Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Bogut’

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant vows to return this season | Report: Kidd calls out Nets; Pierce unhappy with role | Bogut gets under Clippers’ skin | Concerns about Spurs as contenders

No. 1: Bryant vows to return this season — Save for six games this season, Kobe Bryant has found himself in a spot he’s never been before during the season: watching games in a suit from the sidelines. As Bryant recovers from a knee fracture he suffered last week, he remains steadfast that he will not shut himself down for the rest of the season. Our own Sekou Smith was on the scene in Lakerland yesterday and has more from Bryant and what his future is looking like in L.A.:

Any suggestions that he might shut it down for the season Bryant insists are not only misguided but just plain foolish. He has an obligation to get through his latest rehab stint and get back on the court with the Lakers and chase the playoff berth they have been planning on since he missed out on it last season.

“No, not that I’m aware of,” Bryant said when asked if there was any chance six games would be the total of his workload this season. “My job as an athlete is to train, get healthy, get strong and come back and do my job.”

Some Christmas it turned out to be for him. Instead of squaring off against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat under the brightest of lights, Bryant instead spent his day watching the action. Before he suffered that latest setback, Bryant had this matchup circled on his calendar.

“This was a really big measuring stick,” Bryant said of the matchup against the Heat. “Because of their speed, their activity and their size. I was really looking forward to this game to be able to measure where I was physically, especially with the time frame I came back. I was really looking at this game to measure what I can do and what I can’t do.”

When asked if he thought pushing to get back from the Achilles injury had anything to do with the knee fracture, Bryant resisted the urge to go off.

“Because it’s Christmas I will refrain from being a smart ass,” he said. “I don’t think one had anything to do with the other. I mean, we evaluated it pretty extensively. The fact of the matter is, any of us can get hurt at any moment. The key for us at athletes is to block that fear out. And when you have injuries that fear is enhanced. You kind of put yourself under a microscope and you start thinking about it too much. It can happen to anybody. So you just have to tune that noise out and go out there and perform.”

“The biggest part of my game the last two or three years has been getting to a space on the floor and then elevate and shoot pull up jump shots or get into the paint,” Bryant said. “It was a great test going up against Tony Allen, who in my opinion has been the guy who defended me the best individually since I’ve been in the league. And with four games in five nights, to be able to go up against him and respond to that challenge … I was feeling really good about things.”

With that feeling gone and another month or so to grind away getting ready for yet another comeback, Bryant has not lost any of his fire.

“My spirits are fine,” he said. “My spirits are fine. I feel more locked in now than I have my entire career because of this. My spirits are fine, focus is great and we’re just going to have to see what happens when I come back.”

***

No. 2: Report: Kidd calls out Nets after loss; Pierce continues to struggle – We pointed out in this space on Christmas Eve that Nets coach Jason Kidd was none too pleased after Brooklyn’s blowout loss to Indiana, going as far as to say his team was getting complacent with all the losing going on this season. Kidd was reportedly even more upset after yesterday’s 95-78 loss at home to the Chicago Bulls and according to ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk, he and veteran forward Kevin Garnett blasted the team following the defeat:

Following the Brooklyn Nets’ embarrassing 95-78 Christmas Day loss to the Chicago Bulls, an exasperated Jason Kidd called his players out in the locker room, according to multiple league sources.

Tired and upset with a lack of effort, Kidd’s outburst came after the Nets dropped their fourth straight game, sources say. The first-year head coach said Monday after a 103-86 loss to Indiana that the Nets were becoming too comfortable with losing.

The frustration is mounting. According to league sources, after Kidd yelled at the team on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett stood up and vented his frustration before walking out to the showers. Multiple sources stressed Garnett backs Kidd and that the veteran’s frustration has been building over some of his teammates’ lack of fight after the Nets lost by 17 points for the second straight game.

Sources also said Garnett’s walking out was viewed as him being one of the few Nets to care about the team’s downward spiral.

“At the end of the day, the coach can only hold you responsible for energy and effort,” Kidd said. “If you’re not giving it, I have to take you out. If you’re missing shots, that’s just part of the game. But if you’re not giving energy or effort, I’ve got to take you out.”

“I’m even surprised with this season, how it’s played out. It’s like a nightmare,” Deron Williams said after the latest blowout loss. “The way the injuries have been and the things we talk about every day: the lack of energy, the lack of effort. I didn’t see that being a problem when we put this team together.”

What Kidd said he has not been able to stomach is the team’s almost apathetic approach when adversity hits in a game and the opponent makes a run against them.

“I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing,” Kidd said of the mental state of the team on Monday. “We are kind of getting comfortable with losing.”

“And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in?” Kidd continued. “And most of the time right now, we do.”

Garnett and Williams disagreed and said they don’t accept losing. But the Nets were still blown out by Chicago.

While Garnett reportedly went off on the team’s effort and play against the Bulls, his teammate, Paul Pierce, saw his season-long woes hit a new low against Chicago. He went scoreless for the first time since his rookie season and, as Howie Kussoy of the New York Post reports, is looking unhappy with his off-the-bench role:

Following Paul Pierce’s first scoreless game since he was a rookie — an 0-for-7 performance in Monday’s loss to the Pacers — the 10-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP had another miserable day Wednesday, shooting 1-for-8 from the field and finishing with six points in the Nets’ 95-78 loss to the Bulls at Barclays Center.

In the previous 15 seasons, there were only three games when Pierce didn’t start, but the veteran forward has now come off the bench in seven of the past eight. Pierce has shown discomfort in his new role, and also seems unhappy with rookie coach Jason Kidd’s distribution of minutes.

“You’re coming off the bench, you’re not a primary option, and you sort of try and force things,” Pierce said. “You don’t get the looks every night that you’re used to getting over the years, and I’ve grown accustomed to that. I’m usually the third or fourth option when I’m on the court, and sometimes it’s going to be like that. Minutes over the last few games have been different. I played less minutes last game, less minutes this game. When you have inconsistency in your minutes sometimes, you have some inconsistency in your play.”

***

No. 3: Bogut’s spirit wears down Clips, Griffin — If the hubbub of Christmas Day got you worn down and you missed the Clippers-Warriors game last night, it was a dandy. While the final score was close — a 105-103 win for home-standing Golden State — what most folks are talking about this morning is the chippy play between the squads that led to Blake Griffin and Draymond Green getting ejected and a postgame scuffle between the teams as well. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper was on the scene and looked at how Warriors big man Andrew Bogut didn’t cause any scuffles, but did what he could to get under the Clippers’ skin:

Bogut being in the middle of conflict is part coincidence — he didn’t do anything at the end to deserve the parting gift from Barnes — but also surely part plan. He wanted to wear on Griffin just as he would be willing to instigate his own teammates in practice if he felt the Warriors needed to rumble to find their inner fight. He will create havoc to generate stability.

