Kevin Durant to return tonight for Oklahoma City Thunder

VIDEO: Kevin Durant grabs his left hamstring vs. the Wizards two weeks ago

HANG TIME BIG CITY — After missing the last six games while recuperating from a hamstring injury, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is set to return tonight against the Utah Jazz (9 ET, League Pass), according to reports…

The Thunder were 6-3 when Durant strained his left hamstring in a game against his hometown Washington Wizards. Without Durant, the Thunder posted a 3-3 record, as Russell Westbrook averaged 32.7 points, 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game over that stretch.

Durant was averaging 28.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game when the injury occurred. The added offense will surely be helpful tonight against a stingy Jazz defense, which is ranked second in the NBA in points allowed per game, at 92.4 points per game.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 23

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 22

Kobe, Lakers stand in way of Warriors and history | Clippers in disarray after third straight loss | Forget Bradley comparison, Porzingis more like Pau and could be better | Warriors more than just 15-0, better than ever

No. 1: Kobe, Lakers stand in way of Warriors and history — The only thing standing in the way of the Golden State Warriors and a history-making triumph is Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors are hunting a 16-0 start, which would rank as the best season-opening sprint in NBA history, and need to whip the Lakers Tuesday at Oracle Arena to accomplish that feat. The Lakers’ dreadful 2-11 start would suggest that they are probably not the team capable of slowing down Stephen Curry and the machine that is the Warriors, but don’t tell Kobe, who suggested otherwise to Baxter Holmes of

“I’ve seen stranger things happen,” Bryant said Sunday after his team’s 107-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center here. “We’ve been playing like s—. We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there. You never know. ”

Lakers coach Byron Scott was asked for his thought on the matchup. He laughed.

“That’s my thought right now,” Scott said. “They’re the best team I’ve seen in the league and it’s not close … . They’re the best team I’ve seen in a while.”

With the Warriors chasing history, Scott said he expects the Warriors to be ready.

“They haven’t had a whole lot of lulls in any of the games that they’ve played,” Scott added. “When they do [have a lull], they’ve got so much confidence in the way they play and how they play that they don’t panic.

“You can be up by 23 [against the Warriors] and it doesn’t matter, especially if they’ve got two quarters left. It’s a difference if you’re up 23 with five or six minutes left; then you’ve probably got a great chance of winning that game. But if you give them 24 minutes left in the game, there’s not a whole lot of leads that are too big for them [to overcome].”

Scott admires the way the Warriors play, but he isn’t exactly looking forward to facing them.

“Basically I look at them as a fan, when I watch them play,” Scott said. “Unfortunately I don’t have that luxury Tuesday. I love watching them play because they do all the things we talk about. They share the ball. They play for one another. They play as a team.”


No. 2: Clippers in disarray after third straight loss — Losers of three games in a row and seven of their last nine, it’s easy to see why the Los Angeles Clippers are reeling right now. But things bottomed out after Sunday’s loss to Toronto at Staples Center, a game that saw the Clippers trail by as season-high 29 points and commit season-highs in turnovers (20) and personal fouls (30). And all of this came before Josh Smith‘s locker room meltdown and shouting match with an unspecified Clippers assistant coach. Simply put, the Clippers are in disarray right now and as Kevin Baxter of The Los Angeles Times points out, there no easy solutions in sight:

Just who yelled at whom and about what, no one would say.

“That’s for us in our locker room,” point guard Chris Paul said.

What’s obvious, though, is that when the shouting finished, the Clippers were right back where they had been when it started: in a deep funk for which they can’t find a solution.

“If we had pinpointed it, then it would be resolved,” said forward Blake Griffin, whose nine points were the fewest he has scored in a full game since 2013. “So I think we need to find that. Whether it’s playing harder, whether it’s having a sense of urgency, whatever the case may be, we need to find it.”

It wasn’t hard to identify the Clippers’ problem Sunday: It was a first half in which they fell behind by 29 points, their biggest deficit of the season. Griffin, the team’s leading scorer, had more fouls and turnovers (three of each) than he did points (zero) in the opening 24 minutes before the Clippers, who looked disorganized and bewildered, left the floor to a chorus of boos trailing, 63-34.

It was the team’s lowest-scoring half of the season, something for which Paul and Rivers shared blame.

“It starts with me,” said Paul, who saw his team outscored by 21 points during his 18 minutes on the court.

“This is on me,” countered Rivers. “Players, we have to put them in a better spot to perform better. And that’s my job.”


No. 3:Forget Bradley comparison; Porzingis more like Pau and could be better — The Kristaps Porzingis show takes its talents to South Beach tonight to face the Miami Heat (7:30 ET, NBA TV) and the New York Knicks’ prized rookie shows up with momentum on his side. He’s had a stellar start to his season and has quickly changed the narrative surrounding who and what he could become in the future. Knicks boss Phil Jackson uttered the name Shawn Bradley in comparison to Porzingis over the summer, a name that “KP” balked at immediately. After seeing the big fella in action this season, the chatter has shifted to a different international big man, Pau Gasol, who thrived in the triangle offense. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News explains:

Long before Phil Jackson compared Kristaps Porzingis to Shawn Bradley — which in retrospect may have been Phil playing one of his notorious mind games — the Knicks president admitted that Porzingis reminded him of Pau Gasol.

Of course, by the time Gasol helped the Lakers and Jackson win their last two NBA championships, the Spanish forward had already established himself as one of the league’s top players. Jackson coached a finished product. Jose Calderon, however, remembers Gasol as a skinny teenager when they first played together with Spain’s national team. Calderon also sees similarities but admits that right now, “Kristaps is better.”

