Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Bynum’

Morning shootaround — July 19




VIDEO: Gasol excited about joining the Bulls

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bynum might sit out | Exum experiences bumps | Bulls take on international flair | Jordan challenges Lance | Wiggins not worried
No. 1: Bynum might sit out year to strengthen knees — Of course, the big question is if Andrew Bynum decided to sit out the entire 2014-15 season to have treatment on his bad knees, who would notice? After all, the big man has played just 26 games over the past two years while wearing different uniforms in Philly, Cleveland and Indiana. Now, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Bynum is considering undergoing the German-based therapy program that promotes cartilage growth that will require an extra long recovery time, with an eye on joining Phil Jackson and the Knicks in 2015-15:

Regenokine is a non-surgical program that promotes new cartilage growth through a series of injections. The FDA still hasn’t approved it in the United States. Bynum is considering doing the program with well-known doctor German doctor Peter Wehling, who worked with Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. It is similar but not identical to the PRP procedure.
Bynum has arthritic knees that have stalled a career that once flourished under Jackson in Los Angeles.
“If he’s healthy, Phil will be interested,” Lee told The Post. “Phil knew how to tap into Andrew. They got along famously.”

Bynum, the Jersey product who was a young stud center for two of Jackson’s Lakers title teams, would undergo the procedure as a means to extend his career.
“He would be looking at in a longer-term situation,” Lee said. “He’s still a baby. If he went to college, he’d be coming off his rookie contract at age 26.”

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No. 2: Strong Exum finds there’s a lot to learning in Las Vegas — Everybody with a grade school knowledge of world geography knows it’s a long way from Australia to the United States. Utah’s No. 5 pick in the draft Dante Exum got a first-hand taste of the miles he still has to travel to make the adjustment to the NBA with a rough experience in the NBA. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper watched all of Exum’s bumps in the road at the Las Vegas summer league and talks about what the experience meant:

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.
“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”
Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.
“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.
“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

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No. 3: Gasol, Mirotic give the Bulls a taste of Spain — So much has changed since the time Spaniard Pau Gasol was a No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2001 to now when Nikola Mirotic signed on to join him for the upcoming season with the Bulls. Our Steve Aschburner talks about how the basketball world in general and the NBA in particular has embraced the contributions of international players:

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”
Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.
He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions — international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas — throughout his career.
Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.
“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.
“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

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No. 4: Jordan throws down gauntlet to Stephenson — Before he officially signed off on the three-year, $27.4-million free agent contract, Hornets owner Michael Jordan laid down the law and told Lance Stephenson that he expects fewer shenanigans and more production this season. Stephenson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer that he definitely got the message:

“I bring more to the table than blowing in someone’s ear,” Stephenson said Friday of the incident with LeBron James that brought him so much notoriety.
Stephenson, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, brings scoring, defense, playmaking and an edge. The Hornets like his edginess, and believe it can help them win games. But only to a point.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan attended the meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday night that resulted in Stephenson signing a 3-year, $27.4 million contract. Jordan spoke very directly with Stephenson before signing off on this contract.
“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Observer after the news conference. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”
There is plenty to like. The Hornets desperately need scoring and shooting from the wing positions. Last season Stephenson averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists and shot 49 percent from the field. The Hornets needed a player of his wide skill set and playoff experience.
What they don’t need is some of the disruptive things that have come with Stephenson’s history. He committed 14 technical fouls last season, fourth-most in the NBA. He had two legal issues in the past, first when he was accused of groping a teenage girl and later an accusation he pushed a girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
The $9 million-a-season salary (the third season at $9.4 million is a team option) is a bargain for a player of Stephenson’s talent. The Hornets got that deal because of the ways Stephenson undermined his reputation entering free-agency.

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No. 5: Wiggins just playing, ignoring the rumors — Rookie Andrew Wiggins can’t turn on the TV or click on a website without confronting another rumor that he could be part of a blockbuster trade that brings Kevin Love to Cleveland. It’s an unusual position for the No. 1 pick in any draft to be in. But after finishing up his stint at the Las Vegas summer league on Friday night, Wiggins told our Jeff Caplan that the only thing on his mind is playing basketball and getting better:

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”
The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.
“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.
James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.
There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.
As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”
“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says the Rockets won’t miss Chandler Parsons …Channing Frye never considered giving the Suns a hometown discount … Udonis Haslem signs two-year deal to stay with the Heat …LeBron James is asking for help on deciding which jersey number he’ll wear in his return to Cleveland.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Pacers need a lift from their bench

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews Game 4 of the Heat-Pacers series

MIAMI – Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup has outscored the Miami Heat (by 29 points) in its floor time in the Eastern Conference finals. But when the Pacers have had one or more reserves on the floor, they’ve been pretty awful (minus-34). And thus, they’re down 2-1 with a need to get Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Yes, this is the same story as we had in last year’s conference finals, when the Pacers’ starters were a plus-49 in seven games and all other Indiana lineups were a minus-77.

With that in mind, reworking the bench was the focus of the Pacers’ summer. They traded for Luis Scola and signed C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. But in the regular season, lineups that included at least one reserve were only slightly better (plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions) than they were last season (plus-1.8).

In February, the Pacers signed Andrew Bynum and traded Danny Granger for Evan Turner, moves that somehow threw their starters in a funk. They’ve been better in the postseason, but the bench is back to bringing the Pacers down.

The playoff numbers aren’t as bad as they were last season, but Indiana lineups with at least one reserve on the floor have been pretty dreadful offensively and have been outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions in 16 games. In this series, they’ve been awful on both ends of the floor and have been outscored by 30.3.

Scola scored eight straight points in the second quarter on Saturday, but has shot 2-for-11 otherwise. Ian Mahinmi has played just 23 minutes in three games. Turner has played just three, and managed to dribble straight into a triple-team upon entering Game 3. Watson has the worst plus-minus (minus-31 in 58 minutes) in the series.

The only reserve that hasn’t hurt the Pacers in this series is Rasual Butler. Meanwhile, the Heat have gotten lifts from Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis, all of whom have been trusted and empowered much more than anyone on Indiana’s bench.

That’s why some of this has to come back on Pacers coach Frank Vogel. In a sprint for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage (which they lost in Game 2) from the start of the season, the Pacers weren’t willing to sacrifice games to develop their bench. Over the last two seasons, the Indiana starting lineup has played almost twice as many minutes (3,429) as any other lineup in the league.

Part of that is health. They’ve been fortunate that none of their starters have missed more than eight games in either season.

Part of it is dependence. When the starters are much better than the reserves, teams tend to stick with them for longer minutes.

But part of it is a lack of foresight. Scola, Watson and Mahinmi had regular roles during the season, but guys like Copeland and Butler were basically used in garbage time.

And so, while the Heat can adjust their lineup however they need to according to the matchup or who’s playing well (witness Cole and Allen helping them destroy Indiana in Saturday’s fourth quarter), the Pacers are rather rigid.

When his team is struggling to match up with Miami’s small lineup in transition and David West is chasing Allen around multiple screens, there’s little Vogel can do. He isn’t going to take West off the floor, because he’s his most stable and dependable player. If he benches Roy Hibbert, Vogel has lost his rim protection against the best rim attacker in the league.

Foul trouble is another problem. With George Hill and Paul George forced to sit extra minutes in Game 3, the Pacers’ defense didn’t hold up. Lance Stephenson was forced to play all of the final three quarters and looked gassed as the Heat pulled away in the fourth.

In its last six wins, Miami has outscored its opponents in the fourth quarter by an average score of 26.5-19.5. The Heat haven’t been superb all game, every game, but they get it done when they need to.