“The little thing between me and Blake, I don’t think he should have been thrown out,” Bogut said. “Just get up and brush it off and go down to the other end, in my opinion. That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me too much.

“It’s not like I go home and pencil the Clippers in and say, ‘I’m going to be physical and try to get a technical foul and try to give the league money.’ That’s just the way the game went. He was being physical, I was being physical, and we both didn’t take a step back and that’s how it should be. I think it’s good spectacle for you guys (the media) and the fans.”

For all the attention that goes to his defense, rebounding and passing, demanding intensity through toughness is one of the primary contributions Bogut provides that’s largely unseen in public.

Early in his career here, after he arrived via a trade with Milwaukee and as he was healing from a lengthy ankle injury, he said he wouldn’t hesitate to start a fight in practice if he felt teammates needed to be, um, called out. He would be insistent and unforgiving in the way a lot of rosters need to be held accountable.

There have been times in practice where fights seemed possible — “We’ve been close,” Bogut said, “we’ve gone at it. Guys are talking smack and it gets pretty testy” — but the Warriors have yet to cross that line with punches thrown, he said. It doesn’t seem necessary with this team that will play hard without the internal conflict, however temporary.

But Wednesday against the Clippers, it was a different story.

“Blake Griffin was hot and I tried to do everything in my power to try and frustrate him and stop him,” Bogut said. “I didn’t want him to get thrown out. I just tried to make life tough for him, and that’s the way it worked out. I’m going to give extra-effort plays and dive on the floor and take charges, and I think guys see that. I think without words, you see a guy doing that, and I think it can give us a spark.”


VIDEO: Warriors claim chippy win over Clippers on Christmas Day

.***

No. 4: Concerns about the Spurs as contenders?At 22-7, the San Antonio Spurs have the Western Conference’s third-best record and are a mere 1 1/2 games behind Portland and Oklahoma City for the No. 1 spot. That would cause you to think there’s no reason to worry in the land of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Co., but you might be wrong about that notion. Our own Fran Blinebury was at last night’s Rockets-Spurs game from the AT&T Center and saw first hand how another upper-crust team in the West — Houston — had their way with the Spurs:

The Rockets may or may not yet be a real contender, depending on the day of the week or their interest in being professionals who show up with the same level of commitment each game.

For a holiday night, at least, the most noticeable difference wasn’t those form-fitting jerseys with sleeves, but the way the Rockets strutted into the AT&T Center and did everything this side of ripping the drumstick off the turkey and clubbing the Spurs over the head with it.

It was the difference in 3-point shooting, in having a fourth-quarter closer in James Harden, a defender in Jeremy Lin who wrapped up Tony Parker in pretty paper with a bow, an inside tandem of Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones and in energy.

The Rockets, when they have their heads on straight, are as powerful and devastatingly effective as a blizzard and they buried everything about three feet under with an opening quarter of howling wind.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are looking like one of the polar ice caps that is thawing and melting from climate change.

Despite their gaudy overall record, the Spurs are now 0-7 on the season against the top six teams they’ve faced, giving up 115, 112, 111, 111, 115, 113 and 94 points.

In their four home losses this season — Rockets (2), Thunder and Pacers — they have trailed by double digits every time and were down by at least 18 in three of them. It was the 10th time in their last 14 games that the Spurs have given up at least 100.

For years the Spurs have kept holding open the window on a championship era that was said to be closing and last season perhaps convinced everyone that the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili can grow older than Methuselah and never fade away. Then there is this.

For weeks now, the Rockets have shown fleeting glimpses of how often they can stomp down on the accelerator, how good they can be, how far they can go. Until the next night when they just don’t.

Sometimes a game is just a game and sometimes it’s a snapshot that shows generations changing.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat are well aware of just how quickly the clock can tick on a career … Why did Chandler Parsons sport a nearly shaved look on Christmas Day? It was to pay tribute to a fan riddled with cancer … The Magic are expected to either cut or find a way to trade former Most Improved Player of the Year winner Hedo Turkoglu by Jan. 7 … Lakers big man Chris Kaman is taking eating healthier to a whole new level … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to figure out how to best manage the minutes of D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich at the point

ICYMI Of The Night: If you somehow managed to NOT see the Dwyane Wade-to-LeBron James off-the-glass fast break alley-oop yesterday in Los Angeles in person, you missed out on one of the all-time great Christmas Day game plays. But, at least you can relive it here …


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade finds LeBron James with the off-the-glass fast break alley-oop

Bogut’s Fighting Spirit Wears Down Clips


VIDEO: Warriors notch a chippy Christmas Day victory over the Clippers

OAKLAND – Let’s see. Andrew Bogut and DeAndre Jordan scuffled when the Warriors and Clippers met Halloween night in Southern California, Bogut tried to frustrate Blake Griffin on Christmas night in Northern California and played combatant as Griffin was ejected early in the fourth quarter, and Bogut was nearly in an altercation after the buzzer Wednesday that included getting shoved in the back by Matt Barnes before the teams left the court.

Just maybe there is a pattern.

Bogut being in the middle of conflict is part coincidence — he didn’t do anything at the end to deserve the parting gift from Barnes — but also surely part plan. He wanted to wear on Griffin just as he would be willing to instigate his own teammates in practice if he felt the Warriors needed to rumble to find their inner fight. He will create havoc to generate stability.

Which brings him to Christmas at Oracle Arena. The Clippers went up by 13 points in the first quarter, but the chippy play heats up and the lead is down to two at halftime. It’s 78-78 with 10:43 left in the fourth. Griffin and Bogut got tangled. Both were called for technicals — the second for Griffin, an ejection.

Golden State wins 105-103.

“Honestly,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “I thought we were kicking their butts, and they went to something else, to be honest.”

Rivers and his Warriors counterpart, Mark Jackson, both got questions from the media before the game after the so-called growing rivalry, and both brushed off the notion. There had been the rising temperatures of an October game, that’s all. Jackson grew up on the New York City playgrounds and participated in actual heated moments in the postseason. The coaches know real tension. This wasn’t that.

When the heat began to rise in the second meeting of the season, though, whether the neighborhood turf war was a rivalry or not, it was clearly something. Two games into the season series and two more to go — Jan. 30 at Oracle and March 12 at Staples Center — there is clearly a lot of not getting along to try to pass it off as just another opponent.

“We like them,” Jackson said after. “Merry Christmas.”

Or something like that.

“The little thing between me and Blake, I don’t think he should have been thrown out,” Bogut said. “Just get up and brush it off and go down to the other end, in my opinion. That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me too much.

“It’s not like I go home and pencil the Clippers in and say, ‘I’m going to be physical and try to get a technical foul and try to give the league money.’ That’s just the way the game went. He was being physical, I was being physical, and we both didn’t take a step back and that’s how it should be. I think it’s good spectacle for you guys (the media) and the fans.”

