Blogtable: One player you’d love to see in 2016 Dunk Contest?

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 Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEORelive the all-time best Dunk Contest jams

> One player you’d love to see in next week’s Dunk Contest?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Besides LeBron? I’ll settle for Jordan Clarkson. He’s violent above the rim and fun to watch.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI could say Steph Curry, just because he’s having a magical season already and it would go against the grain of expectations. Or Derrick Rose, who doesn’t dunk anymore and could use the contest to break through whatever injury anxiety remains. Or LeBron James, just because he hasn’t done one. But I’ll play it straight and say Andrew Wiggins, who needs to have some fun and act his age (20). Wiggins, with Karl-Anthony Towns taking over as the new Timberpup, has been thrust into bigger role as a so-called veteran. But he’s still on his way up – as he could demonstrate from way, way up in the Dunk Contest.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Kobe Bryant. Turn back the clock for old times sake.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comRonald Roberts Jr., but that would mean someone signing him out of the NBA D-League very, very soon. (Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing for non-dunk reasons as well.) Blake Griffin would be a fun watch as well, likely full of theatrics, but this is not possible either. Among available players, Russell Westbrook, Gerald Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo come to mind. Westbrook would be the first choice, but “The Greek Freak” could be amazing with that size.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, the defending champ is quite the entertainer near the rim, so give me Zach LaVine. I’m sure Victor Oladipo would like a shot at redemption and perhaps another attempt at rapping on the mic as well, but for my money, LaVine is creative enough to give the event some pop and keep the TV audience fixated.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d like to see Andrew Wiggins challenge teammate Zach LaVine for the crown, with Andre Miller throwing lobs to both of them.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Andrew Wiggins. What could be better than going home for the Dunk Contest with a built-in advantage in what is sure to be a raucous home crowd? Plus, dunk contests are for young legs and guys who are in their physical primes. Wiggins is a highlight-reel finisher and certainly has all the tools necessary to dazzle the crowd in Toronto. Plus, a dunk off between Wiggins and his Timbwerolves teammate Zach LaVine would make for must-see-TV for anyone that still loves the All-Star Saturday night showcase.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Andrew Wiggins. I’m not the biggest fan of the Dunk Contest, but I would like to see the best Canadian athlete feeding off the energy of his fans in Canada.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If it hasn’t happened by now it will most likely never happen, but how about LeBron James? The guy has spent the last decade executing awesome in-game dunks, while refusing to compete in the actual Dunk Contest. LeBron has publicly kicked around the idea, though never committing to competing. He has such a unique combination of power and speed, and he’s clearly creative, that I think that even now on the other side of 30, LeBron could still win the Dunk Contest.

Blogtable: Player who is most likely to be traded first is _____?

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 Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEORyan Anderson sizzles in a win against the Kings