Might the Pacers’ starters be able to hang with the champs better in the fourth quarter if their reserves had given them a little more production and rest earlier in the game?

That question may still linger if Indiana doesn’t turn this series back around on Monday. To do that, they’ll need more production from the bench.

Pacers’ Bynum era over, but alleged impact on Hibbert remains

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

INDIANAPOLIS – The latest Andrew Bynum experiment is over for the Indiana Pacers, its results meager, its costs still being calculated.

Andrew Bynum (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Andrew Bynum (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Bynum, the 7-foot, 285-pound center signed by the Pacers Feb. 1, officially was cut loose Wednesday morning. Hampered by chronic knee problems, the one-time (2012) L.A. Lakers All-Star, 26, played just twice for Indiana. He had an eight-point, 10-rebound game against Boston on March 11, then scored 15 points with nine rebounds four nights later against Detroit before heading back to the trainers room with soreness and fluid in his right knee.

“We want to thank Andrew and our medical staff for trying to get the issues with his knee resolved,” Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said in a statement. “We wish him the best in the future.”

Acquiring Bynum – at a reported $1 million guaranteed for the balance of 2013-14 – was a gamble by Bird that didn’t pay off. But it might have cost the Pacers more than money. Center Roy Hibbert‘s ongoing tailspin coincides with Bynum’s arrival, so much that some team insiders have wondered if the move rattled Hibbert’s confidence and trust.

Through Jan. 31, Hibbert was posting his customary numbers – 12.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game – for a team that was 35-10. After Bynum was signed, Hibbert averaged 9.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He’s been worse in Indiana’s eight playoff games so far: 4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks. And the Pacers have gone 25-20.

Bringing Bynum aboard rankled Hibbert, a source told NBA.com, when coach Frank Vogel ran plays to get Bynum involved offensively that he rarely calls for Hibbert.

After a disastrous season in Philadelphia in 2012-13, a disappointing stay in Cleveland earlier this season and a one-night stint with Chicago to fulfill trade obligations in January, his two-appearance stop in Indiana leaves Bynum’s basketball future in doubt. Brief as it was, it might have played a role in doing the same for Hibbert and the Pacers.

Blogtable: Tweaking Indiana

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.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: Paul George on rival Miami, and Indiana’s own offensive struggles

> Indiana does not look good. Are Larry Bird’s roster tweaks (Evan Turner, Andrew Bynum) ever going to help? What next?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Yes, it is getting late for the Pacers. Bynum was a calculated risk who might not pan out after all – maybe he can sign with and not play for all 30 teams before he’s done. Turner needs only to be better than more-rusty-than-recovered Danny Granger, and that still might happen in time to make a difference. Indiana’s stagnant offense has slowed Turner’s impact (not the other way around), but ultimately this team rises or falls on its starting five

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Turner has been underwhelming and Bynum barely on the court.  It was always questionable how much Turner would help them because, in order to get the most out of his offense in Philly, he needed the ball in his hands a great deal of the time.  He’s just not an instant-offense type player.  If Bynum is nothing more than an occasional contributor, the thin offensive production has not been improved.  The Pacers are going to have to do it all with their defense and that’s probably too much to ask.

Evan Turner (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Evan Turner (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Help? Looks like those moves have demoralized his team, not that I heard anyone, including myself, suggest such a thing might happen at the time of either big move. Andrew Bynum’s done, so forget that. Shipping off Danny Granger seems to have done a psychological number on this young team who looked up to the former All-Star. It really was a great feel-good story with Granger coming back, albeit in a reduced role, and, yes, he didn’t exactly sprint out of the gate, but … now he’s helping the streaking Clippers, who really needed a boost on the wing.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Evan Turner will help a little, which is all anyone should have ever expected. How good did people think he was when the 76ers couldn’t give him away? Turner for Danny Granger was a good trade for the Pacers because it gave them someone with a better chance to contribute here and there than Granger. If Turner wins a playoff game for Indy with a bench spark, that’s a reasonable return. Take that approach and multiply it times a thousand for Bynum. He may never help, which, again, should have been expected all along. What next if neither help? There is no next. Just the roster that will defend their guts out and can beat anyone four times in seven games without Turner and Bynum.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I doubt that Bynum’s going to help. Even if he does get healthy, Frank Vogel might trust Ian Mahinmi more in the postseason. Turner has never been an efficient scorer, so even when he has a good game, he’s not going to give them a huge lift. But there doesn’t necessarily need to be a “what’s next.” This was the best team in the league for four months with a defense that was able to stop the most potent offenses. They could certainly find their footing and get back to that level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI didn’t think the roster tweaks were necessary. When you are already running ahead of the pack in the conference, roster tweaks are a luxury. Larry Bird was praised by most for being proactive, as he should have been. Turner and Bynum aren’t the Pacers’ problem. It’s their core guys — Paul George and Roy Hibbert specifically — who are not playing at the consistently sky-high level they were earlier this season. What’s next is the Pacers’ core group relocating that defensive focus and offensive flow that led them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings … a spot they might not hold on to much longer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Put it this way: I don’t really thing Bird’s roster tweaks are going to *hurt,* at least long-term. I just think we’re seeing what happens when you make changes on the fly — you have to learn on the fly. This goes against how the Pacers have built their team, taking their time and growing nearly organically. They lost a guy averaging about 9 points a game, sure, but that shouldn’t take a team from being a contender to a pretender. Hopefully they have enough time to figure it all out before the playoffs roll around.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Actually, I’m not as concerned about the Pacers as many other people. Indy seems to coast a little, which affects their offense. Paul George has been off lately, Roy Hibbert recently appeared to criticize Lance Stephenson (without mentioning his name) for ball-hogging. All of that indicates that Indy is bored, at least to me. It’s true that Bynum and Turner haven’t helped yet, but the moves also haven’t hurt the team as Bynum came for free and Granger hadn’t given Indiana much. I’m hopeful that both of them will be valuable come playoff time. The only thing that worries me is that the Pacers might lose home-court advantage to the Miami Heat.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Is this even about Bird’s roster tweaks anymore? I mean, in any case, the rotation during the playoffs is much shorter than the regular season, with the starters seeing a lot more playing time. If the Pacers have to do better, Paul George’s 30-for-95, David West’s 26-for-72 and Roy Hibbert’s 20-for-48 field-goal shooting efforts in Indiana’s last six games have to improve. If not, Indiana will cede home-court advantage to Miami and could possibly exit the playoffs even before the Conference finals.

Morning shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook bangs knee; Durant scores 51 | Gasol leaves in walking boot | Knicks make it eight straight | Nash dishes 11 dimes | Bynum out indefinitely


VIDEO: Closer look at Durant’s 51-point performance

No. 1: Westbrook gets scare, Durant scores 51 — In a wild game at Toronto, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook left in the third quarter after banging knees with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. It was Westbrook’s right knee, the one he’s had three surgeries on since initially tearing the meniscus in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He immediately reacted to the pain and slammed his palm on the floor. He was assisted off the floor as the Thunder held their breath. More will be known as Westbrook is re-evaluated in Oklahoma City today. The Thunder won the game in dramatic fashion, 119-118, in double overtime. Kevin Durant capped a remarkable night with his seventh 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to go, giving him 51 points. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman has the details:

The official word is a right knee sprain, and the plan is to re-evaluate him Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Although Westbrook didn’t return to the Thunder’s thrilling 119-118 double-overtime victory over the Raptors, he was in great spirits after the game and said he doesn’t expect to miss any time. He left the Air Canada Centre walking just fine, without crutches or even a knee brace, just a routine black sleeve hidden under his pants.