For all the attention that goes to his defense, rebounding and passing, demanding intensity through toughness is one of the primary contributions Bogut provides that’s largely unseen in public.

Early in his career here, after he arrived via a trade with Milwaukee and as he was healing from a lengthy ankle injury, he said he wouldn’t hesitate to start a fight in practice if he felt teammates needed to be, um, called out. He would be insistent and unforgiving in the way a lot of rosters need to be held accountable.

It just hasn’t been very necessary with these Warriors, a mature group that last season consistently played with energy, even as they relied heavily on three rookies who did not flinch as the pressure grew throughout 2012-13. This season, though, has been more of an emotional struggle. That focus from last season is lacking as Golden State played with a target on its back for the first time and too often failed to meet the burden during what has improved to a 17-13 start.

There have been times in practice where fights seemed possible — “We’ve been close,” Bogut said, “we’ve gone at it. Guys are talking smack and it gets pretty testy” — but the Warriors have yet to cross that line with punches thrown, he said. It doesn’t seem necessary with this team that will play hard without the internal conflict, however temporary.

But Wednesday against the Clippers, it was a different story.

“Blake Griffin was hot and I tried to do everything in my power to try and frustrate him and stop him,” Bogut said. “I didn’t want him to get thrown out. I just tried to make life tough for him, and that’s the way it worked out. I’m going to give extra-effort plays and dive on the floor and take charges, and I think guys see that. I think without words, you see a guy doing that, and I think it can give us a spark.”

It did on Christmas night, among other times, with Griffin in the locker room down the stretch and the Warriors adding another in the win column. That’s the real pattern Bogut is trying to establish.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin talks about his ejection vs. the Warriors

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger ready to play | Lakers sign Marshall | L.A. bright spot? | Warriors stumble … again

No. 1: Granger back Friday night — The Indiana Pacers are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat in the running for Best Team in The Eastern Conference, and they’ll get what they hope to be a huge leg up Friday when Danny Granger returns to the lineup against Houston (8 p.m., ESPN) .

Granger, an All-Star in 2009 when he averaged almost 26 points a game, has played in only five games this season nursing an injured calf. He played in only 62 games last year — and was used sparingly in most of those — as he dealt with knee injuries that eventually led to a surgery.

Now, the Pacers hope to slowly work him back into the lineup, with many around the team hoping he can eventually be a scoring threat off the bench that the sometimes offensively-challenged Pacers so desperately need.

From Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

Before getting too excited about some super second unit consisting of Granger, Lance Stephenson and Luis Scola, exercise caution. Granger will not immediately impact the lineup. Coach Frank Vogel said there’s no medical restrictions on Granger’s minutes but he will be limited 15-20 per game to start.

The Pacers have waited this long for him and can afford to wait for Granger to get his game rhythm and timing back. Although Granger knows the playbook, he admitted last week that he still needs to run the plays more. So, it will be some time before Granger can boost up the second unit.

“I’m still probably going to have a few mishaps,” Granger said. “That’s uncharacteristic of me but I’m going to be a lot better than I (would have been if I tried to come back last week).”

Indiana ranks near the bottom of the league in second-quarter scoring (21.6 points), which has traditionally been the time when Stephenson leads the second unit. As Granger is finding his way into the flow of the offense, you can expect him to mirror the things that Rasual Butler has done over the last three games — stretching out to either corner and letting Stephenson facilitate.

Granger’s goal? To be 100 percent by the playoffs.

“That’s how much time I have,” he said. “It’s not a thing where I have to rush or do this or do that. As long as I’m ready by the playoffs, I’ll be fine.”

***

No. 2: Marshall to the rescue – Eric Pinkus of the Los Angeles Times has the news of Kendall Marshall‘s signing. The young point guard, the 13th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was drafted by the Suns, traded to the Wizards, waived by the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and has been in the Philadelphia 76ers’ organization since:

Marshall recently joined the Delaware 87ers in the NBA Development League, averaging 19.4 points and 9.6 assists in seven appearances.

The Lakers are suddenly devoid of point guards with injuries to Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (elbow), Jordan Farmar (hamstring) and temporary fill-in Kobe Bryant (knee).

Marshall is 6 feet 4. The North Carolina product is 22 years old.

His deal with the Lakers is non-guaranteed.

***

No. 3: Kobe’s loss, Lakers’ gain — The biggest sports news of Thursday was Kobe Bryant‘s injury, which forced the signing of Marshall. While many see it as a type of basketball Armageddon in Southern California — the Clippers rising, the Lakers slipping further into the Pacific — venerable L.A. columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times points out some of the good things that can happen with Bryant sitting out for the next six weeks. He also urges some action on the Lakers’ part:

There is sadness felt by an aging superstar who could be losing a slow fight with his body. There is sadness felt by a Lakers organization whose recent, foolish $48.5-million investment in Bryant is looking worse by the ache. There is sadness from the fans who will have to endure at least another 21 games without the electric promise of Bryant’s presence.

But step back, look past the sight of Bryant crumpled on the floor in Memphis, breathe past the shock that he played an entire half on a broken knee, and understand that the big picture looks far different.

This awful occurrence is actually the best thing for everyone.

Now the Lakers can tank without tanking.

Now the Lakers can finally begin their inevitable rebuilding process and maintain their dignity while doing it.

Without Bryant, the makeshift remaining team can play hard enough to entertain while losing enough to drop into next summer’s rich draft lottery.

Without Bryant, the Lakers finally have the excuse they need to speed up this renovation by trading Pau Gasol.

.***

No. 4: Warriors tripped up again Golden State, a team that was supposed to be challenging for the top spot in a stacked Western Conference, was knocked off by San Antonio late Thursday night on a tip-in by Tiago Splitter. Losing to San Antonio brings no shame. But losing to the Spurs without their Big Three of Tim Duncan (taking a breather), Manu Ginobili (also taking it easy) and Tony Parker (who is injured) — and in Oakland, no less — has some folks in the Bay Area starting to get nervous. From Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune:

It was a horrible loss for Warriors, who dropped to 14-13, arguably their worst of the season. If losing to a spurious aggregation of Spurs on the home floor wasn’t bad enough, Golden State’s most prominent tormentor was a former Warrior, Marco Belinelli, who poured in 28 points to spearhead the San Antonio shocker.

Oh, and then there was Saint Mary’s College alum Patty Mills, who filled in nicely for Parker with 20 points.

But in the final accounting, it was really the Warriors who did themselves in. They committed 24 turnovers — 12 in each half — resulting in 31 San Antonio points. They blew an early 14-point lead by halftime. They hoisted up 31 3-point tries and made just eight.

“It was kind of a trap game, but coming in, I knew it’d be tough,” Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala said. “They played a solid four quarters of basketball, and we only played a good nine minutes in the first quarter.”

