Posts Tagged ‘Andrea Bargnani’

Thunder Keep Rolling With Easy Christmas Win


VIDEO: Westbrook leads OKC to easy win over Knicks

NEW YORK — Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are the league’s two leading scorers. Any comparison between the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks ends there. And with Anthony sidelined with a sprained ankle, their Christmas Day matchup was not a fair fight. The Thunder rolled 123-94. Durant scored 29 points, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, and neither needed to play the fourth quarter.

The Thunder are a machine right now. They’ve won 18 of their last 20 games, with the league’s second-best defense in that time. At 23-5, they are tied for the league’s best record with Portland and Indiana. They rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and, given their matchup advantages over the San Antonio Spurs, are the favorite to get back to The Finals.

Go back two months and we were wondering if they’d be able to stay near the top of the Western Conference with Westbrook recovering from knee surgery and their bench going through more changes. Well, Westbrook is just fine. He shot poorly on Wednesday, but finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in just 29 minutes.

“He had a triple-double in three quarters,” Durant said. “I think that speaks for itself.”

Health has obviously been a much bigger concern for the Knicks, but with or without Anthony, they’re a mess. The loss dropped them to 9-19 overall and 4-11 at Madison Square Garden. As if to introduce the national TV audience to their atrocious defense, they sent two guys to double-team Durant in the low post on the Thunder’s second possession of the afternoon, leaving Serge Ibaka wide open for a short jumper.

Getting into the paint relatively easily, Westbrook found more wide-open teammates throughout the afternoon. The Thunder recorded 32 assists on their 45 field goals.

“Our offense was probably the best we played all season,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said afterward. “Our ball movement, our ability to make the extra pass for shots was outstanding tonight.”

While the Knicks can’t seem to find any answers to their long list of problems, the Thunder seem to have everything figured out. They lost James Harden and then his replacement, Kevin Martin, over the last two offseasons. Yet they only broke stride when Westbrook went down with a knee injury in the 2013 playoffs.

Without Martin this season, the OKC bench has been the best in the league. While their starters had been outscored by 8.2 points per 100 possessions before Wednesday, all other OKC lineups were a plus-12.2 per 100. Their best per-possession plus-minus (NetRtg) marks all belong to their reserves. Reggie Jackson taken his experience from the postseason and turned into a serious playmaker, while Jeremy Lamb has replaced Martin’s perimeter shooting.

“They’re just buying in to what we need them to do, and they’ve been helping us a lot,” Durant said of the young reserves. “We’re just growing together.”

“I thought everybody came back focused and understanding we have to get better as a group,” Brooks added, “and not one guy needs to step up for the guys that we lost.”

And really, the Thunder depth is a perfect representation of the contrast between the two franchises. OKC is thriving because of the young players it has developed. Of its top nine guys in minutes played, only two — Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha — have played for another franchise.

The Knicks have imported most of their roster, haven’t had any kind of continuity over the last several years, and have paid the price. The latest square peg is Andrea Bargnani and the only guy they’ve had a chance to develop — Iman Shumpert — is the guy most mentioned in trade rumors.

There should be no more doubting the Thunder’s decision-making. Within the confines of a much stricter budget than New York’s, GM Sam Presti has made the right picks and his coaches have made the most of them.

“I take pride in guys getting better every year and I think it’s a reflection of our staff,” Brooks said, noting that the development of the team’s younger players is also a product of its stars’ work ethic. “We have great leaders in our locker room. They understand that how they perform and how they work trickles down to the rest of the team. And Kevin and Russell have done a great job of that.”

The Thunder continue to roll, game to game, season to season. They lose big-name players, move younger guys into bigger roles, and remain at the top of the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Offseason Hits And Misses

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


Down with divisions | Missing in Golden State | Offseason hits and misses



VIDEO: Monta Ellis’ nails game-winner vs. Blazers

Which offseason acquisition has been awesome? Which not so much?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comKevin Martin is doing precisely what Minnesota needed and sought, and doing it so well that he’s rejuvenated as a player too. You’d have thought a spot with the contending Thunder team might have brought out the best in Martin but the starts and minutes he’s getting with the Timberwolves, under familiar coach Rick Adelman, have him thriving (22.7 ppg, 6.5 FTA). Worst? Gotta give a group stink-bomb award here to the Brooklyn Nets’ not-so-big four of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko for reasons — injuries, yes, but worse — that have been chronicled ad nauseam.