“If I’m not mistaken it took Pau a little bit longer to get those big numbers,” Calderon added. “But also remember, Pau was the Rookie of the Year. Let’s see where we are at the end of the year. But this is a good start.”

Porzingis has been nothing short of a revelation. And it didn’t take long for him to produce one of the best all-around games for any rookie. In fact, it happened in Game 14 as the 7-foot-3 forward scored 24 points with 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots in Saturday’s win over the Houston Rockets. The last 20-year-old to put up comparable numbers was Shaquille O’Neal during the 1992-93 season.

Gasol was 21 when he broke into the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2001-02 season. By the fourth game of Gasol’s career, he scored 27 points against Phoenix and in his next game he scored 24 against the Clippers. Memphis, though, started that season by losing its first eight games. In his first 20 games, Gasol recorded four double-doubles.

Porzingis has six double-doubles through 14 games, including Tuesday’s 29-point, 11-rebound performance against Charlotte. Moreover, the Knicks have already won eight games.

“The surprise is he’s doing it right away,” Calderon said of Porzingis. “He’s been pretty consistent. That’s what surprises me the most; he’s putting up big numbers now. Nobody expected that.”


No. 4:Warriors more than just 15-0, better than ever — Chasing history is one thing. But doing so the way the Golden State Warriors are doing it, well it’s something more, much more. And their critics called their championship run last season “lucky.” It seems foolish to suggest anything of the sort given the way the Warriors are waxing the competition so far this season. The Warriors handled their business in Denver Sunday, showing off perhaps the greatest trait any defending champion can display in pursuit of an encore: they’ve simply forgotten how to lose. Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group makes the case for a Warriors team that is better than ever:

The Warriors are too good — even better than last season.

Sounds crazy, huh? The champs taking a step forward. But it’s only a shocker to those who believe last season was some kind of miracle.

It wasn’t luck, but a prelude. The Warriors didn’t max out, they took the next step in a steady progression.

Why are the Warriors’ better? Because Stephen Curry is better, because Draymond Green is better, because Festus Ezeli is better, because the team’s chemistry and execution are better.

The reigning MVP doesn’t usually improve his game. But with Curry, it makes perfect sense.

He has made a habit of turning his game up a notch after the all-star break. The next step was to turn it up from the start of the season. And that’s what he’s done.

Curry averaged 23.8 points per game last season. This season, he’s up to 32.7 points per game — and that’s despite defenses focusing on him more than ever.

He has sculpted his body, honed his skills and developed his strengths. But there’s a cerebral part of the game Curry has been developing. His enhanced understanding of the game has him playing more to his unique strength: long-range shooting. Curry is taking 11.3 shots per game from behind the arc, up from 8.1 last season. Oh, and he’s making more of them: 4.9 per game, up from 3.6. Overall, his shooting has improved to 51.5 percent — absurd for someone who doesn’t stand under the basket.

And here’s a scary thought: “I can still get better,” Curry said last week.

Draymond Green is better. Getting a fat contract — $82 million for five years — didn’t make him fat. Not that anybody thought it would. Like Curry, Green has a work ethic that is off the charts.

Last year was Green’s first as a full-time starter. This year, he’s clearly more comfortable in his role and better at using his skill set, a benefit of experience.

Green improved his 3-point shooting. He’s making 43.9 percent from deep, making opponents really pay for double-teaming Curry. Green’s ball-handling is much improved, too. He pushes the tempo and regularly leads the fast break. He also leads the team in assists at 6.7 per game.

And he’s the key to one of the Warriors’ lesser-known lethal weapons: the small lineup. With the 6-foot-7 Green at center, and four perimeter players around him, the Warriors have five players on the court who can score and still defend.

The Warriors play together better.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Philadelphia 76ers are chasing a little history of their own, but not the good kind … Why in the world did LeBron James remove the Cleveland Cavaliers from participating in the pregame introductions? … Avery Bradley is coming off of the bench for the Boston Celtics and thriving in that rolePatrick Beverley is on the way back to the lineup for the Houston Rockets, who need all hands on deck if they want to turn things around under J.B. Bickerstaff … It hasn’t been easy, of course, but Alvin Gentry is trying to make the best of a great opportunity in New Orleans

Clippers’ frustration boils over

VIDEO: Danny Granger, Rick Fox and Brent Barry discuss the Clippers’ locker-room issues.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Midway through the second quarter on Thursday, the Los Angeles Clippers had a 23-point lead on the 12-0 Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul hadn’t missed a shot and the champs were on the ropes.

A lot has changed since then. The Clips were outscored 92-62 over the final 30 minutes on Thursday, 25-8 when the Warriors went to their devastating small-ball lineup in the final six minutes. They went to Portland on Friday and got outscored 16-6 in the final 3:30 of what was a one-point game. And then they came back home and got thumped by the Toronto Raptors, trailing by 29 points at halftime.

As you might expect, that sequence of events has led to some frustration in Clipperland. As Dan Woike of the Orange County Register reports, there were some raised voices in the Staples Center locker room in the moments after Sunday’s embarrassing loss

Josh Smith and an unspecified Clipper coach were involved in a frustration-fueled argument following the Clippers’ 91-80 loss to Toronto Sunday.

Profanities and yelling made their way through the cement walls separating the Clipper locker room from an adjacent room where the media was waiting to speak to head coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers and Clipper players didn’t offer details on the incident.

“It’s (like any) locker room after you lose and play like that. Guys are upset,” Rivers said. “That’s about it.”