Andrew Bogut said it most bluntly of all, noting, “We can’t lose this game at home, period.”

Beyond Stephen Curry (30 points, 15 assists), Lee and Bogut (18 rebounds), the Warriors had two notably horrific box-score lines. Klay Thompson was 6 for 18 from the floor, 1 for 7 from beyond the arc and committed five turnovers. Harrison Barnes played 19 minutes and didn’t score.

“They are not playing well right now,” coach Mark Jackson said. “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for them. I believe in my guys, they have had some great moments for us and they will have great moments for us, but right now they are not playing their best basketball.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks are going to shelve Ersan Ilyasova for awhile due to a sore ankle … Dennis Rodman is looking for a few good players for a pickup game in Korea. Because it’s Rodman, it would figure that it’s North Korea … Ref Eric Lewis has to be hurting a little this morning … Nice piece, if you missed it, by Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins on 28 seconds or so that flipped the 2013 NBA Finals on its head.

ICYMI Of The Night: Serge Ibaka blocks shots. That’s what he does. Even if your’re a 7-footer like Chicago’s Joakim Noah, you have to respect that. On every shot. Every shot …


VIDEO: No, Jo. And No Jo again.

Curry Makes Biggest Impact Offensively


VIDEO: Stephen Curry lights up the Mavs and hits the game-winner

The List

Biggest on-off-court differential, OffRtg

On floor Off floor
Player Team MIN OffRtg MIN OffRtg Diff.
Stephen Curry GSW 744 112.0 370 86.5 25.5
Kevin Love MIN 748 109.5 313 86.0 23.5
John Wall WAS 755 104.6 230 83.9 20.6
Paul George IND 809 106.2 252 89.1 17.0
Klay Thompson GSW 872 107.1 242 91.8 15.3
Marcin Gortat WAS 691 104.3 294 89.4 14.9
Luol Deng CHI 656 101.3 324 86.6 14.7
Corey Brewer MIN 748 107.0 313 92.5 14.6
David Lee GSW 774 108.1 340 94.0 14.2
Ricky Rubio MIN 716 107.3 345 93.3 14.0

Minimum 300 minutes on the floor
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

The Context

Last season, the leader in this category was Damian Lillard. The 2012-13 Blazers scored 11.5 more points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor than they did with him on the bench. Right now, Curry’s differential is more than twice that.

With Curry on the floor, the Warriors have scored 2.5 more points per 100 possessions than the best offense in the league (Portland). With Curry on the bench, they’ve scored 7.2 fewer than the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee).

Curry is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league and a unique challenge to defend, because he’s one of the league’s two or three best shooters, but also has the ball in his hands to start most possessions. He leads the league with 15.8 pull-up jumpers per game, including 5.1 from 3-point range.

Curry not only gets buckets himself, but the threat of him pulling up clearly creates openings for his fellow perimeter players. Klay Thompson has shot 7.4 percent better from the field and 9.9 percent better from 3-point range with Curry on the floor, while Andre Iguodala has shot 31.1 percent better from the field and 43.7 percent better from beyond the arc.

The Warriors have not only shot better with Curry on the floor, but they’ve turned the ball over 6.1 fewer times per 100 possessions. Both Nemanja Nedovic and Kent Bazemore have turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions.

Iguodala’s absence is certainly a factor in the offensive drop-off when Curry steps off the floor. Iguodala, who is the team’s back-up point guard in addition to being the starting small forward, and who also has a tolerable turnover rate, has missed the last 10 games with a hamstring injury.

But before Iguodala’s injury, the Warriors were still pretty bad offensively with Curry off the floor and Iguodala on, scoring only 93.7 points per 100 possessions over 195 minutes. They were strong defensively, however, and that’s where Iguodala’s absence has been felt most. Golden State has allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 games after allowing just 96.5 over their first 13.

Even when Iguodala returns, backcourt depth will be an issue. Mark Jackson hasn’t been able to trust Nedovic and Bazemore, who have played a total of 114 minutes over the 10 games that Iguodala has missed. Curry, meanwhile, has played 40-plus in eight of the 10. Both Curry (11th) and Thompson (seventh) now rank in the top 11 in minutes per game. They’re young, but that’s a heavy burden to shoulder.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Golden State has been included among the teams interested in trading for Kyle Lowry. What they’d have to offer the Raptors is the issue. They don’t have much of value beyond their top six players.

The Warriors have played a tough schedule, with 14 of their 23 games on the road and 19 of the against the Western Conference. But their lack of depth has become a real concern. Nobody can come close to replicating what Curry gives them when he’s on the floor, but they need somebody who can at least keep their offense from falling completely off the map.

The Video

Here are Curry’s nine 3-pointers against the Clippers on Oct. 31, here are his 15 assists in Memphis from Saturday, and here’s his game-winner against the Mavs on Wednesday.

The bottom of the list

The Pacers have scored 14.7 more points per 100 possessions with Ian Mahinmi on the bench (106.5) than they have with him on the floor (91.8). Yeah, there’s still a big drop-off when Frank Vogel goes to his bench, but the reserves do their jobs defensively, Luis Scola has given them more offense than Tyler Hansbrough did, and Roy Hibbert‘s minutes are up from 28.7 per game last season to 30.7 this season.

Just ahead of Mahinmi is the Lakers’ Steve Blake at -14.6, and I wrote last week how L.A.’s bench has been so much better than their starters. Ahead of Blake are the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (-13.8), Vitor Faverani (-13.4) and the Pacers’ Orlando Johnson (-12.7).

Trivia question

What player has scored the most points without a single one coming from outside the paint? Hint: He’s a Western Conference big man who was once a top 10 draft pick by an Eastern Conference team.

More on-off-court notes

  • The presence of three Warriors in the top 10 further illustrates their lack of depth. Also in the top 10 are two Wizards, and when you take defense into account, John Wall has the largest on-off-court NetRtg differential. Washington has outscored its opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and has been outscored by 24.1 with him on the bench. That Eric Maynor addition hasn’t worked out too well.
  • It’s also interesting to see Luol Deng on the list. We understand how important Deng is to the Bulls’ defense, but it’s now clear that, without Derrick Rose, they desperately need Deng offensively. With him out over the last three games, Chicago has scored a brutal 79.8 points per 100 possessions against three bottom 10 defensive teams (Detroit, Milwaukee and New York). And no, D.J. Augustin isn’t going to help much.
  • At the top of the list defensively? Nate Robinson. The Nuggets have allowed 15.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Robinson on the floor than they have with him on the bench. Seems crazy, but the Nuggets have been just awful defensively in the first six minutes of games, allowing 121.2 per 100 possessions, more than 20 over the league average of 100.9 during that time. That has forced them to play catch-up when their reserves enter. Nate for DPOY!

