Van Gundy should convince president Van Gundy to pull the trigger on a deal that could give the Pistons more experience, athleticism and depth.

The Pistons looked bad even in victory Thursday night. They beat New York, 111-105, but it was inexcusable to give up a 27-point lead to a team that played as though it wanted to be anywhere else but the Palace. The Knicks finally got their first advantage of the night with a little more than 2 minutes remaining.

The Pistons nearly embarrassed themselves before a national television audience. TNT was in town for the game, making it the first time the Pistons have played on the national network since the 2008-09 season.

Reggie Jackson saved Detroit in the closing moments with two three-pointers.

They’ll miss Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons announced following the game he will be re-evaluated following the All-Star break, meaning he’ll miss at least another four games.

Van Gundy previously said he’s content with his current roster, but that’s more about throwing people off the scent. His most valuable trading asset is Jennings, even though the point guard has an expiring contract that might dissuade many teams from returning phone calls.

“I got an e-mail from (general manager Jeff Bower) with all the discussions that have gone on, and there was no mention of Brooklyn and there was no mention of Brandon,” Van Gundy said.

Longtime NBA reporter Chris Sheridan reported on his website Thursday the Pistons have talked with the Nets about trading Jennings for Young, a 6-foot-8 athletic wing who’s in the first year of a four-year contract paying him $11.2 million this season.

Van Gundy referred to the report as “made up (blank).”

There have been reports that the Pistons are interested in New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson, who once played for Van Gundy in Orlando. But Anderson is on an expiring contract. He’ll be a free agent next summer. And unlike past years, there will be far more teams with money to spend considering the massive influx of national television revenue dollars expected to dramatically pump up the 2017 NBA salary cap.

Van Gundy might get even angrier as the deadline approaches and more trade rumors will be thrown against the wall. But the potentially extended loss of Caldwell-Pope places more pressure on the Pistons making a move in the next two weeks.

***

No. 3: Lue remains work in progress — After losing his first game as coach of the Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue‘s imprint of the team appeared to surface and the Cavs finally at least looked and sounded comfortable this season. That said. Luke understands the perils of a rookie head coach, especially in mid-season and particularly with a team that has understandably adopted a “championship or bust” motto. His predicament was broken down the other day by Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

“It’s a lot of thoughts,” he told reporters this week. “There’s a lot of stuff you have to put in and so much stuff you have to do. I wrote a lot of notes and went over them the next day.”

That next day, a Saturday, when Lue addressed the media, he promised to be “better” than Blatt and to invigorate Kevin Love, whose production had been inconsistent and whose place in the offense was rather confusing. Love did not want to be a traditional “Stretch 4” in the Cavaliers offense.

But there he was, the burly 6-foot-10-inch, 250-pounder standing at the 3-point line to stretch the floor. Lue has emphasized that Love receive the ball more at the elbows — corner of the key — and score from the inside out.

Love is averaging 20.4 points in his past five games as the Cavaliers attempt to rise to the level of the best teams in the Western Conference. Cleveland is the prohibitive favorite to reach the NBA Finals but getting there would mean little if the Cavaliers get embarrassed by the Golden State Warriors — again.

The Warriors laid a 34-point beatdown on the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in a Jan. 18 game that marked the end of the Blatt era. General manager David Griffin’s decision to fire Blatt was heavily criticized around the league, with James assigned most of the blame for the fact the players were disconnected with the coach.

Lue relayed the message immediately that he was not going to serve as the buddy-coach to make LeBron and the rest of the guys feel comfortable. He said LeBron and Kyrie Irving were not in good enough shape to run a more up-tempo offense.

That multiyear contract gives Lue the security to make his own decisions and trust his own instincts. Seven months younger than Brad Stevens, Lue is one of the new younger NBA coaches — born in the mid to late 1970s — teams are beginning to trust.

The Phoenix Suns named former guard Earl Watson as interim coach this week. Watson is 36. Perhaps what Stevens has exemplified to NBA teams is that younger coaches are not exactly pushovers and perhaps more in tune with current players and more open to the analytical side of the game.

Lue has fresh ideas on how to improve the Cavaliers. He wants more passes on offense and less one-on-one play, despite the presence of the most unstoppable one-on-one player in the game. He also suggested the players actually participate in the pregame introductions at home because it engages the crowd more. Under Blatt, the players wouldn’t even acknowledge their intros.

