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Numbers preview: Heat-Hornets


VIDEO: Heat vs. Hornets: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Eastern Conference took a step forward this season. It won 48 percent of its games against the West, its second best mark in the last 17 seasons.

Most of the improvement came in the middle of the conference, where teams 5-10 were all at .500 or above, with better records than their Western Conference counterparts.

The Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets were two of the league’s most improved teams. Miami improved on both ends of the floor and was 5.0 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season, while Charlotte took a huge jump on offense and was 6.6 points per 100 possessions better than they were in 2014-15.

Appropriately, the Heat and Hornets finished with the same record and will face each other in the postseason. Statistically, it’s the most evenly-matched series of the first round.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 3-6 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Miami Heat (48-34)

Pace: 95.7 (25)
OffRtg: 104.2 (12)
DefRtg: 101.5 (7)
NetRtg: +2.6 (10)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Charlotte: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_mia_shooting

Heat notes:

20160414_post-break_offrtg

Charlotte Hornets (48-34)

Pace: 97.8 (18)
OffRtg: 105.1 (9)
DefRtg: 101.8 (9)
NetRtg: +3.3 (8)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_cha_shooting

Hornets notes:

20160414_offrtg_impr

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 in both cities)
Oct. 28 – Heat 104, Hornets 94
Dec. 9 – Hornets 99, Heat 81
Feb. 5 – Heat 98, Hornets 95
Mar. 17 – Hornets 109, Heat 106

Pace: 96.2
MIA OffRtg: 100.7 (17th vs. CHA)
CHA OffRtg: 103.6 (14th vs. MIA)

Matchup notes:

  • Three of the four games were within five points in the last five minutes.
  • Joe Johnson and Courtney Lee were only with their current teams for the final meeting, while Al Jefferson missed the December and February games for Charlotte. Both teams only had their current starting lineups for the March 17 meeting in Miami, and the Hornets’ starters played just eight minutes together in that game (because Zeller left with a knee issue).
  • Whiteside had one of his three triple-doubles – 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks – in the Feb. 5 meeting in Charlotte.
  • The Hornets were a plus-38 in 138 minutes with Batum on the floor and a minus-30 in 54 minutes with him on the bench. Wade was a minus-17 and minus-16 in the Heat’s two losses.
  • The Heat grabbed just 14.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, while the Hornets grabbed just 14.9 percent of available offensive rebounds. For both teams, that was their lowest offensive rebounding percentage against Eastern Conference opponents.

Morning shootaround — April 15


VIDEO: Which East teams will win their series in the first round?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry realizing his impact on league lore | Casey miffed over Game 1 tipoff time | Anthony talks frankly with Knicks’ brass | Hornets pull together

No. 1: Curry starting to realize his place in league lore Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET, the Golden State Warriors start their playoff trek in what they hope will be a mirror of their regular season — total domination of any and all comers en route to another NBA championship. Leading the charge will be reigning Kia MVP and superstar Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors to a record 73 wins and put up an individual season just as remarkable to boot. In a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Curry explains how he is starting to fathom just how his current run is affecting not only today’s NBA, but generations to come:

“I was watching some show where they were talking about Kobe’s last game,” the 27-year-old Curry told USA TODAY Sports. “And (they talked about) the fans who were my age, or a little younger, who didn’t get to see (Michael) Jordan play much but they saw Kobe play his whole career. … That was like passing the torch to him, (or) obviously LeBron (James) or whatever.”

The epiphany, you see, is that the torch is in his hands right now.

“For the youth that are watching today’s game and where it is, that would be something very special, in 15 or 20 years, (to) hear stories of kids growing up watching me play and being inspired by what I do on the floor, and how I play the game and what not,” Curry continued. “I have certain guys who I looked up to. Jordan, Kobe, those guys. Passing that on to doing my part to kind of keep that influence of basketball where it should be is kind of why I play the game.”

It’s easy to forget how quickly this happened.

Nearly four years ago, on an April 25, 2012 day that is still fresh on the minds of those who were there, Curry entered an operating room in Van Nuys, Calif. without knowing whether his ailing right ankle would ever be the same. Ankle problems plagued the early years of his career, and they threatened everything on that fateful day.

Yet the damage wasn’t as bad as had been feared, and an arthroscopic surgery was enough to get the job done. Curry, who played 78 games in each of the following two seasons while playing at an All-Star level, was on his way again.

Curry has been on the NBA’s version of the Autobahn ever since, racing past all his fellow All Stars and stealing the spotlight from James at a time when the Cavaliers star has appeared in five consecutive Finals. This season, more than any other, is adding to his lore.

In winning the first scoring title of his seven-year career, he became the most improved scorer in NBA history among players who won the MVP award in theseason before (plus-6.3 points per game, from 23.8 to 30.1, ahead of Larry Bird’s plus-4.5 in the 1984-85 season, according to ESPN). He shattered his own single-season three-point record, finishing with 402 after hitting 286 in the 2014-15 season (he now holds four of the top seven marks all-time).