Trivia answer

Andrew Bogut, who has 164 points, all from the paint (150) or from the free throw line (14).

O’Neal, Warriors Need Each Other

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring.

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring in Oakland.

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal has in motion multiple business ventures ranging from technology to restaurants to real estate. A “retirement house” — his words — under construction in an upscale suburb northwest of Dallas is less than a month away from completion. His wife, 7-year-old son and a 14-year-old, nationally ranked volleyball-playing daughter are already settled in their strategically chosen retirement city.

O’Neal, 35, has spent the past six years meticulously planning each detail of his family’s approaching future together beyond basketball.

“Sometimes as a black athlete we get judged by what we can do with our feet and our hands and not enough of what we can do with our minds,” O’Neal said. “I want to show people just how successful I can be away from basketball.”

Still, one nagging detail hovers over an NBA career that started in 1996. O’Neal sought out the team for what is likely his final season as thoughtfully as he went about setting up the next chapter for his life. The Golden State Warriors, a young team bursting with talent and expectation, seemed the logical landing spot for a wise, grizzled veteran to share battle stories and hunt down team glory one last time.

In this respect, O’Neal needs the Warriors right now as much as they just might need him.

“He’s a guy we went and got for that reason,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.

“I don’t have very many regrets because the NBA has been a life tool for me in many different ways, but one thing I do regret, and I tell these guys a lot, is not respecting the moment,” O’Neal told NBA.com last week during the stop in Dallas. “The moment is when you get an opportunity to be a great team, have a chance at doing something that’s extremely special, that’s very difficult to do. Not capturing that moment and doing what’s necessary to seize that ability, that championship smell and everything, thinking that you’re going to have next year and the year after and the year after; that next year may never come.

“Here I am in my 18th season still looking for that moment.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal scores on a driving layup vs. the Pelicans

O’Neal, averaging 6.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 18.8 mpg backing up starting center Andrew Bogut, reflects on the nonsensical twist his greatest shot at a title with the the Indiana Pacers took as if it were yesterday.

“We were young and we were built to be good for a very long time. You couldn’t have told me at any point that we weren’t going to be able to compete, and then the brawl happened (at Detroit in 2004), I got hurt and then it was all downhill after that,” O’Neal said. “As a player you respect every player that wins a championship, but you envy it sometimes because you know the time you put in, you know the heartache, the blood, sweat and tears you put in over many, many years and you haven’t got the opportunity to taste that champagne, feel the emotions of winning it, having the tears of joy.

“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Warriors second-year forward Draymond Green figures he was six or seven years old when he first remembered watching a young O’Neal play for the Portland Trail Blazers. Growing up in Michigan, Green watched O’Neal dominate in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers. From 2001-07, the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star recorded six consecutive seasons of 19-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and at least two blocks. In the first three he averaged a double-double.

O’Neal is one of five first-round picks from the ’96 Draft still going: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher. Warriors forward David Lee laughed as he suggested that George Mikan was also in that class. And before Green could answer the question about the first time he recalled seeing O’Neal play, Lee butted in: “I was in my crib” — no slang intended.

That’s OK because O’Neal not only accepts the role of wise, old veteran, he relishes it. He’s been exceptionally vocal in the locker room recently as an already wounded team lost defensive ace Andre Iguodala to a hamstring injury.  Adversity has come early in a season that, at 10-8, hasn’t followed a championship script.

“I keep telling the guys these are the things that build the character of a team,” O’Neal said. “You go through the trials and tribulations to start the season and you learn how to depend on your team rather than depend on just two or three guys. We don’t have any conference finals, NBA Finals experience outside of me, so it’s my job to give these guys the stories and sometimes the hard love of what it takes to get to that level because it’s a very difficult thing. And they listen. This is a situation where everybody really likes each other. I was kind of blown away when I got here just how good these young guys were and what the limits were for our team, and the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Following last Friday’s loss at Dallas, O’Neal sat at his locker with ice bags wrapped around both knees and his right thigh. He flexed a sore wrist. All-in-all though, the oft-injured center who recently missed five games with a knee bruise and a groin strain, said he’s feeling pretty good.

He nearly retired two seasons ago. His knees ached so badly he played in just 49 games in two seasons for the Celtics. With two surgeries already on his left knee, O’Neal said he was on the verge of retirement. That’s when Kobe raved to him about the treatments he’s received in Germany, and urged him to try the Regenokine therapy that has yet to be approved by the FDA. O’Neal has gone to Germany the last two summers and swears by the treatment, resuming workouts he said he abandoned many years ago.

Still, this is it O’Neal truly believes. His business ventures are in place. The house is almost finished. His family is entrenched in the Southlake, Texas community, and is ready for him to become a permanent fixture in their lives.

“I tell these guys all the time that I’m one of the rare players that sat on probably every aspect of professional basketball, all the good, all the bad,” O’Neal said. “You look at one point we were rolling — shoe deals, commercials, max deals, whatever it was — to being broken down physically and mentally with injuries; to being rolling with a team, being one of the best teams in the league to basically being devastated by the brawl.”

So now here he sits, knowing this is very likely one-and-done, knocking on wood, telling his stories and hoping for the best.

“If I can get an opportunity to play for that championship,” O’Neal said, “it would almost be storybook-like.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal explains why he signed with the Warriors

Spurs’ Bench Propelling Hot Start


VIDEO: Spurs bench players Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner connect for a nice play

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Spurs’ starting lineup was a big part of their defensive improvement last season. It was the best defensive lineup in the league and outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions in its 364 minutes.

This season, that same starting lineup hasn’t been too good It’s been pretty bad offensively (with Tim Duncan shooting less than 40 percent) and has actually been outscored by four points in 99 minutes. Yet the Spurs are 13-1 and rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because they have the best bench in the league right now.

While the Spurs’ starters have basically broke even, all other San Antonio lineups have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions, playing great on both ends of the floor.

Spurs efficiency

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starters 10 99 95.8 93.5 92.7 +0.8 -4
Other lineups 14 572 97.2 108.3 92.2 +16.1 +173
Total 14 671 97.0 106.1 92.3 +13.9 +169

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

There are two aspects to having a great bench, and neither have to do with how many points the players off the bench score. You just have to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls for an example of a great bench that didn’t score a lot of points. That group built on leads because they were great defensively.

Building on leads (or decreasing deficits) is obviously the most important trait of a good bench. But keeping your starters fresh is also critical (and obviously related to how well you build leads). Through Tuesday, every player on the Spurs is averaging less than 30 minutes a game and the five starters have played just 52 percent of the teams total minutes. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season from a roster.

No other contender in the Western Conference has had the bench success that the Spurs’ “Foreign Legion” crew has had, but some have done well with their reserve minutes.

Note: Before the season started, six West teams would have been considered as “contenders.” Portland has been added to this group, because they’re off to such a hot start and also because their bench was their primary issue last season.