Dwight Howard (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Dwight Howard (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDwight Howard has made the Rockets a force, if not yet a true contender. The Rockets are still feeling their way along, have not yet found a consistent rhythm or plan of attack. Yet Howard is doing what he’s supposed to do in the middle, second in the league in rebounding and Houston is still 15-7 with much room for improvement. Runners-up: Andre Iguodala and Robin LopezOn the downside, Kevin Garnett: 6 points per game, 36 percent shooting. And I’m not sure there is a “yet.” Enough said.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comHard to argue with Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix. The Suns are 12-9 — who saw that coming? — and he’s averaging 18.6 ppg and 6.2 apg. Pretty heady stuff for Chris Paul‘s former backup. At the other end, here’s a two-for-one: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The good news is that it can’t get any worse. Right?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBest job: Dwight Howard, followed by Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis and Marco Belinelli in some order. Most people will want to put a helmet on Howard no matter what, but the production cannot be denied. Also, I’m not ready to put Michael Carter-Williams in the conversation yet, but I could see adding him at the end of the list if this production continues and his shot gets a little better (which everyone knew would be an issue). MCW is putting up some numbers that rank among all players, not just rookies. Not coming through: Kevin Garnett over Paul Pierce. No, wait. Pierce over Garnett. Let’s just make it a field entry. Boston to Brooklyn doesn’t seem like brutal travel, but they got completely lost along the way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDwight Howard is doing the best job. He’s not the same player he was in his Orlando heyday, but he’s still the best player among those who changed teams this summer and is still making an impact for the Rockets, who are among the most improved teams on both ends of the floor. I’m not including rookies for the second part (Hello, Anthony Bennett!), so Jared Dudley is my choice. I don’t know how your 3-point percentage can go from 39 percent to 32 percent when you go from playing for the Suns to playing alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but Dudley’s has. And he’s not making much of an impact elsewhere. The Clippers have been better both offensively and defensively with him on the bench.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Monta Ellis is getting the job done in Dallas. There is no doubt about it. He might have been the last big name free-agent to get his deal done, but he’s been far more productive than most of his critics imagined he’d be in a system that demands much more defensively than he was used to giving in either Golden State or Milwaukee. He’s not a candidate for the All-Defensive Team or anything, but he’s making strides. And he’s taken a ton of pressure off of Dirk Nowitzki at this critical stage in his career. Kudos to the Mavericks for taking the risk and cashing in … early on here. Injuries have prevented Al Jefferson from making the impact I thought he would in Charlotte. But that’s a good thing, in a roundabout way, because that means a solid team could get even more from the big man who was supposed to provide that low-post threat and presence on a nightly basis. Big Al hasn’t come through in that way just yet. He can, however, and probably will as the season progresses. And that’s a great thing for the Bobcats, who need to keep their early-season playoff groove going in the wilted Eastern Conference.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: It’s funny that you don’t hear that much talk about him, at least like we did last season, but Dwight Howard has been pretty great for the Rockets. He’s scoring 17 a game, grabbing 13.2 rebounds per game, and the Rockets are 15-7 overall. More relevantly, we don’t have to listen to endless rumors about what the future holds for Dwight. As for a guy we’re still waiting to break out, Andrea Bargnani has been pretty disappointing in New York I don’t think anyone expected him to come in and turn into Wilt Chamberlain, but I expected more than 14 and 5 per game.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I really like how Brandon Jennings is playing right now. He has paired wonderfully with Rodney Stuckey in the Pistons’ backcourt and has already made an impact as the team features in the 6th spot of the East. I am between him and Dwight Howard, who has regained his dominance in the key. As for “Superman,” the most interesting number is “22”. Out of 22. Meaning that he has played in all of the Rockets’ games. When he is healthy he can be an instant game-changer. As for the player who has not come through yet, I have to go with Paul Pierce, who is struggling with career-lows in points and field-goal percentage.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Over in Dallas, Monta Ellis is turning heads and breaking ankles as he seems to be as comfortable as he has ever been in his career. Ellis is putting up his most efficient season in years, meshing in well with his new coach and teammates. He is averaging team highs in points, assists, and steals, and has the Mavericks off to a respectable start. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Celtics-turned-Nets Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who – after all the hoopla – have had a nightmare start to the season and need to get their bearings soon to help their new team get back to winning ways.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Apart from Iguodala, who meshed perfectly with the Warriors’ core from the start, I love the jobs that Nate Robinson and Paul Millsap are doing. Both have clear job profiles that fit their style of play, and they execute the gameplan to perfection. Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin and J.J. Redick also deserve to be mentioned. On the negative side, I think Josh Smith is the front-runner with Tyreke Evans a close second. The Pistons’ roster just doesn’t fit together very nicely, and Evans’ start in New Orleans has been derailed by injury.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe improving, may try to play Sunday | Bargnani’s ejection fires up Knicks fans | Nets’ rough season puzzles Lopez | Blazers turn to iPads for in-game help

No. 1: Bryant may try to play Sunday; says left ankle is improving — Three days ago, it was somewhat of a big deal that Kobe Bryant, who is still recovering from Achilles surgery, dunked in practice. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Bryant would not play tonight when the Lakers travel to Sacramento. But after practicing Thursday and citing improvement in his left ankle, Kobe may be back in the lineup in a matter of days — perhaps even playing Sunday night when the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors (9:30 ET, NBA TV). ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times have reports on Bryant’s progress and potential return.

First, here’s McMenamin’s report on a potential Sunday return:

Kobe Bryant continues to hone in his aim toward a return date after spending nearly eight months sidelined following Achilles surgery.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ home game against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday is his latest target.

“I’m trying,” Bryant said after practice Thursday when asked specifically about the Toronto game. “We got to see how it feels tonight. I’m going to try to get another hard session in and then [Friday] morning try to push it again and the same thing tomorrow evening. Continue to just keep on measuring it.”

Bryant wouldn’t definitively say Sunday would be the day, but if not, Tuesday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns seems to be his next most likely comeback date.

“I think days,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked to estimate how far away Bryant is from getting back on the court for a game.

“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means, but I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player,” Bryant said.

The 18-year veteran said that he would “probably” have a reduced amount of playing time when he does return to game action. He averaged 38.6 minutes per game last season.

“Getting your sea legs, it takes some time to do that,” Bryant said. “That’s why we have preseason games and it builds to the regular season. It just takes awhile, no matter how much running and conditioning you do, to get out there and play is different. So, I’m sure I’ll be limited in some capacity.”

And here’s Bolch on Kobe’s improving left ankle, which is a key component to figuring out any return for the Lakers’ star:

Kobe Bryant practiced for a third consecutive day Thursday and said he felt improvement in his left ankle.

“It feels stronger this morning than it did yesterday before practice,” Bryant said, “and it’s less sore now than it was after last practice, so that’s progression.”

Bryant said he had already experienced enhanced range of motion in the ankle from a previous series of consecutive practices last month.

“After the first day or so the last time I practiced, my range of motion became restricted and everything kind of locked up and I wasn’t able to run and change directions and sprint like I really wanted to,” Bryant said, “I don’t feel like I have any limitations [now], really. The change of gear is not quite where I want it to be, but it’s easy to compensate through that and go out there and be effective.”

There was a rarity at practice: Bryant played with the second team, though it was only to allow the first-teamers to prepare for their game Friday against Sacramento.

Bryant spent the portion of practice reporters were allowed to observe shooting jumpers and free throws. He swished several long three-pointers and seemed to move with ease.

“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means,” Bryant said, “but I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player.”

Bryant said he needed to break up lingering scar tissue in his ankle through movement and therapy. He said he was pleased with his conditioning but still needed to get into basketball shape.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about Thursday’s practice, his plans to return

***

No. 2: Crowd cheers Bargnani for ejection against Nets — Since coming over to the Knicks in an offseason trade with the Raptors, big man Andrea Bargnani has frustrated New York fans with inconsistent play and struggles (just like the rest of the Knicks have done all season, too). But his inspired play last night at Barclays Center against the rival Brooklyn Nets — and his refusal to back down to future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett — got cheers from the crowd. Bargnani outplayed Garnett and was even trash talking him, too, which got him tossed from last night’s game, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

A large portion of the pro-Knicks crowd at Barclays Center stood up and cheered as Andrea Bargnani walked off the court with 8:23 left after his first NBA ejection for jawing with trash-talk king Kevin Garnett.

More impressive was as the 7-foot Italian headed for the tunnel after his second technical, the Knicks players on the court and bench were on their feet clapping too.

Bargnani had set the tone of the evening with a monstrous driving dunk down the right baseline and then ended it in style with an ejection that earned him major kudos in the giddy Knicks’ locker room.

“We need him to get upset like that,’’ J.R. Smith said. “We need him to get engaged. He played great but it was the wrong referee [Joey Crawford] making the call.’’

But his grappling and jawing with Garnett was refreshingly out of character.

