Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — Dec. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron fired up to play before the royals | Changes don’t fix Lakers’ problems | Reality bites the Heat

No. 1: LeBron relishes opportunity to dazzle the royals — LeBron James, a self-anointed “King”playing before Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Duchess  Kate Middleton tonight in Brooklyn has a certain royal ring to it, no? It does for Cleveland’s King. LeBron is looking forward to showing off for the high-profile visitors, yet another opportunity for the world’s best player to brandish his global brand. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more:

“It’s an honor,” James said before the Cavs practiced in New York City on Sunday. “It’s a huge honor. The stuff that you read about, people like them are only in books growing up. And to hear that they’re coming to town to see me play and they want to see me do what I do best, it’s a huge honor.”

The royal couple will also meet with President Barack Obama on their U.S. tour. Count the president as another dignitary who has come to witness James play in person.

“Well I’ve had people from all across the board as far as stature, but the President of the United States, that was pretty huge,” James said. “To have those two, to say they were traveling here and one of the things that they wanted to do was see me play, it’s a pretty big deal in my household.”

James told reporters he has only seen Will and Kate “on television and the Internet and things, just like the rest of you,” and hopes to get a personal audience with the pair at Barclays Center.

“I would like to,” James said. “They are going to be at the game so hopefully I get the opportunity to interact with them a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”

Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving joked that he owns a DVD of the prince and duchess’ royal wedding from back in April, 2011.

“It will be great to see them in person,” Irving said. “I mean, for me, seeing celebrities in person is awesome. I don’t really know too much about them, but they’re celebrities in our world so I guess it’s great to see them.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook throws down the thunder dunk

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No. 2: Changes don’t fix what’s wrong with the Lakers — Change Lakers fans can believe in still hasn’t come. Byron Scott shook up his lineup, benching Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and got the same result as usual this season. Another loss for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers means that Scott is still searching for the right mix as time is quickly running out on any faint hope for this season in Los Angeles. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sheds some light on the dark times in LA:

Fans booed as the Lakers fell behind by 20 points going into the fourth quarter at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant took nearly an hour before talking to reporters after the game. Boozer tried to one-up Bryant by not talking to reporters, period. Lin called the demotion “one of the toughest situations I’ve been in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014-15 Lakers.

“If you look at our record, you have to make changes,” Scott said. “I’m not going to stand back and just watch it continue to be played this way. To me it was a no-brainer.”

Ed Davis had 12 points in place of Boozer and Ronnie Price had three points and three assists in Lin’s spot.

Bryant spoke matter-of-factly, not angrily, when he finally emerged to talk to reporters.

“Not everything is going to be great, champagne, celebrations and winning championships,” he said after scoring 14 points. “You’ve got to go through some hard stuff too. If this was the Titanic, I’d go down with that. … I’m not jumping off.”

This is all too familiar for Lin, demoted last season in Houston after being outplayed by Patrick Beverley. Boozer also had his time shortened in Chicago, benched in the second and fourth quarters toward the end of last season in favor of Taj Gibson.

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No. 3: Reality bites the Heat after fourth straight loss — All of those conversations about the Miami Heat and their place in history that were had over the past four seasons seems like a lifetime ago these days. The Heat, losers of four straight games after falling to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday, are feeling reality’s bite right now. They are no longer the juggernaut they were with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh headlining the show. It’s a different world for the Heat, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald explains:

Chris Bosh slammed the ball against his head in a display of exasperation.

Dwyane Wade just walked off the court laughing and shaking his head.

Even when the Heat did everything right defensively, the Memphis Grizzlies still scored and scored and scored on Sunday at FedEx Forum in their 103-87 victory, but Courtney Lee’s desperation three-pointer from 30 feet seemed especially cruel.

Both Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts had their hands on the ball, but neither player could come away with the steal. Instead, the loose ball found Lee, who heaved a prayer toward the rim. It swished the net, of course, because everything goes down against this Heat defense these days.

The Grizzlies shot better than 60 percent until the final two minutes of the game, settling for 58.9 percent from the field. It was the highest shooting percentage of the season for Memphis (16-4), and the high-water mark came on a night star center Marc Gasol was 1 of 6 from the field for two points.

“They didn’t even hurt us in our normal game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what’s disappointing. It was all the miscellaneous actions.”

The Heat (9-11) has lost five of its past six games, including four in a row, and in each of those losses opponents shot at least 54 percent from the field.

“It’s open season,” said Bosh, who had 12 points and two rebounds. “Until we take more pride in that as a unit, it’s just not going to happen. We’ve got to individually guard the ball with passion, and everything else with follow.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets coach Kevin McHale says Dwight Howard isn’t coming back anytime soon …  Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob apologizes for his comments about former coach Mark Jackson …  Thunder stretch reeling Pistons’ slide to 12 straight … Mum is the word from Phil Jackson on the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The entire cast of Top Five, Chris Rock’s latest comedy, sat down for an interview with our very own Lang Whitaker of the All Ball Blog … 


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker sits down with the cast of Top Five

 

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Duncan’s triple-double lifts Spurs | Cavs overcome to win sixth straight | Thunder’s playoff chase is on

No. 1: Duncan still getting it done for Spurs — Kobe Bryant isn’t the only NBA silver fox still getting it done. Tim Duncan’s got a few tricks left his bag, too. His triple-double helped lift the Spurs in a huge road win against Memphis on Friday. Did someone say old man River Walk … ? The Spurs aren’t going anywhere as long as Duncan can still do things like this. Dan McCarney of the Express News puts it all in context:

The Spurs overcame several shaky moments and the loss of Tony Parker to a mild hamstring strain to outlast Memphis at FedEx Forum behind Tim Duncan’s triple double.