Efficiency from lineups other than starters

Team GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Golden State 15 532 98.3 97.8 97.2 +0.6 -1
Houston 15 665 100.4 106.4 101.5 +4.9 +36
L.A. Clippers 15 448 100.4 107.1 105.9 +1.2 +10
Memphis 14 513 91.8 99.4 104.0 -4.6 -47
Oklahoma City 12 483 99.6 106.0 96.1 +9.9 +81
Portland 15 442 97.1 106.9 101.6 +5.2 +64

Note: This includes lineups with 1-4 starters on the floor. It also includes lineups that started games when regular starters weren’t healthy or before a coach (Kevin McHale) made a lineup change.

Each team is its own case. Some have had their starters healthy for every game, some have not, and one – Houston – has already made a major change to its starting lineup.

Golden State

The Warriors’ starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – has been ridiculously good offensively, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions in 192 minutes together. Combine that with solid defensive numbers and they’ve been the league’s best lineup (minimum 75 minutes) thus far.

Bench units (which include lineups that have started games that Curry and Iguodala have missed) have been strong defensively, but weak offensively. When Curry has been off the floor, the Dubs have scored an ugly 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

Breaking even will do when your starting lineup is so good, and the Warriors are in good shape if they’re healthy. But it’s clear that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will be missed if injuries keep popping up.

Houston

The Rockets moved Terrence Jones into the starting lineup just seven games ago and have been without James Harden in three games since then, so their optimal starting lineup has played just 69 minutes together and their numbers above include lineups that have started 11 of their 15 games. That set includes lineups with both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik that we know were bad offensively.

So it’s difficult to gather much from these numbers. We do know that the new starting group, with Patrick Beverley and Harden in the backcourt, has been terrific so far. And we do know that the Rockets have been strong defensively – allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions – with Asik on the floor without Howard. So that’s a good sign for their bench … at least until Asik gets traded.

L.A. Clippers

As we all expected, the Clippers’ starting lineup has been great, especially offensively. It currently ranks as the fifth best lineup in the league. But the five starters have played over 68 percent of the team’s minutes, the second highest mark among the seven teams we’re looking at here.

Last season, when the Clippers had a great defensive second unit, that number was 51 percent. This season, they’re suffering on both ends of the floor when they go to their bench and though their starters have been solid on defense, they currently rank as a bottom 10 defensive team.

A healthy Matt Barnes will help, but a defensive big off the bench is needed. Lamar Odom was exactly that for them last season and you can understand why the Clips are monitoring his progress as he works his way back into shape.

Memphis

The Grizzlies’ starters weren’t what they were last season, when they outscored their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions after the Rudy Gay trade. This season, they were just a plus-0.8 in 169 minutes together. But losing Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with a sprained MCL) is obviously a huge blow.

The new starting group (with Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s place) was an encouraging plus-12 in 33 minutes against the Spurs and Rockets. But the impact of Gasol’s injury might be felt most in the bench units, which have been poor already. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter, two guys who are supposed to bring offense off the bench, have shot a combined 32 percent.

Oklahoma City

We thought that, in the wake of Kevin Martin‘s departure, bench production was going to be a problem for the Thunder. But OKC’s bench units have been terrific, ranking second to only the Spurs in terms of NetRtg. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by an amazing 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The issue with the Thunder is the starting lineup, which has been outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in its 97 minutes. Of the 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together this season, that ranks 25th, ahead only the original starting lineups of the Kings and Jazz. In those situations, both coaches have already made changes.

Scott Brooks will surely have more patience with his group, which was excellent (plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions) last season. The starting group has basically been bad in three games (minus-31 against the Pistons, Wizards and Nuggets) and OK in three games (plus-7 against the Suns, Mavs and Clippers). And the success of the bench units has far outweighed the starters’ struggles. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Portland

Last season, the Blazers’ “other lineups” got outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. No team suffered more offensively when a particular player stepped off the floor than Portland did when Damian Lillard sat down. So the bench, along with better defense from their center position, was the focus of their summer moves.

So far, so good, as the Blazers’ bench units have basically turned that number around, outscoring their opponents by that same 5.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ve scored a solid 103.5 points per 100 possessions when Lillard has sat, and he doesn’t have to lead the league in minutes this year.

The issue is that those bench units still include a lot of minutes from the starters. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez account for more than 72 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s obviously a younger group, but compare that with the 52 percent the Spurs’ starters account for.

New And Improved Warriors Are More Than Just An Offensive Machine




VIDEO: Check out the Warriors’ rout of the Sixers via Phantom Cam

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Golden State Warriors’ offensive prowess sells tickets in Oakland and beyond. Their ability to score points in bunches is what makes them one of the NBA’s most entertaining teams.

But it’s their defensive work that will set them apart this season. It’s what will make them the contender they appear to be (the contender some of us went out on a limb and predicted them to be this season) through the early stages of this season.

Their underrated defensive work was on display in Monday night’s rout of the surprising Philadelphia 76ers team, a crew that had already scored big wins over the reigning champion Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls in the first week of the season.

The Warriors weren’t having it. They made sure their offensive aggressiveness worked double-time for them. They attacked Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams, taking him out of the comfort zone he’d been in with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson attacking him non-stop, and unleashed Andre Iguodala on his former teammates in a way that put both teams in a different light after the Warriors were finished.

Mark Jackson‘s team is not the one-trick outfit you assume them to be, as Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune pointed out in the aftermath in Philly:

Curry attacked him relentlessly on offense, either losing him off the dribble or running him off screens. He set the tone for Golden State’s vibrant ball movement, which had the offense clicking from the outset. Through three quarters, the Warriors had 98 points on 49.3 percent shooting with 25 assists on 37 made baskets.

On the other end, the Warriors dispatched Thompson to use his size and length to keep Carter-Williams out of the paint. Carter-Williams finished with 18 points on 4-of-17 shooting with four assists, six rebounds and six turnovers.

With the head of the snake in check, the 76ers managed just 35.2 percent shooting with a season-high 24 turnovers and a season-low 19 assists.

“I give them credit,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a very underrated defensive team. … They’re noted for their offense, and they’re noted for their barrage of 3-point threats and scorers, but they actually are an excellent defensive team with all the pieces.”

Brown’s perspective should be duly noted by other coaches who will face these Warriors this season. They are a deeper and more experienced team than they were last season.

They’ll also be more formidable on the defensive side of the floor with the addition of Iguodala, not to mention healthy bigs Andrew Bogut and David Lee.

But the real beauty of what Jackson has working with the Warriors this season will be his unleashing of Curry and Thompson as whirlwind offensive forces that put so much pressure on opposing backcourts to either keep pace with them that they force said opposition into uncomfortable positions all over the floor.