“He held it down for us,’’ said Carmelo Anthony, whose profane battle with Garnett cost the Knicks a game last season against the Celtics. “He played well. He got kicked out when he didn’t think he was supposed to. Sometimes you got to do that. Tonight he was the sacrificial lamb. He got kicked out tonight, but it might have been worth it.’ ’’

It began with 9:12 left when Bargnani and Garnett became entangled and both tried grabbing each other’s jersey on the way down and pushing as they tried to get up. They each received technicals.

That wasn’t the end of it. Less than a minute later, Bargnani, after draining a 21-foot catch-and shoot, started yapping at Garnett on the way back downcourt. Crawford blew his whistle and sent Barngani to the showers with the Knicks up 30 points.

Bargnani said he was speaking English. But when Garnett, who had six points, was asked what Bargnani had said, he cracked, “I don’t understand Italian.’’

Bargnani had the last laugh, though.

“We were both talking,’’ he said. “There is no point to talking about it. We were both talking. I got ejected. I was far away from Joey. He just pointed.’’

It clearly wasn’t a subject Bargnani wanted to discuss. Unfortunately, his career in Toronto was marked by criticism he was too detached and not fiery enough.

“It’s not important,’’ Bargnani said. “The game is important and that we won. We got to use this positive energy and start building. I don’t think you can be happy about an ejection but we got the game. My ejection was just part of the game. The most important thing is we played great.’’


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani gets ejected after trash-talking with Kevin Garnett

***

No. 3: Lopez: Nets season ‘more bizarre’ than 12-win campaign — Nets center Brook Lopez is arguably the best player Brooklyn has healthy as it plays most nights without the injured Paul Pierce and Deron Williams. Lopez has been with the Nets his whole career and has seen highs and lows, both personally and team-wise, but perhaps the worst point for the Nets as a team was a 12-win season in 2009-10. In an interview with Fred Kerber of the New York Post following last night’s loss to the Knicks, Lopez expounds on the disappointing and strange season so far in Brooklyn:

“I thought I got the craziness out of the way early, I thought I’d be done with it,” said Lopez, pointing back to the nightmare of his second season, the nauseating 12-70 record in 2009-10 when the Nets were a mere 29 games out of the playoffs. “This is definitely more bizarre than that, though.”

Yeah, tumbling to a 5-14 record after a 113-83 embarrassment against the now 4-13 Knicks Thursday at Barclays Center could be considered bizarre. Coaches and players spoke of defensive systems being inserted on the fly. That’s sort of different from the championship aspirations both teams espoused in the offseason.

Now add various injuries, the hiring of a future Hall of Fame player but unproven coach, the most widely reported demotion of an assistant coach in memory to all those thus-far failed expectations and you have REALLY bizarre.

“It’s been tough,” said Lopez, whose 24 points and nine rebounds, eight offensive, went for naught. “Obviously, it’s not going the way I think anyone planned it would. But you’ve got to stick with it. We have a lot of guys that have been around the league, been through [it] on good teams and bad teams so we know what we have to do.”

So why haven’t they done it?

“I don’t really want to blame injuries because I still feel we’re better than a lot of teams we played. I don’t know if it’s chemistry either because I’ve rarely been on a team like this where everyone really gets along with each other and respects each other,” Lopez said. “I don’t know if it’s just energy or what.”

Only 25 and in his sixth season. With all he has experienced already, the longest tenured current Net just feels like he has been around a lot longer. And despite all he has seen, he is still susceptible to surprises. Case in point: this season.

“Absolutely,” said Lopez. “I couldn’t have predicted this at the beginning of the season. I feel like I have more seasons than I do under my belt. Absolutely.”

***

No. 4: Blazers turn to iPads for in-game video — Across the NBA, teams have perhaps the deepest amount of video analysis of games, players and teams than ever before (heck, even fans can get nitty gritty with video on NBA.com/stats). The addition of SportVU cameras to every NBA arena before the season to track player movement along with the video research every team does on its own has made scouting deeper than ever. But the Portland Trail Blazers are taking that video-based scouting to a new level with their use of iPads during games to provide their players with assessments of what’s happening and what they can improve. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on this new scouting format that Portland is using:

Projectors are long gone, replaced with sophisticated computer software and tablet apps that have transformed scouting, game preparation and in-game management. Look closely at a Blazers game on television and you might spot LaMarcus Aldridge or Wesley Matthews sitting on the bench staring at an iPad. They’re watching video clips of themselves from earlier in the game, hoping to find tendencies or tips that might give them an edge.

But the Blazers’ use of iPads extends well beyond a couple of players scrutinizing video a couple of times during games. This season, the Blazers have started using iPads extensively as a tool, handing out the easy-to-use Apple devices to every player on the roster and loading them with scouting reports, defensive assignments, game clips and more. Before practices, before games — even after games on planes — the Blazers have access to hours of video at their fingertips.

“I think the league is kind of on the cutting edge, on the forefront, of video technology,” Stotts said. “With the sports in-house cameras and all the statistical data that they provide, the use of video replay and the continued use and expansion of video replay; it’s well thought out, it’s trying to make the game better, improve players, coaches, management. I think the NBA has always been on the cutting edge of digital video and this is the next step.”

Each of the Blazers has a personalized iPad, complete with a sticker on the back featuring his uniform number. When players walk into the locker room at the practice facility for a workout — or into any locker room in any NBA city before a game — the iPads are usually waiting on their chairs.

They feature a full scouting report of that night’s opponent and a variety of video clips tailored to each player, featuring clips of themselves and their opponents. Before that game against the Suns, Freeland had access to his offensive possessions not only from recent Blazers games, but also from the first meeting versus the Suns, which provided insight into how the Suns might defend him later that night. He also had access to the offensive clips of every player he might guard that night — including Plumlee, Channing Frye and Alex Len — which allowed him to look for tendencies and go-to moves just before tipoff.

Every team in the NBA uses video for scouting in one way or another. For years, organizations have housed video departments and employed video coordinators — Jonathan Yim fills the role for the Blazers — who have been instrumental in helping coaches make in-game adjustments. That used to be relegated to halftime meetings, when coaches would show clips on screens in locker rooms and tweak defensive coverages or offensive sets.

But the NBA altered its rules prior to the 2012-13 season. Now, teams are allowed to review video from any game — including the one they are playing — on the bench as long as it does not feature a live video feed. Aldridge and Matthews are the Blazers players who most often take advantage of the rule change, and they regularly peruse clips in-game on iPads.

During the first half of Wednesday night’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Aldridge was pulled from the game and, about two minutes later, an intern from the video department left the video room with an iPad and delivered it to the bench. Aldridge went on to have a monster game, recording a career-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, perhaps aided by a tip he picked up from the iPad.