Duncan had his first triple-double since 2010 and fourth overall — eighth including playoffs — with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He is the second-oldest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, trailing only Karl Malone’s at 40 with the Lakers in 2003.

The Spurs (14-5) never trailed as they took a big early lead and then repeatedly held Memphis (15-4) off down the stretch. They did so in large part to a season-high 14 3-pointers, which helped the Spurs manage an early turnover spate and, of course, Parker’s departure.

Parker left in the second half after scoring 14 points. His availability for Saturday’s home game against Minnesota was not immediately known.

Cory Joseph picked up the slack with 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, while Manu Ginobili had one of his best games of the season with 17 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five 3-pointers. Danny Green added 16.

It was Memphis’ first home loss since February of last season, a span of 22 games. The Spurs have now won 15 of the past 17 meetings, including the postseason, since Memphis’ upset in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.


VIDEO: Tim Duncan dials up a time machine performance against the Grizzlies

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No. 2: Cavaliers overcome all obstacles to win sixth straight — Nothing was going to keep the Cleveland Cavaliers from a sixth straight win. Not the Toronto Raptors, rush hour traffic in Toronto, a star-studded crew in town for a tribute to Nelson Mandela or any other obstacles standing in the way of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the hottest team in the Eastern Conference … right now. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Kyrie Irving said legs were a little tired. James Jones said there was some fatigue.

The Cavaliers went to the buzzer with the New York Knicks the night before, escaping with a road win. The Toronto Raptors were waiting at home for the Cavaliers, having not played since Wednesday.

Cleveland experienced complications getting out of New York and arriving in Toronto in a timely fashion. The team landed on Canadian soil at approximately 3:30 a.m. It took another 45 minutes to an hour for them to make it to their hotel.

On back-to-backs, there are no shootaround sessions, but there was a pregame team walk-through centered on how to stop the Raptors, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Most of the players said securing an eight-hour sleep day was virtually impossible. The Raptors looked to be in good shape.

“It’s only tough if you make excuses about it,” the Cavs’ LeBron James said.

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No. 3: Thunder playoff chase is on with full cast — Even if takes Russell Westbrook doing the heavy lifting by his lonesome for a few more games, the Thunder’s playoff chase is on. And that means every win counts, even the ones over a bad 1-18 Philadelphia team, each and every win matters. Kevin Durant struggled in his second game back but Westbrook took matters into his own hands and led the way, with a huge boost from the bench, to help the Thunder get a must-win in their effort to climb the charts. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman has more:

Against the Sixers, Durant looked rusty and the Thunder played extremely sloppy. But overall, OKC brought the required energy. It played with a desperate attitude at the right times. And against hapless Philly, that was about all that was necessary for a 103-91 victory, improving the Thunder to 6-13 on the season and dropping the Sixers to 1-18.

“Today was the first win,” Durant said, as if confident it could be the start of a needed hot streak.

OKC, though, got it despite Durant’s lowest scoring output since April 2009.

After dropping in a three on the game’s first possession, the four-time scoring champ went ice cold. He made only three of his 11 shots in 29 underwhelming minutes, looking sluggish on defense and committing a pair of strange turnovers. He was out of rhythm and, following suit, his team looked a bit out of sync.

But the Thunder got another strong effort from its improving bench and an energy boost from the energizer bunny.

With the Sixers threatening the Thunder’s lead throughout the second half, Russell Westbrook shouldered the load. Sensing the struggles of his superstar running mate, Westbrook made it a point to take over offensively.

In the third quarter alone, Westbrook scored 11 of his game-high 27 points – putting his head down and getting to the rim on numerous occasions. He had 14 free throws in the game and 10 in the second half.

“Just trying to attack, man,” Westbrook said.

His mid-game attitude change seemed to coincide with a back-and-forth trash-talking battle with second-year Sixers guard Michael Carter-Williams. The two chirped at each other in a similar way during a game in OKC last season. Then Westbrook went on to drop a triple-double in an easy win.

Carter-Williams came at Westbrook again on Friday. And the results weren’t much better.