The Clippers are supposed to be contending for a championship again this year. But they’re 6-7, having lost seven of their last nine games, with issues on both ends of the floor. Summer additions Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson have all shot less than 40 percent, the Clips rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage, and they’ve been the league’s worst defensive team over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

It’s still early in the season, but Thursday’s collapse seems to have been a powerful blow to the Clippers’ psyche.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22

VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 21

Cuban lets loose | Deron Williams rebounds | Fast-improving Favors is officially a Utah favorite | Warriors not stressing over record

No. 1: Cuban lets loose — The most sought-after interview in the NBA never changes. It’s significant time with Mark Cuban, the Mavericks owner and the maverick owner who always speaks his mind, which he can literally afford to do. Cuban is always entertaining and forthright and pretty much on-point with his thoughts on basketball or really anything you ask of him. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe managed to get some time with Cuban and we’re all better off for it:

He remains the most entertaining owner in the NBA, and he’ll offer an opinion on anything he is asked, making him one of the most transparent figures in sports.

Cuban was asked about the firing of Kevin McHale by his rivals, the Houston Rockets. Cuban has had very public feuds with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, especially when the Mavericks nabbed swingman Chandler Parsons from the Rockets with a mega-deal in July 2014.

“I like Kevin, I feel bad for him personally, but the rest of it? Whatever,” Cuban said. “I mean, we’ve been in a high-expectation position before. We go to the Finals, we started 0-4 [in 2006-07], and it’s ‘what’s wrong?’ and we came back to win 67 games and lose in the first round.

“So I’ve said it before, the hardest thing for an NBA owner to do is hire a coach. The easiest thing to do is fire a coach. The reason it’s hard to hire a coach, coaches are great at date-face, they know exactly what your weaknesses are and they know exactly how to sell to those weaknesses, so it’s really difficult to pick it right and it’s 90 percent luck.”

Cuban recently signed his coach, Rick Carlisle, to a five-year extension.

“If the hardest thing to find is a good coach, you marry him, you put a ring on it,” Cuban said.

Asked about the escalating salary cap that will kick in next season with the new television contract, Cuban said, “It’s going to change a lot. More from a strategy perspective, it makes the value of draft choices go through the roof because they’re pegged at a certain price. Minimum contracts will go through the roof. Anybody that signs for the mid-level, the value goes through the roof.

“It’s going to be a lot of tough decisions. And in reality, if everything sticks to the projections that we come up with, the cap will go down after that. So that changes what you do as well.

“It will be really interesting. There will be some guys that will get way paid. When guys are making $30 million-plus, it’s going to be tough to have more than one of them.”

Cuban said he has no issues paying players such exorbitant salaries because that is the price of a championship.

“What’s a championship worth?” he said. “I always look at it as a team. The biggest mistake people make in this business is they say this player is worth ‘X.’ That’s never the case. When you insert that player as one of 15, if he can increase the value of [the team], he’s cheap.

“I remember back when we [acquired] Erick Dampier [in the middle of a $49 million contract] and everybody said we were idiots. Without that big body, we don’t go to The Finals, and we still should have won that Finals if it weren’t for three blind mice [i.e. the officials].”


No. 2: Deron Williams rebounds — OK, there’s no sense in proclaiming him the leader for comeback story of the year, since Paul George is way ahead and probably won’t look back. But Deron Williams is experiencing somewhat of a rejuvenation in Dallas after being dumped by the Nets and declared finished as a productive player. He’s hardly in All-Star form, yet the Mavericks are surprisingly flourishing right now and Williams is one of the reasons. Last season in Brooklyn, he was on the bench in tight games in favor of Jarrett Jack. But now, the ball’s in his hands and the Mavericks have confidence in him. More importantly, Williams has confidence in himself. Here’s Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News with the details:

He was a crunch-time beast Friday as the Mavericks weathered a hard push from Utah, steadied themselves behind their point guard and whipped the Jazz 102-93 at American Airlines Center for their sixth consecutive victory, matching their longest streak of last season.

At 9-4, the Mavericks hit the road for a three-game trip starting Sunday at Oklahoma City.

Williams finished with 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. His 3-pointer after a nice feed from Raymond Felton with two minutes to play put the Mavericks up 95-87. He added to that cushion with a pair of free throws — running his streak to 35 without a miss this season — as the Mavericks finished off the Jazz, who fell behind by 20 but got as close as five down the stretch.

Williams missed almost all of training camp with nagging injuries and had a knee problem early in the regular season. He has rounded into form nicely of late. He took over the Boston game on Wednesday with 11 fourth-quarter points and was every bit as dominant against the Jazz.

Williams isn’t quite ready to pronounce himself as the Mavericks’ closer, but he’s certainly sent a message that he’s capable of doing so.

“Everything’s coming together,” he said. “It’s still early. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I definitely feel more comfortable out there. I’m getting opportunities in the fourth. I’ve had a chance to have the ball in my hands at the ends of games, and I can make plays not only for myself and others.”

It’s a nice feeling, one that Williams hasn’t enjoyed often enough in recent seasons. He got overlooked or overshadowed too many times in Brooklyn.

“There were times when I did a lot of standing, a lot of watching,” he said. “And that takes away your aggressiveness. That’s not what I’m good at.”


