Relax? Easier said than done for LeBron


VIDEO: LeBron James says being patient this season has been a challenge for him

Maybe if Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers weren’t otherwise indisposed, LeBron James could have called on him to offer words of advice to Cleveland fans worried about, and NBA experts critical of, the Cavaliers’ unimpressive 5-5 start.

But it’s not clear that James’ message is as simple as “Relax.”

James’ needle was pointed in that direction when he announced his return to Cleveland in July, though that part of his message might have gotten swamped in the exuberance of The Decision II. He has said at various times in the preseason and early season that it would take time for the re-tooled Cavs to find their groove and identity. Heck, James said it in several ways as recently as Wednesday night, after a 92-90 home loss to San Antonio had them sifting through the disappointment for bright spots like some wannabe lottery team.

But his tone had shifted significantly by Friday morning, after Cleveland’s shootaround in Washington for its game with the Wizards (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Had Rodgers shown up to drop a “R-E-L-A-X” on James at the Verizon Center, the four-time MVP might have sacked him. As reported by Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

“That’s my biggest test,” [James] said. “My patience, I have a low tolerance for things of this nature, so it’s something I’m working on as well, which I knew from the beginning, that it was going to be my biggest test to see how much patience I have with the process.

“What helps me out is that I’ve been through it before, but at the same time, I’m a winner and I want to win and I want to win now. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not down the line. I want to win now. So, it’s a fine line for me, but I understand what we’re enduring right now.”

That differs from the essay James penned with SI.com’s Lee Jenkins when he chose to return to Cleveland over extending his stay with the Miami Heat. Remember?

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested.

For the record, the Heat started 9-8 in James’ first year in south Florida, teaming with stars (Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) who were more advanced in their own careers than Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But they figured things out in time to reach The Finals.

Also for the record, the Cavs faced a tough back-to-back this weekend against the Wizards on the road and then home against Toronto Saturday. Oh, and the Packers were 1-2 when Rodgers urge calm on the cheeseheads of Packers nation. They’ve gone 6-1 since.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce: Rivalry with LeBron ‘misunderstood’ | Cavs’ Love still searching for his role | Van Gundy fires back at Markieef Morris | Rivers standing by Redick

No. 1: Pierce: Rivalry with LeBron ‘misunderstood’ — The Cleveland Cavaliers from LeBron James‘ first tour of duty there took on Paul Pierce‘s Boston Celtics crew in two separate East semifinals series (2008 and ’10), losing both times. Those matchups — plus others between James’ Miami Heat teams and Pierce’s Celtics, and later, Brooklyn Nets — spurred a notion that Pierce and James don’t like each other personally. In an interview with J. Michael of CSNWashington.com, though, Pierce says that’s hardly the truth:

For Friday’s showdown between the Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, there are so many subplots in play: The preseason war of words between the backcourts; the rivalry between the teams during LeBron James’ first stint with his hometown team; and Eastern Conference playoff position. But the main plot will focus on Paul Pierce and James.

“I think a lot of it is misunderstood. If I see LeBron walking down the street, it’s not going to be no fistfight. I got a lot of respect for him,” said Pierce, who had triumphs and failures against him as a member of the Boston Celtics and last season with the Brooklyn Nets. “The competitive nature of both of us, being at the same position, being on top teams, gunning for the same trophy year in and year out, that’s where that comes in to play. It’s like fighting for the same girl. Why do I want to be cool with that guy?

“I’ve got total respect for him as a person. It’s just the things that we go through are all on the court and that’s where we leave it.”

“It’s something about great players when they play in certain arenas, when they play against other great players they elevate their play,” Pierce said about the stakes being raised Friday. “LeBron is one of those guys. He feels the moment. He understands the moment. This could be a moment tomorrow. We’ve got to be prepared for it.’

More wisdom from Pierce:

  • On the Cavs now: “Their record doesn’t show how good they’re going to be. … We’re going to have a lot of games like this throughout the course of the year. We got to be ready for this. We got to start expecting playoff-type atmospheres, playoff-type level of play. It’s time for us to start raising our level of play when these type of teams come in, Dallas, Cleveland, whoever.”
  • On James’ return home: “I was definitely surprised. With the run that they had in Miami, them going to four straight Finals that that wouldn’t deter him, losing in the Finals. I thought they built something special there. Obviously, Cleveland has a special place in his heart and he felt like he left something behind but it’s good for him. It’s good for the game of basketball. Shifts the balance of power. We know how tough it is to  put together a team and try to win a championship in that first year which makes the Eastern Conference that much wide open.”