By hitting a career-high 50.4% of his shots overall, 45.4% from three-point range and 90.8% from the free throw line, Curry achieved a 50-45-90 shooting mark that had only been reached by Warriors coach Steve Kerr (while with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls) and future Hall of Famer/Warriors player development consultant Steve Nash (while with the 2007-08 Suns). Curry, for good measure, is the first perimeter player to average 30 points per game on 50-plus percent shooting since Michael Jordan in 1991-92.

It’s natural to wonder when Curry’s rise will peak. The possibilities for his future, much like his shot, seem limitless. What’s more, for anyone wondering about confidence that always plays a huge part, his willingness to entertain the question about being the best player of all time tells you all you need to know.

“I don’t think about (being the best) on a daily basis, but the way that I prepare and the way that I work, I try to let that kind of goal show itself, if that makes any sense,” Curry said. “When I step forward on the floor, I have the confidence that I’m the best player playing that night and that I am the most prepared at what I need to be doing.

“For me, I don’t want to cheat the game by saying, or kind of doing lip service by saying I want to be the greatest ever. I want to be able to show it. So hopefully that will speak volumes more than me running around touting my own self, which I think that’s wasted energy.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brad Stevens, an ex-college guy, NBA coach of the year?Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner | Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis | Jeff Green a difference maker?

No. 1: Brad Stevens, college guy, NBA coach of the year? — The Celtics are third in the East and there’s a lot of head-scratching to figure a reason why. Boston has no stars but it might have the next coach of the year in Brad Stevens, who by all accounts has done a stellar job just a few years after leaving Butler. Speaking of which, for one night against the Jazz, Stevens was reunited with two key players on those Cinderella Butler teams, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, the latter of whom was just traded to the Jazz. Here’s some good insight into Stevens and Hayward from Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

Mack and Hayward are the only active NBA players from Butler, both recruited by Stevens. That is a source of pride with the Celtics coach, having guided two players to the NBA from a mid-major that was little known before Butler made consecutive trips to the national title game.

Each time Stevens visits Salt Lake City he’s asked about Hayward, how the swingman has developed in the NBA and impacted a franchise that, like the Celtics, is trying to rise from rubble. Hayward is a cornerstone, with the Jazz giving him a four-year, $63 million contract.

Hayward, averaging a career-best 19.9 points this season, is a borderline All-Star. He shot just 6 of 16 in Friday’s 111-93 win but still managed 22 points by making 15 trips to the foul line. He has progressed exponentially since Stevens recruited him from Brownsburg, Ind., nearly 10 years ago.

“When I first met with him when we were recruiting him, we talked about, ‘You actually have a chance to be a pro,’ ” Stevens said. “I don’t know that anybody could have envisioned [this]. At that time, he was a 13-point, six-rebound-a-game tennis player. He was growing into his own. He was a long, skinny kid. He was probably 6-foot-7, 180 [pounds] sopping wet.”

Hayward quickly developed into a top college player and left Butler after his sophomore season in 2009-10, following a 2-point loss to Duke in the national title game.

“I think he’s just gotten better, better, and better,” Stevens said. “His first couple of practices at Butler confirmed what the biggest mark would be with a guy of his talent level, and that is his grit and toughness. From that point on, we had no doubt that he had all that stuff. So you knew he was going to be a pro, it was just a matter of the level. He’s established himself as one of the better players around.

“He had a lot of natural talent. I don’t know if he believed me or not, [maybe] he thought I was just a recruiter that was lying to him. We had never had an NBA pro [prospect] in our time but it was obvious that he could do things other guys couldn’t do.”

Hayward is often asked about Stevens’s success in the NBA, having led the Celtics from a lottery team in 2013-14 to an Eastern Conference contender in just two years. The admiration is mutual.

“He told us he would never leave for another college,” Hayward said. “And that was very, very true; he left for the NBA. I’ve always said no matter where he’s at, he’ll be successful, if it’s basketball, if it’s business. Whatever it is. He’s just that type of person that, he’s going to be successful. He puts in the time. He puts in the effort. A very smart guy. No surprise that he’s successful where he’s at.”

Hayward and Stevens have formed a strong bond because they realize their importance to each other’s success. Hayward may not have reached the NBA without Stevens’s tutelage, while Stevens may not have gotten a call from the Celtics had Hayward not led Butler to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed six years ago.

“He knows how to make people successful,” Hayward said of Stevens. “He puts guys in the right positions. He’s very smart with reading defenses and knowing how teams are going to play and what they’re going to do, switches, whatever. They beat us on a last-second shot last year, on their play. He’s just a really smart coach and he always brings the best out of his players. Like I said, I’m proud of what he’s been able to do.”

                                                           ***

 No. 2: Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner — He won’t win Rookie of the Year and might even face a battle just to make first-team All-Rookie, but don’t be fooled. The Pacers are very pleased with the development of Myles Turner and the potential of the 6-foot-10 post player is enormous. He began getting more playing time earlier this month and because of Turner, the Pacers still like their chances of making the playoffs. Here’s an excerpt of an examination of Turner done recently by Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis News:

In so many ways, he’s just a big kid. The teen-turned-starter still buys H&M clothes off the rack and watches SpongeBob in his spare time. He’s tasked with raiding the freezer in NBA visitors’ locker rooms so his veterans will have enough Gatorade on the bus rides to the airport. Inside his childhood bedroom, he still has a pair of size-10 Starbury One sneakers signed by Kevin Durant.