“That just added a little bit more fuel to the fire,” Durant warned. “Young dudes in this league tend to bark a lot. I think (Russ) put him in his place, let him know who the best point guard in the league is.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Magic Johnson agrees with LeBron, it’s time for pro athletes to speak up …   … Kobe swears he wasn’t recruiting Rajon Rondo, they were just talking hoopsJohn Starks, yes John Starks, says it’s time for better execution for the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The old man gets his revenge in Smitty’s Top 5 Plays Under The Rim. Andre Miller in the house, as they used to say back in his day … 


VIDEO: Smitty’s Top Plays 5 Under The Rim

 

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving takes spotlight at MSG | Raptors set to honor McGrady | Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt

No. 1: Irving’s big game at MSG draws compliments — Dressed in his newly released line of Nike sneakers, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving ran roughshod over the Knicks last night at Madison Square Garden. Irving totaled 37 points — including a late, clutch layup — that lifted Cleveland to its fifth straight victory and got him plenty of praise from his teammates afterward. Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes has more:

“Man, I think he’s right up there at the top and he’s still so young,” Kevin Love said. “He’s only going to get better. He does whatever we need to win and tonight it was scoring the ball. He loves the bright lights, too. He always plays well when we need it.”

After the game, head coach David Blatt referred to Irving as a two-way player. That wasn’t an applicable moniker in the past. His much-improved defense has elevated his game to different altitude.

And he’s nowhere near close to a plateau. The Garden couldn’t bottle up his unlimited ability. He was too big for the Knicks. The Big Apple got a taste of an All-Star on the rise destined to give them fits for many, many years to come.

“He has the potential to be the best guard in our league,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think he’s probably one of the most complete players in our league. His defense is getting better and that is taking him to another level.”

Entering the game, he was averaging 29.0 points at Madison Square Garden. It’s his highest scoring average in any road arena. It’s plain to see – Irving revels in the New York stage.

“Spectacular,” LeBron James described Irving’s performance. “Anytime we needed a bucket, he made it. Anytime we needed some energy, he gave it. I took over the point guard duties as far as getting guys involved and he took over the scoring. And we needed it.”

Irving has cemented himself as one of the finest finishers around the rim. He doesn’t use much athleticism to maneuver around bigger defenders in the paint. He’s simply crafty. He can make the basketball do tricks on the glass and somehow it finds its way in the bottom of the net.

It doesn’t matter which hand he goes up with, his craftiness is ambidextrous.

“I always knew he was a great finisher. I think he’s even better than what I even thought,” James said. “As far as finishing around the rim, he’s probably one of the greatest this game has ever seen. I’ve never seen someone finish how he finishes underneath the rim. It’s unbelievable. With both hands.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about his big game against the Knicks

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No. 2: Raptors ready to honor McGrady tonight — About two or so weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies visited the Toronto Raptors in a big West vs. East showdown that had an always interesting subplot for Raptors fans: the return of Vince Carter as well. That night, the team paid tribute to Carter and the former Toronto superstar was overwhelmed with emotion during the in-game salute. Tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors will honor another former star (and subsequent favorite target of Raptors’ fans ire), Tracy McGrady. Josh Rubin of The Toronto Star has more:

T-Mac is coming back, after all.

Fourteen years after he left town to escape Vince Carter’s shadow, Tracy McGrady is getting honoured by the Toronto Raptors on Friday night as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations. McGrady, who’s in town for GM Masai Ujiri’s Giants of Africa fundraiser honouring Nelson Mandela, will be introduced to the crowd during the game. A highlight reel of his time in Toronto will also be shown.

While Carter drew an unexpected standing ovation during a video tribute last month at the Air Canada Centre, it’s unclear whether Raptors fans will be equally magnanimous with his distant cousin. Like Carter, McGrady was heavily booed in subsequent visits to Toronto after leaving the Raptors.

The talented, athletic small forward left Toronto in 2000 after the end of his three-year rookie contract. His departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Raptor fans, who had staged a vocal public campaign for McGrady to re-sign. McGrady, who had come off the bench in his first two seasons, had just become a starter, and together with Carter, helped lead the team to its first-ever playoff berth.

He went on to put superstar numbers with the Magic and the Rockets.

In a 2013 interview with the Star’s Dave Feschuk after retiring from the NBA, McGrady expressed regret for leaving what could have turned into a contender (in the 2000-01 season, the Raptors fell one game short of the Eastern Conference final).

“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady said. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often.”

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No. 3: Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt — As our Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out a month or so ago, NBA scouts were gearing up this season for at least one trip — and perhaps more — to China to watch top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay. The 18-year-old phenom has had a solid run for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, but an injury has sidelined him of late and has his future with the team in doubt. Adrian Wojnarowski of YahooSports.com has more:

Mudiay, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, has missed four consecutive games with an ankle sprain and will be replaced – at minimally in the short term – with veteran NBA guard Will Bynum on Friday, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Bynum is finalizing a deal for the rest of the season in Guangdong, but has yet to sign the contract, a source said. That could come within hours, however. Chinese teams are allowed only two American players on the roster, but Bynum can replace Mudiay as the teenage American star is rehabbing his injury, sources said.

DraftExpress.com – the No. 1 site for NBA draft information – has Mudiay as the No. 2 overall projected pick in the 2015 draft.

Mudiay was unable to qualify academically to play basketball for coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University, which led to him accepting the $1 million-plus contract and an endorsement deal with Under Armour.

Mudiay, 18, has played 10 games in China, averaging 17.7 points, six rebounds and six assists. NBA executives who’ve watched him told Yahoo Sports he’s only enhanced his draft value with his performances in China so far.