And judging by Westbrook’s demeanor and that of his teammates and coach Scott Brooks, the injury didn’t appear to be serious.

“I feel good, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m pain-free. I’m just going to, (Saturday), get it looked at and go from there.”

The injury occurred with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Westbrook made a slight jab-step beyond the 3-point line on the left wing. As Westbrook held his left foot in place as his pivot, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry inadvertently bumped into Westbrook’s right knee while closing out.

Westbrook’s knee bent inward, and he immediately called a timeout, slamming the ball to the court upon doing so.

“You’ve been hurt before, you kind of get nervous like I did,” Westbrook said of his reaction.

After briefly attempting to walk off whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling, Westbrook was helped to the locker room by Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet and trainer Joe Sharpe. He remained in the dressing room for the duration of the game as the Thunder battled back from an eight-point deficit inside the final minute of double overtime.

Kevin Durant hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer from 31 feet with 1.7 seconds remaining. He then forced Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan into contested fadeaway from the right baseline. It fell short as the clock hit zero.

Durant finished with a game-high 51 points, his second 50-point game this season, and added 12 rebounds and seven assists.

“We couldn’t go another overtime,” Durant said. “So I had to live with whatever happened.”

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VIDEO: Gasol injured in Grizzlies’ loss in Miami

No. 2: Gasol sprains left ankle — Midway through the third quarter, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol hobbled off the floor with a sprained left ankle and left the American Airlines Arena floor in a walking boot. It was a double whammy for the Grizzlies, one of the hottest teams in the NBA since Jan. 1. Not only must they wait and wonder about the health of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, they lost a lead they had held for most of the game as the Heat pulled out the victory. More will be known on the severity of Gasol’s injury, but one thing is certain — Memphis needs its big man in the final month of the regular season to ensure it makes the playoffs, let alone have a chance to return to the Western Conference finals. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has more:

Memphis’ bigger issue seemed to be executing without Gasol.

The 7-footer left with 6:34 left in the third period. He was hurt earlier on a non-contact play. Gasol appeared to roll his ankle as he turned to run. Gasol left the arena wearing a walking boot and he’ll be re-evaluated Saturday before the Griz face the Indiana Pacers for the second game of a back-to-back.

“It made it tough, but we tried to play small and stretch them out,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “I thought we did a good job of getting it to Zach. He had a heck of a game.”

Gasol had been a force, too, and not just because of his 14 points and six rebounds.

“We were using him to make the second and third pass,” [Mike] Conley said. “He was playing point forward. The whole scheme went through him.”

The game was knotted at 68 entering the fourth quarter after both teams exchanged large scoring runs in the third. Memphis allowed a 12-point advantage to disappear in the final few minutes of the third.

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No. 3: Knicks keep playoff push alive — The Knicks handed the Philadelphia 76ers their 23rd consecutive loss, but the bigger news was that New York kept its playoff hopes alive despite already having 40 losses as the calendar turns to spring. But that’s the beauty of the Eastern Conference, folks. And with the Atlanta Hawks losing, the Knicks moved within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot. And guess what? New York’s upcoming schedule offers even more hope with games against the hobbled Cavaliers and Lakers followed by the Kings. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News has the story:

With new team president Phil Jackson returning to his California home following his triumphant Garden return two nights earlier, the bench nearly coughed up a 17-point lead in a game the Knicks had controlled with five minutes left. But [Mike] Woodson turned back to his first unit in the final 30 seconds, and the Knicks just barely did what they had to do to survive and advance Friday night against a team that now has dropped 23 straight games, holding on for their season-best eighth straight win, 93-92, over the dreadful Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.

“We didn’t have no choice at that point. I felt like we had a very comfortable lead. It happened. Them guys never quit,” [Carmelo] Anthony said about having to return to the game after it looked like his night was finished. “You could just see the lead dwindling, possession by possession. You go from up (17) and you look up and we’re only up two with a couple of seconds on the clock, so hopefully we didn’t have to come up with a prayer.”

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No. 4: Nash shines in return — Maybe 40-year-old Steve Nash has something left after all. Fighting injuries all season, the two-time MVP made yet another return Friday night just a week after being declared done for the season. The Los Angeles Lakers still lost to the Washington Wizards, but the aging wizard for L.A. put on quite a show, dishing out a season-high 11 assists to go with five points, four rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes. He came off the bench for the first time since March 9, 2000 with Dallas, snapping a stretch of 975 consecutive starts, reports Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“Just to feel good and feel like you can make a play for your teammates and put pressure on the other team and move freely,” Nash said. “It’s why I love this game and that’s why I’ve kept fighting and trying to work in case I got another opportunity.”

Nash said he came out of the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his back but remained hopeful he could play Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Lakers guard Xavier Henry also hurt his left wrist and said he would have an MRI exam on Saturday after X-rays were negative.

Nash made his first appearance since Feb. 11, when he suffered a recurrence of the nerve irritation in his back that has limited him to 11 games this season. There was concern in that Nash might never play another NBA game.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters March 13 that Nash would not return this season because it didn’t make sense for him to push his 40-year-old body with so few games left.

Then Jordan Farmar strained his right groin in practice Monday, opening the door for Nash.
After entering the game to warm applause late in the first quarter, Nash quickly found Hill for a jump hook and made a couple of behind-the-back passes on the way to collecting five assists in his first six minutes.

D’Antoni said Nash probably would continue to come off the bench unless he “gets to a certain point and gets that good” because of limited practice time and the Lakers wanting to be cautious with his body.

Nash has one more season and $9.7 million left on his contract but could be waived by Sept. 1, allowing the Lakers to spread out his salary over three seasons.

He would prefer to prove over the next month that he’s ready to play one more.

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No. 5:  Swelling puts Bynum on ice — If the Indiana Pacers truly signed big man Andrew Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, well the Heat’s training staff will probably be sending a thank-you card. Experiencing continued swelling and soreness in his right knee, Bynum will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday. Bynum signed with the Pacers on Feb. 1, but has played in just two games. On a strange note, although not so much when it comes to Bynum, he reportedly got his hair cut at halftime of Friday’s game against Chicago. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on Bynum’s injury status:

Bynum has played in two games with the Pacers, averaging 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game.

Though the Pacers expected to play Bynum in short spurts, last Saturday he reached 20 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. Since then, Bynum has been on the inactive list.

On Tuesday, Bynum, who did not participate in practice, said after the session that his swollen right knee needed to be drained.

“This one is a lot more concerning for me because it caused me a lot more fluid,” Bynum said.

Now days later, Pacers coach Frank Vogel answered “no” when asked if there had been any progress with Bynum’s knee since the return from Detroit.

“There’s still swelling,” Vogel said on Friday. “I really don’t have anything new. Other than it’s swollen right now, we’ll give you an update when we’re ready to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Heat present Mike Miller his 2013 championship ring as Grizzlies visit Miami … Tony Parker says he will play five or six more years with Spurs then play for French team he owns … Andre Miller says Nuggets made him out to be the bad guyKevin Garnett is unsure of return from back spasms … Bobcats ask Charlotte for $34.1 million to improve arena.

Morning Shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: ‘Melo to explore ‘options’ in free agency | LeBron backs off vs. Cavs | Bynum suffering from swollen knee | Rondo struggling with how to lead rebuilding Celts | Pau backs Jackson’s move to N.Y.