It’s touch-and-go for Lue at this point. He is going to coach the Cavaliers his way and bank on his past experience and tireless work ethic to aid his progress. His rise has been rapid but there is a sense that the Cleveland organization is in better hands.

Sacrificing everything for the ultimate goal is the message Lue is trying to relay.

“Winning takes care of everything,” he said. “Winning two championships with the Lakers for me, people probably wouldn’t even know who I was. I was the 15th man that first year and people love me in LA. I was part of a team, part of a championship. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

***

No. 4: All eyes on Warriors vs. Thunder — The Super Bowl will be held Sunday just down the Bay in San Jose, but first the San Francisco-Oakland area will be buzzing about one of the more anticipated games of the season, the first between Oklahoma City and the Warriors. So far, the Warriors have beaten all serious comers, including the Cavs and Spurs, and so is OKC next? Steph Curry caused a minor stir a week ago when he answered “A win and a win” when asked about this weekend; he was referring to his game and also his Carolina Panthers against the Broncos. Here’s a sneak preview from Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

The NBA community has been waiting for more than three months for this matchup: a star-studded tilt between the league’s top two offenses and a game that added another layer of drama this week when it was reported that the Warriors are the favorites to land Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant this summer.

“There are only two teams that can beat (the Warriors): the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs,” Charles Barkley said. The Warriors have “that swagger. When you become a great player, you develop a certain thing, where you think, ‘I’m the baddest S.O.B. out here. There’s nothing they can do.’ Steph (Curry) has that right now, but let me tell you something: That team in Oklahoma City, I might even put them ahead of the Spurs, because they’re the only team that can score with those guys.”

The Warriors (45-4) lead the NBA in scoring (115.4 points per game) and are No. 2 in field-goal percetage (49.1).

And lately, they’ve been even better. During the league’s longest active winning streak (eight games), the Warriors are averaging 123 points per game.

The Thunder (38-13) are second in scoring (109.7 points per game) and are third in field-goal percentage (47.6).

And, just like the Warriors, they’ve been even better of late. Oklahoma City has won 12 of 13 and has averaged 120.3 points during a five-game winning streak.

“There is no team in the NBA that has more talent than Oklahoma City. No team. They’re two-deep at every position,” Barkley said. “… As great as Russell (Westbrook) is, I wish he would just say, ‘I’m not going to worry about scoring. I’m just going to slow down Steph Curry.’ I don’t think anybody can stop Steph Curry.

“But (Westbrook) doesn’t play with the same energy on defense that he does on offense. Ain’t no player in the NBA faster than him going downhill. But he doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to stop my man, and I’m going to make a difference by stopping Steph Curry.’”

Curry and Westbrook won’t be matched up one-on-one throughout the game, but when the point guards are going at it, they should provide highlights fitting the stage. With hordes of celebrities and national media in the Bay Area for Super Bowl 50, the Warriors have had to add auxiliary press seating grander than what was used during the 2015 NBA Finals.

Curry is coming off Wednesday’s 51-point outburst, during which he made 11 three-pointers in Washington. Westbrook recorded his third straight triple-double the same night, with 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in a 117-114 victory over Orlando.

“The improvement Russell Westbrook has made is glaringly different this year,” Smith said.

Said O’Neal: “When you’re the underdogs, but you feel like you’re the best, you really come in and play. Against Golden State, you have to do everything right. I know K.D. and Westbrook are definitely going to bring their ‘A’ games.”

Durant, the league’s third-leading scorer (2.4 points per game behind No. 1 Curry), considers Golden State his top potential landing spot if he leaves Oklahoma City this summer, according to a Yahoo.

“Who knows what will happen?” Curry said. “Where he’ll end up, only Kevin knows that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James doesn’t want hack-a-whomever to go away, even though Cleveland opponents target Tristan ThompsonJimmy Butler is no doubt feeling a lot better now that his injury Friday was diagnosed a knee sprain. Also, he’s super-tight with Broncos’ receiver Demaryius Thomas, so guess who he has in the Super Bowl?… PJ Tucker doesn’t want to get traded. Got that, Suns? … Chandler Parsons is sometimes on the bench during crunch time but Rick Carlisle says not to worry … Marc Gasol is already a big fan of Kristaps Porzingis, but who isn’t?

