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Blogtable: Are Jazz playoff-bound?

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: Thoughts on Knicks? | Jazz playoff-bound? |
Will LaVine or Curry repeat on All-Star Saturday?



VIDEOHayward powers Jazz to 7th straight win

> With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors back in the lineup, the Jazz are starting to pile up some wins. Is Utah’s four-year playoff drought about to end?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: As Jeff Weigand said in “The Insider,” most certainly. And I’ll go you one better; I think Utah has a decent shot at getting home court in the first round now, with the injuries to the Clippers (Blake Griffin, Austin Rivers) and Memphis (Marc Gasol). The Jazz have a chance to be real good for a good long while.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Utah is good enough to qualify for the playoffs. It all just comes down to the math of nine teams vying for eight spots (with maybe Denver the best of the rest in potentially climbing up). I say yes, the Jazz get in, because part of bouncing back from injuries is getting adjusted again to the roster’s full personnel – though seven in a row suggests a quick re-orientation. Utah ranks high enough both offensively and defensively to justify its spot among the West’s top eight and I think that holds for the next two months.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It will be a good race for the No. 8 spot with the Trail Blazers, but I’ll give the nod to Utah. The Jazz played strong from the All-Star break to the end of last season and now that they’re healthy again are looking like that rising young team again.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t give a solid “yes” because the entire group going for the final spot is built on sand, but you’d have to like the Jazz’s chances. I had Quin Snyder among the contenders for Coach of the Year in my preseason predictions that never, ever go wrong. Watch him start to pick up votes if Utah stays in the postseason mix after all the injuries.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It should end, and I think it will. They really missed Gobert. That doesn’t mean the Jazz are ideally built or that Utah is ready to pull a first-round surprise, though. I’m still not sold on Utah having a potential superstar among the batch of young players on the team, and you can’t routinely win 50-plus games a year without one (or two). This summer, I’d seriously think about trading Gordon Hayward for the right price.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes. The Jazz are 14-7 with both Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert and have a top-three defense since Favors returned from his back injury eight games ago. They look like the team that went 19-10 after the All-Star break last season. Their offense is still going to have some droughts, but Rodney Hood is evolving into a really good player and they can finish a few games over .500 with how well they defend. The Jazz also have an easier remaining schedule than Houston or Portland, and Marc Gasol‘s injury creates some doubt that the Grizzlies (whose schedule gets really tough after the first week in March) can hold on to their spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s still a little early for me to be certain that the playoff drought ends for the Jazz this season. There are still things that have to be sorted out by the teams chasing that 8th and final spot. That said, the Jazz certainly have the look of a team ready to give serious chase. Favors and Gobert give them a 1-2 big man punch that could be very valuable down the stretch of this season. They need better point guard play, of course. And maybe they’ll be active at the trade deadline next week and address that issue. But either way, they’re going to be in mix for that playoff spot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Blazers, who are the other young team racing for the No. 8 spot, are in their first season together after rebuilding on the fly last summer. The Jazz have been investing in this young core for several years, and that teamwork and cohesion should help as the games become more important – even though Utah must play 17 of its those remaining 31 games on the road.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know they’re hovering around the No. 8 seed right now, but I don’t think that’s going to continue. To me, Portland has more veteran leadership and is probably better suited to a postseason run. If Dante Exum hadn’t gone down, they might be more firmly in the postseason mix. That said, if they can find an upgrade at point guard at the trade deadline, they might be back in the race.

Blogtable: LaVine or Curry more likely to repeat on All-Star Saturday?

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: Thoughts on Knicks? | Jazz playoff-bound? |
Will LaVine or Curry repeat on All-Star Saturday?