But in so many other ways, the Pacers need him to be a man, if not The Man. They have Paul George, Monta Ellis and several veterans approaching 30. But they also need 19-year-old Myles Turner, who averages 10.1 points on 53.5 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

“We’ve got a young, really talented, special big man in Myles Turner that is going to be up and down,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I don’t know how fast and how far he develops in the final 29 games, but it will be a big factor in what our ceiling is.”

Turner has always been this strange brew of a project, a normal, humble child and a rare bird, a player obsessed with shushing his skeptics and yet privately questioning himself. He nods when teammates give him tongue-lashings after mistakes, but there’s nothing they can say that he hasn’t heard from the chorus of critics inside his head.

“I doubted myself a lot,” Turner says of playing in the NBA.

* * *

Turner can take on the responsibility because he isn’t just any 19-year-old. He was raised for this, even if David and Mary Turner thought they were simply bringing up their eldest to earn a free college education and a good job.

So, the family would take part in conversational clashes, the loser getting bounced for using filler words “uhm” and “like.” If Myles slipped up with one of the forbidden words, his mother took no mercy.

“All of a sudden I’d break out and say, ‘I won!’ ” Mary exclaims. “He hated losing. So we had to play again.”

The Turners shut off the television from Monday to Thursday and hid the PlayStation in the garage until summer so Myles could do something that sounds insane to kids of his generation: play outside. Myles was 5 when David purchased a basketball goal, but dad couldn’t install it in the driveway unless the height was adjusted from 7½ feet to 10, regulation size. Mary’s idea.

Turner remembers getting penciled onto the “B” team during middle-school tryouts and being iced out at his first practice with the Trinity High School varsity team. These memories are old wounds that should’ve been patched up by all his recent triumphs. Still, Turner can’t help but to pick at his sutures.

“I’ve just always had to work my way up through the ranks,” Turner says. “I was definitely overlooked in high school.”

Older kids laughed at the way he ran, but Turner loved the game. He was piling up team championship trophies – not those participation throwaways. He had the potential to be great, so he played on. And really, how could he stop and listen to their taunts? Turner kept busy; for a while, he played on four teams at the same time.

He was improving, but not fast enough by his own standards. When Turner did watch TV and saw Shaq and D-Wade winning the NBA Finals, he wasn’t like the other kids who went to sleep dreaming about holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“I never thought I’d be strong enough. I always got pushed around all the time,” Turner stresses. “As far as the NBA was concerned, I loved watching it … but I never thought I’d actually be able to do it one day.”

***

No. 3: Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis — This isn’t the team he saw when the season tipped off. Still, it’s his team because it says “Memphis” across the jersey, so Dave Joerger must find a new playbook for a Grizzlies’ team that has changed overnight. Marc Gasol is injured and gone, maybe for the season if not a lengthy stretch. And the Grizz have welcomed Mario Chalmers, PJ Hairston, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen in the last few months. The task for the coach is to keep the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt, which won’t be easy, and make the new faces comfortable. This task was examined by Geoff Caulkins of the Commercial Appeal:

Dave Joerger, this is your test.

You’re going to have to try to win games without Marc Gasol, your best player, the guy you have built your entire team around.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Courtney Lee, one of the few shooters on a team that has never been able to shoot.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Jeff Green, your answer to everything, a player you coveted and believed in more than anyone else.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Ryan Hollins, the backup center, the rim protector you wanted on the team all year long.

And you may have to try to win a game or two without Tony Allen, your inspirational leader, who is questionable with a gimpy knee.

Oh, and in case that’s not enough of a challenge, we’re going to give you Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston and a guy everyone knows as Birdman.

Let us know how it goes!

“The last couple of days have been pretty interesting,” said Joerger, because he really couldn’t say, “What did I do to deserve this?”

But he had to be thinking it, didn’t he? Somewhere underneath that Minnesota Nice? Or maybe just wondering when the hidden cameras would be revealed and he’d discover he’d been Punk’d?

The Memphis Grizzlies may have done the right thing for the Memphis Grizzlies this past week. They may have done the right thing for next year and beyond.

But for their head coach?

“It’s a big motivation,” said Joerger, and also the biggest challenge of his coaching career.

Not that there haven’t been other challenges, mind you. Joerger has seen and surmounted more than few.

It was a challenge to take over for a wildly successful and popular coach like Lionel Hollins.

It was a challenge to overcome an injury to Gasol to make the playoffs that first year.

It was a challenge to forge a working relationship with Robert Pera after some early tensions.

It was a challenge to win 50 and 55 games his first two years as a head coach.

And it was a challenge to lead the Grizzlies through a sluggish start to this season, turning a 16-16 record into 31-22 by the All-Star break.