Morning shootaround — Feb. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ballmer: Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for fight | Ainge says no trades imminent | Report: Bucks willing to deal | Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons

No. 1: Ballmer says Griffin will face ‘consequences’ for scuffle — The Los Angeles Clippers are about a week into the four-to-six-week timeframe they’re looking at being without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. He is out with a broken hand, suffered during an off-the-court fight with a team equipment manager in Toronto a few weeks ago. While the NBA is investigating the incident, team owner Steve Ballmer says there will be repercussions for Griffin, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

In his first interview since Blake Griffin punched out the team’s assistant equipment manager, the Clippers owner sounded as if he was prepared to discipline his All-Star forward.

Asked Wednesday night if he felt it necessary for the Clippers to take the kind of action that would represent what they stand for, Ballmer didn’t hesitate.

“There needs to be consequences,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Citing a team investigation into the incident that resulted in a broken right hand for Griffin, Ballmer didn’t offer any details, so it’s not known whether the Clippers might add to whatever punishment the Kia pitchman receives from the NBA. Still, Ballmer made it clear that employee-on-employee violence would not be tolerated.

If his actions back his words, good for him.

Ballmer was measured when speaking of Griffin, condemning the player’s actions without tossing him under the proverbial bus.

“Just remember, Blake is a key part of his team,” Ballmer said.

At this moment, the courtside goofball in Ballmer emerged, as he extended his arms to mimic an embrace.

“We will welcome him back,” he said with a smile as broad as his shoulders.

This is something of a new experience for Ballmer. As the chief executive of Microsoft, he said there were times when key employees under-performed as a result of doing something stupid. However, he conceded, “We didn’t ever have a situation quite like this.”

Ballmer continued, “You know, everyone’s going to heal, and we’re going to have an opportunity to move forward. We’re going to finish our investigation, decide what needs to happen and move forward. Blake’s a key part of our team. There’s no question about that.

“He certainly has been remorseful, which is great, and we’ll find a way to move past it. That’s part of life. An important part of life is learning how to have consequences.”

***

No. 2: Ainge says no trades imminent for Celtics — Yesterday we brought you news that the Houston Rockets were reportedly not going to try and deal center Dwight Howard, who was recently linked to a trade with the Boston Celtics. Does that mean Howard is staying put for sure? Who knows. But according to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Boston isn’t looking to make a trade just yet — although he is (as always) in talks with other front offices about possible deals. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com has more:

Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, spoke about the importance of trust in what was the biggest trade he has pulled off to date – landing Kevin Garnett from Minnesota in 2007.

“The biggest trade we made was with my best friend in the business, Kevin McHale,” Ainge said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich Show.

At the time, McHale was the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It wouldn’t have gotten done if not for Kevin and I, because there had to be so much trust going back and forth,” Ainge said.

But when it comes to evaluating players and their potential fit with the Celtics, Ainge leans on himself and his staff.

“The relationship is important but I don’t necessarily listen to their evaluation,” Ainge said.

That becomes quite topical now with the Celtics having had some discussions with the Houston Rockets about Dwight Howard who played for McHale in Houston prior to McHale being fired earlier this season.

While Ainge did not speak specifically about Howard and Boston’s level of interest in the former eight-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, there’s not a team in the NBA that Ainge hasn’t had a conversation with recently.

But does that means he’s close to making a major deal.

Nope.

“Most of the time, ninety-nine percent of the things talked about and discussed, don’t happen,” Ainge said. “This time of year there’s a lot of discussions. It’s really hard to predict if there’s any deals there. Usually they happen at the very end, the very last day.”

“I do feel like we need to make improvements on our team, but not necessarily at the trade deadline,” Ainge said. “We can’t force anything. Right now, there’s nothing on the table, there’s nothing imminent. We’ve just had a lot of discussions and hope that next week come trade deadline (Feb. 18, 3 p.m. EST) we’re prepared to make the right decisions.”

***

No. 3: Report: Bucks willing to deal Carter-Williams, Monroe — The Milwaukee Bucks have been perhaps the most disappointing team of 2015-16, especially given their offseason splash. The Bucks added one of the biggest free-agent fish in the pond, center Greg Monroe, to a squad that surprised many and made the 2015 playoffs. A young core of Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and guard Michael Carter-Williams seemed poised for at least a repeat (if not an improvement upon) last season. Yet as the trade deadline nears and the Bucks fall further and further out of the playoff race, Carter-Williams and Monroe could be dealt, writes Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times:

Clearly, Bucks officials are deeply concerned. That’s reflected in their ongoing discussions with other teams about potential trades before the Feb. 18 deadline.