> Most likely to be traded before the Feb. 18 deadline: Rudy Gay, Jeff Teague, Markieff Morris, Ryan Anderson or Kevin Martin?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Kevin Martin. This league is still about offense and he’s a proven offensive commodity that could help a lot of contenders. And there’s no future for him in Minnesota, which has Andrew Wiggins penciled in at the two for the next dozen or so years. 1A) Markieff Morris. Full dumpster fire in Phoenix, and the Suns have to start cleaning things up. Sending the disgruntled Morris (and his very reasonable contract) anywhere else is a necessity for GM Ryan McDonough, who’s now on the hot seat in the Valley of the Sun.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. While Gay and Anderson are best equipped to immediately help a playoff aspirant, while Teague would be much-sought as a point guard around whom a team could organize, while Martin doesn’t fit on a young team in “sell” mode, Morris has the added factor of being actively unhappy where he is. Phoenix has let his situation fester too long already.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. If you’re cleaning house, you might as well sweep into every corner and get rid of all the unhappy pieces.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. An unrestricted free agent-to-be, on a team that has the chance to make a playoff push to salvage what would ordinarily be a bad season? If the Pelicans were certain Anderson is definitely part of the future, that would be one thing. But this may be the chance to get something for him, and to get something to boost their playoff hopes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll take Markieff Morris, even though the Suns might not have much leverage, since everyone knows Phoenix wants to dump him. I have my doubts about the perceived demand for Rudy Gay, the asking price for Teague could be too steep (ditto for Ryan Anderson) and the best chance Kevin Martin is moved is if he’s a throw-in since he’s well past his prime.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comRyan Anderson has the easiest contract ($8.5 million expiring) to trade, but the Pelicans are still just three games out of eighth place in the loss column. The Suns may have a high asking price for Morris right now, and there’s some risk in trading for a known malcontent with three more years left on his deal. But at some point, Phoenix will have to take what they can get and some other team will be will to take a risk on a versatile forward who’s still just 26 years old.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. You saw him on display in Tuesday night’s loss to Toronto, when he made the most out being inserted into the starting lineup and reminded everyone just how devastating a scoring and rebounding stretch big man he can be. The Suns would be wise to continue to showcase him in the lead up to the trade deadline. And I suspect there are plenty of teams interested in adding a player with his, skill, range and brute force to their mix just in time for the playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. The Suns have already fired the coach and are looking to the future. Morris is not going to be part of that future. Why make a miserable situation worse by holding onto an unhappy player? They should focus on creating positive energy among their young core. Unloading Morris may also improve their position in the lottery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog I’ll go with Ryan Anderson. He’s got an expiring contract, and he’s on a squad that isn’t going to be a playoff team. Most importantly, though, he’s a power forward who can actually knock down 3-pointers, which is a skill you can’t ever really have enough of. I can think of several teams with postseason aspirations — Atlanta? Dallas? The Clippers? — that could use another outside shooter.

Blogtable: Thoughts on the Rockets?

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 Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEOGreg Anthony and Chris Webber discuss Dwight Howard’s suspension