VIDEORelive the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

> Shooter Stephen Curry or dunker Zach LaVine? Who is more likely to defend his title on All-Star Saturday?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: How can you pick anyone in anything hoop-related right now and not go with Steph? Anyway, I got a Will Barton kind of vibe for the dunk contest in the Great White North.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s tempting to bail on this and say “both” because those contests have had lots of repeat winners through the years. But I think LaVine is the guy who defends his crown. It’s a bigger deal to him, given what else the Timberwolves don’t have cooking at this point, and he surely has dunks we haven’t seen. Curry deserves to be the favorite but he’s in a tough, tough field. Bottom line: There’s a big difference in a competition that’s judged – LaVine has a little head start with the judges based on last year’s success – as opposed to one that is pure skill, a hot hand and math.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI love to watch Zach LaVine and he put on a show last year. But practically everything Steph Curry has done this season has been better, so why not this too? I’m really hoping he tears a page out of the old Larry Bird playbook, walks into the locker room before the event and asks, “So which one of you chumps is going to finish second?”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Shooter Steph Curry. Because, really, out Anything Steph Curry in front of me right now and I’m on board. Put him in the other contest as well. I can see it now: Dunk Champion Steph Curry. This is not the time to pick against him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comSince the 3-point contest is absolutely stacked this year, and Curry might not even be the last Warrior standing when it’s all said and one, I’d say LaVine has the best chance. He’s a dunking freak who probably and purposely saved some of his best dunks for this year’s contest.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: LaVine. First of all, there are four dunkers and eight shooters, so the basic odds are with LaVine. And as good a shooter that Curry is, I think LaVine has more of an edge over his competition when it comes to elevation and flair.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The shooters lined up for Saturday night make up one of the best fields I can remember, so Steph, as great as he is, will certainly have his hands full in that competition. And the way he’s played this season, I’d be a fool to pick against him. But Young Mr. Dunkenstein from Minnesota is a heavy favorite to defend his title. The moment his Timberwolves teammate and Toronto native, Andrew Wiggins, decided not to participate, LaVine had the path to a repeat title cleared. No offense to the other participants, but they’re fighting it out for second place.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If you’re asking in whom should we trust, then doesn’t the answer have to be Curry? No one in the league finds more joy in these kinds of challenges.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAs awesome as Steph Curry has been all season, to me dunking is a more replicable feat than shooting, with more room for error. What I mean is, LaVine has a little more wiggle room — he gets to shoot from centimeters away instead of feet. And Curry has to go against seven other contestants, while LaVine has to face three. If one other shooter gets hot, he might reel off a few racks of balls and win the contest. dunkers just have to have a few seconds of great performance. So, I’ll say LaVine is more likely to repeat.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divac does not believe firing Karl is the solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

Marc Gasol breaks foot, out indefinitely


VIDEO: Blazers top Grizzlies in overtime

It’s been hurtful enough for the Grizzlies to drop back-to-back home games in overtime to Dallas and Portland.

Now the pain level goes up with the word that center Marc Gasol has a broken right foot and could miss the rest of the season. The team is currently saying he’ll be out indefinitely.

Gasol has been playing with the injury and it had previously been stated that he couldn’t do any further damage. He started Monday night against Portland, but left the game with a minute left in the first quarter.

Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal spoke to the principals:

“It’s certainly not great for Marc and his family. I know he’s disappointed,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “It’s bad for our team. This is a tight bunch of dudes. They care about each other. It hurts everybody. Marc is a guy who lays it out there for his teammates and the fans. We’re going to fight, scratch and claw.”

Gasol is averaging 16.6 points, seven rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots per game. He’s appeared in all 52 games for the Griz this season.

“I have some issues, but you have to push through it,” Gasol said last Saturday after a home loss to Dallas. “I’m never going to use not being 100 percent as an excuse. It’s just not me. I’m going to push through it and give whatever I have to my team. That’s how I’ve always been, and that’s how it’s going to be.”

Before the pair of losses in OT, the Grizzlies had won nine out of 10 games. They are currently 30-22 and hold down the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling

***

 

Ezeli surgery puts to test LeBron’s remark on Warriors’ health

LeBron James didn’t exactly curse the Golden State Warriors earlier this season when he lauded the defending champions as “the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history.” But that backhanded compliment might no longer apply, based on backup center Festus Ezeli’s surgery Monday.