But none of those challenges compares with the one Joerger will be facing over the next 28 games.

It really should be a reality show. Let’s see what our man Dave can do!

We’ll give him:

Five players who are 34 or older (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Birdman and Allen).

Five players who are essentially new to the team (Stephenson, Hairston, Birdman, James Ennis and Brandan Wright).

Six players who are known to be among the roughest and/or craziest in the league (Stephenson, Barnes, Allen, Hairston, Randolph and Birdman).

Two players the Miami Heat gave away just to get under the luxury tax (Birdman and Mario Chalmers).

Oh, and Mike Conley. Because we really do have a heart!

But that’s all that Joerger has at his disposal. Now he has to take that group and — without any extra days off to practice or install plays — win enough games to make the playoffs. And that’s not even the trickiest part. The trickiest part is making sure the players are all in.

***

No. 4: Jeff Green a difference maker? — One of the defections from the Grizzlies is Jeff Green, and stop me if you’ve heard this before: Green will be a difference maker for his new team. Well, he was supposed to play that role with the Celtics, and then with the Grizzlies, and now the Clippers. In Boston, Green was a solid player, nothing more. In Memphis, which needed scoring from the swing position (and still does), Green was a mild disappointment, a tease if anything. He’s now reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who briefly had him in Boston, and lo and behold, the Clippers need scoring from the wing. There’s no denying the gifts of the 6-foot-9 Green; he can run the floor and comes with a decent mid-range shot. But he often disappears for stretches; his inconsistency is maddening. Anyway, he’s the Clippers’ problem — or steal, whichever he decides to be. It didn’t work out with Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith; has Rivers finally found a solution in Green? Here’s a take from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

Jeff Green might be happy about joining the Clippers.

He might be happy about playing for Doc Rivers, his old coach in Boston. He might be happy about reconnecting with Team Jordan buddies Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or old teammates Paul Pierce or Cole Aldrich.

But in his first appearance as a member of the Clippers at the team’s practice facility Friday, there wasn’t room for any real emotion.

Green, admittedly, was overwhelmed.

It had been less than 24 hours since Memphis general manager Chris Wallace pulled him aside during the Grizzlies’ practice to deliver the news.

“It never does (get easier),” said Green, who was dealt in the middle of a season for the third time. “You think if you’ve been through it once, it would be easier to go through it again. But you get settled and comfortable in a situation, so it’s tough to break apart from that.”

Green had less than a day to pack up as many possessions as he would need, filling five suitcases and a carry-on with shoes, sweats and suits.

By the time he spoke to the media Friday, he still didn’t know where he was going to be living for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a whirlwind,” he said.

Jamal Crawford, who has been traded in the middle of a season, knows it’s not easy to have your life uprooted.

“I had no idea it was coming and it happened, and it took a little while, it took a few days to set in, like, ‘Did this really happen or am I dreaming?’ That was my first time being traded, so it’s tough,” Crawford remembered. “It’s not just you it affects. It affects your family, you may have to put kids out of school, if you’re renting or whatever, all that stuff. … Where to live, you may go to a city you haven’t spent a lot of time in before, you have to learn that.

“It’s almost like a new kid going to school in the middle of the year, like, ‘Oh, I have to make new friends.’”

Once Green settles in, he knows how he’ll help the Clippers.

“I’m a versatile guy who can play multiple positions and do multiple things on the floor, so I’m pretty sure Doc will put me in positions where I can succeed and help this team out,” Green said. “I’m sure it will vary from game to game, but there are going to be plenty of spots on the floor for me.”

Green should be on the court when the Clippers host the NBA’s top team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors, on Saturday night.

Despite dealing with the ramifications of the trade, Green, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he likes the situation he’s found himself in.

“This is definitely a team with all the right pieces, and a team that is going in the right direction,” Green said. “The only thing I want to do is win, and that’s what it’s all about right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After getting his release, Andrea Bargnani is available and please, don’t all rush at once … The Mavericks remain the clear favorite to scoop up David Lee once he clears waivers on Monday … San Francisco radio station KNBR had an entertaining interview with Warriors coach Steve Kerr … What is it with the Jazz and point guards? They’re still looking for the next Deron Williams and John Stockton … It appears Cody Zeller is the center of the (near) future for the Hornets; not Al Jefferson?

Analytics Art: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s Return Fueling Hornets Defense

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Former No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seemed poised for a breakout campaign ahead of his fourth professional season. The fourth-year leap is not uncommon, as Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls put on display last year by amalgamating everything together — making his first All-Star team and winning Most Improved Player.

Unfortunately for Hornets fans, Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot at emulating a similar jolt in production was put on hold when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder during the preseason opener. The injury required surgery, and he missed the first three months of the 2015-16 season as a result.

The 22-year-old was expected to be sidelined for six months, but he made his return well ahead of that timeline on Jan. 29 against the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s important to note that we’re dealing with a small sample size here (three games), but the Hornets have been a vastly improved defensive squad with MKG back in the lineup.