> More concerning for Rockets fans: The team’s .500-ish record, or Dwight Howard’s on-court protests and propensity to irritate officials?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The Rockets have been universally disappointing and the record reflects that disappointment. Every time Houston looks like it’s turning the corner, the Rockets fall apart at one end or the other. The defense has been awful lately. Dwight isn’t going to change; neither are Chris Paul or Tim Duncan, and they complain a lot about calls, too. And: Howard does get fouled, a lot. It’s easy to say from a thousand miles away that Howard should keep his head. Either way, that’s not why the Rockets are, basically, .500. He’s a big reason why they have any chance if they hang on and get into the playoffs.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The record, by far. Dwight has gotten a little sideways but it’s not anything that is chronic; this too shall pass. But the Rockets – after reaching the Western Conference finals last spring – have wallowed in mediocrity all season. Firing Kevin McHale was an impulsive dud of a move, and the team’s defense has fallen off precipitously. But Houston is right where it ought to be, in my view, because I don’t think a serious contender can have James Harden dominating the ball the way he does, any more than the Knicks could thrive when Carmelo Anthony was doing that.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The .500 record. Howard’s rash, temperamental behavior is just a symptom inside the overall breakdown and failure of the Rockets this season. A team that proclaimed itself to be a true championship contender got coach fired, doesn’t play defense and doesn’t come to play with the same level of professionalism every night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The record. Dwight is Dwight. His personality has been an issue for other teams in other seasons. He is still producing at a decent level (though with a shrinking role in the offense). Potentially careening toward a losing record, though, and maybe missing the playoffs in the strange second half of the West playoff pack is everything. Players have proven what most people knew anyway, that coach Kevin McHale wasn’t the problem. The Rockets struggling to get any traction in the standings is a big deal for this season and will force management into hard decisions heading to the future.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com By far, the break-even record. It’s why the Rockets are the most disappointing team in basketball, ahead of the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, their big man has a history of acting like a fool and getting punished. That said, Dwight Howard‘s immaturity toward the refs isn’t the reason Houston is barely treading water, and anyway, I’ll go on a limb and say he’ll stay in check once the playoffs begin (provided the Rockets are in). The Rockets have issues — defense, Ty Lawson‘s chemistry with James Harden, spotty 3-point shooting — and Dwight’s behavior isn’t that high on the list.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The 26-25 record. Last season, the Rockets went 27-14 without Howard, playing defense at a top-10 level whether he was in the lineup or not. This season, they’re 19-20 with him, playing at a bottom-10 level defensively whether he’s been in the lineup or not. Only one team (Milwaukee) has regressed more on that end of the floor than the Rockets, who consistently break down after two or three rotations. His lack of leadership is a problem, but Houston has bigger problems.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The .500 record in a landslide. No offense to the former best big man in basketball, but the Rockets are perfectly capable of competing without Dwight Howard fully integrated into the mix. Are they better when he’s at his best? Sure. But they don’t get the best from him on a regular basis anyway. They are the most disappointing team in the league for reasons that include Dwight’s performance … but that’s not the most glaring reason. Their inability to find any semblance of defensive consistency is the main culprit. And if they continue to struggle in that area, it could very well lead to them observing the playoffs from a distance this season rather than attempting to shock the world and make a return visit to the Western Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:  The team’s record is much more worrisome. Is Howard’s behavior any big surprise? Probably not – and his outbursts wouldn’t matter so much if he and his Rockets were playing better. They were finalists in the superior conference less than a year ago; now they’re on track to win 15 fewer games. The bigger question is whether the success of a couple of 50-win seasons went to their heads.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d be way more worried about the .500 record. Sure, Dwight’s relationship with the referees doesn’t seem to be great, but that’s nothing new for Dwight. What’s new is the Rockets not being anywhere near the team they were a year ago that went to the Conference finals. Besides, this isn’t Dwight Howard’s team: If I was a Rockets fan, I’d look at James Harden, who should be leading this team to the top of the Western Conference.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Analytics Art: Sizing Up Porzingis’ First 50

By Andrew Bergmann @dubly, for NBA.com

Latvian wunderkid Kristaps Porzingis just completed his 50th game in the NBA. Already he’s been compared to some of the league’s greats, due to his size and agility. Let’s take a look at how Porzingis’ stats match up to other rookie big men in their first fifty games. Click here to see full graphic.

kristaps-porzingis-50-games

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, NPR, Washington Post, and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly

Report: Warriors ‘significant’ threat to sign Kevin Durant this summer

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The summer of 2016 has been looked forward to for a while by teams around the NBA. Not only will many teams around the league be flush with spending money thanks to a new television deal, but at least one marquee player will be a free agent: Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.

While Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP, has stayed mum on his future plans, that hasn’t stopped media speculation. And a new report today from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo’s The Vertical suggests that if Durant does choose to leave Oklahoma City this summer, the leading contender to sign Durant could conceivably create something of a basketball monster.

Writes Wojnarowski

The Golden State Warriors’ plan of pursuit predates their 2015 championship run, a bold plot to declare the futility of resistance. It isn’t only that the NBA champions are determined to recruit Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The truth is that they’re the most intriguing destination to him. If Durant leaves the Thunder, the Warriors are the significant frontrunners to sign him, league sources told The Vertical.

The Warriors already have everything and yet they’re threatening to take more now. Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. Committed ownership. Bob Myers, the executive of the year. Steve Kerr, a championship coach. Yes, Golden State has everything, including the ability to create the salary-cap space and a belief that Durant’s persona could fit seamlessly – even onto a potential two-time defending champion.

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said – but the real threats on the summer market are beginning to reveal themselves. Durant is determined to win – to be an immediate championship contender at 27 years old – and that keeps bringing him back to the Warriors should he make the decision to leave Oklahoma City.