 

Rose, Gasol out vs. Kings

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Nothing new on the Derrick Rose front. He’ll miss his third straight game with a strained left hamstring when the Chicago Bulls visit the Sacramento Kings on TNT Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET).

The Bulls will also be without Pau Gasol, who’s dealing with a strained left calf, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell reports

“[They’re] just not ready,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before Thursday’s shootaround.

This will be the third straight game Rose has missed after initially injuring the hamstring in last Thursday’s win over the Toronto Raptors, and the seventh game total. He missed four games earlier this season because of sprained ankles. Gasol, who along with swingman Jimmy Butler has now missed two straight games because the calf injury, is hopeful he will be back on the floor soon.

“I didn’t feel a pop,” Gasol said of the injury. “It just started bothering me. It started being sore. I was hoping I got hit but I couldn’t recall getting hit. So then you had to figure it was a muscle strain and strains usually take their time to heal and scar. So I’m just trying to let it heal.”

The Bulls are 4-2 without Rose, but have been better on both offense and defense with him on the floor. They beat the Clippers on Monday without Rose or Gasol.

One Stat, One Play: No D, No Run, No Dunk


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: The Clippers’ up-close problems

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers are generally considered to be a title contender.

They were one of four teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. They were a possession away from taking a 3-2 lead in the conference semifinals. And they’re in their second season under Doc Rivers.

But the Clippers are off to a disappointing start, holding a 6-4 record after Wednesday’s win in Orlando. Their four losses are all to teams with winning records, but haven’t looked sharp on either end of the floor, have home losses to the Kings and Bulls, and are one of four teams that has regressed by at least two points per 100 possessions on both ends of the floor.

One disturbing stat is that the Clippers rank last in shots in the restricted area. They’re the only team getting fewer than 20 attempts per game from the most efficient spot on the floor.

20141120_per-game

That’s a problem when you have two of the league’s best finishers. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were two of five players who shot better than 70 percent in the restricted area on at least 300 attempts last season.

20141120_70_300

Griffin’s attempts in the restricted area are down from 8.1 per game last season (48 percent of his total shots) to 6.2 this year (34 percent).

Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper and his mid-range field goal percentage has improved from 35 percent in 2012-13 to 37 percent last season to 39 percent this year. And part of his reduced attempts at the rim is a desire to show off his improvement from the outside.

“When you’ve deposited a lot of money,” Griffin said early this season about the work he’s put in on his jumper, “you feel good about writing checks.”

But another part of it is that Griffin isn’t getting out in transition as much as he has in the past. According to SportVU, just nine percent (15/166) of Griffin’s shots of come in the first six seconds of the shot clock, down from 18 percent last season.

That takes us to the Clippers’ defense, which ranks 22nd through Wednesday, allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions, 2.2 more than they did last season. And fewer stops leads to fewer opportunities to run.

The video above is our fourth installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at how the Clippers have been scrambling defensively after sending their big man away from the basket to aggressively defend pick-and-rolls. Does that scheme need to change or do the Clips just need to buckle down and execute it better?

They visit the Miami Heat in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 20


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt wants more from all of Cavs | Kidd rips into Nets’ brass | Carter’s emotional tribute in Toronto | Cuban touting new in-arena technology

No. 1: Blatt wants better play across board from Cavs — The Cavs had last night’s game against the Spurs in a situation they couldn’t have dreamed up better: down one point, with LeBron James bringing the ball up court with seconds left to go in the game. But as James crossed halfcourt, he lost his dribble, Manu Ginobili scooped up the loose ball and San Antonio had a 92-90 win. Afterward, coach David Blatt pointed out how the Cavs can’t keep counting on LeBron to save their bacon every night, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

That last possession is not what put the Cavaliers in a situation where they are now standing a subpar 5-5. James had a rough go offensively. Spurs foward Kawhi Leonard did a phenomenal job shadowing James and forcing him into help zones.

James ended the night with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting, with six rebounds and nine assists.

“Kawhi is a really, really good defender and T.D. (Tim Duncan) is kind of always protecting the paint,” James said. “They want everybody in the paint to try to make it tough on me. I missed some shots. They did a great job forcing me into some tougher shots that didn’t go for me.”

When James doesn’t play well offensively, the Cavaliers tend to follow suit. He is averaging 32.6 points and shooting 53 percent in wins and 19.2 points and 39 percent in losses.

Those numbers are not a newfound revelation, but according to head coach David Blatt it shouldn’t be an excuse for others not to bring it.