It is possible that Guangdong could release Mudiay and pay him the balance of his contract, or hold onto the teenager and watch how Bynum impacts the team until Mudiay’s ankle allows him to return to the lineup. Eventually, Guangdong could make a decision on which guard to keep – and release the other. Nevertheless, it would be an immense investment to bring Bynum over on a guaranteed $1 million-plus agreement – only to use him for one or two weeks.

Mudiay has to protect his draft value, and his representatives will be exceedingly careful to make sure he doesn’t risk further injury or poor performance in China. If released, Mudiay could simply return to the United States and train in preparation to begin predraft workouts with NBA teams prior to the June draft.

NBA teams planning to scout Mudiay in China had been on hold with the uncertainty surrounding the guard’s availability. Several teams – including San Antonio and Phoenix – sent representatives to scout Mudiay early in the season, but many more curtailed planned trips in recent weeks.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo had breakfast together yesterday in Boston, and there’s really nothing more to the story than that … Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders confirms that Ricky Rubio won’t be back until at least JanuaryIvan Johnson has signed into the NBA D-League … The New Orleans Pelicans may sign ex-Mavericks point guard Gal Mekel soon … Indiana Pacers forward David West has more thoughts on the recent police-related deaths in the news

ICYMI of the Night: Remember when Amar’e Stoudemire used to do this sort of thing every night? … 


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire dunks on Anderson Varejao

 

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng suffers hand injury | ‘Melo was truly torn over Bulls and Knicks | MJ wasn’t sole influence on Kobe’s game | Dirk starts All-Star campaigning for Ellis

No. 1: Heat’s Deng suffers hand injury – The Miami Heat face their first prolonged road trip of the season as a five-game stretch looms, and they may very well tipoff that trip without their starting small forward. Luol Deng suffered a hand injury in last night’s 112-102 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks and his status for the road trip is unknown, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

Heat starting forward Luol Deng is considered questionable heading into the team’s five-game road trip after he sustained a right hand injury during Wednesday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Deng was hurt when he landed on his right hand as he fell to the court while attempting to draw a charge in the second quarter. Deng did not play in the second half of the 112-102 loss, and an X-ray taken after the game was negative.

The injury was diagnosed as a bone bruise to the area near Deng’s right thumb and index finger, and the 11-year veteran will be re-evaluated again Thursday to determine if further tests are necessary.

“We’re going to just wait and see,” said Deng, who finished with five points and three rebounds in just under 17 minutes. “We’re going to monitor it the next couple of days. I tried to (keep playing). I came back in and I just had trouble passing and shooting the ball, so we made the decision to sit out.”

Deng’s status is uncertain for at least the initial games of a trip that starts Friday against Milwaukee and continues with games against Memphis, Phoenix, Denver and Utah.

The setback is the latest in a number of recent struggles for the Heat (9-9), who were already coping with the absences of starting point guard Norris Cole (illness) and reserve center Chris Andersen (ankle).


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks about the Heat’s loss and his wrist injury

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No payoff yet for KD, Thunder | Van Gundy: Pistons are a ‘messed up’ team | Kobe refuses to complain about these Lakers | Wizards’ style impresses Bosh

No. 1: No big payoff yet for Thunder in Durant’s return — Things were supposed to be all better in Oklahoma City last night, what with the return of reigning MVP and franchise superstar Kevin Durant. The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t get that message, though, and spoiled Durant’s season debut in a 112-104 win in Louisiana. As our John Schuhmann points out, there was plenty of rust to be seen in Durant’s first game back:

Kevin Durant is back, but that doesn’t mean the Oklahoma City Thunder are immediately one of the best teams in the league.

Instead of starting their climb up the standings in Durant’s 2014-15 debut on Tuesday, the Thunder fell another notch, losing to a team they might be battling for a playoff spot come April. OKC fell to 5-13 with a 112-104 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Durant scored 27 points in 30 minutes in his first game back from a fracture in his right foot, shooting 9-for-18 and hitting three of his eight 3-point attempts. That’s a nice line, but there was some clear rust, as he committed five turnovers with a pretty sloppy handle whenever he tried to dribble through traffic.

Russell Westbrook was even sloppier in his second game back from a broken hand, shooting 6-for-20, getting blocked six times and committing seven turnovers, seemingly unable to deal with Anthony Davis‘ wingspan on several plays.

Really, offense wasn’t the problem, because the Thunder allowed the Pelicans to score 112 points on 100 possessions (40 on 28 in the second quarter). It was all a reminder that, even with their stars back, the Thunder aren’t really at full strength yet.

Another positive was the play of the Thunder bench. The absences of the two stars provided other guys the opportunity to play and get better. And on Tuesday, the reserves got OKC the lead early in the second quarter and cut down a big deficit early in the fourth. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb combined for 32 points on 12-for-21 shooting.

So everything the Thunder have gone through could ultimately make them a better team. For now, though, they’re still trying to regain their footing, even with the MVP back in uniform.