No. 1: Report: Bulls, Rockets top suitors for Anthony — As Phil Jackson was introduced as the Knicks new team president yesterday, one of the main topics of conversation was the future of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony intends to opt out of his contract this summer and test the free-agent waters and while the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team on the open market can, rumors have bubbled up about him being interested in leaving. In a review of the Knicks’ addition of Jackson, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski says that two teams — the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets — are in the lead to make a big push for ‘Melo this summer:

Jackson has limitless resources to construct a front office, coaching staff and roster. Everything’s on him now. James Dolan won’t be cramping Jackson’s style in those big free-agent meetings, because it will be Jackson playing the part of Miami’s Pat Riley now. Throwing his rings on the table, selling management credibility born of coaching genius.

And make no mistake: One of the most important things Jackson offered on Tuesday was a nod toward his old Chicago Bulls nemesis and GM, Jerry Krause, whom, he said, set a standard for thoroughness and legwork in the evaluation of talent. All of them mocked Krause, but no one – not Jackson, nor Michael Jordan – would’ve had multiple titles without him. Or maybe even one.

The NBA is a talent business, and the Knicks’ most important asset, Carmelo Anthony, will welcome listening to Jackson’s pitch on the future. Anthony heard part of it in the news conference when Jackson went out of his way to suggest the Knicks star’s freewheeling, isolation-scoring days are done.

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

“He’ll give New York every option,” one source with knowledge of Anthony’s plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “But he has options – and he’s going to explore them all.”


VIDEO: Phil Jackson talks about his desire to keep Carmelo Anthony in New York

***

No. 2: LeBron backs off a bit after epic start vs. Cavs — After the first quarter of last night’s Heat-Cavaliers game from Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron James had 25 points on a 10-for-11 shooting performance in the first quarter. In short, it looked like James was headed for another record scoring night just weeks after he set the team mark for points in a game with 61 against the Charlotte Bobcats. But a funny thing happened as the game went along: James tapered off his field goal attempts and worked to get others involved. While he still finished with 43 points, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst notes how James chose to back off against Cleveland after his hot start:

LeBron James had the hammer raised on his former team Tuesday night, the chance to inflict another lasting scar with the sort of record-setting performance that would hang on the books for years.Maybe it was mercy, maybe it was maturity and maybe there was just some pride from the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers. It was hard to figure exactly what happened, but James uncharacteristically stood down and perhaps allowed a chance at a record to pass and left satisfied that his Miami Heat took a 100-96 victory.

James, who possesses a flash-drive memory, easily remembered Allen Iverson scoring 54 points on the Cavs back in 2001 when he was a teenager in nearby Akron. It was a vendetta that night, Iverson upset the Cleveland crowd had mistreated him in his view in an earlier visit and he was determined to make a statement.

Iverson’s angry night still stands as the Quicken Loans Arena record and it was so within James’ grasp. James himself carries the date Dec. 2, 2010, around in his head like a family member’s birthday because of the rancor he encountered in the building in his first game back after signing with the Heat. He mentions that date numerous times a year, usually when brushing away someone insinuating he’d run into a hostile crowd that particular day.

He referenced that date again Tuesday, in fact. But James doesn’t seem to have the same desire to strike back as Iverson. If nothing else, James played almost 400 games in his life in the building and never eclipsed 50 but was halfway to that number just 12 minutes in.

“With that type of start, you see if you can go for 70,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s just human conditioning to think like that.”

And it’s human conditioning for the coach to let his player try. Instead of sitting James to start the second quarter as normal, Spoelstra sent him to the floor to continue the streak.

Then something odd happened. James backed off. He started passing up open driving lanes. He started looking for teammates inside. He started calling plays for teammates, especially looking to get Ray Allen some open looks. He eased off the pure attack mode he seemed to be reveling in only moments before.

“When I started the game off, I felt like I could have went for 50 or 60,” James said. “But you can’t really dictate what’s going to happen.”

James would take just eight shots the rest of the game, which is simply incomprehensible after one starts 10-of-11. He took just three shots in the entire second half when the Cavs, who were also without All-Star Kyrie Irving because of a biceps injury, were pushing back and trying to pull an upset.

Just imagine how many shots Iverson might’ve taken had he started a game 10-of-11, much less a game in Cleveland during his prime.

James did reach the 40-point mark, getting there with some late-game free throws when the Cavs starting intentionally fouling him to stop the clock to keep comeback hopes alive. In all, he had 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting. It was barely above normal: James averages 17.5 shots a game and most of the time he’s sharing the load with Wade.

“He’s not a selfish player, never has been,” said Chris Bosh, who was the Heat’s main offensive weapon in the second half as he scored 12 of his 21 points despite a little scare when he twisted his right knee in the third quarter.

“He’s still had [43], that’s pretty good. Some guys probably don’t have the maturity to handle that but he did a pretty good job of playing a complete game.”


VIDEO: LeBron James gets off to a quick start in Miami’s win in Cleveland

***

No. 3: Bynum dealing with swelling in knee — The Pacers have to be more than pleased with what they’ve seen from center Andrew Bynum in the two games as the big man is averaging 11.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg while shooting 40.9 percent. But it appears they’ll have to wait a while to see him on the court again as knee swelling will keep him sidelined as the Pacers travel to face the Knicks tonight, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Andrew Bynum won’t join the Pacers on their trip to New York, but instead will stay in town to treat swelling in his knees that are causing him pain — and to miss games.

“The knees are still swollen so he’s going to stay behind to get some work in here and some treatment here,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll see where he’s at when we get back.”

Bynum, who was in practice gear but didn’t participate on Tuesday, admitted there’s some concern for his recent setback. After scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in exactly 20 minutes of work Saturday night in Detroit, Bynum has experienced significant swelling in his right knee to the point where he underwent an MRI and had it drained Monday afternoon.

“This one is a little concerning for me because it caused a lot more fluid,” he said. “I haven’t had that much fluid in there since like the (2010) Boston Finals in L.A.”

That was almost four years ago.

“It’s not fun,” Bynum added. “It is what it is at this point.”

Doctors analyzed the MRI Tuesday morning, according to Bynum, and he expects to know more Tuesday afternoon.

As Vogel has said, they knew what they were signing up for. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to deal with.

“[It's] not really disappointing at all, to be honest,” he said. “We knew he was going to be in and out of the lineup. He’s got some problems with his knees, we’re well aware of that, and we’ll be excited with what he can give us when he’s in there.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks about his knee injury

***

No. 4: Rondo struggling to lead Celts during rebuild – After Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Boston Celtics have an 0-15 road mark against the Western Conference, a feat no other Celtics team had accomplished. If nothing else, that’s proof of a rebuilding season in Beantown as Boston tries to figure out its direction for next season and beyond. Star point guard Rajon Rondo is the de facto leader of these Celtics, who are comprised of many players on expiring contracts, and as Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe points out, Rondo is finding it tough at times to lead a group with an uncertain future:

There’s always some degree of uncertainty as the front office works to reshape the roster.It’s an unsung challenge for rookie coach Brad Stevens to keep his players united even though they know they might be on unsettled ground.

Likewise, it’s an unsung challenge for the team’s captain, Rajon Rondo.

And around the time Rondo returned to action in January after missing nearly a year following a knee injury, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he brought up this topic with his former point guard.

It’s not unusual for the two to talk, even with Rivers now coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. They have history, with Rivers coaching Rondo from 2006-07 until last season.

“I speak to Doc all the time,” Rondo said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone. I’ve talked to him after games, text-wise. He gives me advice all the time.”

“Everybody is not going to buy in, because all they hear is that they’re all getting traded because they’re in the middle of a rebuild,’” Rivers said he told Rondo. “So you’re going to go in there and talk about, ‘Hey, let’s buy in as a team,’ and half of them are going to say, ‘I’m not even going to be on this team.’ ”

“Well, the first concern is to make it through the trade deadline,” Rondo said.