Not only do players have access to the iPads for pregame scouting and in-game adjusting, they also have the ability to watch them when they travel. After every game, Yim instantly loads each player’s iPad with clips from the just-completed game in case they want to watch them as they head to the next city. It’s not mandatory that players watch video during a flight, and some purposely avoid doing so to clear their heads. But others say it helps to watch as soon as they can.

“That’s part of the reason why I don’t sleep,” Matthews said. “I’m playing the game over and over in my head. It’s easier for me to look at it right away. It’s better for me because I can look at it and I can see everything right away, rather than make it more dramatic in my mind.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks are planning an in-game acknowledgement of Kyle Korver once he breaks the consecutive games with a 3-pointer streak … Wizards center Marcin Gortat is concerned that rookie Otto Porter, Jr. might not hold up in an NBA game … A sore knee will likely keep Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams out at least one game

ICYMI Of The Night: Nothing like a nice at-the-rim denial (from DeAndre Jordan on Jon Leuer) to get your weekend started right …


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan gets up to deny Jon Leuer at the rim

Nets Take Laughingstock Title Away From Knicks


VIDEO: The Knicks thump the Nets in a 30-point win

BROOKLYN — As the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks accumulated a surprisingly sad 8-26 cumulative record, it became abundantly clear that neither team could defend to save its season. Entering Thursday’s matchup of the busted boroughs, the Knicks ranked 28th defensively and the Nets ranked 30th.

Only one of the two teams took advantage of this fact, and the Knicks ran away with a 113-83 victory at Barclays Center, ending their nine-game losing streak.

On Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony said his team was “the laughingstock of the league.” But 24 hours later, they’ve been stripped of that title.

The Nets have the worst 3-point defense in the NBA, allowing their opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc entering Thursday’s game. They’re slow and deliberate on both ends of the floor, but really lack the foot speed to help in the paint and then recover to the 3-point line. So it only takes a dribble drive or a ball reversal for their opponent to get an open look from the outside.

The Knicks knew this, moved the ball and fired away on Thursday, hitting a season-high 16 threes on 27 attempts. Anthony (six assists and only 12 shots) shared the ball, Iman Shumpert (5-for-7 from 3-point range) shot with confidence, and the Knicks looked like the team they were last season, when they set an NBA record for 3-point makes and attempts, ranked third in offensive efficiency, and racked up 54 wins.

Against the league’s third-worst defense, the Nets should have been similarly efficient. With Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire as two of their three rotation bigs, the Knicks have consistently been torched on pick-and-rolls this season, often escorting opposing ball-handlers to the basket.

Yet the Nets went a good 10 minutes of the first quarter without running a pick-and-roll once. They too often tried to run their offense through the post, which allowed Bargnani and Stoudemire to stay stationary. The few times they did make those guys move, they got good shots.

Part of that is coaching. Though Brook Lopez led all scorers with 24 points, the Nets’ offense could have been a lot more effective as a whole if he was catching the ball on the move more than in the post. Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball and his players moving offensively. It’s far too early to say that hiring him was a mistake, but we’ve seen enough to say that he’s not a very good coach right now.

Injuries are obviously an issue. The Nets are still without Deron Williams, by far their biggest threat off the dribble. With Williams sitting out for the 10th time in the last 11 games, point guard duties were again left to Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor. Livingston is athletic, but not all that quick. Taylor is quick, but shaky and inexperienced.

Still, Brooklyn could have run more pick-and-rolls with both, or with Joe Johnson, and just tried to make the New York defense move. They didn’t and they lost by 30.

Both Kidd and Kevin Garnett cited the injuries when discussing their struggles after the game. Garnett added that the Nets are making changes in the wake of Lawrence Frank‘s sudden departure from the bench.

“Those things play a big part into this,” Garnett said. “I’m a firm believer when we’re whole and we have our team full throttle, then that’s what I believe in. Obviously, I believe in the guys that’s put on the floor and we’re going to give it an effort, but when you’re playing teams, you want to play at your whole. That’s what I believe in. And I’m not going to believe anything else until we are whole.”

Before the game, Kidd said that “we all feel confident we have enough to win.” After the game, he asked not to be judged until his team is healthy.

“I think you get evaluated by being whole,” he said. “It starts there. And then once that occurs, then you’re evaluated. That’s as simple as it gets.”

Yes, the Nets are missing four of their top eight guys. And Williams’ importance became even more clear on Thursday. But the Nets still lost at home … by 30 points … to a team that hadn’t won in three weeks and is missing its most important player. The injury excuse only goes so far. And while Williams will help the Brooklyn offense, the defense isn’t going to start looking like that of the Heat upon his return.

Tyson Chandler’s eventual return isn’t going to solve all New York’s problems either. The Knicks are still a long way from digging out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, especially because they don’t get to play the Nets again until Jan. 20. But they do have a relatively soft schedule over the next two weeks and certainly found some confidence Thursday.

Will that translate into a run up the standings? Even if it doesn’t, at least they’re not the laughingstock of the league anymore.

Air Check: Did He Just Say That?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

aircheck-250Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Did he just say that? Part I

The New York Knicks were having a rough afternoon a couple of Sundays ago, getting outscored 35-17 in the first quarter on their way to a 31-point loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

Without Tyson Chandler, New York is obviously having a hard time defending. So late in the second quarter of that game against the Spurs, Mike Woodson made an offense-for-defense substitution … well, according to Clyde Frazier.


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire’s defense doesn’t pay dividends for New York

Mike Breen, speaking of Andrea Bargnani, says “He’s starting to come out of it offensively, although defensively is where all the problems were today, so far.”

Never fear. Here comes Amar’e Stoudemire.

“That’s why STAT checks in,” Frazier says, “because you want some defense out there.”

Wait a minute … Did he just say that? About Amar’e Stoudemire?

To illustrate Clyde’s point, Stoudemire proceeds to shove Tim Duncan in an attempt to defend the Spurs’ pick-and-roll.

Did he just say that? Part II

Klay Thompson was off to a rough start in Monday’s game in Utah, missing seven of his eight shots in the first quarter. At a dead ball, Warriors analyst Jim Barnett has some advice for Thompson and actually looks pretty brilliant as Thompson commits an offensive foul for not following that advice.

But then Barnett says something not so brilliant …


VIDEO: Jim Barnett’s value of Klay Thompson is a little off

“I can tell you,” Barnett says, “off the top of my head, Klay Thompson … Only two players I’d ever think about trading right now, LeBron and Kevin Durant. Those are the only two.”

Wait a minute … Did he just say that?