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks was unhappy with his team’s defense in KD’s debut

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant could be game-time decision | Report: Cavs submit bid to host All-Star Game | Green shining for Golden State | Faried’s game off the mark

No. 1: Durant could be game-time decision Tuesday — The Oklahoma City Thunder got All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury last week and he looked more than fine in his debut, roasting the New York Knicks to the tune of 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Could his All-Star partner in crime (and the reigning MVP) Kevin Durant be back from his injury as soon as tonight in New Orleans (8 ET, League Pass)? We likely won’t know until OKC holds its morning shootaround, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Scott Brooks stopped and thought about the question before answering.

“Any lineup changes?” the coach was asked Monday.

Brooks began with an “Um” before proceeding with a pregnant pause that left all in attendance at the end of the Thunder’s practice wondering if this would be the moment he announced Kevin Durant is back.

“No,” Brooks then said, finally. “Nothing as of yet.”

The “as of yet” part left Durant’s timetable up to interpretation, and it’s looking and sounding more and more like the reigning MVP is extremely close to making his season debut, perhaps as early as Tuesday at New Orleans.

It’s not out of the question that Brooks will announce Durant as a game-time decision at the team’s Tuesday morning shootaround. Traditionally, the Thunder has preferred to see how players coming back from injuries respond to that light morning session before penciling them into the lineup. In rare cases, like Andre Roberson at Denver on Nov. 19, the Thunder will even wait for a player to go through a final pre-game workout before determining whether he will suit up that night.

But in the case of Durant, all indications are that he’s set to return from a season long absence caused by a broken right foot. He appears to be so close that any game from here out could be the night. If he doesn’t take the court Tuesday night at New Orleans, it would be surprising if he doesn’t play Friday at Philadelphia. If he skips the Sixers game, we’d be shocked if he doesn’t make his debut Sunday at Detroit.

The Thunder will have two more days between the Pelicans game and the Sixers game, and that’s just additional practice time and rest to ensure Durant is acclimated and ready if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.

Both the signs and the Thunder’s schedule are lining up.


VIDEO: OKC players and coaches talk after Monday’s practice

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe’s fire still burning | Free speech in New York | Pistons fading fast | KG tries to take a bite out of Noah

No. 1: Lakers get triple-double from Koke, beat Raptors — The showcase is not over for Kobe Bryant and perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers. That was clear in Sunday’s win over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, who saw Kobe school them for a triple-double (which including his career 6,00th assist). Even after all of these years, Kobe can still dial up a performance for the ages. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

His game was nearly flawless, his numbers showed a triple-double and he became the first player in NBA history with 30,000 career points and 6,000 assists, gliding over the latter plateau with a third-quarter pass to Wesley Johnson that led to a successful 12-footer.

“It’s a huge honor. It means I pass more than people say,” Bryant said after accumulating 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds at Staples Center.

The most important number could not be overlooked amid the backdrop: 36 years old.

Bryant shoved the momentum firmly toward the Lakers with a three-point play, making a 15-footer while moving left and getting fouled by James Johnson with 2:23 left in overtime.

Before shooting the free throw, Bryant took a long walk toward the other basket and pounded his chest with his right fist before heading back to the free-throw line.

“It’s crazy,” said Wesley Johnson, who had 13 points. “Especially seeing how he’s doing it. He’s still going at it. It’s not like he’s slow-footed or he still can’t get to the rim. He’s starting to play like his old self. This is definitely going to be something to tell my kids.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant drops a triple-double on the Raptors

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No. 2: Fisher fine with Stoudemire speaking his mind — Derek Fisher has more important things to worry about than the opinions of his players. The New York Knicks’ rookie coach has a season to worry about, a career even. Plus, he’s clearly a patriot and a believer in the freedom of all people to speak their mind, and that includes the sanctity of the locker room. That’s why Amar’e Stoudemire is free to weigh in on things in New York without retribution. Barbara Barker of Newsday has more:

“I think it shows some leadership from Amar’e, that he’s expressing how he feels about the team and his teammates and where we are as a group,” Fisher said. “I think it’s correct in terms of the assessment. And guys sometimes do that.

“It’s their locker room, so it’s more about how they feel than about how I feel about it. As long as guys continue to do the best they can, which I think Amar’e is trying to do, then sometimes you know some things may need to be said.”

Stoudemire ripped the Knicks after scoring a season-high 20 points against OKC. The problem was that no one else on the team scored more than 11 as the Knicks made only 38.7 percent of their shots in a 105-78 defeat.

“They played like they wanted it more,” Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now, we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.”

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No. 3: Warriors hand reeling Pistons eighth straight loss — The alarm in Detroit should have gone off by now. The reeling Pistons have lost eight straight games under Stan Van Gundy, the franchise honcho and the coach. This team is worse than its immediate predecessor, meaning whatever changes Stan Van was going to implement have yet to take hold. How bad is it? Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News tries to make sense of it all:

With his young center playing lifelessly and picking up his fourth foul early moments of the third quarter, Stan Van Gundy was incredulous, yelling “Fight! Fight!”, as the game predictably slipped away.