Outside of a Thunder championship closing down the process before July 1, there’s a strong expectation that Durant will hit the road, tour campuses and become a recruit again.

The big free agents, they’re forever living one of two things in the months leading into summer: searching for reasons to stay, or searching for reasons to leave. Durant has always been looking for reasons to stay. He adores the Oklahoma City community and holds a fondness for the franchise, but Durant is chasing championships, chasing a legacy.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Analytics Art: Suns fire coach Hornacek, but core issues remain


VIDEO: NBA TV Update on Jeff Hornacek

By Ben Leibowitz, special to NBA.com

Jeff Hornacek began his NBA head coaching tenure with the Phoenix Suns by guiding the team to a completely unanticipated 48-34 record — finishing second in Coach of the Year voting behind Gregg Popovich as a result. Two years later, after Phoenix lost 19 of 21 games and went 0-4 on their latest road trip, Hornacek was relieved of his coaching duties.

From 48-34 to 39-43 to 14-35 (including two losses against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers), the Suns are in an uncontrollable tailspin. Hornacek was made the scapegoat for the team’s failings, but pressing issues go far beyond the man patrolling the sidelines.

So, how did the desert dwellers get here?

Hornacek’s 48-win squad was led by the two-pronged point guard attack of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The pair combined to average 38 points, 11.4 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 3.0 steals. Their leadership, combined with the three-point shooting prowess of Gerald Green and Channing Frye, helmed Phoenix’s ship.

From there, however, personnel decisions orchestrated by general manager Ryan McDonough undermined team chemistry within that foundation.

After the season, McDonough acquired Isaiah Thomas via sign-and-trade to a modest four-year, $28 million contract, teaming him up with Dragic-Bledsoe in a point guard lazy Susan. The idea was to roster three reliable floor generals so the two-headed monster in the backcourt wouldn’t have to take a breather.

The move had unintended consequences.

Dragic told MassLive.com’s Jay King the following of the situation last year:

“It was tough. It’s only one ball, so all the point guards, they need the ball so they can create or do something for the team. It was tough because most of the time I was guarding position 3s, too, so that was not my game. But at the same time, you have to sacrifice for the team. I thought I did that, but unfortunately, at the end, that was not me. I was not happy. That’s why we made that decision (to ask for a trade).”

Phoenix ultimately decided to trade Dragic to the Miami Heat, as the addition of Thomas threw a monkey wrench into an already promising situation.

It seemed the Suns were poised to move forward with a new tandem in Thomas and Bledsoe, but Thomas was also traded in a three-team deal that sent the 5-foot-9 guard to Boston. Phoenix then acquired Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks in a separate three-teamer in exchange for the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick.

Knight was a promising, fringe All-Star with the Bucks, but his brief stint in Phoenix has been marred by injuries thus far — which has prevented him from getting into a steady rhythm.

Knight’s numbers aren’t bad, but his 3-point shooting prowess has regressed since joining the Suns (33.3 percent this year compared to 40.9 percent in 52 games with Milwaukee throughout 2014-15). Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, was named to his first ever All-Star berth this year.

Of course, perhaps the most underrated change occurred when Frye left for the Orlando Magic. As a stretch 5 — a center who can shoot from long range, create necessary spacing for slashing guards and run pick-and-pop sets in the halfcourt — the University of Arizona product held plenty of unsung value. Instead of retaining him (Orlando signed him for four years, $32 million), Phoenix eventually replaced Frye with 33-year-old Tyson Chandler.

The former Defensive Player of the Year was inked to a four-year, $52 million deal — $20 million more than what Orlando paid Frye. Considering Chandler is playing just 23.5 minutes per game and has actually been a net negative on the defensive end, the decision to let Frye walk is tough to justify with hindsight.

Hornacek’s Suns have no doubt played below expectations this year, but past personnel moves and the season-ending knee injury to Bledsoe didn’t help his case. In fact, according to a Twitter poll posed by AZCentral Sports, only 4 percent of voters feel Hornacek deserves the most blame for the Suns’ woes.