“That’s what I think of Klay Thompson,” Barnett continues, “and how good he’s going to be.”

Vintage Tommy

This is our third week of Air Check this season and we haven’t had any Tommy Heinsohn yet. So here you go …


VIDEO: It just isn’t a Celtics game with Tommy Heinsohn’s frustration …

C’mahn!

(Supposedly) Stumbling Knicks Somehow Find A Way To Recover




VIDEO: Knicks handled the Hawks at Philips Arena in a “must-win” game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is this what passes for pressure these days in the NBA? This is desperation mode?

You couldn’t tell from watching the New York Knicks in the lead up to their “must-win” victory over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night at Philips Arena, a game that was overshadowed by loads of off-court drama and the guarantee from Knicks owner Jim Dolan that his team would prevail on this night.

Not when the rookies, led by Tim Hardaway Jr., show up with a chocolate cake (lit candles and all) for Metta World Peace on his birthday at the post-shootaround team luncheon in a hotel ballroom. (That rousing rendition of Happy Birthday won’t get any of the Knicks’ youngsters or veterans on The Voice, by the way.)

Not when your current trade rumors swirl around Iman Shumpert and he and his coach, Mike Woodson, brush them aside and move on to the business at hand like nothing’s going on.

It’s not that the Knicks weren’t smarting from their sluggish start to this season or their humiliating home loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday at MSG. They were and they still are and will continue to do so with another test tonight against the Houston Rockets at the Garden (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

But they’re not going to let the drama consume them. They issued their own guarantee with their win over the Hawks, a game they led at one time by 17 points, only to have to come back in the fourth quarter to secure the win. They’ll find a way out of this current rut, even if it takes a little longer than the outside world (mainly Knicks fans and Knicks haters) can stomach, guarantee from the owner or not.

“He said what he said but we had to come out here and play,” Carmelo Anthony said after leading the Knicks with 25 points, which included a six-point spurt in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the win. “We had to win for ourselves first and foremost. But now that we’ve won, we can give him that satisfaction.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ win in Atlanta

The Knicks are taking their cues from Woodson, who has spent as much time in the pressure cooker this season as any coach in the league. But Woodson has done some of the best work under pressure at Philips Arena over the past decade (including his six seasons as the Hawks’ coach) than most any coach anywhere.

There’s no sense in driving his team to the brink when everyone outside of it assumes they are already there. Sure, he tweaked his starting lineup, inserting J.R. Smith in just his second game back from a five-game suspension. His lineup tweak also served Andrea Bargnani well. Bargnani will never be able to replace the defensive presence that Tyson Chandler (broken fibula) is for the Knicks. But Bargnani played well, finishing with 20 points and a season-high 11 rebounds while knocking down two critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

Anthony, in particular, seemed surprisingly at ease after the game.

“This was a great way to kind of get back on track,” he said. “Anytime you can win on the road, it’s always a big win. We came through with a much better effort than we had against San Antonio. I’m glad to see how we responded and put that game behind us.”

The drama won’t go away, of course. It never does in New York. The trade rumors, the overreaction after every stumble, the seemingly never-ending speculation about Woodson’s job security, it’ll all be there again in the next 24-hour cycle of panic.

It’s how they handle it that matters.

The Knicks’ renewed focus on defense and a return to their low turnover ways (just three against the Hawks) plus Woodson’s unwavering approach will help the Knicks find a way.

“Bottom line,” Woodson said, “we’re here to win. And when we step on the floor I expect guys to play to help us win.”


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson pleased with team’s effort vs. Hawks

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

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

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

20131102_hou_side_pnr

If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Westbrook’s return ahead of schedule | World Peace, not Bargnani, likely to start | Parsons says Beverley will start at PG | Malone rips Kings’ effort in practice | Suns trying to determine Bledsoe’s value

No. 1: Report: Westbrook may return in 2 weeksEarlier this month, the Thunder got news that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would need a second surgical procedure on his ailing right knee. That meant that Westbrook would likely miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, putting his return to OKC’s lineup somewhere in December. But the Thunder may be getting some good news soon, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com, as Westbrook is healing up quick.:

Oklahoma Thunder star Russell Westbrook has made significant progress in his recovery from a second surgical procedure on his knee and could return to the Thunder’s lineup within two weeks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder issued an original timetable of six to eight weeks from Wednesday’s opening night for Westbrook, but barring an unforeseen setback he could be back in the lineup by mid-November.

Westbrook began participating in Thunder practice sessions and has impressed everyone with his explosion and fast return to form, sources said.

***

No. 2: Knicks likely to start Metta World Peace, not Bargnani — As we reported in this space a few days ago, Knicks coach Mike Woodson didn’t sound totally committed to a Carmelo AnthonyAndrea BargnaniTyson Chandler frontline for opening night. That appears to definitely be the case now as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Woodson will more than likely start Metta World Peace alongside Anthony and Chandler and use Bargnani as a sixth man:

Arrivederci Andrea.

Andrea Bargnani, who started all seven preseason games in an experimental jumbo frontcourt, is expected to be demoted to the bench for Wednesday’s season opener against the Bucks at the Garden.

Though coach Mike Woodson refused to make it official, all indications point to Bargnani becoming a reserve, Metta World Peace starting at small forward and Carmelo Anthony heading back to power forward.

Consider the big frontcourt experiment of Tyson Chandler-Bargnani-Melo a preseason failure.

Woodson still said he wants to “sleep on it’’ but Anthony said he believes it’s happening.

“I didn’t expect it, we didn’t expect it,’’ Anthony said. “That’s what he’s going with. I think guys are ready for the move. Everyone seems on board with that. Whatever position we have to play, we have to go out and do it.’’

Anthony thrived at power forward last season in his career year in which he finished third in the MVP voting. Woodson is going with what he knows worked, but if Bargnani had thrived, this wouldn’t have happened.

“It really doesn’t matter to me,’’ Anthony said of playing the 3 or 4. “I’ve been successful in this league at the three. Last year I was successful at the four. Whatever adjustments I have to make, I have to make. I’m willing to do that.’’


VIDEO: Mike Woodson on his possible plans for the starting lineup

***

No. 3: Rockets’ Parsons: Beverley, not Lin, to start — As the Houston Rockets ready for the season opener tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was very non-committal about who would be in his starting five for the game. But one of his players, small forward Chandler Parsons, revealed a bit of information regarding the starting point guard job between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com:

Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale again was reluctant to acknowledge who his starting five would be on opening night. One of his players was more forthcoming.

“Yes,” McHale said when asked if he had a starting five set for Wednesday night. That was followed by a question asking if he’d tell the media who that is. “No,” McHale answered.