In the 98 minutes Charlotte has played with Kidd-Gilchrist thus far, opponents are scoring 94.2 points per 100 possessions on an effective field goal percentage of 44.3 percent. Compare that to the time spent competing without him (more than 2,200 minutes), in which the Hornets surrender an offensive rating of 105.3 to accompany an eFG% of 50.4 percent.

Again, the sample size is tiny — and the numbers benefit from a road dismantling of the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 31 — but a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday hints that the improvement with MKG is no fluke. His tenacity and raw skill on the defensive end sets the tone for coach Steve Clifford’s schemes.

Per Bill Kiser for the Charlotte Observer, Clifford was pleased to have the youngster back and playing at a high level.

“I knew how hard he had worked on his conditioning,” Clifford said leading up to the game against Cleveland. “To be honest, I was surprised at how long he was able to play. I just thought it would take him a while to play so well, but he’s worked so hard and it’s obviously showing.”

Through his first three games played in 2016, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Both of those marks would be career highs if sustained throughout the remainder of the season.

Not surprisingly, Kidd-Gilchrist’s player efficiency rating (PER) is also at a personal best.

The Hornets have been stung by the injury bug throughout the season. Obviously MKG has been out, but Al Jefferson has been sidelined 30 games and counting, Nic Batum missed time due to a toe injury and Kemba Walker was absent for the matchup against LeBron James and Co. nursing a sore left knee.

Despite all of those setbacks, Charlotte remains in the hunt for a playoff spot. The addition of Kidd-Gilchrist adds a big spark, but the Hornets still need to get healthy after the All-Star break. If they do, the Buzz could cobble together a stellar second half a la the Utah Jazz a season ago, who went 19-10 with the league’s best defensive rating. Stay tuned.

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.

Al Jefferson expected to miss 6 weeks

Hornets center Al Jefferson is expected to be sidelined six weeks because of a torn cartilage in his right knee, the team announced Wednesday.

Surgery is scheduled for Thursday.

Jefferson is averaging 12.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in 25,2 minutes while shooting 48.2 percent in 19 games. He had made two appearances since missing 11 games in a row, six to a calf injury and five while suspended by the league for violating the drug policy.

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Scott’s job safe | Thompson continues development | Melo not getting calls | Jefferson suspended five games

No. 1: Report: Scott’s job safe After losing last night in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers’ fourth loss in a row, the Lakers dropped to 3-19 on the season, the second-worst record in the NBA. While it seemed likely that the Los Angeles Lakers, with their mix of youth and veteran talent, would probably have to be lucky to qualify for the playoffs in Byron Scott‘s second season as head coach, few people expected it to be this bad, this early. But according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Scott’s job is probably safe for the season

His star player has kept trying to fight Father Time with little success. His NBA lottery picks have accepted unexpected bench roles publicly, but admittedly expressed initial frustration.

He has also overseen the Lakers’ worst start in franchise history, a 123-122 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday at Target Center marking the team’s fourth consecutive loss as the Western Conference’s worst team.

But Byron Scott still has enough support from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss that he is expected to coach through the rest of the 2015-16 season, according to team sources familiar with the situation. With Scott signing a four-year, $17 million deal last summer, the Lakers plan to evaluate his future once the 2015-16 season ends, according to a team source.

The Lakers are not happy with the persistent losing, obviously. But Kupchak and Buss sympathize with Scott on handling what one team source called “a no-win situation.”

On one hand, Scott has felt pressure to handle Kobe Bryant‘s workload in his 20th and final NBA season. Scott remains mindful of Bryant’s struggles, averaging 16.2 points per game average on 30.6-percent shooting in 31.3 minutes per game. But the Lakers also want to play Bryant significant minutes out of reverence for his five NBA titles and to enjoy his farewell tour.

But out of respect for Bryant’s extensive accomplishments that have spanned five NBA championships and his current retirement tour, the Lakers have understood Scott’s tendency to lean on him heavily. They are also mindful of the challenge it takes to manage Bryant’s competitive nature. “I want him to enjoy this as much as possible,” Scott said of Bryant. “You’ve never seen him smile as much on the basketball court or talk to his opponents as much as he’s done the last two or three weeks. He’s at a very good place in his life and his career.”

On the other hand, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell represent the Lakers’ long-term future after they selected them seventh overall in 2014 and second overall in 2015. Russell posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 32 minutes against Minnesota. Russell added 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. But Randle and Russell both face learning curves with their development. Randle lacks consistency with his jump shot, while Russell has struggled on defense.

The Lakers have granted Scott the autonomy to coach his team without interference. But Kupchak and/or Buss will likely meet with Scott next week after the team’s eight-game trip to gain a better understanding of his thought process on how he will develop the team’s young players, according to a team source familiar with the situation.