No. 3:Fast improving Favors is a Utah favorite — Interesting thing about Deron Williams: He cost the Nets a lot, and not just $100 million. Remember, the Nets surrendered a promising teenage power forward named Derrick Favors to get Williams, and years later, it’s clear that Utah came out ahead. Favors’ game is maturing and he’s becoming a double-double guy, following previous Jazz low-post beats who collected doubles, Karl Malone and Al Jefferson. The sixth-year forward spent time with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, who offers this:

“I think last year was my first time having fun again, playing basketball,” Favors said. “I got comfortable with talking to the coaches. I felt more responsible and got more comfortable as a team leader. I have more responsibility offensively and defensively. I feel better in my role, and I think that’s made me open up a lot more.”

As the Jazz prepare to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Favors is shining in his role as a difference-making power forward.

Favors, in his sixth season out of Georgia Tech, is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game, to go with 1.5 blocks. He’s been a hub offensively in the post and on the perimeter when he drifts to 15-18 feet from the basket. Defensively, he’s been almost spectacular, not just blocking shots, but in pick-and-roll coverages and defending the perimeter against stretch power forwards and smaller guards.

Beyond the numbers, Favors is playing with an edge previously unseen. For the first time in his career, he’s showing emotion on the floor, scowling after snatching rebounds, celebrating after baskets. People are noticing. Whispers around the league suggest Favors could have a shot at the All-Star Game, if he continues to play well and if the Jazz find consistency in the win column.

Yet, he remains unfazed.

“I think I’ve played well, but I feel like can play a lot better,” Favors said. “As far as offensively, I feel like I can play better, like there’s more stuff I can do. As far as being an All-Star, you never know. You never know how stuff works out, as far as how political the process is.”

So, how has Favors been able to explode? He said the maturation has been six years in the making. He came into the NBA a raw specimen, a 6-foot-10 athletic man-child with few refined skills.

As the No. 3 pick of his draft, Favors was supposed to dominate from the jump. He didn’t, and needed time to adjust, something the then-New Jersey Nets decided they didn’t have enough of. So Favors was brought to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.

Favors was stung by that trade, and to this day plays with a chip because of it. He felt discarded, unwanted at a young age, and was stung by the criticism of him needing development.

The result today is a Favors with an offensive game that’s becoming more well-rounded by the year. He has a consistent jumper. He’s effective with his back to the basket. He’s always been great rebounding the ball for points and he’s becoming a better passer.


No. 4:Warriors not stressing over record — How did we make it this far in the Morning Shootaround without the obligatory Warriors mention? OK, here it goes. The Warriors can tie the NBA record for fastest start tonight against the Nuggets and maybe you’ve heard about that. Well, if you believe the Warriors, they’re taking this historic start in stride, which is in their best interest. Nothing makes these guys sweat, which is easy to avoid when you have Steph Curry on the squad, hitting jumpers, and others filling in. Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle is with the gang and filed this observation:

The Warriors go for 15 wins in a row Sunday night, and they’ll have to descend about 2 miles in order to reach Pepsi Center’s mile-high altitude. This is a team that is locked in and loosey-goosey, a dangerous combo.

Luke Walton, the interim head coach, was talking Friday night about the Warriors’ team vibe. Apparently, behind closed locker-room doors, these fellows laugh a lot. Walton recalled a pregame moment from last season’s NBA Finals. The Warriors were coming off a loss, they were in trouble, looking beatable in Cleveland.

Steve Kerr and his assistants were huddled in their own locker room minutes before show time, mapping last-minute strategy. They were also wondering about the emotional state of their players.

From next door in the Warriors’ locker room, peals of raucous laughter rang out.

Kerr said to his staff, “I guess they’re going to be all right.”

They were. They are.

In this expert’s opinion, the Warriors will not go 82-0 in this regular season. But whatever losses they suffer won’t be due to the pressure finally getting to them.

One of the key elements Kerr brought to the Warriors — and it remains solidly with them even during his absence from bench — is that, dammit, you’d better have fun.

That’s why the Warriors end many practices with a wild free-for-all shooting contest, as mature as a food fight.
Kerr’s philosophy is that this is dead-serious business, but it’s basketball, played best with a soaring spirit and childlike exuberance.

“Fun, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Draymond Green said Friday night. “That’s what coach Kerr has preached from Day 1: Have fun. Got the best job in the world, we come to play basketball for a living, with guys that we like.”

So the streak is not weighing on you?

“Absolutely not. Not at all.”

Of course, it’s easier (I’m guessing) to have fun when you never lose. There will be sterner tests ahead of the Warriors’ joviality. Right now, they’ve got the top down and they’re enjoying the ride.

But enjoying it too much? If Kerr were speaking publicly these days (no timetable on his return, by the way, but indications are that his recovery is progressing) he would likely express some concern about his team getting a little too loose.

Kerr wants the Warriors to be lightning-fast and creative, but not sloppy and careless. He convinced his team last season that it’s possible to be fast and smart.

The last three games, team leader and floor general Stephen Curry has crossed over into Kerr’s concern area, to the point where Kerr kidded Curry about how much money he’s losing to his mom in their ongoing turnovers bet.

Curry averaged 3.9 turnovers last year as the league MVP. He said before the season that, because of the team’s maturing and his own off-season training, he expected turnovers to go down. Sure enough, through the first 11 games, Curry averaged 3.1 turnovers.

But the last three games Curry turned the ball over seven, seven and six times. Too many.

Walton said Curry’s recent turnover flurry was partly due to opponents’ scouting and scheming for Curry’s tendencies, and the Warriors’ coaches and Steph would need to counter.

But some of it is just Curry’s attack/create mentality. He’s not looking to make crazy passes just to show off, but he is constantly seeking a higher level of basketball, which steepens the risk-reward curve.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich is amazed that folks in San Antonio want to name schools after him. … Dwyane Wade is getting older and he’s getting smarter. … Lance Stephenson was supposed to help the Clippers, remember? What happened? … Toronto must find a way to minimize the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, out with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, and good luck with that. … Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings is getting close to making his return.