Indeed. The Celtics made two swaps before the deadline. And though he involved in numerous rumors, Rondo wasn’t moved.

But the roster is by no means settled.

The Celtics figure to be especially active this summer, and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recently told the Globe, “This June there could be some fireworks.”

Technically speaking, only Rondo, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger are on guaranteed contracts for next season.

Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, and Avery Bradley will become free agents, though Bradley will be restricted, meaning the Celtics can match any offer he receives.

“For the most part, guys are playing for contracts,” Rondo said. “It’s not a matter of being here. It’s a matter of staying in the league.”

That pressure can weigh on a player.

“If a guy is not under contract, obviously he wants to play well every game,” Rondo said. “He wants to make all his shots, do all the intangibles.

“I’m not necessarily saying that a guy under contract won’t do all those things, but obviously it’s amplified when you’re playing for your life or you’re playing for your career.”

Leading a locker room in which players might be playing for their career is new for Rondo, but Wallace recalled being in that situation in Charlotte.

In 2004-05, his first season there, the team was rebuilding (it finished 18-64) and most of the players were set to become free agents. Ideally, Wallace said, players buy into the system, but that’s easier said than done.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said, “because even though you don’t want to think about that, once you start losing, you start thinking about your career — ‘Oh, I’m up next summer, I’ve got to figure this [expletive] out.’

***

No. 5: Pau backs Knicks’ signing of Jackson — With Phil Jackson officially entrenched as the Knicks new team president, he’s got his work cut out for him in trying to turn New York into a stable franchise again (as our John Schuhmann points out). But for now, many folks are commending New York on getting a person of Jackson’s caliber to lead the charge and one of those backers is none other than Lakers power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol won two championships and made three Finals trips under Jackson when both men were in L.A. and Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin he backs the Knicks’ latest personnel move:

The New York Knicks officially announced the hiring of Phil Jackson as their new team president Tuesday, and will reportedly pay him $60 million over five years for the job. It may have been an unprecedented payday for a front office executive, but it also qualifies as a sound financial decision by the Knicks in Pau Gasol’s eyes.

“I think the Knicks are fortunate to have him,” the Los Angeles Lakers big man said after practice Tuesday. “I know they gave him a big contract and a big investment, but I think he’s worth every cent of it.”

Gasol, who played under Jackson in L.A. from 2008-11 and reached three NBA Finals while winning two championships in the process, said it will take some adjusting seeing Jackson working on the opposite coast.

“It’s weird,” Gasol said. “It’s weird to see him with a Knick logo behind him in the picture today. But I know he’s in a good place.”

Gasol said he still sees Jackson “regularly” since the 11-time champion coach retired from the sidelines following the 2010-11 season, but will have to curtail that contact because of Jackson’s new role.

“Apparently we can’t really talk to each other from now on since I’m going to become a free agent and he’s an executive for another team, so it’s under rules that we can’t communicate,” Gasol said, referring to the league’s tampering clause. “He can be penalized. So, our communication has been cut off until July 1st.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired over Jackson last November, said Jackson will do a “great job” in New York, but also detailed the challenge the former coach will face. D’Antoni coached the Knicks from 2008-2012 before being unceremoniously showed the door, so he knows the pitfalls associated with the franchise more than most.

“It’s a big job anywhere,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think just New York. I think it’s a big job anywhere to turn it around. I think you have to look at the cap room and what they have and how quick you can do it? Can you get lucky? So there’s a lot of things. I know that there will be a lot of effort put into it. Good, sound decisions. And you hope — well, I’m not a Knick now so I don’t hope — it works out for him. But it’s a tall order for anybody at anywhere at anytime. This league is not easy to get on top. And we know in New York, you’re either winning or you’re a failure. So, it will be tough but they got a good man and he’ll do a heck of a job.”

D’Antoni does not believe that Jackson’s coaching resume will automatically translate to front office success.

“I don’t think one correlates to the other,” D’Antoni said. “I think they’re two completely separate jobs. It’s like turning a great player into a coach. It’s a different job. So you don’t know if they can do it or not. I think that obviously he’s got a good basketball mind, so he’ll approach it a different way and let’s see if it works out. I think there’s a lot of great qualities there, so there’s no reason it doesn’t. But there’s no reason it does. So we’ll see what happens.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: As our Scott Howard-Cooper reported last night, the Hall of Fame is weighing a potential change to the voting format … A detailed look at what it might take for Chicago to bring over prized foreign talent Nikola Mirotic to the NBA next season … A groin strain will sideline Lakers guard Jordan Farmar for at least two weeks … Cool little chat with Pacers coach Frank Vogel about his game day routine and more … Blake Griffin doesn’t think he has much of a chance in the MVP race this season … The shared grandfather of the Magic’s Tobias Harris and the Suns’ Channing Frye was a Tuskegee AirmanMo Williams has been playing better since LaMarcus Aldridge has been out of the lineup … Quick guards have been giving the Raptors fits of late … Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas may get some rest down the stretch of the season

ICYMI of the Night: Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza is in the midst of a great season, to be sure. But sometimes even a great season needs a little luck, as demonstrated by his wild fadeaway bank shot last night in Sacramento …


VIDEO: Trevor Ariza nails a wild off-the-glass fadeaway jumper

Morning Shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo | Pau backs Kobe’s L.A. viewpoint | McHale: Noah should win DPOY | Bynum focusing on playoff role | Jazz home-game attendance in major slump

No. 1: Report: Rockets could push for ‘Melo — The rumors about where Carmelo Anthony might sign this summer have been buzzing ever since he said he’d opt out last October. While the Los Angeles Lakers and perhaps Chicago Bulls have led most of the chatter — as well, of course, is the option that ‘Melo will stay in New York — a new team may be entering the fray. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Houston Rockets could make a big push for Anthony this summer:

Could Carmelo Anthony rocket off to Houston?

According to a league source, the Rockets will make a bid for Carmelo Anthony this summer, even though they probably won’t have cap space and would have to orchestrate a creative sign-and-trade. The source said Houston asked the Knicks about Anthony before February’s trade deadline.

The Knicks have held discussions with the Rockets about power forward Omer Asik. Even though Rockets president Daryl Morey is the pioneer of advanced statistics and Anthony has never fared well in some efficiency categories, Morey’s old-school instincts believe he could form a terrific Big 3 with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Rockets management also believes Anthony has made advancements in the grit department the past two seasons.

The only way the Rockets can get under the cap is by dealing the expiring contracts of Jeremy Lin, who is entering the poison pill year of $15 million, and Asik, also scheduled to make $15 million.

But even if the Rockets don’t, a desperate Knicks team could take on Lin or Asik and draft picks if Phil Jackson doesn’t believe in building around Anthony. The Knicks still would be set for 2015’s free agency and Lin wold be a drawing card during a season the Knicks may want to tank and fall into the lottery.

Howard has been most outspoken in encouraging Anthony to consider smaller markets than New York just like Howard did in eschewing Los Angeles.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bulls are other potential destinations for Anthony, who said his “first priority’’ is to remain a Knick if he likes their future blueprint.

***

No. 2: Pau glad Kobe called out Lakers’ front office — If you somehow managed to miss it Tuesday night or all day Wednesday, Kobe Bryant — in announcing his season was over — was not happy when asked about the Lakers’ long-term outlook and front office (you can read all the quotes here).In short, Bryant is wondering what kind of direction the Lakers are going and he’s not about to wait around for a full rebuild. While what L.A. does next is anyone’s guess, teammate Pau Gasol supported Bryant’s words, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together.Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason.