Chandler Parsons was asked if the players had been told who the starters would be and he sounded almost surprised that McHale had not shared that with the media.

“I don’t know why it’s a big surprise,” Parsons said. “It’s the same as how the preseason ended.”

That means Patrick Beverley will not only make his first opening night roster, he’ll be making his first opening night start.

“I haven’t had the fortune to play in the NBA on opening night,” Beverley said. “It’s going to be my first. I’m definitely excited.”

The starting five last year was Asik, Marcus Morris, Parsons, Harden and Jeremy Lin.

***

No. 4: Malone lays into Kings after practice — New Kings coach Mike Malone is trying to build a winner in Sacramento while also attempting to reverse the losing culture that has permeated the franchise in recent seasons. As such, he’s tried to instill a stronger work ethic and more overall effort from the Kings each game and — at least based on the preseason — his strategy might be working. The Kings wrapped up the exhibition season at 5-2, but a lackluster effort in Tuesday’s practice drew Malone’s ire, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

“I asked what their record was in the preseason last year, and guess what it was?” Malone said. “It was 5-2. So the preseason doesn’t mean a damn thing, and for those guys who thought being 5-2 and doing some good things meant a lot, they couldn’t be further from the truth. And they’ll have a rude awakening Wednesday night when they play Denver.”…

“I would say (Monday) was probably our worst practice of the year,” Malone said. “If we (had played) a game (Monday), we would be zero and one to start the season.”

It was the first time Malone ripped his team’s effort after a practice. He said it was a collectively bad effort.

“The energy, the effort, the discipline, the focus just wasn’t there for whatever reason,” Malone said. “I can’t explain it. No excuse, no explanation. It was just a bad day for us, and we have to have a much better practice (today) heading into the regular season, three games in four nights.”

Some problems on the court occurred in areas Malone is adamant about improving – turnovers and defense.

The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA for a few years and cannot expect to change that by giving up easy points off turnovers.

“Carelessness with the ball, too many turnovers,” forward Patrick Patterson said of Monday’s practice. “Not getting back in transition, lack of communication, too many people not focused and people just taking it as a day to get by.

“Our coach said we have to get better every day. We can’t let one day get away from us.”

Patterson came to the Kings from a playoff team (Houston) in a February trade.

“Despite what we did in the preseason, we’re not that great of a team,” Patterson said. “We still have a lot to prove. We have a lot to work on.”

***

No. 5: Suns trying to nail down Bledsoe’s value — Phoenix has been impressed with the play of its new, young point guard, Eric Bledsoe, in the preseason. And the Suns have until Thursday at 9 p.m. to lock the guard into a long-term extension if they so choose to do so. The Suns like the idea of locking up Bledsoe, but where they’re having trouble is figuring out a fair-market value contract for him before that Thursday deadline, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

Eric Bledsoe is as difficult to compare in contracts as he is in skills.

The Suns point guard’s unique talents make for a redeeming quality. His incomparable contract value makes for a problem with a Thursday extension deadline looming.

With the roster and contract options settled, Bledsoe’s extension talks are the most pressing item on the Suns front office’s October to-do list.

The “to-do” is whether to do it or not. The Suns valued Bledsoe enough to be the aggressor and architect of a July three-team trade obtaining him. Making a long-term commitment to Bledsoe at an annual eight-figure salary would be a deeper pledge to potential.

The money part is the conundrum. Bledsoe is not going to be paid based on averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season for the Clippers. He was All-Star Chris Paul’s backup, logging 20.4 minutes per game. It had to be a bit scary for Phoenix to see Utah reward Derrick Favors, a three-year backup like Bledsoe, with an extension worth at least $49million over four years.

Bledsoe’s other draft classmates who received extensions are incomparable in talent, results or position — Washington point guard John Wall (five years, $80million), Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins (four years, $62million), Indiana All-Star swingman Paul George (five years, $80-plus million) and Milwaukee center Larry Sanders (four years, $44million).

The only backup to receive an extension from the previous draft, Chicago power forward Taj Gibson (four years, $38million), is also a hard comparison because he plays a less-valuable position and was with the Bulls for the prior three seasons. Since Bledsoe arrived in late September, the Suns barely know what they have in him and he has yet to play a regular-season game for them.

Bledsoe has not even achieved what Detroit’s Brandon Jennings did (averaging 17.0 points and 5.7 assists over four seasons) but likely expects more than Jennings’ three-year, $25million deal.

Bledsoe’s statistics and play will get better with an increased load and his untapped talent. Allowing him to raise his value during the season and become a top restricted free agent in July is dangerous.

The Suns have to weigh that against how a Bledsoe contract would eat into salary-cap space they have created for a major trade or free-agency signing (during Bledsoe’s would-be offer-sheet process).

But does Bledsoe even want an extension here? He has not talked about wanting Phoenix to be his long-term home when given the chance.

It might be hard for an organization that offered Eric Gordon $58million over four years to come in with less for Bledsoe. At the same time, how does it offer Bledsoe more than the annual $7.5million salary it gave Dragic? The good news: Restricted free agents rarely leave with nothing in return. Even the Joe Johnson debacle netted Boris Diaw and two first-round picks.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Surely, being Derrick Rose is nice life to lead. It’s probably even nicer when the President of the United States gives you a shoutout on Twitter … Great read by the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell on the two grandmas who helped raise Al Jefferson … Nuggets guard Ty Lawson will be a game-time decision tonightSolid Q&A with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who fields questions on Joe Dumars‘ future and more … For the record — Kevin Garnett is a Wolverine guy, Brook Lopez is a Batman guy

ICYMI Of The Night: Heat reserve guard Norris Cole better save this highlight on his computer, because you know Derrick Rose will get him back for it sometime this season …


VIDEO: Norris Cole crosses up Derrick Rose

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant driven to win title | Noah says he’s ready for opener | Nash may rest on back-to-backs | Granger out for 2 games | Woodson pondering Bargnani’s role

No. 1: Durant learning not to ‘obsess’ over title runWhether you are an Oklahoma City fan or not, NBA followers cannot deny the passion that Thunder star Kevin Durant has for the game. From attending WNBA games in the offseason to playing in random pickup/pro-am leagues in the offseason, Durant is all about basketball and improving himself on the court. Such a fact comes shining through in a recent interview Durant has with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, where OKC’s star delves into what drives him in a season that has some doubting the Thunder:

A sweat-drenched Kevin Durant sauntered over to a row of black leather seats just off the adjoining courts inside the Thunder’s training center, plopping down in the first bolted-in chair, finally taking a load off following another day at the office, another practice session that ended with him as the last player on the court, another 15 extra minutes maniacally adding more weapons to his arsenal.Over the next 17 minutes, Durant opened up about his career in a sit-down interview with The Oklahoman, discussing his trials, tribulations and triumphs, failures, focus and future.