Based on conversations with several NBA execs from the Eastern and Western conferences, the Bucks are more than receptive to playing “Let’s Make a Deal.’’

And that includes possibly moving Michael Carter-Williams, who has been consistently inconsistent since joining the Bucks. Carter-Williams has had some dynamic games this season, like an 18-point, 13-assist outing against Sacramento and a 20-point, 12-assist showing against Chicago.

On the flip side, Carter-Williams had only two assists in 26 minutes against Portland on Wednesday night, one assist in 27 minutes against Memphis last week, and zero assists in 25 minutes against Miami two weeks ago.

But Carter-Williams isn’t the only frontline player the Bucks are apparently willing to move. A much bigger surprise is the Bucks have made it known that center Greg Monroe is available at the right price, according to some NBA officials.

Monroe has been a double-double machine, having recorded 26 this season. That ranks sixth in the league behind Detroit’s Andre Drummond (40), Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (33), Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins (28), the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (28) and Chicago’s Pau Gasol (27) and just ahead of Washington’s John Wall (25), Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (25) and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (24).

But Monroe’s man-to-man and help-defense remain suspect. And he most definitely isn’t the rim protector the Bucks sorely need. He is averaging a mere 0.9 blocks per game this season, which ties him with L.A. Lakers forward Brandon Bass for 46th in the league.

Justified or not, Monroe is being targeted as one of the primary reasons for the Bucks’ defensive deficiencies this season. After being one of the elite defensive teams in the league last season, the Bucks are now one of the worst, giving up 103.3 points per game compared to 97.4 last season.

Clearly, the pieces to the Bucks’ puzzle aren’t fitting. Several league officials said they would be surprised if the Bucks didn’t make a major trade.

“From what I’m hearing is they (the Bucks) are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,’’ an NBA executive said. “I even heard they’d listen (to offers) for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.

“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’

***

No. 4: Johnson fills in nicely for Pistons — A great number of folks were predicting big things for Detroit Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson after his solid showing at NBA Summer League. He was tops on our Rookie Ladder after Summer League and was a dominant force in the Orlando Summer League. Once 2015-16 got started, though, Johnson was more or less relegated to a reserve role. But an recent injury to third-year guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened the door for Johnson to start last night and he delivered with flying colors, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week he was looking for ways to get more minutes for Stanley Johnson. Losing Caldwell-Pope to a core muscle strain that will keep him out at least until the resumption of play following the All-Star break on Feb. 19 isn’t the desired method, but Johnson at least proved more than capable of shouldering greater responsibility in the 111-105 win over the Knicks.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Van Gundy said after Johnson logged 44 minutes and led the Pistons with 22 points plus nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. “Second start of his career. Thought he played real well. We were even going to him down the stretch before Reggie hit the threes. We were running plays for him. Fearless. Getting better all the time. Not afraid to make plays.”

As impressive as it is for a rookie to shoulder 44 minutes and still have enough left to make a handful of the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter, Johnson’s play doesn’t really come as a surprise to his teammates. They’ve seen his readiness and his confidence since the early days of training camp.

“It’s awesome. He’s a really good player,” Tolliver said. “We’ve known it the whole season. He’s getting a great opportunity now with KCP out. He’s just really still learning the game. That’s a good thing for him because he’s going to have a bright future, as long as he keeps his head on straight and continues to work hard and play hard like he does.”

Jackson said he and Reggie Johnson discussed strategy on the plane ride back from Boston. What was it? Johnson wouldn’t say, but figures that when Caldwell-Pope comes back, the Pistons now have another tool in their belt to throw at teams.

“What me and Reggie did tonight was different,” Johnson said. “I think it helped a little bit, so I think when (Caldwell-Pope) gets back, having ways for guys who can do stuff like that is going to make it tough for (opponents) to play.”

“Amazing,” Jackson said of Johnson’s contributions. “We talked about it on the plane, the game plan coming in between us two, how we were going to approach this game. He did everything that he told me he was going to do. He’s definitely somebody who has the utmost confidence in himself and he’s one of those, he says he’s going to do it then he’s going to go out and compete. He came up tremendously big.”

Van Gundy sensed some of his veterans feeling the heat as the Knicks took big chunks out of the lead, but not his youngest player.

“We were struggling. I decided to start going to him,” Van Gundy said. “I thought some of our other guys maybe tightened up a little bit and that’s not him. Pretty amazing for a 19-year-old kid.”

Somebody said to Van Gundy, “He relishes the moment.”