Report: Toronto’s Valanciunas opts against surgery

VIDEO: Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas fractures his finger.

Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has decided not to have surgery on a fractured finger in his left hand and will instead try rehabilitation, Yahoo reported Saturday.

Valanciunas suffered the injury on his non-shooting hand Friday against the Lakers in Los Angeles. There was no immediate estimate on how long he will be sidelined, but coach Dwane Casey was preparing for the possibility of small ball by moving Luis Scola from power forward to center as soon as Sunday against the Clippers at Staples Center, according to the Toronto Star, with Patrick Patterson or James Johnson starting at power forward.

Casey also had the option of moving Bismack Biyombo from backup center into the opening lineup. Another big man, Lucas Nogueira, was expected to join the Raptors from the D-League in time for the game against the Clippers.

“There are different things we can do, we just can’t change all of our sets and all of our defensive schemes,” Casey said, according to the Star. “Luis is very versatile, there’s Patrick, DeMarre Carroll at the four, AB (Anthony Bennett), James Johnson at the four. There are a lot of variables we can have at the four and the five.”

Valanciunas is averaging 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 27.3 minutes.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 21

VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

Beal could be back | Porzingis impresses | Karasev apologizes | Warriors need faster starts

No. 1: Beal feels ready to return — The Wizards have won two straight games, but it never hurts to get the key cog in your offense back into the lineup. That could happen Saturday in Detroit with Bradley Beal ready to get back in action. The Wizards’ leading scorer has been out for two weeks with a should injury, but told Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post that he’s feeling no pain:

“I want to play. I had a good practice today,” Beal said. “I just have to see how I recoup tomorrow and go through shoot-around and see how I feel before the game and go from there.

Beal, Washington’s leading scorer, hasn’t played in nearly two weeks, but has missed just three games because of the Wizards’ inactive schedule. The team called the ailment a shoulder contusion but he contended that the injury also included muscle tightness in his neck and back. He said the discomfort lingered.

“I could be just sitting here and it’d be throbbing and hurting and I couldn’t move,” said Beal, who has never dealt with shoulder troubles before. “So it was a lot worse than people just saying it was a bruised shoulder. I think I’m tougher than that.”


No. 2: Nowitzki calls Porzingis the real thing — Over the past two decades there have been plenty European imports who were labeled the next best thing since Dirk Nowitzki came to the NBA from Germany. Just a few years back, the Knicks themselves had their month of fantasy from American home-grown Jeremy Lin. So while it may be tempting to say that the early excitement around Kristaps Porzingis should be tempered, none other than Nowitzki himself told Marc Stein of that the Knicks rookie is legit:

The greatest European import of them all, when asked this week by for his initial impressions of the Latvian, didn’t hesitate.
“He is for real,” Nowitzki said.

Dare I say Dirk would know. In January 1999, when the NBA’s first-ever lockout abruptly ended, Nowitzki had to suddenly make the leap from mysterious European prospect to frontcourt starter in the best league in the world. The same leap Porzingis is making as we speak.

As well as anyone you could consult, Nowitzki understands how broad of a jump it is.

In one of the more memorable stories of my 20-odd years on the NBA beat, then-Mavericks coach Don Nelson told me for a piece in The Dallas Morning News that he expected Nowitzki to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Which was great for the newspaper and a terrible disservice to the skinny 20-year-old kid who had to shoulder the weight of such an audacious forecast.

The transition from the thoroughly unknown DJK Wurzburg X-Rays of the German Bundesliga to the moribund Mavericks of the rugged Western Conference proved to be so bumpy that Nowitzki would confess years later that he gave serious thought to going back to Europe for Year 2.

So if you don’t want to listen to windbags like me try to convince you that Zinger’s start is legitimately special, perhaps you’ll be interested in Nowitzki’s take.

Says Dirk: “He is long. He is athletic. He is tough. He’s got a touch. He can put it on the floor.

“He is for real,” Nowitzki repeats. “Sky’s the limit.”


No. 3:Nets’ Karasev doesn’t want out — We all know how it is with family. Sometimes you want to hug them and sometimes you feel like you want to choke them. Nets’ swingman Sergey Karasev was in full retreat and apology mode after his father complained about lack of playing time and said his son was looking into a trade away from coach Lionel Hollins. The younger Karasev told Brian Lewis of the New York Post that Dad was speaking out of turn and he’s committed to the Nets:

“My dad, he’s my biggest fan, so he has his own opinion. I can’t control what he says to the press. A lot of people want that I play, especially back home in Russia, so they have their own opinion,’’ Karasev said. “I’m with the Nets. I love this organization, I like Coach Hollins, so I just keep working hard. I’m just with this team right now. All my focus, all my mind is to win the game. That’s why I’m here.’’

“I talked with [my father] and he said, ‘Yeah, I know, I apologize.’ But … that’s his opinion. I can’t control this. He can say whatever he thinks. That’s not what I’m thinking. We are like thinking different directions.’’
Modal Trigger

Which is something Hollins — father of several basketball-playing children himself — understood. He brushed the comments off.

“Put it this way: Sergey’s father is a father. I’m a father. I had sons that played basketball. I had a daughter that played basketball. We all want our kids to be first position,’’ Hollins said. “So he has his opinion, and I understand where he’s coming from as a father. But it’s just that: his opinion.’’

The 22-year-old Karasev also spoke with Hollins several days ago about what he needed to do to earn more playing time.