Ezeli underwent arthroscopic surgery in Oakland to clean out debris from his left knee and will be re-evaluated in six weeks. The team’s official news release included the phrase “expected to return this season,” but that likely means sometime in April, leaving the Warriors only a short time to re-acclimate the 6-foot-11 backup big man before hitting the postseason.

Add in the 16 games forward Harrison Barnes missed with a sprained ankle and it’s becoming increasing difficult to write off Golden State’s success to injury avoidance. Granted this setback still doesn’t match the short-handedness through which James led Cleveland in the playoffs last spring – what with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love missing or hobble through most of the playoffs – but it will stretch Golden State’s deep roster just a wee bit thin. Marreese Speights and maybe Jason Thompson will pick up Ezeli’s minutes, while starter Andrew Bogut has less margin for mishap now himself.

Of course, the Warriors could just decide to small-ball the opposition into submission. Ezeli’s impact was most noticeable defensively, with teams shooting worse (46.5 percent vs. 47.1) and scoring less (3.2 points fewer per 100 possessions) when he was on the court.

Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com caught some of the initial reaction from the Warriors on Ezeli’s situation:

“Festus is a huge part of our rotation,” head coach Steve Kerr said after practice on Monday. “He’s really had a good year, an excellent year.

“Mo is going to step in and play well for us, but I feel bad for Festus. It’s a contract year and he’s young and he’s already had a knee surgery. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that he’s going to be OK.”

The 6’11” center last appeared in a game on January 25 vs. San Antonio and has missed the last five games due to a sore left knee.

In 40 games this season (11 starts), Ezeli is averaging 7.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.23 blocks in 17.8 minutes per contest.

It’s open season on coaches in NBA


VIDEO: Derek Fisher got ejected for arguing a call earlier this season. The Knicks fired him today.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Technically, the New York Knicks “relieved” Derek Fisher of his duties as coach today, which is a fancy way of saying they fired Phil Jackson‘s hand-picked choice to lead the franchise.

Kurt Rambis has been elevated to the top job in Fisher’s place, leaving yet another franchise with an interim (or replacement) in place of the coach they started with this season. It’s the latest in a somewhat shocking run of coaching decisions around the league.

And it just goes to show that no matter if you’re winning or losing, when it’s open season on coaches in the NBA, anybody could be on the firing line — just ask George Karl, who is reportedly on the hot seat in Sacramento.

Kevin McHale was the first to go this season, lasting just 11 games in Houston before being shoved out and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff. Lionel Hollins got the boot in Brooklyn after a dreadful start and was replaced by Tony Brown. David Blatt, fresh off of a trip to The Finals and his team sitting at 30-11 and first place in the Eastern Conference, was next. Tyronn Lue was tabbed as his successor and is 6-3 since making that 18-inch move over to the big chair. And just last week Jeff Hornacek was tossed out in Phoenix and replaced by Earl Watson.

And now comes the news that Fisher, a Phil Jackson disciple but a coaching novice, is out after a season and a half and just 136 games (with a woeful 40-96 record).

With the Knicks mired in a 1-9 slide, including five straight losses, and seemingly no relief in sight, Jackson apparently decided that enough was enough. We’ll find out what the final straw was late today when Jackson addresses the media after practice.

But it’s clear that in New York and everywhere else, if ownership and the front office believe that there is a disconnect (real or simply perceived) between the talent on the roster and the coach responsible for getting the most out of that talent, the coach is expendable.

The five coaching changes prior to All-Star Weekend is the most since the eight coaching changes prior to the break during the 2008-09 season.

The term “crazy season” is usually reserved for the rumors and drama surrounding this month’s trade deadline. It seems a more appropriate title for all of the coaching changes going on this season.

Blatt’s contemporaries, notably Rick Carlisle in Dallas and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, expressed their outrage when he was fired and Cavaliers GM David Griffin did his best to explain why a coach with a sterling record was out of his league, and ultimately out of a job, trying to coach a star-studded roster.

Carlisle and Van Gundy should know better than anyone how this works, since they were both fired from previous jobs in the league where they were wildly successful.