One has to wonder if it was then, or at any point in the game where Van Gundy’s thoughts drifted to what could have been, had he taken over the team he watched give the Pistons (3-14) their eighth straight loss and 11th and 12, the Golden State Warriors.

But the Warriors (14-2) weren’t offering Van Gundy total control this past offseason, and now he has total responsibility to fix this mess, one displayed on a Sunday afternoon for all to observe at The Palace, a 104-93 loss to perhaps the best team in the Western Conference.

Of all the control he has, Van Gundy can’t control the Pistons going 16 of 53 inside the paint, as they made seven of 27 in that range in the first half. As a whole, the Pistons shot 36 percent, a season low.

For the sixth time this season, they scored 40 or less before halftime — and for the umpteenth time, getting back on defense became a chore they were unable to finish.

“When you shoot 30 percent from the paint…if you look at the stats, three feet and in, we’re third in attempts,” Van Gundy said. “And last in field goal percentage. We barely finish over 50 percent of our shots, we’ve got a real problem.”

Whether it was because the hot shooting Warriors can beat you from the perimeter or an indication of his long-term plan, Greg Monroe went to the bench in favor of Kyle Singler. But aside from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope catching fire, scoring 23 while going 12-of-22 from the field, he still hasn’t found the right mix of players or the right scheme to turn this anemic offense around.

“If we had an answer, we’d change it,” said Monroe of the team failing to convert inside. “It’s really no other answer when you’re talking about layups and shots in the paint. I’m probably the culprit of it all.”

***

No. 4: Bite-gate is latest dust-up for KG and Noah — For once the Chicago Bulls can talk about something other than Derrick Rose after a game. Kevin Garnett made sure of it with the latest and perhaps strangest move of his colorful career. Apparently KG didn’t get enough of those Thanksgiving leftovers. He was busy trying to get a bite of Joakim Noah‘s hand during the Bulls’ win over the Nets Sunday. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, it’s the craziest thing Noah has seen in his colorful career, too:

Joakim Noah just smiled and shook his head in disbelief.

“Kevin Garnett tried to bite me. That’s crazy man. It’s unbelievable,” Noah said. “I don’t even know what to say.”

But then Noah said more about the incident, which rapidly circulated via social media following the Bulls’ victory over the Nets.

“I’m happy he didn’t connect,” Noah said. “If somebody tries to bite you, I think it’s a little bit more than trying to get in your head. It’s pretty amazing.”

The two players share a colorful and intense rivalry. Noah has alternated between praising Garnett’s intensity and admitting he respects him to bewilderment.

“I have fun playing against him when we win,” Noah said. “We’ve been doing some winning against him lately.I know how competitive he is and I know it drives him crazy to lose like that. I’m not worried about Kevin Garnett. I’m just worried about us, staying healthy and getting better. That’s really all I care about.”

Garnett laughed when questioned about the incident.

“I know how to bite somebody,” he said. “Obviously I was messing around in that moment. If I wanted to bite him, I’d have just … shout out to Mike Tyson …”


VIDEO: Kevin Garnett appeared to bite at Joakim Noah during Sunday’s game

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SOME RANDOM LINKS: Slimmer and fitter Marc Gasol pushes the Memphis Grizzlies to the top …  The New Orleans Pelicans are taking a look at Dante Cunningham …  Steve Nash and Byron Scott have yet to discuss the Lakers’ situation and that’s apparently fine with Scott … Don’t forget about Dwyane Wade

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 30


VIDEO: Highlights of the six games played Saturday, Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan | Cavs Heavy On Defense | Warriors Go Green | Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes

No. 1: Raptors Go Forward Without DeRozan — The Toronto Raptors are off to an Eastern Conference-best 13-3 record to begin the season, and a large part of that has been the play of DeMar DeRozan. The 6-7 guard has averaged just over 19 points per game so far and, along with Kyle Lowry, led the team in minutes played through the first 16 games. But on Friday against Dallas, the usually-durable DeRozan suffered a torn tendon that will may keep him out of action for a while. In his absence, reports the Toronto Star, the Raptors must look to the “next man up”…

It’s impossible to know when he might return; the only North American professional athlete to be diagnosed with the same injury was New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who was out of action for about a month. But every athlete is different, with different pain thresholds and recovery times, so comparing one to another is a stretch. And there is no history to look at where DeRozan is concerned.

The 25-year-old has been remarkably healthy in his five-plus seasons in the NBA, missing just 11 of 410 games before Friday night.

Two seasons ago, he played in each of the team’s 82 games, then 79 of 82 while becoming an Eastern Conference all-star in 2013-14.

Injured on a seemingly harmless slip early in the second half of Friday’s game, DeRozan is the team’s leading scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game, and has been a perfect complement to backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.

He was instrumental in helping Toronto get out to a franchise-best 13-3 start to the season, a record that puts the Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. It should provide a big enough cushion in a weak conference that an extended DeRozan absence won’t harm their place in the standings.

DeRozan travelled here with the team Saturday, as the Raptors begin a west coast trip of three games in four nights with an outing against the Lakers on Sunday night.