“Yeah, he does. He and Reggie both. It’s good to have a couple of guys like that. … I think Stanley’s going to be a really good player. And he handled huge minutes tonight on the fifth game in seven nights, played (44) minutes and played real well. Nine rebounds, made some really good passes. Just played extremely well.”

“I knew I was going to walk into heavy minutes,” Johnson said. “For me going into the game, I was like, ‘How do I keep up (Caldwell-Pope’s) defensive intensity and offensively – we don’t play the same, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it in his way, but I thought I could help out on both sides.”

Yeah, you could say he helped out. Just a little.


VIDEO: Balanced Pistons hold off Knicks in Detroit

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Indiana Pacers executive and Hall of Famer Larry Bird has some pointed thoughts on the lifespan of NBA big men … ICYMI, a quick rundown of everyone who will be participating in the State Farm All-Star Saturday events, which includes the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the ‘Hack-A-‘ rule will soon be changing … The San Antonio Spurs will be without Manu Ginobili after he underwent testicular surgery … President Barack Obama had a lot of fun with the Golden State Warriors yesterday … Kind of a cool photo gallery — re-drafting the 2007 NBA Draft

Morning shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cufrry blisters Wizards for 51 | Nowitzki disagrees with Abdul-Jabbar’s assessment | Report: Rockets unlikely to deal Howard | Report: Dunleavy to return Saturday | Caldwell-Pope injured vs. Celtics

No. 1: Curry breaks out of his ‘slump’, torches Wizards — Entering last night’s road game against the Washington Wizards, reigning MVP Stephen Curry had 21 games of 30 points or more, but hadn’t broken the 30-point barrier in three games. Is that considered a slump when you’re averaging close to 30 points per game in a season? Who knows. What is certain is Curry showed he hasn’t lost his touch, abusing the Wizards for 51 points and 11 3-pointers (one off tying the NBA single-game record) writes, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Stephen Curry just kind of left this hanging out there: “Maybe next time.”

That’s what he said after he made eight three-pointers in three quarters against the Lakers on Jan. 14, falling four shy of Kobe Bryant’s and Donyell Marshall’s single-game record.

His comment seemed innocuous until “next time” arrived.

On Wednesday at the Verizon Center, the arc opened up enough for Curry to hoist 16 three-point attempts, and because he often made the rim look the size of a hula hoop, he strutted away with 11 three-pointers in a 134-121 victory over the Wizards in front of a national TV audience.

“I missed one too many,” Curry joked. “At the end of the game, I knew I was within reach, and I was kind of searching, without trying to force it. You can’t mess around with the basketball gods, trying to chase records, if the game doesn’t call for it.”

If averaging 16.7 points on 37.9 percent three-point shooting in his previous three games constituted a slump for the MVP, his 51-point game — giving him four 50-point performances in his career — certainly constitutes a slump breaker.

“I didn’t know Steph was in a slump,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph is never in a slump. He was just scintillating tonight.”

“I said, ‘Here he goes,’” interim head coach Don Newman said of Curry’s fast start. “I knew it, because that’s what they usually do. I mean, they come out and they just want to kill you.”

Curry thrilled the crowd, then his bench, and finally himself with a flurry of three-pointers in the first quarter. The fans got louder and louder as he made his first four three-point shots. Andre Iguodala bowed to him from the scorer’s table when he knocked down No. 5, and Curry didn’t really know how to react act following his sixth.

Curry swiped a dribble from Wall in the backcourt and corralled the ball about 25 feet from the rim on the right wing. Why not launch it? He tracked the arc of the ball like a baseball player enjoying a towering home run from the batter’s box, and then started spinning into a happy dance.

He finished the first quarter with 25 points — his seventh 20-point quarter of the season. He made 7 of 8 three-point attempts and was well on his way to his single-season record of 10 games with at least eight three-pointers. George McCloud previously held the record with six such games.

“The shots that you know feel good, they go in, and the shots that you think, ‘Oh, that’s off,’ they go in,” Curry said. “It’s a fun feeling, and you want to ride it until you can’t anymore.”

“We watch it on TV every day, and you’re like, ‘Ah, it’s not like that,’” Washington forward Otto Porter said. “But when he does it against you, it’s eye-opening for you.”