“[Hollins] said I need to be more aggressive on the court and that’s what I try to do right now. I try to work hard every day. I work on my conditioning because … .you need to be in shape every day to be ready, because that’s why you have 15 players on the roster,’’ Karasev said. “I talked with him, and he said he likes how I worked the last practices, so I think I go in the right direction.’’


No. 4:Walton wants faster starts for champs — Admittedly, it might be quibbling. Like finding flaws in the Mona Lisa or telling Kate Upton she should stand up straight. But champions are held to a higher standard and even at 14-0 interim coach Luke Walton wants the Warriors to stop digging themselves early holes, according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“To me, it’s two things,” Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton said before Friday’s game. “It’s people wanting to be the first to give us a loss, and they’re coming out and playing like it’s a playoff game. It’s the biggest game of the season for them.

“Two, we’re not matching their intensity early. We were thrilled with our intensity early in the season — as far as the way we were starting games. That was one of the focal points of training camp, and we did a great job of it early. We’ll continue to talk about it and make it a point in our meetings, but it’s something that our guys out on the court need to change.”

The Warriors outscored their first 10 opponents by an average of 30.5-23.3, keeping four opponents to fewer than 24 points during the span. But their past four opponents have outscored the Warriors by an average of 32.8-25.8.

It’s no coincidence that three of the Warriors’ four toughest wins came after allowing Brooklyn (36 first-quarter points), Toronto (25) and the Clippers (41) to get off to fast starts. Brooklyn took the Warriors into overtime, the Warriors squeaked out a five-point win over Toronto, and they had to overcome a 23-point deficit to beat the Clippers.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hip surgery sidelines Wizards’ Martell Webster for the season…J.R. Smith accused of choking 19-year-old…Metta World Peace says “Malice at Palace” brawl sent him into depression…NBA players often bond over popcorn and movies…John Calipari’s name keeps getting linked to Sacramento…Kobe Bryant and Caron Butler have stayed like brothers down through the years.

Shoulder strain puts ‘LeBron project’ Mozgov on ice for 10-14 days

Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov will be out 10-14 days, the Cavaliers announced Friday, due to the strained right deltoid shoulder muscle injury he suffered in the second quarter of their game against Milwaukee at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday. That will put on hold some of the extensive tutoring and intense expectations the 7-foot-1 Russian has faced from star teammate LeBron James.

Mozgov isn’t the only ailing Cavs player. Guard Mo Williams won’t play Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks at The Q (7:30 ET, League Pass), missing his second game with a sore right ankle. Williams is listed as doubtful to play Monday at home against Orlando, the team reported.

But Mozgov is the player who will be absent from the extra attention he’s been receiving – and not exactly in a coddling manner – from James. Cavs beat writer Dave McMenamin of looked at the “tough love” James has shown Mozgov so far this season as a way to prep him for the important clashes to come. What the big man has been giving them – 7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 20.8 mpg – is down significantly from last season (10.6, 6.9, 1.2, 25.0):

James will shout at Mozgov for a failed defensive assignment, criticize him when a play isn’t executed properly, implore the big man to make every part of his 7-foot-1, 275-pound frame felt by the opposition.

James and the Miami Heat often lashed out at Mario Chalmers during the Big Three era. Now Mozgov is getting guff from James in Cleveland.

Cavs associate head coach Tyronn Lue even made an example of Mozgov at practice after the big man was repeatedly scored on in the post by Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor in the fourth game this season.

Lue showed Mozgov what he wanted — crouch low, lean his weight into the opposition, spring up straight — and then had Mozgov try. Over and over again, Lue stopped to correct Mozgov before hailing James over from an adjacent court to join in. Mozgov appeared anything but comfortable as nearly half the team gathered and watched him struggle.

“The spotlight is going to be on us like that as a team every game this season,” James told when asked about the scene. “He has to become comfortable with it.”

In James’ first stint in Cleveland, he pretty much wrote off J.J. Hickson, according to multiple sources. James was fed up with the big man’s shoddy work ethic. But James admits tough love might not be the best tactic with Mozgov.

“I think I may have to change my approach a little bit,” James said to “A lot of it is predicated on how much he means to our success, how big of an impact he made once he got here last year. And when you see that type of impact, you expect it. And you expect it every single night and you expect it consistently, but I may have to change my approach how I lead him. I think I’ll figure a way out. I’ll figure another method.”

It’s clear Mozgov is testing James’ patience. When Mozgov collided with Anderson Varejao during a drill after practice this week and fell to the floor, clutching his forehead, James could be heard loudly telling a teammate, “You can’t make this s— up,” gesturing to Mozgov laying down in the paint.

“I’m the leader of this team, whatever it takes,” James said Tuesday. “So if it’s laying into them, I’ll do that. I also lead other ways as well. Obviously that makes more headlines than others, but whatever this team needs I’m going to do. I’m going to hold everyone accountable, including myself. And I expect nothing less than greatness out of all of us and if we’re not able to do that, then I feel like I’m failing.”

Bulls’ Rose won’t play vs. Warriors

VIDEO: BullsTV previews tonight’s Bulls-Warriors game in Oakland

Even as a best-case scenario, Derrick Rose figured to be no more than a game-time decision to play for the Chicago Bulls against the Golden State Warriors tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN). But Rose never even made it that far, his sprained left ankle still too sore to compete – especially against defending MVP Stephen Curry and his championship teammates on their blistering 13-0 roll.