These are dark times indeed for the franchise in the Valley of the Sun. It’s fair to assume more changes are coming for an organization in complete disarray.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

February schedule breakdown


VIDEO: Clutch Plays of January

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Rather quietly, the Memphis Grizzlies have won seven of their last eight games. And they’ve done it in uncharacteristic fashion, scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions over the eight games, the league’s seventh best mark over that stretch.

At the start of January, the Grizzlies were tied for sixth place in the Western Conference. They’ve only moved up to fifth, but that’s a key advancement. There are three West teams that are much better than the other 12, and if you finish fourth or fifth, you don’t have to face any of the big three in the first round of the playoffs.

One reason for the Grizzlies’ recent success is the schedule. They’ve played nine of their last 11 games at home and the last seven against teams with losing records.

And the schedule is the reason the Grizzlies’ should remain in that 4-5 quadrant of the West playoff picture. Memphis has the league’s easiest February by a wide margin.

The Grizzlies will spend most of the month (seven games) on the road, but only two of their 11 February games are against teams (Dallas and Toronto) that currently have winning records. They play the Nets, Timberwolves and Suns, and face the 9-41 Lakers twice in a row late in the month. And they could remain a strong offensive team, with just one February game against a top-10 defense (Feb. 21 at Toronto).

Things will get tougher for the Grizzlies in March (when they face the Spurs twice) and April (when they face the Warriors twice). But their February schedule should have them in good position well beyond the All-Star break.

20160201_west_sched

A few more Western Conference notes from the February schedule…

  • The Warriors and Thunder will meet for the first time on Saturday in Oakland. They’ll also play in Oklahoma City on Feb. 27. Neither game is part of a back-to-back for either team.
  • The Mavs play just two February games (fewest in the West) against bottom-10 defenses. They’re their last two games – vs. Denver and Minnesota – of the month.
  • 28 of the 30 teams play either five (15) or six (13) games between now and the All-Star break. The exceptions are the Warriors, who only play four games in the next 10 days, and the Pelicans, who play seven in the next 11.
  • But the Warriors play just two home games this month and begin their post-break schedule with a seven-game trip that starts with a rough five-games-in-seven-days stretch that takes them from Portland to L.A. to Atlanta to Miami to Orlando.
  • Just a game in the loss column separates the seventh-place Rockets from the eighth-place Blazers, who play each other three times (twice in Portland) in February.
  • The Clippers begin their post-break schedule by hosting the Spurs (Feb. 18) and Warriors (Feb. 20). But those are their only two February games against top-10 offenses.
  • The Warriors, Spurs and Thunder are a combined 71-8 against the other 12 teams in the West. That’s bad news for the Pelicans and Suns, who each have three games against the big three this month.
  • The Suns have have a 2.4-points-per-100-possessions edge over the Lakers for 29th in defensive efficiency, but play their first eight games against top-10 offenses.
  • Sleep Train Arena will be a good place to be for the last six days of the month, when the Kings host the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder.
  • After the Spurs host the Lakers on Feb. 6, they don’t have another home game until March 2. It’s rodeo time.

Like the Grizzlies, the Miami Heat are in the middle of their conference’s playoff picture. But the Heat are in a different boat in regard to the month ahead. They have the league’s toughest February schedule, with six road games, eight games against teams that are .500 or better, and only one game (Tuesday at Houston) against a team that currently ranks in the bottom 10 in either offensive or defensive efficiency.

Miami is just 10-13 against other teams that are currently .500 or better, but is coming off wins over Chicago and Atlanta last week.