“I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.”

Will the Lakers pull that off?

Perhaps easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t expect LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat if he opts out of his contract. The Lakers aren’t thrilled about Carmelo Anthony should he opt out of his deal with the Knicks. The Lakers wouldn’t want to spend a max-level contract on Cleveland’s Luol Deng and on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. GM Mitch Kupchak had suggested earlier that the Lakers may use their financial flexibility more conservatively both to save up for a star-studded 2015 free-agent class and because of recently-imposed harsher penalties for high-spending teams.

“It makes things harder for teams, but it is what it is,” Gasol said. “The rules keep changing over the years. But you have to adjust and make the best out of it.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant sounds off on the Lakers’ future during his news conference

***

No. 3: McHale backs Noah for DPOY — Rockets coach Kevin McHale knows a thing or two about defense. As a player, he was an All-Defensive Team first or second teamer six times, is the Celtics’ second all-time leading shotblocker and, oh yeah, currently coaches former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard. So it carries some hefty weight when McHale, speaking before last night’s Rockets-Bulls game in Chicago, says that Joakim Noah of the Bulls is the DPOY. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Kevin McHale said Thursday that Bulls center Joakim Noah should win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award based on his performance this season.

The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

McHale included Noah in that elite category Thursday. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks this season.

“He’s played very well,” McHale said after his team’s shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

McHale was complimentary not only of Noah’s defensive game but of his offensive one as well.

“He’s just more confident in what he’s doing,” McHale said. “He’s making plays with the pass. He’s driving and kicking. When he was coming out, I thought he’d be a pick-pop-and-drive playmaking 4. He’s doing more of that now.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks after the Bulls’ win over the Rockets Thursday

***

No. 4: Bynum embracing long-term view to season, playing time — Center Andrew Bynum made his Indiana debut on Tuesday night and gave Pacers fans a nice taste of what he can bring to the court: eight points, 10 rebounds and solid interior defense in about 15 minutes. Bynum won’t play tonight in Philly (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth that he’s more concerned with gearing up for the playoffs than getting in tons of regular-season game action:

Short-term, Andrew Bynum sat out the Pacers’ practice on Thursday, will sit out their game in Philadelphia on Friday, and then return the following night in Detroit.

Long-term? That question mark will follow him everywhere he goes for the remainder of the season, particularly on the walks from the training room to the basketball court. Does the 26-year-old eighth-year pro have enough left in his knees to recapture something resembling his All-Star level of two seasons ago, or is backing up a healthier player his future job description?

“I don’t think back-to-backs are prime right now,” he said, resting in an end zone seat at Hinkle Fieldhouse following the team’s workout. “There’s two more left after this one, and we don’t want to risk anything. It’s more about being healthy for the playoffs.

“I’m pleased with the way it’s responded to the treatment I’ve been getting. I don’t have any swelling, just general arthritic conditions, I guess. We want to calm it down. Everything is about not causing a flare-up that causes me to miss four or five consecutive days. If I can play two really strong hard days and take a day off and it’s fine, that’s the remedy we want. We don’t want to have any bone bruises or flareups, because that’s when you start to lose conditioning.”

Bynum is to the Pacers what Greg Oden is to Miami: a talented 7-foot center with tender knees, being nursed along in hopes he can be a difference-maker in the quest for a championship. They’re in a gimpy-legged race to the finish line, and who remains healthiest could have a lot to say about who reaches the NBA Finals.

As for Bynum, the Pacers would be thrilled to keep getting what they got in Tuesday’s game against Boston.

“He got me excited,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “He’s one heck of a basketball player and he’s really going to help us. Now it’s a matter of getting as much work as we can in with him while managing the soreness in his knees. Hopefully come playoff time he’s healthy and as far along as we can get him.”

Beyond that, Bynum has no way of knowing what lies ahead. But he wants as much as he can get out of his remaining years.

“I think I have to monitor my body, always staying in shape, being more professional,” he said. “A lot of times in the summer I would take two months off and then attack it like a boxing training camp where I’d go for eight weeks twice a day, really hard. I obviously have to change that. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m still young in the human sense, but as a basketball player, a thoroughbred, I’m pretty old. So I have to revamp my training strategy.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after Wednesday’s practice about his role and his debut

***

No. 5: Jazz home-game attendance in sharp decline – Given that the Utah Jazz are firmly in rebuilding mode and are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference (22-43), the fact that attendance is down in Salt Lake City isn’t shocking. But according to Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune, the rabid fan base in Utah has taken attendance for the team’s home games to levels not seen since before 1991:

As he walks out onto the court with his team before each home game, of course Tyrone Corbin sees them.

“You notice,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “You notice the green seats.”

And for Corbin, who spent three seasons in Utah as a player and a decade as a coach, he’s seen more of them this season than ever before. With the Jazz, owners of a 23-42 record, firmly in rebuilding mode, attendance — an average of 17,947 announced fans per game, though there are often far fewer than that actually in the building — has dropped to the lowest the franchise has seen since moving out of the Salt Palace and into the Delta Center in 1991.

It’s a four-percent decline from a season ago, and a nine-percent decline from a peak of 19,908 six seasons ago when the Jazz won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

The drop, however, was not unexpected for a franchise that let four of its five top scorers from last year leave for free agency to make playing time for a younger, developing base.

“We anticipated that we would have a slight decline,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.

It would be a hit to the bottom line, Rigby added, especially in one of the league’s smallest markets, where ticket sales are a “critical component” of financial viability. Helping ease concerns, Jazz officials believed the team had a fan base that was “supportive of the plan and strategy.”

With just nine home games remaining in the season, franchise leaders have been happy with the numbers they’ve drawn. After drawing the ninth-most fans in the NBA on average last season, the Jazz have dropped to 14th-most and are still above the league average of 17,297. Among teams with losing records this season, only the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are drawing more fans.

Commitment to the rebuild took faith and market research. Rigby said Jazz officials also heard the message from fans last season that they would endure rebuilding, taking “short-term pain for a long-term reward.”

“They’ve been very supportive of the plan and the strategy,” he said.

And as the season draws to a close, Rigby is still preaching “patience in a very impatient business.”

“We all want to have a winner sooner than later,” he said. “But we’re not going to skip steps. We’re going to do it right, so we can have something that will be sustainable for a long period of time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a Q&A on the team’s website, Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro said he hopes Rudy Gay sticks with the team long term … It doesn’t seem likely that Al Horford will be be back anytime this season … Jazz veteran forward Marvin Williams is having an MRI on his back today … Wizards guard John Wall says the reason Kemba Walker gets calls is because he screams a lot … The Blazers got some bad news: both LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams will be out for a little while … Milwaukee’s guard rotation of Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions have been playing well lately …

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson made up for his dunk fail the other night with this monster slam on Omer Asik last night …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson powers one down against the Rockets

Morning Shootaround — March 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks, Jackson have agreement in place | Report: Kobe done for 2013-14? | Westbrook, OKC stymie Beverley, Rockets | Noel unlikely to suit up this season | Bynum impresses in Pacers debut

No. 1: Report: Knicks, Jackson have agreement in place — In the case of Phil Jackson returning to the NBA in a front-office role with the New York Knicks, it looks like all that needs to happen next is a news conference date and time. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Jackson and Knicks officials have agreed to a deal in principle and all that’s left is to have loose ends tied up by each sides respective legal teams. The news that Jackson and the Knicks had a deal was reported yesterday by ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, but Berman provides additional details on the move:

Phil Jackson has reached an agreement in principle to oversee the Knicks basketball operations and “president’’ will be in his title, according to a league source.