By the time he was done, Durant left no doubt where his mindset is as he enters his seventh NBA season. It was as clear as the sweat-stained imprint the back of his No. 35 practice jersey left on that leather seat.

“I want to be the greatest,” Durant said. “I want to be remembered as one of the greatest. When they redo that top 50 players (of all time), I want to be a part of that.”

“This whole thing is a fraternity. But it’s a different fraternity when you’re staring at a group of guys that won championships, MVPs, and you can say you’re on that level with them in your career,” Durant said. “It’s only a handful of guys, maybe 15, 20 guys, that you can get in that conversation with. And I’m nowhere near there yet. So that’s where I want to be.”

Durant spent his first six seasons proving he was a stud. Now he wants to be known as simply a champion. The past two seasons showed Durant just how elusive a title can be. In 2012, the Thunder took a 1-0 lead on Miami in the NBA Finals before losing four straight. Last season, the Thunder’s playoff run was derailed by a season-ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook.

It’s not that those setbacks sparked a heightened sense of urgency for Durant. It’s just at this stage in his career, championships are now all that truly matter.

“It’s always been important to me. I always was one of those guys that played to win,” Durant said. “But, first coming into the league, I was a little confused because it’s so many great teams every night. It was no cupcake games like it was in high school and college. Every night, you got to come to play because these are great players. They were all something coming in. And my thoughts coming into the league was, of course, to win, but once I got on the court it was to establish myself. That’s what I thought. Grow as a player and then worry about that.

“But now, I’ve played in the All-Star Games; I’ve scored 30 points, 40 points before; had a triple-double before. I feel individually, like stats and stuff, I feel like I did my job with that and I established myself. But it’s about winning championships, and the first thing I got to get out of my head is ‘I.’ It’s like, ‘I want to win a championship.’ It’s not about that because one guy doesn’t win it, two guys don’t win it, three guys don’t win it. So it’s about the whole team, the whole organization winning a championship.”

***

No. 2: Noah ‘100 percent’ ready for opener — Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah appeared in just one preseason game and was sidelined the rest of the exhibition season with a groin strain that left his availability for Tuesday’s season opener against Miami (8 p.m. ET, TNT) up in the air. But following Sunday’s practice in Chicago, the big man declared himself ready to go for Tuesday night, writes our own Steve Aschburner:

Noah had made just one preseason appearance after slipping in practice and suffering a groin strain early in camp. Several days earlier, both he and Hinrich seemed like longshots at best to face the Heat, from listening to coach Tom Thibodeau. But Noah told reporters at the team’s practice facility Sunday that missing the final tune-up against Denver Friday was a precaution only.

As competitive as he is, and as aware of the inevitability of getting through the two-time defending champs if his team hopes to chase a title, Noah figured to be straining at the leash if he had to sit out.

“Every time you play against Miami, it’s a statement,” Noah said. “In the beginning of our season, we’re a hungry group. It’s one of 82 but we know that every time we play against Miami it’s important.”

Noah didn’t seem concerned about a drop in his conditioning, though that seems likely to cut into his minutes after his limited October play. Hinrich, who suffered a concussion Oct. 18 and also was coping with a sore shoulder, endured a rigorous practice Sunday without setback.

***

No. 3: Nash may sit out second game of back-to-backs — Lakers point guard Steve Nash entered training camp saying how he was feeling better than he was last season, when he missed 32 games with various injuries and was a shell of himself. But Nash averaged just 4.0 ppg and 3.6 apg in 18.4 minutes during the preseason and coach Mike D’Antoni says he may consider giving Nash more rest this season, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he is considering not having Nash play through the entire early schedule, which includes a back-to-back this week at home against the Clippers and on the road against the Golden State Warriors, followed by a third game in four nights back in L.A. against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

“There’s a possibility,” D’Antoni said of Nash sitting out against Golden State. “We have to talk about it. I haven’t talked to him. Obviously we’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days, but it’s very possible that he sits out.”

D’Antoni said he and Nash likely would determine the point guard’s playing status as each of L.A.’s 19 sets of back-to-back games come up in the schedule, rather than map it out beforehand and be married to the plan.

“It’s hard to make a definitive answer right now because if one of my other point guards tweaks his ankle, he’s playing,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “If one guy has the sniffles, he’s playing. So, we’ll see how the team goes and we’ll see where we are — where we are in the schedule, where we are in the standings — and see how he does. But the idea is to cut down the number of games and keep the minutes consistent for him, but the number of games come down.”

D’Antoni said Nash definitely would play against the Clippers. Nash did not speak with reporters Sunday, but addressed the Lakers schedule out of the gate following L.A.’s 111-106 win over the Utah Jazz in their preseason finale Friday.

“I just look at the first one and see how it goes,” Nash said then. “Who knows, right? I think you have to be open to anything, but for me, I am just preparing for that first game of the year. I want to have a great game and then see what happens after that.”

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No. 4: Granger out for Pacers’ first two games — (UPDATE: Granger will now be out 3 weeks instead of the two games originally written here) … Save for five games last season, swingman Danny Granger spent the entire 2012-13 campaign rehabbing and recovering for a troublesome knee injury. The knee hasn’t proven to be a problem for Granger in the preseason, but a strained calf injury has made life difficult for him now. Pacers.com’s Scott Agness reports that Granger will miss the Pacers’ first two games of the season with the injury:

Pacers forward Danny Granger continues to be bothered by strained left calf and it’ll keep him out at least the first two games, Pacers coach Frank Vogel declared Sunday after practice. The Pacers open the regular season on Tuesday against the Orlando Magic, and then they play in New Orleans on Wednesday.

“He’s just doing some light shooting and stuff,” Vogel said. “As long as he’s feeling anything down there, [the training staff is] going to be cautious with it.”

This wasn’t exactly surprising. Vogel said on Friday that Granger was unlikely to play in the season opener.

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No. 5: Woodson open to Bargnani as sixth man — The Knicks’ ideal starting lineup in the frontcourt is a big one that features Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and new addition Andrea Bargnani all playing alongside each other. Bargnani, though, has struggled to get into a groove in New York and his trademark 3-point shooting has been off as well. Those issues — plus Bargnani’s well-documented defensive struggles — have Knicks coach Mike Woodson pondering a Metta World Peace-for-Bargnani swap in the starting lineup, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Carmelo Anthony repeated several times Saturday that Andrea Bargnani’s transformation as a defensive-minded Knick won’t “happen overnight.’’ However, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he won’t wait a long time for the 7-foot Italian to make it as full-time starting power forward.