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets’ Johnson may pursue buyout | Report: Rest of season may be tryout for Scott | Suns’ Watson vows to ‘nurture’ Morris

No. 1: Johnson won’t ask for trade, may seek buyout — Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is two seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and stats-wise at his lowest point in terms of scoring average (11.3 points) since 2002-03. But Johnson is also in the final year of the six-year, $119 million deal he inked back in 2010. While his high-scoring days are long gone, Johnson could be a vital pickup for a contender at the trade deadline. As he languishes on one of the East’s worst teams, Johnson told The Record‘s Andy Vasquez he won’t force a trade:

“I’m a professional, man,” Johnson said after practice. “Obviously this late in my career this isn’t the ideal situation. Obviously. But I’m not forcing anything, I haven’t went to management and asked for anything. I come to work day in and day out to compete and have fun, that’s what it’s about. And whatever happens, happens. Obviously this is a tough situation, but we’re all in this together and everybody in this locker room is who we’ve got. So no pointing fingers, we’re just coming out and just competing.”

It wouldn’t be easy for the Nets to trade Johnson’s nearly $25 million expiring contract. But there’s also the possibility of a buyout. Last month, ESPN reported that Johnson isn’t interested. But when asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Johnson left the door open and said he’ll explore the possibilities this week with his agent, Jeff Schwartz.

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Johnson said when asked if he was open to a buyout. “My agent was here last night, and me and him are supposed to sit down and talk within the next week or so. So, I’m sure — whether or not it comes up, I don’t know, but we’ll talk.”

But even if Johnson demanded a trade, or wanted to negotiate a buyout, it’s unclear who would make the decisions on the Nets’ end. The franchise is still looking for a new general manager after Billy King was removed from the job on Jan. 10.

Johnson also reiterated what he told The Record earlier this season: playing for a contender will he his top priority when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I just want a winning situation,” said Johnson, who added he plans to play two or three more seasons after this one before retiring. “It’s not going to be to no highest bidder or nothing like that, I just want to make sure the situation’s right for me. … the last couple years man I really just want to enjoy it and play on great teams.”

“I’m not saying that’s not possible,” Johnson said of a return to Brooklyn. “We’ll see what happens, I think a lot can happen between now and then.”

It’s been a struggle of a season for Johnson, who is averaging 11.3 points per game (his lowest since 2002-03) and shooting 39.0 percent (which would be the lowest shooting percentage for a season in his career). But he showed flashes of a resurgence in January when he shot 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.5 points.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs air grievances in players-only meeting | Report: Nash passing on full-time coaching for now | Scott defends Russell’s minutes limit

No. 1: Report: Cavs held players-only meeting after Blatt ouster — To date, the players-only meeting has been employed in two NBA cites — Sacramento and Washington — and was done in Cleveland, too, just last week. That’s the word from ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe, who report the meeting was an airing of grievances/accountability session took place shortly after coach David Blatt was fired and that it has been one of the big reasons behind the Cavs’ play of late:

Following a meeting called by general manager David Griffin to inform the team that coach David Blatt had been fired, Cavs players held an extended and spirited players-only meeting, sources told ESPN.com. It turned into an airing of grievances, including stars LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but eventually led to an agreement that has been a basis for the Cavs’ recent strong play.

“It was like ripping off a scab,” one team source said. “And it was exactly what needed to happen. I think it was what [Griffin] was hoping for.”

Said another source: “It was very healthy for the team. It probably needed to happen weeks ago.”

A central issue in the discussion, sources said, was the need for accountability within the team. One of the issues that was keeping the team from enjoying some of the successes of the season was the different set of rules for some players compared to others.

In what could turn out to be a key moment in their tenures together, James, Irving and Love came to an understanding that they needed to police each other on certain matters and use their influence within the team to set a standard for accountability, sources said. That was frequently a missing component over the past season and a half, sometimes creating friction.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin that James, Irving and Love led the conversation, owning up to personal faults and using the open forum to express what they expected out of their teammates.

“It’s the type of conversation that only comes out when it’s time for that conversation, if you know what I mean,” a source said. The discussion got contentious at times, though sources said that it was expected.

Veteran James Jones played a key role in the gathering, both in bringing the players together and encouraging discussion, sources told McMenamin. Jones, whom players call by his nickname, “Champ,” carries significant respect in the locker room.

Griffin asked Jones to organize the meeting. Players were told they were being called together to report to the Cavs’ practice facility on their off day for a team matter. After Griffin addressed the team for 15 minutes and told them Tyronn Lue was being promoted to head coach, the players stayed and discussed matters for around an hour. Lue did not address the team until the following morning at shootaround.

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