All that’s left is the lawyers finalizing the last contract details by week’s end before Jackson officially returns to the organization that drafted him and where he won two titles as a player.

The Post has learned Jackson gave the Knicks a verbal commitment on Saturday. The Garden still will not comment on Jackson’s status.

Knicks president/general manager Steve Mills will remain on board in a revised role and work with Jackson. Knicks owner James Dolan hired Mills because of his vast network of contacts with NBA agents and GMs. That isn’t the strong suit of Jackson, winner of 11 titles as coach of the Bulls and Lakers.

Some issues during the last couple of days revolved around his living arrangements. Jackson lives in Marina Del Rey, Calif., with his fiancée, Lakers president Jeanie Buss. Jackson is expected to live in New York during the season, but do some commuting. Buss visits New York on business periodically.

Jackson has spoken fondly about his mentor, former Knicks coach Red Holzman, who Jackson said was the reason he wanted to get into coaching.

“There’s no doubt Red took special affection toward our relationship,” Jackson told The Post in 2004, when he was about to break Red Auerbach’s coaching-title record. “He always called me after a winning season. When it was Bulls-Knicks in the conference finals, he always made a point of seeking me out, right up until the end. I’m sure he’s somewhere up there smiling down.”

Now it appears Jackson will attempt to help resuscitate a Knicks franchise that has collapsed this season. The Knicks began to rebuild in 2008 to get under the salary cap in an attempt to sign LeBron James.

Apart from last season’s No. 2 seed, the results didn’t materialize, with the Knicks a long shot to make the playoffs and looking to rebuild again with Carmelo Anthony as their centerpiece. Anthony is a free agent this summer and doesn’t know Jackson well, but Jackson has 11 championship rings with which to woo Anthony.

Jackson does have experience building an NBA roster. Before his coaching exploits with the Bulls and Lakers, he worked for five seasons in the defunct CBA in Albany, where he constructed fluctuating rosters in a chaotic environment.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the pending union between Phil Jackson and the Knicks

***

No. 2: Report: Kobe done for the season? — Perhaps the one thing Los Angeles Lakers fans had to hold on to in this abysmal season for them was seeing Kobe Bryant suit up for the last handful of games. Apparently, not even that is going to happen, writes Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com. Our own Sekou Smith breaks down the news that Bryant is likely to be officially shut down for all of 2013-14 by the end of the week:

Kobe Bryant‘s 2013-14 season is soon to be declared officially over after just six games. All that’s left is the word from either Kobe or the Los Angeles Lakers, according to a report from Bleacher Report columnist Kevin Ding.

It’s yet another blow in a season full of them for Lakers fans, who have been reeling since last summer when Dwight Howard bolted from the scene via free agency for Houston. Bryant missing the remainder of the Lakers’ season, though, is just the latest dagger

Some of us have been calling for Bryant, as well as Steve Nash, to punt the remainder of this injury-plagued season for a while now. There’s nothing that can be salvaged from the wreckage of the tire fire that has gone on since last summer. Not even a few late-season appearances from one of the most beloved Lakers of all time.

When the trade deadline came and went last month and Pau Gasol was still a part of the team, it was clear that the Lakers were waving the white flag on this season and preparing for the future with a healthy Bryant as the centerpiece.

The timing of this pending announcement comes during the same week former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who joined forces with Bryant for five of his 11 titles as a coach, is set to be announced as the basketball operations chief (the title is reportedly still being negotiated) of the New York Knicks.

The Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni as their coach last season over a third round of Jackson, who has chosen not to return in that capacity this time around.

Bryant apparently won’t come back in any capacity this season, either. All that’s left is the official announcement, which could come before the end of the week.

***

No. 3: Westbrook, OKC get better of Beverley and Rockets — Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley has made a name for himself on the court this season for his defensive grit and all-out energy ways. He’s made one off the court, too, both this season — and in the past. Just yesterday, we pointed out how Beverley had taken some verbal shots at Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard by saying that he ‘whines’. Perhaps what Beverley is best known for — other than his play this season and some of his chatter — is that he was the player who tried to steal the ball from Russell Westbrook as Westbrook was calling a timeout during last season’s OKC-Houston playoff series. That move played a part in Westbrook suffering a string of right knee injures that has had him in and out of OKC’s lineup all season. A similar incident took place last night, as our Jeff Caplan reports, but in the end, Westbrook and OKC prevailed:

Loud City vented on the Rockets’ alley cat of a point guard Patrick Beverley, who returned to the scene of the crime for the first time Tuesday night bearing no remorse, no regrets and certainly no apologies.

He did come looking to scrap and claw and needle his nemesis Russell Westbrook, and it took only 44 seconds into it for the lid to pop off with the first of three intense entanglements between the two before this wild and woolly game throughout, won by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 106-98, was barely seven minutes old.

With six minutes to go in the opening quarter, Beverley solidified his role as No. 1 villain in these parts with a bold, deja vu move, running up on Westbrook as the Thunder point guard dribbled toward the OKC bench to call a timeout, just as he had done in that fateful Game 2 of the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Instead of Beverley going low as he did last April, a move that tore the meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee and landed him on the operating table — and then back there twice more — and OKC’s championship dreams on life support, Beverley went high, practically body bumping Westbrook and planting both his palms on Westbrook’s chest.

Westbrook bowed up, Beverley didn’t back down and tempers revved on both sides. The officials huddled and emerged with a technical foul on Beverley.

Was the ballsy play a message from Beverley?

“No, no messages,” the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder said. “That’s how I play against everybody. No personal battles out there today, just try to go out there and fight and do what I do to try to help my team win a basketball game today.”

It was Westbrook’s night, facing Beverley again, staying cool when the Houston guard tried to stir it up and producing a mostly composed effort that included no turnovers in 15:31 of action in the second half. Before and after the game, Westbrook was short on words, saying he held no grudges, that he’s only out to win. His coach, Scott Brooks, had more to say.

“You guys know I love Russell, and this is why I really love him — he doesn’t like the 58 point guards that he plays against,” Brooks said. “He’s not out there to make friends, he’s not out there to be anybody’s buddy and he competes with everything he has in his body. He’s about playing the right way, about playing a game that we as a coaching staff, as fans, as an organization can be proud of. And that’s what he does every single night. I will never ever think anything else that he does, he just plays the way it’s supposed to be played.”

What did Brooks think about Beverley lunging at Westbrook near the sideline again?

“You saw the same thing I saw,” Brooks said. “There’s really not much to talk about. We played a good basketball game and I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not worried about what they do and don’t do. I’m worried about what we do.”

It made this third consecutive win over the Rockets this season all the more impressive. Dwight Howard, up against rookie Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, had just nine points and 10 boards. Ibaka had 12 points and 16 rebounds. Newly signed Caron Butler, who has quickly supplanted youngster Jeremy Lamb, brought spurts of tenacious defense plus 11 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.

There was no doubt Beverley came in bearing fangs, but Westbrook ultimately provided the much bigger bite.


VIDEO: Westbrook, Beverley get physical in first half during a timeout call

***

No. 4: Despite tweet, Noel unlikely to play this season — Just two days ago in this very space, we informed you of a tweet by injured Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel that simply read “4-14-14″ and led some to believe that he would make his NBA debut on that date. However, that may not be the case, reports Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer, as team officials reportedly are not counting on Noel suiting up at all this season. Despite that news, Noel continues to practice with the team and took part in four-on-four drills yesterday, too:

Rookie center Nerlens Noel continues to impress observers in the closed-door sessions during 76ers practices.