***

No. 2: Thompson continues development While the Warriors keep reeling off wins to start this season, Stephen Curry remains the headliner, drawing hundreds of fans each night just to see his warm up routine. But not far behind Curry in terms of popularity and skill is the Warriors’ 25-year-old shooting guard, Klay Thompson. As Thompson told Nima Zarrabi from SLAM, he’s continued evolving as a person while he keeps putting in work as a player

Despite his heavy off-court demand, the goal has not changed for Klay. He wants to continue to transcend his game — he’s only 25 and knows there is still plenty of room for growth. He is excited about working with new Warriors assistant coach Steve Nash to add new wrinkles to his arsenal.

“I worked out with him twice when I was in L.A. and learned a lot about what I need to get better at,” Thompson says. “We didn’t even shoot the ball that much — we did a lot of technical work on things like balance. He’s still in great shape and really gave me some great pointers on how to play at a lower level and work on my balance so I can be in a better position to make plays. I know how good he is going to be for me.”

Thompson’s heard the whispers about teams attempting to mimic the Warriors’ style of play. The notion that teams across the League are planning to attempt more threes, play a little more “small ball.”

“People seem to think it’s easy,” says Thompson, who’s averaging 18.2 ppg through the Warriors’ ongoing and insane 23-game winning streak. “To play our style you really need to have five guys on the court that can shoot, pass and dribble. Not a lot of teams have that, you know?”

His growth as a player has coincided with his development as a communicator. Thoughtful and insightful, he has become a media favorite when it comes to snagging a quality quote.

It once seemed as if he despised having to talk.

“Ask anybody on the team, I said very few words here my first year,” Thompson says. “I feel a lot more comfortable around the facility and all the guys. Even with Bob Myers and our owners Joe and Peter — it’s easier to joke around with those guys being in my fifth year. But they really may have only heard me say 10 words my entire rookie year. It’s been a drastic change.”

***

No. 3: Melo not getting calls Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has always played a physical style of basketball, which includes getting to the free throw line regularly. Except when he doesn’t get to the line: So far this season, Anthony is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game, a career low. And as Mark Berman writes in the New York Post, Anthony understands why he doesn’t get the calls he thinks he should be getting

A candid Carmelo Anthony explained his recent frustrations at not getting enough foul calls, saying he’s been told by referees he’s the most “difficult player” to officiate and vowing he will never flop.

Anthony, who had received a technical foul in two straight games before the Knicks’ 106-85 destruction at the Jazz’s hands on Wednesday, was in a five-game slump with his shooting percentage dipping to 40.6 percent on the season. He admitted his wife, La La, chastised him for yelling at female referee Lauren Holtkamp in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks.

“They just tell me I’m the most difficult player to referee in the NBA,” Anthony said at the morning shootaround in Utah before going 3 of 11 on the night. “I’ve heard that a couple of times. It’s unclear on who is creating the contact. My goal is to go to the basket. If I’m creating the contact going toward the basket [and] I get hit, it’s a foul.”

Anthony is one of the most physical drivers in the game, but said he feels he’s recently not being effective because he’s not getting to the free-throw line.

“I always get fouled,” Anthony said. “That’s what’s frustrating me. You play so hard, work so hard and don’t benefit from that. You look at other guys, you touch them and look at them wrong and get fouls. It’s a frustrating thing for me as a guy who likes to go to the basket, play in the paint. I like to play physical. It’s frustrating.

“I’m human,” Anthony added. “Those frustrations kick in at times, especially when you’re down there banging and know you’re getting banged on. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to play another way.”

So does he need to sell the foul more?

“See, I don’t know how to flop, that’s the thing,” Anthony said. “Nowadays guys know how to flop, get hit and put their head back. I don’t know how to flop. I won’t even look right trying to do that. I won’t even feel right trying it.

“A lot of times I get hit and I still continue to get to my spots just because I’m big and strong. A lot of guys get hit and they stop. I’m not saying they’re flopping, but they’re lighter than me. I can take a lot more physicality.”

***

No. 4: Jefferson suspended five games The Charlotte Hornets have started to come together this season, winning three in a row and compiling a 13-8 record, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. But while their All-NBA center Al Jefferson has missed a few games with a calf injury, it was learned yesterday that he’ll be out a bit longer: The NBA announced that Jefferson will have to serve a five game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, writes the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell

“I’m a man and I have to take full responsibility for my actions,” Jefferson said during a media availability before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. “I have to ask for forgiveness and put it behind me and try to move on.

“Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked on your head for your eyes to open up; to handle certain situations.”

Jefferson said he was first made aware he had failed a drug test about two weeks ago. The league informed him and the Hornets Tuesday that the suspension was coming.

Jefferson becomes a free agent in July after the three-season contract he signed in the summer of 2013 expires. It is unclear how this suspension might affect the Hornets’ interest in re-signing him, but the team issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone Jefferson’s behavior.

“We are disappointed in Al’s decisions that led to this suspension. As an organization, we do not condone this behavior,” the team statement read. “We have addressed this with Al. He is regretful and understands that we expect him to learn from this mistake.”

This is the second time in as many seasons the NBA has suspended a Hornets player. Last season the league suspended small forward Jeff Taylor 24 games after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in Michigan. Taylor now plays for Real Madrid in Spain.