20160201_east_sched

More Eastern Conference notes…

  • The two best teams in the East – the Cavs and Raptors – meet Feb. 26 in Toronto.
  • The Hawks leave the Eastern time zone for only one game (Feb. 10 in Chicago) all month.
  • Starting with Tuesday’s visit to New York, the Celtics go into the break with six games in just nine days, including two road-home back-to-backs.
  • The Nets have played the league’s toughest schedule thus far, but have a relatively easy February. That could affect the Lottery odds of the pick that Boston owns. Brooklyn is two games behind both Minnesota and Phoenix in the win column, so a decent month could drop that pick from the third best odds to the fifth best odds.
  • The Hornets are the only team that plays all of its February games within its conference. Sunday’s win over the Lakers was their last road game of the season against the West. They’re one of two teams (Orlando is the other) that plays seven February games against top-10 defenses.
  • The Bucks will be the second team to wrap up its road schedule against the opposite conference. Their last three games in West arenas are this week.
  • The Magic begin the month with visits to San Antonio and Oklahoma City, followed by a home game against the Clippers. They play five total games against the West’s top four this month, and they don’t play a single February game against a bottom-10 defense.
  • The Hawks and Knicks each play just one February game against top-10 offense, and they both do it on Feb. 22, when Atlanta hosts Golden State and New York hosts Toronto.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol: Bulls’ lack discipline | LeBron has high praise for Coach Lue | Middleton plays second fiddle no more | Warriors’ other All-Stars carve up Knicks

No. 1: Gasol: Bulls lack discipline — After more than half a season of struggling to operate consistently on a high level, reality has set in for Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls. After Sunday’s listless effort in a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles, their second worst loss of the season, reality has set in for a team thought to be a legitimate contender this season. The Bulls’ lack of discipline has cost them and will continue to do so, perhaps even tonight in Utah against the Jazz (9 ET, League Pass), writes Nick Friedell of ESPN.com:

Pau Gasol has been in the NBA long enough to be painfully honest.

That’s why the 15-year veteran was so blunt in the criticism of his own team after Sunday’s disheartening 120-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We’re not disciplined,” Gasol said. “Yep. We’re not. That’s it. It’s true. It’s a fact.”

The Chicago Bulls are so unpredictable that they have become predictable. When they play well, as they did in an impressive win against the hapless Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, they are not able to sustain the solid play. Their six-game winning streak a month ago was the outlier, not the rule.

“It’s been the story of the year,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “The story of the year. If I could put a finger on it, I swear I would. I watch a lot of basketball, and the only thing I can think of is just that effort and sticking with the game plan.”

The Bulls’ single biggest flaw, aside from the fact that players such as Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic have not proven to be as good as advertised this year after being given plenty of opportunities, is that this group just isn’t as mentally tough as it has been in years past. Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has discussed the issue several times during the season and was again frustrated with the lack of passionate play at times on Sunday. To blame the issues on Hoiberg, the first-year head coach, wouldn’t be fair, because the troubles the Bulls are having with inconsistencies are the same ones that started to creep up last season in Tom Thibodeau‘s final year at the helm.

The Bulls’ problem is they don’t seem to have any clue how to fix the problems. More than halfway through the season, this is who they are: an inconsistent bunch of athletes who still don’t appear to enjoy playing with one another.

“We’re letting guys do whatever they want to do out there,” All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Not putting bodies on people, not rebounding, letting guys get to their strengths. That’s the will if you want to. Defense is all about toughness. When we’re not guarding anybody, we don’t look very tough.”

Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

Bulls players are sick of talking about the problems, but not enough to create change from within.

“You’ve just got to keep talking about it,” Hoiberg said of trying to build up the mental toughness that hasn’t been there all year. “That’s what you got to do. You’ve got to fight through it. Again, I’ve been saying this all year. I hate to sound like a broken record. We are a really good team when things are going well. We can go out there and play with a swagger and a confidence. But we lose that, we lose that when things aren’t going well. They scored 69 points in the second half. You ain’t beating anybody when that happens.”


VIDEO: Bulls lose to Clippers in L.A.

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