Coach Fred Hoiberg ruled out Rose when talking with Bulls reporters at the team’s shootaround Friday morning, reports K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

With backup point guard Aaron Brooks (hamstring) also out, Chicago will resort to Plan C, Plan D or anything it can muster to defend against Curry and the NBA’s most lethal attack. Some of those limited options were kicked around as they prepped for the matchup, as chronicled by Johnson in the Chicago Tribune:

If Rose joins Brooks on the sideline, Kirk Hinrich will spend at least some time on Stephen Curry. Hinrich is coming off an impressive 6-for-7 night that featured strong defense and a critical 3-pointer late.

That performance won’t do much for the Curry assignment, which has been a nightmare for the entire league.

“It’s impossible to guard,” Hinrich said. “It’s just ridiculous what he’s doing.”

In this sense, the Bulls must show similar fortitude to what they displayed last January when they posted the last regular-season victory by a visiting team in Oakland, Calif. Curry is going to hit shots, regardless of who is guarding him.

Not hanging their collective heads when he does and limiting the damage of others is the only chance at victory.

“You can’t just give him one look. He’s too good; he’ll figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “You have to throw different guys at him, different coverages, and understand and know that he’s going to hit some crazy shots. You’ve got to keep playing. And they will go on runs. You just have to try and limit them.

“But you have to put your game plan around the superstar. You did it when you played the old Bulls teams with Michael [Jordan]. With LeBron [James], obviously, that’s where it starts with that team. Same thing with Golden State and Steph but knowing they have other guys who can hurt you as well.”

Back and Forth with Bones: Some Growing Pains in Milwaukee

VIDEO: LeBron James’ 27 points lead the Cavs over the Bucks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers ended a two-game losing streak, avenged a weekend loss, and improved to 9-3 with a 115-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Cavs shot 56 percent and scored 115 points on just 86 possessions, which says a lot about both their offense and Milwaukee’s defense. The Bucks (5-7) went from 29th in defensive efficiency in 2013-14 to second in Jason Kidd‘s first season, but are right back where they started after 11 games.’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent “Bones” Barry, who called the game for TNT, went back and forth afterward, discussing the Bucks’ issues on both ends of the floor and where they are in their development.

Schuhmann: So what’s the difference between last season’s Milwaukee defense and this season’s Milwaukee defense?

Barry: Some tell-tale signs have to do with some basic fundamentals of a very good NBA defense. And that’s one, communication and, two, trust in one another that guys are going to be in the right spots at the right times.

Talking to Jason Kidd, in the early part of this season, the Bucks are doing A decently and doing B decently, but when they get to C, there’s nobody home. There’s missing the last step to finish off a possession.

Some of that has to do with a variety of lineups. They’ve had seven different starting lineups to start the season. They’ve had key pieces out of games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker, John Henson and O.J. Mayo have all missed games. Greg Monroe is a new addition.

So there’s so much disconnect in terms of who’s playing that it’s affected how much they trust one another to begin the year. They’re not playing as hard on that end as they’re capable of, and they know it.

The main thing that Jason kept talking about was “We’re young. We miss Zaza [Pachulia] and we miss Jared Dudley and we miss Ersan [Ilyasova], because those guys have experience. We have no veteran players.”

So there’s nobody but the coaching staff to talk about what it’s like to come in every day to work and what your role is.

Schuhmann: Going back to their defense, their scheme puts so much pressure on those second and third rotations. They load up the strong side and when the ball is swung, the pressure is on the weak-side guys to close out, contest and contain.

Barry: They have to close out properly. Great defenses close out on shooters to direct the ball to a certain area of the floor, because you trust that the next guy in the rotation is there.

Last night, there were glaring examples of how ineffective and how inactive the Bucks’ hands are, in terms of deflections and denials. I’ve looked at some numbers on their pressure rate, and it’s way down.

They had so many miscommunications on switches. That’s something that they absolutely can do, but they don’t communicate well. When they give space, they’re going to get beat. Especially in the first half against Cleveland, they had no awareness of where shooters were. They were much better in the second half, but that cost them and gave them such a deficit that their offense is incapable of having bursts to catch up to teams, especially Cleveland.

Schuhmann: That Milwaukee offense is very slow and deliberate. The Bucks rank 30th in pace and they’ve attempted just 10.8 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the sixth lowest rate in the league.

Barry: They run corner series. They don’t run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Maybe other than Jerryd Bayless, they don’t have effective pick-and-roll players. And they don’t go in transition.

They’re trying to get better ball movement, but better slashing. But when you have combinations of players who haven’t played with one another, it’s very difficult to read your teammates if you don’t know what they like to do and when they like to do it. And that’s costing them a lot of possessions on offense, where they just aren’t in synch.

Schuhmann: They did have a relatively efficient offensive game on Thursday and had some success in the third quarter with Greivis Vasquez and Khris Middleton running side pick-and-roll to get a switch against Middleton in the post.

Barry: The 1-2. But that was against Matthew Dellavedova and Richard Jefferson. I don’t know if it’s that effective against a quicker, better defensive backcourt.

Jason went to that several times and it helped them get some shots, but that’s a single-option thing. If you score a couple of times and then they double you, what’s next? Right now, there’s no next on the offensive end of the floor.

Schuhmann: A similar thing that they do is set a back-screen to get the opposing point guard switching onto Middleton in the post. It gets them some good looks, but like you said, opponents are going to adjust to it pretty quickly.

Barry: I don’t know how much more effective that is late in the shot clock. It’s probably better to get side-to-side movement and then that action late, rather than broadcast it with the post-up on the first pass, where the defense can load up and be in good rebounding position.