Jefferson was arrested for driving under the influence in the winter of 2010 outside Minneapolis when he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves suspended him two games after that incident.

Jefferson declined to specify what the drug test revealed. A source familiar with the current situation said marijuana is the substance this time connected to Jefferson.

Based on wording in the collective bargaining agreement, a five-game suspension indicates Jefferson was likely already in the marijuana-related league protocol. Under terms of the CBA, a first violation places you in the league’s program. A second violation would result in a $25,000 fine. A third violation would result in a five-game suspension.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Joel Embiid sighting recently in Philadelphia … Kent Bazemore played the first half last night in Dallas with his shorts on backward, then hit a game-winner … Paul Pierce hasn’t made any decisions about his future … Gregg Popovich hates three-pointersReggie Miller on another great shooter, Steph Curry … The Pistons should be getting Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings back soon … The Pacers’ Solomon Hill may be on the trade blockNick Young joked that his defensive abilities are similar to Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING
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.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 9


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times

No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:

Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”

“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”

Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.

These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).

“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”

“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.

***

No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:

Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.

He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.

On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.

“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”

But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.

All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.

“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”

With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.

***

No. 3: Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:

Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.

At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.

“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”

When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.

Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.

Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.

Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.

As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.

“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”

Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.

In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.

“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:

Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?

The grit is all but gone.

The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.

Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.

That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.

“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.

However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.

Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.

Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.

“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …

***

ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …


VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland

Morning shootaround — Sept. 27


VIDEO: Boston Celtics media day

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from Lucas | John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant | Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one hit wonder | David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston

No. 1: Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from John Lucas — The one theme you hear every year around this time is “so and so has lost x-amount of weight.” It’s usually met with a ho-hum, although in certain situations, a drastic fitness shakeup is a rather big deal. Al Jefferson of the Hornets recently revealed he has given up fried chicken which allowed him to drop pounds, and now here comes Jared Sullinger and his weight-loss pledge. Although, in this case, it comes with a twist: He was whipped into shape by John Lucas. Sullinger is at a crossroads in his young NBA career; better fitness could make him see a breakthrough season. Here is Chris Mason of the Boston Herald with the details …

Sullinger’s weight has been a talking point since the Celtics drafted him three years ago, and it came to a head last season when he was reportedly tipping the scales at 300 pounds. The C’s want to see their 6-foot-9 forward around 260. For Sullinger to stay in green, something had to change. His family and Lucas saw that.

“(Lucas) personally came down and he told me ‘ you’ve got all the talent in the world, but you’ve forgotten what working hard is,'” Sullinger said. “For somebody to come all the way from Houston to Colombus Ohio, to stop whatever he was doing, he was there for me, and that’s what made me go and workout for John.”

Lucas is no stranger to interventions. The former Houston Rocket almost lost his entire career to drugs.

While he was in the NBA, Lucas was an alcoholic and a drug addict. In 1986, the guard tested positive for cocaine, and was released by the Rockets after a decade in the league. Lucas volunteered to go to rehab, straightened his life out, and now helps other basketball players do the same.

Sullinger doesn’t have a problem with drugs, but he’s had his career threatened by his weight.

“I think John’s biggest thing, with everything he went through – being the first NBA player to be kicked out of the NBA (for) drugs – I think John’s biggest focus was to not let me make the mistake. Sometimes, it’s not always drugs, it can be other things,” Sullinger said. “And he wanted to just clear my mind and understand that I could be whoever I want to be, I’ve just got to make the right choices.”

Sullinger was sold.

He went to Houston to workout with Lucas four different times in the offseason, for a total of eleven weeks. Sullinger was put through a series of unorthodox basketball workouts, and his exercising was coupled with a strict diet.

“I went from boxing, to swimming, to on the court basketball, to running track. I did so many other sports – other than basketball – there was one point where I was down in August for two weeks and I didn’t touch a basketball. He wouldn’t let me be on the basketball court and we just got in shape other ways,” Sullinger said.

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No. 2: John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant — OK, take a wild guess about who will be subject to a Free-Agent Watch this season? Yes, it’s Kevin Durant and the obvious choice, besides OKC, competing for his services is the hometown Wizards. Durant learned the game in the DC suburbs and makes no secret of his love for his home base. Besides, the Wizards will have enough cap room next summer and they have John Wall, who’d be a capable replacement for Russell Westbrook should Durant bolt OKC. The odds have Durant staying put, but if so, it won’t be because Wall didn’t try to convince him. CSN spoke with Wall on a video story; here’s a snippet …

“There’s gonna be an opportunity to throw a pitch at him to try and get him to come back home,” Wall said. “But knowing him he’s really going to be focused on taking care of Oklahoma City this season, and I’m going to be focused on taking care of the Washington Wizards.

“When the time is right and he can get away from all that, we’ll probably have some conversation and throw a pitch.”

 

Rather than reveal the rest, take a few seconds and listen for yourself.