“What I would say to that is we all have to step up,” Blatt said. “Not just one guy. One guy is not responsible for a whole team. I’m not going to throw out any names or throw anybody under the bus, but the thing about a team is, if everyone is engaged, I think each and every guy has to step up and make himself felt and contribute what he can to the game.”

Clearly not enough guys stepped up in James’ time of need. But overall, Blatt felt his team came ready to play, which was not the case Monday in a home loss to Denver.

“I thought we played it with the right level of intensity, focus and determination,” he said.

Defense wasn’t the issue this time. Blatt made it a point to single out Kyrie Irving, calling it his best defensive game of the season for his play on Spurs guard Tony Parker, who was 2-of-7 and had eight points in 33 minutes.

Coughing the ball up is what players harped on. The last thing any team wants to do is hand the Spurs’ efficiently-run offense extra possessions.

“Turnovers killed us,” Anderson Varejao said. “At the end of the game we had a couple of bad ones and I believe that’s why we lost.”


VIDEO: The Spurs handle the Cavs in an early season East vs. West showdown  

Kobe won’t pile on Howard with K.D.

HOUSTON — Kobe Bryant’s contentious history with Dwight Howard, as both teammate and opponent, is well-documented. The pair had a scrap in the season opener at Staples Center.

But on a night when Howard sat out of a 98-92 loss to L.A. due to a strained right knee, Bryant did not want to jump into the war of words between the Rockets center and Kevin Durant of the Thunder.

When Howard and Durant got into an argument Sunday night in Oklahoma City, Durant reportedly called Howard an expletive that questioned his manhood.

“No, I don’t feel that way,” Bryant said. “And I don’t think Kevin does either. At moments of confrontation during a game you’ll say things in the heat of the moment. I know Dwight. I’m sure Kevin does. We don’t feel that way about him.

“You get in an argument with somebody, you’ll say things out of frustration, out of anger that you really don’t mean. It’s a heat of the battle, heat of the moment.

“You (media) guys have all been in arguments, guys that are married. Sometimes you say things that you want to take back, that you don’t really mean. But it’s in the heat of confrontation.”

Because of knee, Dwight won’t see Kobe

Dwight Howard complained of a sprained right knee and sat out Wednesday’s rematch against Kobe Bryant, which of course only means two things are now inflamed: the knee, and the “soft” rap against Howard which came courtesy of Kobe.

The Lakers-Rockets game was the first meeting between the teams since the season opener, when Howard and Kobe competed against each other for the first time since Howard left the Lakers two summers ago. Their relationship wasn’t the best then, and when they exchanged elbows with seven minutes in the opener, won easily by the Rockets, it only escalated in public view.

Once they were separated, not only did Kobe call out Howard by saying “try me” repeatedly, he also yelled “soft.” Lakers coach Byron Scott said the obvious: “They don’t like each other. It’s as simple as that.”

Well, then. It could be a bit of frustration on Kobe’s behalf, because the downfall of the Lakers began when Howard signed as a free agent with the Rockets, rather than stick around in L.A. during Kobe’s sunset. The Lakers haven’t been a winner since, and began this season losing nine of their first 10. Meanwhile, Howard and the Rockets are second only to the Grizzlies in the West.

Speaking of Memphis, Howard said he tweaked the knee against the Grizzlies but appeared to downplay the injury, calling it “bumps and bruises” following a back-to-back. Howard also didn’t raise the knee as an issue earlier Wednesday at the morning shootaround, but apparently discomfort set in shortly thereafter.

Fixing defensive downfalls remains job No. 1 for Cavaliers


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses what the Cavs must do to shore up their defense

CLEVELAND – It sounded like the old Steve Martin joke, advising people how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Then…”). Someone asked Gregg Popovich how he and his San Antonio coaching staff get players not known for their defense to “buy in” to the Spurs’ system so they uphold that team’s stingy reputation.

“I don’t bring anybody in like that,” Popovich said after the Spurs’ shootaround session Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. “Except maybe [Marco] Belinelli. He’s trying.”

Even the trigger-happy Belinelli got vetted through Tom Thibodeau‘s five-guys-on-a-string tactics in Chicago for a year before Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford signed him in July 2013.

The Cavaliers imposed no such prohibitions when they came together this offseason, parts being bolted around LeBron James in a flurry of trades and free-agent acquisitions. The incumbent backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters had no particular defensive chops. Power forward Kevin Love racks up formidable rebounding numbers but otherwise hadn’t shown much defensive proclivities. Center Anderson Varejao is energetic and aggressive in the paint, but Love and Tristan Thompson aren’t bonafide rim protectors. Shooters Mike Miller and James Jones are, well, shooters. And even James’ defense seemed to slip a notch in his last season with Miami.