There is no real rhyme or reason to these things. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, sometimes it’s the things we can’t see from the outside and sometimes it’s just clash of personalities or philosophies that lead to a coaching divorce.

Fisher had no coaching experience prior to being selected to coach the Knicks. And he wasn’t even Jackson’s first choice, that would have been Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who in hindsight obviously made the right choice.

The most important choice for Jackson going forward is getting it right this time. He’ll have his pick of out-of-work coaches, like Tom Thibodeau, or he can wait on an up and coming assistant like Luke Walton. Whatever his choice, it has to be someone that can get the most out of the Carmelo AnthonyKristaps Porzingis combination and perhaps more importantly, someone with the toughness and resolve to survive the “crazy season” expectations that all of these franchises are caught up in.

Data curated by PointAfter

Knicks fire Fisher, name Rambis interm coach

From NBA.com staff reports

Derek Fisher posted a record of 40-96 over one-plus seasons in New York.

Derek Fisher posted a record of 40-96 over one-plus seasons in New York.

After 136 games and roughly 1 1/2 seasons, Derek Fisher is out as coach of the New York Knicks.

According to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, who first reported the news, Fisher has been fired 54 games into the 2015-16 season.

The Knicks made the news official shortly thereafter and said in a team release that assistant coach Kurt Rambis would take over as interim coach.

The Knicks hired Fisher on June 10, 2014 in hopes that his playing pedigree (five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers) would extend to the team as they tried to revive their championship days of the past. The Knicks paired him with his former coach in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson, who was now the team president.

But the Knicks have stumbled under Fisher, going 17-65 last season and are 23-31 this season, five games out in the race for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. Overall, he was 40-96 in New York.

Shelburne first reported that Rambis (another former Jackson disciple) would take over the team on an interim basis. But other names — and Jackson disciples — could enter the mix, including former Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw and current Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

No. 1: Kings’ Karl trying to right team’s ship — Sacramento Kings coach George Karl made it through the weekend, surviving the swirl of rumors that he could be fired before the sun came up this morning. But the day is just getting started, the Kings visit the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (7 ET, NBA League Pass). And Karl still doesn’t have any answers for his team’s current slide after Sunday’s 128-119 loss in Boston, the Kings’ third straight and seventh in their last eight games. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has more:

Boston scored the most points by a Sacramento opponent in a quarter and a half this season. The Celtics’ total also matched the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors for the most points allowed in regulation by the Kings this season. The Nets beat the Kings 128-119 Friday.

Lately, nothing seems to spark the Kings at the game’s outset – neither the possibility of falling further behind in the race for the final Western Conference playoff berth nor speculation coach George Karl’s job is in jeopardy.

Karl isn’t sure how to fix the defense or prevent the team’s slow starts.

“I think we’re all pulling our hair out trying to figure that out,” Karl said of the defensive issues. “But this is not a time of year you get a lot of practice time. Do you want to zone up? Do you want to come up with a gimmick pick-and-roll defense? I think we’ve tried just about every one that I know of. I just think we’ve got to actually simplify and try to find something we can do more efficient.”

In the offseason, the Kings added more veterans to handle predicaments, but no one seems to know how to contain the opposition early in games.

Said Rajon Rondo, known for his dry humor: “Just try to hold the ball? Don’t take a shot? I don’t know what we can do to try to stop teams from scoring 30 (in the first quarter).”

Added DeMarcus Cousins: “I guess we’ve got to find a better energy and effort as a team. Be more engaged.”

The Celtics might have scored more if not for 24 turnovers, the most by a Kings opponent this season. Boston shot 56.0 percent and benefited from Sacramento’s perpetual inability to stop three-point shooters, making 13 of 24 from beyond the arc.

In the first quarter, Boston sank seven three-pointers and scored 12 of its 23 second-chance points.

Until the Kings figure out something, they’ll continue being the team opponents circle on the schedule in anticipation of a big offensive game or an opportunity to get on track.