The ability to deploy Curry and Thompson in that way is what will elevate the Warriors this season and allow them to become much more than just an offensive machine.

Warriors Bet Big With Extension, Again


VIDEO: Bogut discusses his contract extensiona

HANG TIME WEST – They were always destined to have a unique relationship: The Warriors acquired Andrew Bogut in March 2012, knowing he had a serious ankle injury that could sideline him the rest of that season, and understood he was a lynchpin piece even as David Lee became an All-Star and Stephen Curry surged toward stardom. They reached the 2013 West semifinals in part specifically thanks to Bogut playing hurt. Owner Joe Lacob knows one of the reasons he was booed at the completely unrelated Chris Mullin jersey retirement, wrong then and ridiculous now, was because popular Monta Ellis was traded for Bogut’s medical charts.

So, of course, the Bogut extension completed Friday was going to be different. It happened earlier than most veteran contracts (he could have waited until free agency next July 1 and signed for a lot more money). It happened with Bogut accepting incentive clauses in acknowledgement of his injury history (a concession he would not have had to make in the summer with a healthy 2013-14), and it happened without much rancor. (The negotiations took barely more than a week, with a short break as the team went to China for exhibition games, and the sides were always in the same ballpark in dollars and framework.)

And it happened because of Curry.

Bogut was an obvious fit on and off the court, in personality and play. He could have such a positive impact, even at less than 100 percent while recovering from ankle and back problems, that the Nuggets were caught off guard by the extent of his contributions in the first round last season, and he brought the perfect SOB attitude to an organization that wanted to shed its fun-bunch image for grit. The health issue was the only question.

Except that Golden State had stared down a similar dilemma almost exactly a year earlier and been paid back with a jackpot. Curry’s history with ankle issues was an obvious concern, but management went with its guts and the medical reports that said the series of sprains and surgeries were in the past and believed the point guard, then beginning his third season, was turning into something special.

Curry got four years and $44 million, without incentive clauses. When he turned into a shooting star, literally and figuratively, the Warriors got a bargain. They kept the player and saved many millions from what it would have taken to match the offer sheet Curry would have gotten as a restricted free agent after 2012-13.

Flash forward to 2013, the Bogut negotiations, the health factor, and the new gut call.

“He’s the type of player you want to bet on,” general manager Bob Myers said at the press conference announcing the Bogut extension. “I said the same thing about Curry last year. You have to take risks in this business from the front-office perspective. You’re never entirely sure how they’re going to work out. But for us, he’s a character guy, he’s a leader on the team, he’s about winning, he’s a competitor. And those are the types of guys you want to bet on. I feel like him as the starting center for our franchise puts us in a good position. I grew up watching this team, when I was 7, 8 years old, and I barely remember Joe Barry Carroll. I’ve never seen a center play for this organization besides Andrew Bogut. That tells you how hard they are (to acquire). No offense to Tom Tolbert, who was a Warriors 6-8 center, but, really, it shows you how hard it is to get one of these guys and to keep one of these guys. To risk losing him (Bogut) to free agency was not something we were willing to do.”

The financial middle ground was ultimately three years and $36 million guaranteed, kicking in next season, with descending annual payments that will make it easier to manage extensions that at the current rate will be coming to Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Bogut could earn another $5.5 million by reaching certain incentives, including making the All-Star team, All-NBA, All-Defense or Defensive Player of the Year.

Bogut got his double goal of staying in Golden State and financial security now, and the Warriors got to lock up their starting center and defensive presence with some safety nets at less than he would have commanded as a free agent in July 2014 with a healthy season. The only real concern is the reality that the members of the media who regularly cover the league and vote on All-NBA and Defensive Player of the League now have a voice in how much Bogut will make. It is such an obvious conflict, yet the balloting continues to be allowed by most news outlets.

Five Fearless Predictions For 2013-14





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We can talk all we want about what we saw in the preseason, but it doesn’t mean a thing come Tuesday night. The real NBA season starts then, opening night of the 2013-14 campaign, flush with three matchups that we’ve all been waiting to see for months.

We get to see contenders in all three instances. The Pacers host the Magic in their opener at 7 p.m. ET (League Pass) as an appetizer for the Heat hosting the Bulls on banner night at 8 p.m. ET (TNT) and we finish things off with the Clippers and Lakers squaring off at Staples Center at 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT), capping a fine opening night with the LA upstarts trying once again to upset the establishment.

We don’t have to wait until opening night to unveil our five fearless predictions for the 2013-14 season. We can do that right now with all the certainty in the world that our crystal basketball will serve as our guiding force throughout this season.

Call me crazy (and believe me, you will after this) … but this is what these eyes see on the horizon:

1) The Heat’s Three-Peat Dream Will Not Be Realized
No one will dispute the fact that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat have been stellar champions in each of the past two seasons. What they’ve done, what they have overcome to hoist the last two Larry O’Brien trophies has been nothing short of remarkable, given that they’ve played with a giant bulls eye on their chests in each of the past three seasons. But fatigue and the competition catches up to the champs this season. They have worthy adversaries within the conference (Pacers, Bulls, Knicks, Nets) and a stacked crew from the Western Conference (Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Warriors, Rockets and others) ready to tear each other apart to get a shot at the Heat. The Heat make it back to The Finals for a fourth straight time this season but are bruised and battered from a brutal Eastern Conference playoff road when they get there. Another seven-game conference final, this time against the Bulls, pushes them to the limit. They fail to seal the deal in The Finals, falling to an inspired Golden State Warriors team that shot the Houston Rockets out of the Western Conference finals in six games.

2) The Return Of Rose Is Real 
Derrick Rose was right and you were wrong. He did not need to rush back last season from ACL surgery and the Bulls will be better this season because of that decision. That also means Rose reclaims his spot among the top five players in the league and as the top (ahem, sorry Chris Paul) point guard in the game with his triumphant return. Go ahead and wipe your eyes and look at it again. The preseason show Rose put on in limited minutes (24 points, six assists, three rebounds plus 50 percent shooting from the floor and 42 percent from deep) will continue as the regular season goes on. The Bulls showed us last season that they were still be a problem in the East without Rose. Now that he’s back and they are healthy, with the ranks reinforced, Tom Thibodeau‘s team will resume its quest to knock off the Heat and earn a long-awaited trip back to The Finals. That’s a year off, but the conference finals is a stage Rose gets his chance to shine on this year. While Kobe BryantRajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others ponder their returns from significant injury, they’d be wise to pay attention to the way Rose handled his (his critics owe him the kind courtesy of admitting they were wrong) and adjust accordingly.