If he has to change the big frontline of Tyson Chandler, Bargnani and Anthony by Wednesday’s season opener against Milwaukee, Woodson will. The obvious change would be to send Bargnani to the bench for small forward Metta World Peace.

“I’ll experiment with [the big frontcourt], but I’ve got options this year,’’ Woodson said. “I can always go small, with Melo at the 4 with small teams and throw Bargnani in there when we got big teams. It’s not a matter of who starts, it’s what you do with the minutes that you’re in there. That’s the message I’m sending everybody on the team. You got to give productive minutes on the floor if you want to play.’’

Bargnani’s preseason was disappointing after a very sharp opener. He finished a minus in the plus-minus category in each of the last six preseason games — totaling a minus-72. He still is learning both the offensive and defensive systems, Woodson said.

Bargnani hasn’t been a good rim protector or rebounder in his career, and he extended that reputation this October.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,’’ Anthony said. “We had a preseason together. He’s still getting his feet wet as far as adjusting to New York. He’s still trying to adjust to New York. On the court with us, he’s still trying to adjust to that and we’re still trying to adjust to him.’’

Anthony said Bargnani’s teammates are understanding.

“The eventual goal is everyone’s clicking with one another,’’ Anthony said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. He’s not going to adjust to the New York style, New York way of living, New York way of life overnight. I’m not asking people to be patient, but as teammates we’re very patient with him. We understand a guy coming to this New York situation and what it actually takes to be here in New York.’’

Bargnani is a man of few and simple words. But he recognizes he needs more time.

“Of course everybody’s learning,’’ Bargnani said. “The main focus is defense and defensive rebounds. That’s the main thing coach wants for us. The offense is going to come.’’

World Peace gives the Knicks a more rugged defensive unit, with Anthony at the 4. So far, World Peace is even badly outshooting Bargnani from 3-point land — 40.9 to 20 percent.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Jazz and forward Gordon Hayward remain far apart on a contract extension … Sixers forward Thaddeus Young is well aware his name is likely to be in trade rumors … Rockets likely to waive veteran Marcus Camby this week … NBA commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver backs the advanced-stats movement … Magic rookie Victor Oladipo faces tough transition to point guard position

ICYMI Of The Night: Preseason is a time when teams try out wacky lineups, give major minutes to their reserve players and in general experiment across the board. We wonder if this wild over-the-head and-one shot by Zaza Pachulia is part of the Bucks’ plans for 2013-14 …


VIDEO: Pachulia nails over-the-head and-one shot

The 2013-14 Hang Time Redeem Team





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No one needs reminding of the importance of the 2013-14 NBA season for superstars like Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others who are battling their way back from injuries that sidelined them for all or part of last season.

We watch their every move anyway, so when those stars do return, it’ll be an all-eyes-on-them proposition for certain. But for others, guys who have languished in the shadows the past couple of seasons for one reason or another, this season presents an opportunity for redemption as well.

Opportunity abounds for another group of players who comprise Hang Time’s Redeem Team this season, guys who need to leave a mark on 2013-14 in the worst way. Now is the time for these veterans to reclaim their positions in the league, to either resurrect or flat-out save their careers:

Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans

Now that he’s been cleared to crank up his conditioning and do whatever it takes to get into game shape, Gordon is potentially on the road back to the budding young star we saw during his third season in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers (when Gordon averaged 22.2 points and 4.4 assists in 56 games). The injury issues will follow him until he puts together a couple of seasons where he plays as close to 82 regular-season games as possible. But the game moves on without once promising young stars all the time. And Gordon is in the danger zone at this stage of his career. He’s on a team loaded with young talent (All-Star Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Austin Rivers) at the same position. He’s in a now-or-probably-not-here predicament, given his salary and the circumstances.

Greg Oden, Miami Heat

The fact that Oden has come this far in his comeback bid is a victory of sorts for the former No. 1 pick, whose arrival in the league had fans in Portland dreaming of contending for championships one day with a player who promised to be one of the best big men of his generation. Oden has the luxury of not having to rush back for a Heat team that has managed just fine without him the past three seasons. His is more of a personal pilgrimage from being completely out of the league to having a chance to contribute on a team aiming for a three-peat. “My main goal is to be back on the court playing,” Oden told the Sun Sentinel. “But every little thing is just a little step closer to what I want to do. In my head, I’m smiling. I’m back in the routine I’m back out here working out in front of fans.” Whatever the Heat squeeze out of Oden, who is one one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, is a bonus for all involved.

Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers

No player on this list has more to gain from a big 2013-14 season than Bynum, who just a couple of seasons ago served the other big man in the argument about who would serve as the challenger to Dwight Howard as the best in the business. Bynum’s stock fell so hard and so fast last season in Philadelphia, when he watched a disastrous season unfold from the sidelines after the Sixers scrapped a playoff team to acquire him and build around him for the future. The Cavs have other issues, obviously, mainly finding out what they have in the No. 1 pick in the June Draft, Anthony Bennett, who has shown some positive flashes in the preseason. Perhaps the greatest motivation for Bynum this seasons will come from another No. 1 pick, Kyrie Irving, who has designs on rising up the ranks this season himself.

Al Harrington, Washington Wizards

Maybe you’ve forgotten just how valuable a piece Harrington has been to playoff outfits throughout his career. He did it in Indiana, Golden State and Denver and the Wizards are hoping he can use some of the lessons he’s learned the past 15 seasons to help John  Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of an up and coming crew move into the playoff mix. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has mentioned Harrington repeatedly as not only a player who will counted on to provide veteran leadership but also a symbolic figure, a vet with an eye toward reclaiming his career and doing it in a place (Washington) that others view as a team and franchise on the rise. With a fleet of young bigs working hard to get better and injury issues (namely Emeka Okafor), having a stretch-4 with Harrington’s versatility and history will be crucial for the Wizards early on this season.

Andrea Bargnani, New York Knicks

The marriage between this former No. 1 pick (the third player of such ilk on this list) and the city of Toronto broke down early on and was beyond repair by the time the Knicks traded for him over the summer. This second honeymoon in New York won’t obviously won’t last seven years. The Knicks need Bargnani to find his niche now and be a factor on a team with playoff expectations he never experienced with the Raptors. Bargnani’s teammates recognize his skill set and Knicks coach Mike Woodson knows that he has to find ways to exploit Bargnani’s strengths and hide his weaknesses. With his shot and size, and the constantly increasing value for floor spacers in today’s game, Bargnani will surely get several more shots if things don’t work out with the Knicks. But if he’s ready to stop being a punch line, he needs to pounce on the opportunity staring him in the face right now.