“If that’s what teams are thinking, we’ve got to find a way to change that,” Cousins said. “That’s a bad a way for a team to be feeling, that a team is coming in and, oh, they can have an easy night. We’ve got to find a solution because right now whatever we’re doing isn’t working.”

Said Karl: “Our focus has got to be better. It’s got to be stronger; it’s got to be more defensive-minded. We just can’t give up the numbers we’re giving up.”

***

No. 2: Portland’s Henderson gets bounce back at right time Gerald Henderson was something of a forgotten man since moving across the country from Charlotte to Portland. But the Trail Blazers’ veteran swingman is hitting his stride at just the right time (ahead of the NBA trade deadline) to assist in his team’s chase for a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian provides the details on Henderson’s rise ahead of the Trail Blazers’ trip to Memphis tonight (8 ET, League Pass):

Has Gerald Henderson been playing better? Yes. Does he finally seem comfortable in a Blazers uniform? Definitely. But the dunks and the blocks and the athletic plays — the bounce — that’s the tell-tell sign Henderson is back to his old self.

“He’s got some bounce,” Damian Lillard said. “He can get up there and hang up there, too. He can jump with the best of them.”

The Blazers (25-27) are playing their best basketball of the season, which coincides, perhaps not coincidentally, with the improved production of Henderson, a seven-year NBA veteran who said he feels as fit and healthy as he has all season. The Blazers won for the sixth time in the last seven games Saturday night at the Toyota Center, trouncing the Houston Rockets 96-79. Henderson scored 16 points — four more than the entire Rockets bench — which just so happened to be the sixth time he’s reached double figures in the last seven games, including a season-high four in a row.

In three February games, Henderson is averaging 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25). He’s been more lively and dependable on defense, more assertive in huddles and postgame locker room pow-wows and more of a factor in wins. All of a sudden, after a disappointing three months, Henderson is evolving into the player the Blazers thought they were getting when they acquired him in the Nicolas Batum trade last summer.

“He’s been on a roll,” coach Terry Stotts said.

When asked about that trademark “bounce” — which he revealed multiple times against the Rockets — Henderson grinned.

“I feel good,” he said. “That’s how I’m used to playing.”

But will Henderson endure a different kind of bounce later in the month? Will he be bounced from Portland in a trade?

Henderson’s improved production has come at the same time his playing time has significantly increased. He’s played 20 or more minutes in eight of the last nine games after doing so just nine times the rest of the season. It’s become a sports talk hot take to postulate that the young and rebuilding Blazers are showcasing the veteran to potential trade suitors in the buildup to the Feb. 18 deadline.

While that’s a nice theory, there’s another possibility.

“I think he’s just healthy,” Lillard said. “He was coming off hip surgery, so it took some time for him to get in shape. He missed training camp. He had to get in shape, he had to get his rhythm back, he had to get his feel back, get comfortable with our sets, comfortable being out there with the guys. I think the last couple of weeks, you’re starting to see him get comfortable. He’s finally back.”

***

No. 3: Magic needed win over Hawks in worst way — The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks will line up and do it again tonight (8 ET, NBA TV), but for that one shining moment Sunday, when Nikola Vucevic‘s buzzer beater lifted the Magic over their Southeast Division rivals, it was all good. And as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel points out, it was a much-needed confidence boost for a Magic team searching for some light and the end of a dark stretch:

That great move, and even greater shot, arrived at a crucial time for the reeling Magic, who had lost 15 of 17 games heading into Sunday.

The tailspin would’ve worsened if the Magic had lost to the Hawks.

Orlando took a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter and responded to a subsequent Atlanta surge by going ahead by eight points with 3:41 to go.

“I think the way we won, too, was big — to finally get something kind of going our way,” Payton said. “A lot of times, we’d be on the other end of this.”

For a time, it looked like the Magic (22-28) might rout the Hawks (30-23).

A left-ankle injury prevented Tobias Harris from playing Sunday, prompting Skiles to start Fournier at small forward in Harris’ place. The starting quintet of Payton, Oladipo, Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic had played a total of just 25 minutes together this season before Sunday.