3) Say Hello To Your New MVP … Kevin Durant
One unintended side effect of Russell Westbrook’s lingering injury issue will be the appreciation gained by voters in the MVP race for just how unbelievably spectacular Kevin Durant has and continues to play during his climb to the top of the superstar food chain. Durant’s two-way game has improved with time and the 2013-14 season will offer him a chance to showcase those skills while Westbrook eases his way back into position as his partner in crime. Durant has sharpened his skills after each season in the league and with every postseason teaching point (you always learn more about yourself when you fail) he has rebounded with yet another quality piece to his growing arsenal of skills. He’ll be a better and more aggressive playmaker and rebounder with Westbrook on the mend. And the three-time scoring champ will continue to be the most dangerous scoring machine in the league with Kobe Bryant finding his way back into the mix in Los Angeles and Carmelo Anthony still the doing his thing in New York. Durant’s much improved all-around game and the load he’ll have to tote for the Thunder this season, however, is what earns him his first MVP trophy.

4) Dwight Howard Is The Best Big Man In Basketball … Again!
We’ve had our fun at his expense the past two seasons, and rightfully so. When you exit the premises in Orlando and Los Angeles, respectively, the way Dwight Howard did, you deserve whatever vitriol fans in those cities and elsewhere dish out. Lost in the madness, though, is the fact that Howard has maintained a reasonably high standard for a player dealing with all of that extracurricular drama, not to mention the back surgery and recovery he endured during the 2012-13 season he spent with the Lakers. With big man tutors in both Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon and Celtics great and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, Howard can’t help but improve his skill-set and take back the seat Marc Gasol kept warm for him last season. What sets Howard apart, and always has, is the fact that there is not another traditional big man in the league with his combination of size, athleticism and natural gifts from the basketball Gods. Howard swears Houston is the ideal situation for him to finally put it all together. He needed a fresh start, somewhere he could reintroduce himself to the basketball world without any of the excess baggage he’s accrued over the years following him. The Rockets and their championship-starved fan base offer just that and more.

5) Yes, The Warriors Shock The World And Win It All!
You thought I forgot about that Warriors prediction from No. 1? Sure, it’s a reach for a team whose fortunes depend on the continued good health of several key players (Steph Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, etc.). But an injury to the wrong man can rearrange the short-term and long-term plans of any franchise, just ask the folks in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Los Angeles (Lakers) how that works. What I love about what Mark Jackson and the Warriors have going on right now is their absolute fearlessness in challenging the Western Conference establishment. They don’t care that the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Rockets all have what appears to be better chances of surviving a cutthroat playoff chase. They have the pieces in place, Andre Iguodala being the most noticeable new face, to challenge conventional wisdom this season. They also play a style that, if sustained, no other team in the West or the league will be able to match in the postseason. Of course, Bogut and Lee have to stay out of the training room as much as possible and Curry has to avoid the recurrence of the foot and ankle injuries that seem to plague him every season. But if ever there was a time to crash the Western Conference party and spice up the championship picture and shock the basketball world, that time is now for the upstart Warriors.

The China Experience, And What Comes Next For NBA Overseas

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HANG TIME WEST – The girl — about 5-foot-2 and appearing to be in her mid-teens — was caught in the mosh pit, jostled by enthusiastic fans on the rope line outside the hotel the teams shared in Beijing and overly aggressive security guards who would get unnecessarily physical to control situations. And she didn’t care.

It was the first morning the Lakers and Warriors were in China, last Sunday outside the Ritz-Carlton. She had straight dark hair parted in the middle, down just past the shoulders, black-rimmed glasses with yellow temples, paper in hand. She also had a dark streak from right eye to throat, tears combined with mascara.

She was crying at the chance to see Warriors players, coaches and staffers walk past on the way to the bus to practice, most of whom stopped among the crowd for autographs and pictures. A.C. Green, the former Laker and current Oakland resident on the trip as an NBA ambassador, spent about 20 minutes, or until every one of the few dozen fans who wanted an interaction left happy. It was the teenage girl who spoke up.

“I love basketball,” she said in broken English. “It is the importance of my life.”

The Warriors and Lakers in China was a hard schedule even with the first-class travel, with a series of appearances in the name of NBA public relations when players would rather have had alone time, and it was an unwanted trip for many with the regular season coming fast. But it was undeniably an experience of unique sights and sounds. Just ask Green and the girl with black watery line down her face.

A basketball takeaway? The 14 assists and five steals by Andre Iguodala in Shanghai on Friday. It was exhibition play, and not exactly against the dream Lakers lineup on a night no L.A. starter broke 26 minutes, Iguodala the distributor is intriguing look when Stephen Curry is out, or maybe even when Curry is in and able to play off the ball. Toney Douglas may be listed as Curry’s backup, but Iguodala, the likely starter at small forward or shooting guard, said he feels comfortable at the point. He has experience in the pros, mostly from his 76ers days. If Iguodala can be successful there, Golden State can play very big (Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green, David Lee, Andrew Bogut) as part of several lineup options coach Mark Jackson can deploy with a versatile roster.

Meanwhile, Jerry West delighting in the chance to go mostly unrecognized proved to be short-lived. He received a very loud ovation at the first game, Tuesday in Beijing, when he was brought to center court to be introduced with Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and Green, and so many fans interrupted West at his seat back in the stands that the Warriors executive was finally moved to the scorer’s table with security close. Team officials are ordinarily not allowed to sit there, but the rules are bent for The Logo in a different continent.

Kobe Bryant left China with his status for the regular season in as much doubt as when he arrived. Bryant has not ruled out opening night, Oct. 29 against the Clippers, and he continues to increase the workout activities in the return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. But he is also underlining patience. As much as he wants to be on the court as soon as possible, Bryant gets the risk of coming back too soon and playing before the injury is fully healed.

The Warriors landed in Oakland at 1 a.m. Saturday with plans for a very quiet Saturday and a light practice Sunday to get re-adjusted to California time, and then for a big week ahead for the entire organization: Talks on an extension for Andrew Bogut could accelerate, with both sides optimistic a deal can get done before or very early into the regular season. A Golden State insider, while cautioning a lot of negotiating remains, agreed with Bogut’s assessment that team and player are starting serious conversations in the same ballpark on dollars and with common ground on length and possible incentive clauses based on games played. There is no deadline, but Bogut, hoping to stay, either wants the contract done soon or table the issue until after the season.

Beijing and Shanghai both have nice basketball facilities, but especially Shanghai, with Mercedes-Benz Arena and a second quality building in another part of town that was used for a Fan Appreciation Day. Shanghai as a whole has a very modern vibe. It has about six million more people in the city itself, yet seems to move smoother and is cleaner than the country’s government center.

One other thing about Beijing: Cabbies make the most ruthless of New York taxi drivers seem timid. It’s probably not only the cabbies, either. Traffic lines are suggestions, yielding to pedestrians an occasional happening.

And finally, there was Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni on Thursday in Shanghai, when asked what kind of restaurant he went to the night before with Yao Ming: “Chinese. But that would be just ‘food’ over here, right?”