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No. 3: Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder — What can a surprise performer do for an encore? We’ll all be watching and wondering about Hassan Whiteside, the journeyman big man who came out of nowhere to bolster the Heat in the wake of LeBron James‘ departure. There will be lots on the line for Whiteside, most notably money; he can cash in big time next summer, when he’ll be a free agent and the salary cap will rise. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel spoke with him…

By now, we all know the story. Last year Whiteside rose from D-League reject to the talk of the NBA. After being out of the league, he captivated the media by sharing tales of growing tired of eating rice while playing in China and witnessing car-bombings in Lebanon.

He endured these sometimes-uncomfortable experiences abroad, and spent time in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa, before earning another shot in the NBA. And Whiteside took advantage of the Heat’s gamble by averaging 11.8 points and 10 rebounds in 48 games.

As he prepares for an encore performance, Whiteside will no longer have the surprise element. No more playful stories about his unlikely path here. No more candid talk about his rating on the NBA 2K video game.

All everyone is focused on is whether he can produce All-Star numbers, a situation Whiteside is comfortable with.

“There’s never any pressure on me,” Whiteside said. “There were people who never believed in me anyway, so I don’t expect you to start believing in me now.”

The 7-foot Whiteside sounds as if he’s spent the summer listening to uplifting Journey songs on repeat. He expects the success “goes on and on, and on, and on.” A year older, his boyish attributes evident when he arrived last December are long gone. His shoulders are less like a clothes hanger and more like Dwight Howard.

Most days, he’s worked out twice daily at AmericanAirlines Arena. Some of it is fine-tuning. Some of it is adding new dimensions he hopes will surprise competitors.

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No. 4: David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston — After grabbing a championship ring in Golden State, where his role was reduced with the emergence of Draymond Green, David Lee is looking for a recharge in Boston. It wasn’t too long ago when Lee was a double-double guy who could get 25 points or 15 rebounds on any given night. He still believes he’s that type of player, and recently spoke with Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com

The Celtics believe that Lee, acquired this offseason in a swap with the Golden State Warriors, can help a young and impressionable team take a step forward in large part because of his NBA experiences, particularly after winning a title last season.

“I don’t think David wants to think of himself as old, because he’s not — he’s still a young guy in a lot of ways,” said Stevens. “But I think that, any time you have guys that have seen it and been there, I think what they can share is important. And the challenge is being able to share that within what you’re doing because he’s got a transition to make with regard to learning me and learning how we’re trying to play and learning our guys that he’s playing with and everything else. I think he’ll make that transition smoothly. He’s a really bright guy. And I will encourage him to be open in communicating to all those younger guys because I think that’s important.”

The Celtics are hopeful that Lee, a two-time All-Star who was averaging nearly a double-double at 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game just two seasons ago, can not only provide leadership but get back to being an impactful player a season after he accepted a reduced role to aid Golden State’s title hunt.

Lee moved to the Boston area a month ago to get acclimated and joined many of the team’s younger players for what he playfully called the “preseason to the preseason” with daily workouts. While Boston brought back 10 total players from last season’s squad that utilized a second-half surge to earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, Lee has begun trying to establish himself as a veteran leader despite learning a new system.

“I think, for me, it’s just about being myself,” said Lee. “I’ve been in the league a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, both good and bad. And I think that I’m a guy that, a lot of times, leads by example. I’m a hard-working guy and I think that’s something that’s good for the young guys to see, when their veterans are hard-workers, because at that point they have no choice but to fall in line and do the same. For the veteran guys, it sets the tone, both in training camp and preseason as the season goes along.

“I’m just going to be myself. I think I’m a pretty likable guy and a guy that can set a good tone by my work ethic.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer sat for a Q&A and addressed Al Horford’s free agency next summer … Gerald Wallace waived by the Sixers … Tom Thibodeau is sitting in on Bobcats practices … the Sixers thought about chasing Jimmy Butler last summer, but didn’t.

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 10


VIDEO: Day 9 of the FIBA Americas tournament

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: World Peace, Lakers inch toward deal | Favors enjoying life in Utah | Sefolosha rejects deal in nightclub case | Jay Williams’ laments of youth

No. 1: Report: World Peace closing in on Lakers return — Metta World Peace made the basket that helped lock up the Los Angeles Lakers’ last championship. But, he hasn’t played for the Los Angeles Lakers since 2012-13 and hasn’t been in the NBA since a 29-game stint with the New York Knicks in 2013-14. However, it is looking more and more like a Los Angeles reunion is in the works for World Peace, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Free agent Metta World Peace has begun to work out daily at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility, inching closer to a return to the franchise on a one-year contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

World Peace, 35, started participating in informal workouts with Lakers players this week at the team’s facility in El Segundo, Calif., and is expected to continue through the start of Lakers training camp later this month, league sources said. No deal has been agreed upon, but there’s an increasing expectation that will happen this month, league sources said.

World Peace had been in the Lakers’ practice facility earlier this summer, too, working against 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle, sources said.

World Peace has been out of the NBA since the New York Knicks waived him during the 2013-14 season. He played last season in China and Italy. Lakers officials are growing in the belief that World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, has evolved into a mature veteran who can impact a young roster with his toughness and resolve, league sources said.

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