Through nine games, Cleveland’s defensive rating of 108.3 was tied for fifth-worst in the league. That’s not just worse than his Heat team’s performance last season (102.9), it’s worse than the 2013-14 Cavaliers managed (104.8) on their way to a 33-49 record.

The Cavs have given up 100 points or more seven times, and their defensive effective field-goal percentage of .536, which adjusts for the premium on 3-pointers, is third-worst in the NBA, better only than the Lakers (.551) and Minnesota (.559). The breakdowns in Cleveland’s schemes are clear, from zone coverage to pick-and-roll misdirections to some poor or lazy individual habits.

So while everyone has focused on the blending of offensive styles and responsibilities of James, Love, Irving and the rest, Cleveland opponents have found it awfully easy to score – a flaw the Cavaliers can’t afford to ignore.

“I don’t think it’s something you learn on the fly,” James said Wednesday. “I think it’s something you work on every single day. You teach it, you preach it, you demand it. I didn’t come [into the NBA] as being a big defensive guy. I played defense and my high school coaches did preach it, and we knew in order to win, we had to defend. This is a different level.

“When [former Cavs coach] Mike Brown came to this team, that was just his whole mindset, saying, ‘If we don’t defend, we can’t win.’ And he preached it every day. It was just instilled in us as players. You’ve got to teach it, you’ve got to preach it, you’ve got to demand it every single day.”

Sounds like current Cavs coach David Blatt is there now, too.

“You have to raise the level of expectation,” Blatt said the other day, “and the level of accountability, and you have to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes if you’re not blessed with great individual defenders, your principles have to be that much stronger, and your helps and your court recognition have to be that much better. And that’s why it’s taken us longer in that area of the game than on the offensive end.”

San Antonio, by contrast, ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating (96.0) after finishing fourth (100.1) last season and tied for third (99.2) two years ago. A team whose main pieces have been together for multiple seasons might be expected to have an edge, though effort and priorities matter as much or more.

The Cavs’ familiarity will grow, but it’s on them to drag the defense along. Bumping up Shawn Marion‘s minutes has helped some, and there has been chatter about pursuing Timberwolves wing Corey Brewer in trade. Still, a roster overhaul is unlikely and any defensive makeover will require lipstick (and more) on what so far has been a pig.

“Defensively we just need more than anything to just trust each other,” Love said. “We’re all capable, especially as a team. We’ve got to take the individual battle. But at the end of the day, we need to trust each other that we need to help each other out.”


VIDEO: LeBron James is driven to get the Cavs back to winning consistently

 

Blogtable: Eye-opener out of the gate

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Give me a lesser-known player who is opening your eyes. What do you like about him?

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLooks like I was wrong about Chicago’s Jimmy Butler – again. I didn’t share the Chicago Bulls’ high hopes for Butler when they drafted him No. 30 in 2011; “short arms, flat shot, plays too straight-up-and-down” was my initial impression. And I didn’t agree with Butler’s decision not to nail down a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline (too much risk to eke out another 10 percent raise or so on the $40 million or so the Bulls offered). But Butler’s do-everything impact for Chicago, combining Luol Deng‘s and Derrick Rose‘s responsibilities on many nights, has him in line for a much bigger payday. And his offensive game has grown (21.3 ppg, 13th in true shooting percentage, 17th in PER). But I don’t mind being wrong – when Marquette University’s annual pledge drive calls next year, I can point them in yet another direction of fellow alums (Doc Rivers, Dwyane Wade, Wesley Matthews) who have all the money.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a season when every inhale, exhale and twinge from Derrick Rose is worthy of re-tweets and headlines, Jimmy Butler has been the driving force behind the Bulls at both ends of the floor.  After the two sides couldn’t come together on a contract extension, he’s driving toward restricted free agency next summer as the No. 1 option in the Bulls’ offense while also guarding the best perimeter players on opposing teams.  That’s making your case.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s probably several good answers, but Courtney Lee jumps to mind for me because the Grizzlies have been terrific and he supplies a lot of what they need by hitting shots, especially 3-pointers, for a team slightly below average in scoring. On a team where everyone else gets the publicity — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — Lee has been invaluable to the start. Jimmy Butler and Reggie Jackson should be mentioned as well, although I think both have been improving for a while. I don’t know that either qualifies as “lesser known.”