They brought a level of defensive energy and cohesion their team hasn’t shown in weeks. The Hawks looked flat at the outset, and the Magic capitalized. Orlando held Atlanta to 39 percent shooting for the entire game and also forced 12 first-half turnovers.

Teague scored a game-high 24 points, causing Payton problems on defense.

But on offense, Payton broke out of his slump.

In the fourth quarter, Payton scored seven of his 12 points and delivered five of his game-high 12 assists.

The final last assist came on Vucevic’s game-winner.

“I’m just glad we got the win,” Vucevic said. “After a rough month with a lot of losses it’s good to come out and win against a good team like the Hawks are.”

Vucevic not only managed to escape Al Horford‘s clutches, but he also got the shot off cleanly despite having to shoot over Horford’s outstretched right arm.

“You can’t guard him any better than that,” Millsap said.

The shot was Vucevic’s second game-winner of the season. On Nov. 11, he made a turnaround, fadeaway jumper from 20 feet over Roy Hibbert to lift the Magic to a 101-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

That night, Vucevic celebrated by running down the court with his right index finger held high over his head and an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

On Sunday afternoon, Vucevic stood still and allowed his teammates to mob him.

“I thought it was a real man’s celebration,” Fournier said. “I thought he looked like a baby on the other one.”

***

No. 4: Curry’s wild week finishes front and center at Super Bowl 50 — A great week for Stephen Curry that included a trip to the White House to visit with President Barack Obama after a 51-point outing against the Washington Wizards was just the beginning. Saturday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the night before Super Bowl 50 was the perfect appetizer to Sunday’s game, where Curry’s hometown Panthers took on the Denver Broncos. And Curry was front and center, pounding the drum as Cam Newton and the Panthers took the field. The Bay Area News Group chronicled Curry’s big day (which ended on a sour note as the Panthers fell 24-10 to the Broncos):

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

Curry has been on top of the sports world for the last year-plus. But Sunday was a dream come true for the Warriors’ star.

Curry, a Charlotte, N.C. native, has been a die-hard Panthers fan since the franchise was created in 1995. So his team playing in the Bay Area in the Super Bowl is as perfect as it gets.

His day began with his wife, Ayesha, at an exclusive tailgate party at chef Michael Mina‘s restaurant. Donning a Curry No. 30 Panthers jersey, she made porchetta biscuit sandwiches inspired by Carolina: red pepper jam, Crystal’s hot sauce mayo and a fried egg. Curry helped.

Curry then got a special treat before the game. The Panthers tabbed him to pound the drum in advance of the Panthers taking the field. It’s a team tradition — banging a big drum that reads “Keep Pounding” — that Curry got to do at a game in Charlotte back in September. The shirt Curry was planning to wear on Sunday was a custom made Under Armour tee with an illustration of him pounding the drum.

He stood on the sidelines with his wife before the game, both wearing black No. 30 Panthers jerseys with Curry on the back. When the Panthers ran off the field, both running back Mike Tolbert and head coach Ron Rivera stopped by to give Curry a hug.

Curry bought six tickets from Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson. But his family will sit in those seats and he will be in the Under Armous suite at Levi’s Stadium with brand CEO Kevin Plank.


VIDEO: Go behind the scenes from Saturday’s battle between the Warriors and Thunder

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks will hold Tiago Splitter out until after the All-Star break … The Indiana Pacers are preparing a tribute of some kind for Kobe Bryant as he makes his final visit to Indianapolis tonight … The Chicago Bulls are pointing fingers at themselves (and not coach Fred Hoiberg) for their late-game failuresKevin Durant took in the festivities at Super Bowl 50 as well, but with a media credential … Derek Fisher agrees with Rajon Rondo, the triangle would not be a good fit for the veteran point guard … Heat backup point guard Tyler Johnson might miss the playoffs …

NBA watches the Super Bowl


VIDEO: Inside The NBA crew make their Super Bowl picks

The sports world is focused on the biggest day of the football year as the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos clash at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California.

Excitement for the game has spilled into the basketball world as NBA players take to social media to join the conversation:

 


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