One thing that bothered me is that they’re getting pushed up so high on the initial catch in the corner series. When Monroe sets up at the elbow and a guy like Tristan Thompson pushes him from the elbow to the 3-point line, the corner series doesn’t work.


You can’t make passes to back-door cutters from the 3-point line. A dribble hand-off is too far away to create a good angle for the offense.

Schuhmann: When Kidd was coaching in Brooklyn, I covered a Knicks-Nets game where the Nets didn’t run pick-and-roll for most of the first half against an opponent that was just dreadful at defending pick-and-rolls (and coincidentally employed Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire).

That Nets team did have some good pick-and-roll guards, but just kept running the offense through the bigs at the elbow, which was often a struggle. You have to have a pick-and-roll game to take advantage of the Bargnanis and Enes Kanters of the world.

Barry: Now, there was some signs tonight. Giannis was spectacular. He showed so much versatility in his game and did a decent job on LeBron James.

VIDEO: Giannis’ 33 points

When you play Giannis and Parker together, you can pick and choose weaker defenders at the three and four spots to take advantage of their quickness and what they can do handling the ball. Jason explored that in the second half to the Bucks’ advantage. They picked on Kevin Love a little bit, on Thompson a little bit, with those guys playing off the elbow to create some offense.

But until they’re complete and until they do some growing up… It just sounds like where they want to go is three or four years down the road.

Schuhmann: It was kind of fun to see the Bucks’ elicit some Spurs-esque ball movement (Example 1, Example 2) from Cleveland last night.

Barry: The Cavs did do a nice job. And with Mo Williams out, Dellavedova had 13 assists, doing a nice job of taking what the defense was going to give him. He penetrated and drew two guys…

And that’s part of the learning process for the Bucks. What’s the point in going over to double-team Dellavedova? Why would you step over the median line and commit to the strong side, when that’s the guy you’d rather have try and score on you?

But yeah, that was encouraging for the Cavs to move the ball like they did and not have LeBron need to take over multiple possessions in a row to make things happen. They had other guys making things happen.

Schuhmann: I can’t remember a single possession where LeBron stopped the ball, backed out to the 3-point line and killed clock with his isolation dance.

Barry: We flashed a graphic with a little over a minute to go in the fourth quarter that LeBron had 19 passes and zero field goal attempts in the period. That was probably the least amount of energy he’s had to expend in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs secure a win.

Schuhmann: And their shot chart – minimal mid-range shots, mostly layups and threes – was what you’d want.


You mentioned in the broadcast how they also took advantage of the Bucks’ weak-side guards having to defend duck-ins from the Cleveland bigs.

Barry: When the ball was on the wing, the Bucks’ brought a second defender over, where they weren’t coming to double-team, but just coming over and squatting on the box. I understand the strategy, but you’re committing a guy to space and not to double the ball, which is [expletive].


So they got caught on that a lot.

Schuhmann: The Bucks’ defense, even when it’s playing well, is banking on the fact that they can recover to the weak side before you get the ball there. But there’s no skip-passer in the league better than LeBron.

Barry: J-Kidd said before the game, “We can not allow fastballs.” I hadn’t heard that term before, but I knew what he was talking about. He said, “You let LeBron throw fastballs for threes, we’re never going to get to the shooters.”

If you don’t get into his body, you’re going to get killed.

Small lineup is Warriors’ devastating trump card

VIDEO: How the Warriors’ small-ball offense works

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — We knew the Golden State Warriors were going to get back into the game Thursday night. It was just a matter of whether or not the Los Angeles Clippers, a pretty good team in their own right, could hold on after leading by as many as 23 points in the second quarter.

But Luke Walton went to his trump card a little earlier than usual and the Clippers were toast.

The trump card is a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. With five shooters on the floor, the Warriors spread you out and slice you up offensively. And they use their length and quickness to switch everything and not give up much on the other end of the floor.

The Warriors typically don’t use the super-small lineup early in games. Of the 48 minutes its played this season, only 16 have come before the fourth quarter. It’s kind of like Mariano Rivera, if Mariano Rivera was not only a lights-out closer, but also a .750 hitter who gets to bat in every spot of the order.

With 5:41 left to go in Thursday’s game, Barnes checked in for Festus Ezeli and the lineup was in place. The Clippers were still up by 10 points at that point.

But on the super-small lineup’s first possession, Curry hit a three. Paul Pierce answered, but the Clippers couldn’t keep up with the Warriors when they proceeded to make six of their next seven shots, with five of the six coming from 3-point range.

The super-small lineup outscored the Clippers 25-8 in that final 5:41 to keep the Warriors unbeaten and the Clippers on the wrong side of a one-sided rivalry.

Here’s the boxscore from the final 5:41. The Warriors shot 2-for-2 on twos, 5-for-6 on threes, and 6-for-6 on free throws. They recorded assists on all seven of their buckets.

That’s ridiculous, but it’s not too far off from the norm. That lineup has played 48 total minutes this season and has outscored its opponents 164-104 in those 48 minutes, shooting 23-for-38 (61 percent) from 3-point range, with assists on 73 percent of its field goals.


The Warriors are the best team in the league, by far. And the lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green is the best the Warriors have to offer.

Walton is going to the lineup more often than Steve Kerr did. It only played 102 minutes in 37 games in the regular season last year. But Kerr did go to it a lot more frequently in the playoffs, when it logged 111 minutes over 16 of the Warriors’ 21 postseason games.

The lineup has been ridiculously successful no matter who the coach has been. It’s the Warriors’ trump card and it’s near impossible to stop.


VIDEO: Warriors’ Huge Fourth Quarter