The Raptors have been relatively injury-free this season and last, although forward Tyler Hansbrough has missed five games with a shoulder injury and James Johnson sat out three with what the team called a “severe” ankle sprain.

On each occasion, coach Dwane Casey and his players have relied on the “next man up” cliché to suggest that no one is irreplaceable, that the team’s depth can carry it through any injury.

Casey does have options to replace DeRozan in the starting lineup on a team that generally uses 10 men each night.

He could insert Lou Williams, often the first backcourt player off the bench, into DeRozan’s starting role if Casey wants to enhance the first unit’s scoring potential, or he could move the more defensive-minded James Johnson into that spot and shift Terrence Ross to a shooting guard role.

***

No. 2: Cavs Heavy On Defense — Don’t look now, but after a middling start, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won three straight, including Saturday’s 109-97 win over Indiana. And to explain their strong play of late, the Cavs point at least in part to improved effort on the defensive end, particularly from two-thirds of the Big Three. Coming into the season, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love were known for their defense. But as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, that could be about to change

Irving credited his turnaround to his summer spent with USA Basketball, an experience that Cavs coach David Blatt also cited as a reason for Irving’s improved 3-point shooting (he’s shooting a career-high 43.6 percent from deep).

“I just try to stay in front of the ball as much as possible so it’s not as much pressure for other guys to help me,” Irving said, emphasizing the importance of stopping dribble-penetration at the point of entry so the Cavs’ big men aren’t always being pulled away from their man or from the rim. “I’d rather help other guys and be in position to help and stop my guy instead of the other way around and always being ‘that guy’ on film. I was on film a lot the last three years [laughing]. You get tired of it after a while, so you want to be that guy that your teammates trust on a day-in, day-out basis.”

For Love, it’s all about the All-Star forward trusting the defensive schemes that the Cavs have in place, according to Blatt.

“In general, I would like to say, I think Kevin Love is playing the best defense of his career so far,” Blatt said. “He can get better like all of us can, but he’s doing a good job. He’s buying into the system, into the principles, and he needs to continue to do that and we need to continue to involve him in the way that we are.”

While Irving wasn’t shy about his desire to become a “great defender,” Love seems to know his limitations.

“I’ve never really been known for that in my career,” Love said. “Being a lockdown defender is something that I know I’ll never be, but as far as being a team defender, being in the right spots, being physical, doing those things, I can get a lot better at that and just continue to break down film and see where I can get better out there. So yeah, I think it’s something that I can continue to buy into and get better at.”

***

No. 3: Warriors Going Green — The Golden State Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, a record they’ve reached without starting forward David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. In Lee’s place, the Warriors have gotten stellar play from Draymond Green, who has become a leader of this Warriors team, writes the Oakland Tribune

“He’s in a lot of ways our heart and soul and just plays with such passion at both ends,” Kerr said before the Warriors faced Detroit on Sunday in Green’s home state. “I think it’s contagious.”

Green has been in the starting lineup for the entire season as the Warriors are off to a franchise-best 13-2 start, but it took a little time for him to get comfortable with Kerr and the flow of the new coach’s ball movement-oriented offense.

It didn’t get done through fun and games.

“The first two weeks he was very frustrated,” Kerr said. “I was all over him. He didn’t quite understand why we were trying to install a new offense.

“He’d take some wild shots, and I’d yell at him, and he’d wonder why I was yelling at him. But it all came from the right place. We were all just trying to get better.”

Green, who was accustomed to being challenged in practice by fiery Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, saw that he needed to learn when to pass and set screens along with how to pick the right times to shoot the 3-point shot that he had worked on all offseason. There were times when a confused Green thought he was doing what he was told when it wasn’t the case in Kerr’s mind.

“He was at it every day, like on me, pulled me to the side,” Green said of Kerr, who encouraged the player to watch film of San Antonio’s Boris Diaw as a model of how to function.

“He’s got a little hot side to him, and a lot of people don’t know that. He’ll just snap real quick. Like it’ll come out of nowhere, snap!”

Green made the necessary adjustments and averages 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and three assists, shooting 34 percent from 3-point range while serving as the vocal leader, versatile defender and replacement in the lineup for David Lee, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.

“Everybody always says I reached my ceiling,” Green said. “I don’t care what people think.

“I don’t believe in a ceiling. I believe in a work ethic.”

***

No. 4: Rondo’s Free-Throw Woes — Coming into this season, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was shooting 62-percent on free throws for his career. But this season, for reasons that remain unclear, Rondo is just 9-of-28 from the line for a 32-percent total. And on Friday night against Chicago, Rondo missed two free throws with the game tied late. According to the Boston Herald, Rondo says he’s going to address the problem the the only way he knows how: By putting in work…

“Most of them hit the right/back side of the rim. I don’t have an answer right now,” he said. “It’s about practice. I’m looking at my follow through. All of my misses have been the same, so I’ll be in the gym again tonight and continue to work.”

Rondo isn’t ready to do something more exotic — none of that underhand style that Rick Barry made famous, and a frustrated Wilt Chamberlain used as a last resort. No talking to the ball, like Karl Malone.