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m sure his early numbers are partly due to being on a team that can’t score and also not having Michael Carter-Williams around much, but Tony Wroten is making the most of his opportunity. He came into this season as a guy who could reach the rim but couldn’t shoot a lick, and yet he’s making 34 percent of his threes (up from a career 26-percent) and leading the Sixers in scoring, assists and steals which, I know I know, is only worth so much. Honorable mention to Garrett Temple keeping the seat warm in DC for Bradley Beal, and Donald Sloan holding it down for George Hill in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comSolomon Hill is a guy who spent a lot of time on the inactive list as a rookie last year and who looked a little overwhelmed at the start of this season. But he’s shown a lot of improvement as the depleted Pacers have won three of their last four. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a full-time starter in this league, and he basically “opened my eyes” in one game, looking rather comfortable running the pick-and-roll and finding good shots against the Bulls’ defense on Saturday. But he could be a solid rotation guy as the Pacers get healthy, with this experience as a starter being an important part of his development.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ve got to give it up to Donald Sloan in Indiana. When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to pounce. And that’s exactly what Sloan has done. The chance for a journeyman to be showcased doesn’t come along very day. The injury to George Hill provided the opening Sloan needed to prove his worth and he’s run with it. He’s cooled off a bit recently. And that’s to be expected. But he started off the season like wildfire and produced one half of the best duels of the season with his career night against John Wall and the Washington Wizarsds. Sloan will likely return to the anonymity of the Pacers’ bench. Until then, however, he;d be wise to stay on the attack

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEvan Fournier stepped in for Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (who recently returned from injury) and proved to be a versatile scorer and playmaker. Fournier is seven years younger than Arron Afflalo, for whom he was traded; and he’s providing better shooting and production than Denver is getting from Afflalo.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s Dennis Schröder seems to have turned some kind of corner. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but this season seems to have bumped Shelvin Mack from the rotation and has bettered his career highs several times. He has such a unique combination of athleticism and speed that he could make a real impact off the bench this season for the Hawks. If you don’t believe me, ask Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s been plenty of surprising performances to start the season, with one of the most surprising being the Bucks’ 6-5 start and the performance of Brandon Knight. The fourth-year point guard came over in a trade for Brandon Jennings and now looks to be the better player. There were knocks on his ability to run an offense competently, read passing lanes and just pick up the general nuances of being a point guard. He’s slowly starting to arrest some of those fears as his stocks begin to rise. His 17.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 39 percent shooting from deep has been eye catching. Maybe working with one of the best point guards in NBA history is rubbing off on him.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: Jimmy Butler. Maybe he’s well known now, but he’s a no-brainer to me. We love him because we love to see him play that kind of hustle, grind, bloody games, and we thought he could be a key 3-D guy in a championship team. On the other words, we never thought he could be that good. He just established himself into a go-to guy on a terrific team (21.3 PPG,6.2 RPG,3.9 APG). Look at his number, he’s literally a better version of Luol Deng, even if this just his third year in the league. Statistics cheat, but the ball don’t lie.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Nikola Vucevic is becoming a force in the paint. He is averaging 18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, great numbers for a 24-years-old center. There are not many other players than have his touch around the basket and, above all, his consistency.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: Chris Copeland, who was a rookie at age 28 for the New York Knicks, has made a place for himself in the NBA after going through Spain’s second division and minor leagues in Germany and Belgium. This season, he’s taking advantage of an opportunity and his game is reflected in the stats.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Of course, as a German I have to pick Dennis Schröder. He made a big jump this summer. The debut with the German national team gave him a big boost. He had to take a leading role in the team and he mastered it with bravery. Schröder plays with more confidence, his body language changed completely and that helps on the court. His turnover ratio is way better (still not perfect) than last year, he added the left-handed layup to his game and improved his jump-shot. With his new confidence he gained the trust of his teammates and coach Mike Budenholzer. Or have you expected that the Hawks will play ISO for Schröder? No one could do that after his difficult first year. He’s finally arrived in the league, but it’s still a long way to go.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I’m really loving the improved play from Jimmy Butler this season. While the top items of concern in Chicago seem to be Derrick Rose’s health, Joakim Noah‘s play or Pau Gasol‘s addition, I feel that Butler has emerged as the breakout star of the season. He has taken advantage of his offensive opportunities in Rose’s absence (and even his presence) and continues to be one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I like that he’s asserting himself more aggressively on both sides of the floor this season: In a few years, I feel he has the potential of becoming one of the most-feared wing players in the league.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Jimmy Butler is becoming a lethal 2-way player, probably one of the biggest reasons why Chicago can survive without Derrick Rose. He was a defensive specialist, he’s adding a lot of offensive moves and he’s averaging 21.3 points per game. I really like his versatility, his strength, he’s ability to defend the best opponent on the perimeter and be a factor offensively.

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For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the East

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

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