“I haven’t thought about talking to myself,” Rondo said, smirking at the idea. “I just think about continuing to work, spending more hours in the gym if I have to. Not just the free throws. I’ve missed a lot of fourth-quarter shots I usually make. I have to work on those shots as well.

“I still want to get fouled. I try to get fouled,” he said. “I can get into a better rhythm, but it’s not mental. I’ve been in the paint trying to get rebounds, trying to stay aggressive. My game is driving. That’s what I do best.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Sounds like Gregg Popovich could be returning soon for the Spurs … The Lakers are looking to add bodies to their injury-depleted roster … Raymond Felton says Tyson Chandler was not a distraction with the Knicks … The Timberwolves have signed Jeff Adrien

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook’s historic return | Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach | West recalibrates view of Pacers | Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses

No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.

Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:

It started in the pre-game introduction line.

Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.

That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.

Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.

New York was in town on the wrong night.

The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:

He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.

He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.

“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”

Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.

“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”

***

No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.

And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:

“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”

They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.

He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.

“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”

Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.

***

No. 3: West recalibrates view of PacersDavid West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.

Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:

“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.

“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.

As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.

So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?

“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.

“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”

***

No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:

“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.

“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”

Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.

 

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo the Bull? | East meets West? | Larry Sanders is back

No. 1: Melo the Bull?Carmelo Anthony was one of this summer’s marquee free agents, entertaining offers from teams like Houston and Chicago before eventually re-signing with the New York Knicks. But how close was Anthony to actually leaving the Knicks? According to a new documentary, he was halfway out the door before deciding to stick around. In the upcoming documentary, “Carmelo Anthony: Made In NY,” which will air on the MSG Network, Anthony talks about the choice. As the NY Post reports:

The Post obtained footage of the half-hour program, which was produced by Melo Enterprises Inc. and Tollin Productions, that shows inside conversations between Anthony, his manager, Bay Frazier, who normally keeps a low profile, agent Leon Rose and personal assistant Asani Swann. One person familiar with the program said edits are still being made to the film and it was not the final version.

“It came down to Chicago and New York,” Anthony said during the program. “Chicago was the one from Day 1 [and] was something I was very impressed with. They were looking for someone like me to come in and take them to the next level. So it was perfect.

“It was a perfect setup and perfect fit for me in Chicago. But also I had to think about just living in Chicago. Do I want to live in Chicago? Do I want to take everything I created in New York and move all of that? It came down to that. But there was one point in time I was like — oh, I’m going.”

During one conversation, Anthony and his entourage agreed they would need a sign-and-trade with the Bulls to get the maximum contract. During the show, Frazier states the Bulls could only offer $74 million.

On their plane ride from Chicago to Houston following the get-together with the Bulls, Anthony tells Rose, his agent: “Great meeting. You could see the culture they have over there. The seriousness they have, what they’re about. It comes down to winning to me, and that’s what they’re about. That’s what I like. They hit everything right on the nail. That’s hard to do.”

***

No. 2: East meets West? — During a media interview on Wednesday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban floated the idea of realignment. The West has generally been stronger the last few seasons, and Cuban’s plan would help restore some competitive balance between the conferences. As Tim McMahon writes:

In Cuban’s plan, the Mavs, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans would move to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West.

“It’s not like it’d be the first time we’ve ever realigned,” Cuban said. “It’s happened many times before, so there’s precedent and I just think it shakes things up and makes things interesting.”

Cuban, whose Mavs were the West’s eighth seed with a 49-33 record last season but would have been a No. 3 seed in the East, acknowledged that he had some selfish motivation for the plan. However, he believes the league would benefit as a whole.

“It’s not like you’re reducing competition,” said Cuban, who noted that the teams he suggested moving to the West are approximately the same distance from Portland as Dallas and closer than New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston. “You keep Cleveland, Washington and other good teams in the East. It kind of shakes things up in terms of not just interest but also in terms of how people rebuild.

“It just changes things up and it changes the thought process of a lot of teams. It makes both conferences very competitive, at least for the short term and I think, based on the history of the teams, for the long term as well.”

***

No. 3: Larry Sanders is back — After being one of the NBA’s most promising big men two seasons ago, last season was something of a lost campaign for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders, who missed over half of the season with injuries and suspensions. But under new Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd, Sanders is reinvigorated, writes Charles Gardner:

Kidd and his staff made Sanders a centerpiece of their efforts from the beginning, working with him in Las Vegas during the summer and continuing during training camp.

“They came in and changed the culture; the (new) owners came in and changed the culture,” Sanders said. “It’s a whole different mind-set than I’ve ever had.

“We’re really trying to build something new here and you could feel it. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

The 26-year-old Sanders is not playing heavy minutes and that has helped him keep his energy flowing. He played 26 minutes against the Pistons on Tuesday and 28 against the Timberwolves.

Kidd has used him effectively in tandem with veteran Zaza Pachulia, who is adept in the offensive system and can battle bigger centers with his strength.

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SOME RANDOM LINKS: The Pelicans are aiming to get the ball to Anthony Davis more often … Cuban also took a verbal jab at Knicks coach Derek Fisher … The 76ers appear close to bringing in Turkish big man Furkan Aldemir