Though a source with knowledge of the situation doesn’t expect Noel to play this season as he recovers from last year’s knee surgery, all who see him are encouraged about what he will bring to the future.

On the one-year anniversary of knee surgery, Noel remains a mystery, at least to the public.

The team sees him every day and considers him and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams the foundation of what is hoped will be a promising youth movement.

The Sixers say that Noel isn’t obligated to talk to the media until he goes through five-on-five full-court workouts.

Others are more than willing to act as a mouthpiece.

“He is one of the quickest guys I have seen off his feet,” forward Thaddeus Young said after Tuesday’s practice.

As for Noel’s recent tweet of “4-4-14″ that supposedly means he would like to play on April 4 at Boston, coach Brett Brown said he hasn’t brought it up to his rookie and he won’t.

“I have purposely ignored it,” Brown said.

***

No. 5: Bynum impresses in Indiana debut — One of the best ways to endear oneself to a new basketball team is with rebounding, defense and some occasional offense … and that’s exactly what Andrew Bynum provided in his Pacers debut last night against the Celtics. The former Cavs, Lakers and Sixers center finished with 10 rebounds, clogged up the paint on defense and had nine points to boot while showing flashes of his All-Star form at times. While he’s still rusty and getting acclimated to his new NBA home, he made a solid impression on his teammates, writes Phil Richards of The Indianapolis Star:

Just for starters, and this was one, Andrew Bynum and Indiana appeared to be a good match. The Pacers are 1-0 with him in uniform, a convenient 94-83 whipping of the Boston Celtics that broke a four-game losing streak.

“I felt great. Couldn’t do anything wrong today,” the 7-foot, 285-pound strongman said after working the Celtics for eight points, 10 rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “All the rebounds came my way and I just grabbed them.

“Looking forward to the next game.”

He had impressed in recent practices but his teammates were eager for a real look. So was the sellout crowd of 18,165. It welcomed him warmly.

Bynum didn’t disappoint. He pushed around the Celtics not-so-big big men, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. Mostly, he rebounded. And rebounded. And rebounded.

“He did well, not forcing anything, playing a dominant, smash-mouth type of play,” Pacers guard George Hill said.

“There’s not much on the court he didn’t do for us tonight,” Pacers wing Paul George said. “He really did a great job of controlling the paint, on the boards, and offensively, he was huge.”

Bynum, 26 is a seven-year veteran who earned a reputation for being immature at times, even indifferent. After sitting out the entire 2012-13 season because of his aggrieved knees, he signed as a free agent with Cleveland during the offseason.

He played only 26 games before the Cavaliers suspended him, then traded him to the Chicago Bulls, who released him Jan. 7.

When the Pacers signed him it prompted concerns not shared by management that he might adversely impact team chemistry.

So far, so good.

“He’s really bought into the whole locker room,” George said. “He’s been a great teammate.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks after his debut with the Indiana Pacers

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant plays coy about the whole beef between him and rapper Lil B … Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs can see that Tony Parker‘s break during the season is starting to pay off now … Golden State recalled Nemanja Nedovic from the NBA D-League yesterday … Detroit showed some rare defensive chops in toppling Sacramento last night … Great look from the always solid Jason Quick of The Oregonian on LaMarcus Aldridge’s impact on Portland’s playoff hopes

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Whether they like it or not this week, a bunch of notable players (we’re looking at you Corey Brewer, Taj Gibson and Dwight Howard) will probably find themselves on Shaqtin’ A Fool after spectacular on-court fails like these …


VIDEO: Corey Brewer blows a breakaway dunk


VIDEO: Taj Gibson gets rejected by the rim on a power jam


VIDEO: Dwight Howard throws a perfect pass … to an out-of-bounds Omer Asik

Morning Shootaround — March 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Jackson to decide on Knicks’ offer today | Report: Sixers’ Noel wants to play this season | Bynum ready for action, too | Durant could score more | A J-Smoove/Rondo reunion?

Update, 1:31 p.m. ET: From the looks of things (literally) per a report from ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, Phil Jackson seems headed for a front-office job with the New York Knicks:

All indications are that Phil Jackson will accept the New York Knicks’ offer to join the club’s front office, according to a league source.

“The Knicks have a sense of what’s going to happen,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “And as of right now, it looks like Phil’s taking the job.

“There’s always the possibility of something falling apart at the last minute, but the Knicks’ sense is that he’s joining them.”

The two sides are still working out all the details, including what Jackson’s title will be, how much time he will spend in New York, and when in the next few months he will start his job.

Jackson’s answer is expected to become official within the next day or so. The Knicks have not yet scheduled an announcement.

Jackson will not be a mere consultant for the Knicks, as he was recently for the Detroit Pistons. Whatever his title, he will be an integral part of the club’s basketball operations. Jackson will definitely not coach the team.

And here’s our earlier entry from this morning about the Knicks and Jackson expected to reach a deal sometime today …

Report: Knicks expect decision from Jackson today – New York Knicks fans are nervously awaiting word from Phil Jackson today, wondering and many of them hoping that the legendary coach will join the organization in a front office position that will help lift their team out a season-long (and some would say decade’s old funk). It’s unclear whether or not Phil’s presence alone will change the fortunes of the franchise. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News details the countdown to the latest decision:

According to an NBA source familiar with the negotiations, the Knicks expect to have a decision on Monday, approximately two weeks after Jackson turned down an offer to coach the club. The 68-year-old Hall of Fame coach is considering a lucrative deal to join the Knicks’ front office and be placed in charge of the basketball operations.

The possibility of Jackson returning to the franchise that drafted him would give the Knicks instant credibility since Jackson has won 11 NBA titles as a coach and two as a player.

The downside, of course, is that Jackson has never been an executive and, at this stage of his life and career, on-the-job training could be a risky proposition for both sides. Jackson, though, believes he can make the same transition that Pat Riley made nearly 20 years ago when he left the Knicks to run the Miami Heat.

The Knicks have not commented on Jackson’s potential hiring and have not even acknowledged that an offer has been made. In recent interviews, Jackson has made it clear that he has no interest in coaching and instead prefers a consultant’s role similar to the one Jerry West has with the Golden State Warriors.

Whether Jackson wants to live full-time in New York or would be required to do so remains unclear. Jackson splits his time between his Montana ranch and his beach house in Playa Del Rey, Calif. Jackson is not enamored with traveling, which is crucial if he takes the job. In fact, with all the college basketball tournaments starting, it would be essential for Jackson to be on the road scouting. However, Jackson has no appetite for that aspect of the job and is not a big fan of college basketball. Friends say his true passion is following the NHL.

In that case, perhaps Dolan will give Jackson the same freedom he gives to Rangers president Glen Sather, who lives in both California and Canada. Whether that arrangement works with the Knicks, considering the club’s current state, is debatable.

It is also unclear if Jackson is sincere about joining the Knicks or perhaps leveraging James Dolan’s offer to return to the Los Angeles Lakers in some capacity. Jackson’s girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, is a club executive and the daughter of the onetime Lakers owner, the late Jerry Buss.


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas talks about the challenges of fixing the Knicks

***

No. 2: Report: Noel wants to play on April 4 – Nerlens Noel has every intention of making his rookie debut with the Philadelphia 76ers before this NBA seasons ends. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that  Noel has been preparing himself for a action all season and believe he’ll be ready to make his first appearance in a Sixers uniform in his hometown of Boston:

The sources said this is just a wish that he had not disclosed to the Sixers as of Sunday afternoon.

Noel has been sidelined this season due to the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered in his left knee in February, 2013 during his lone season at Kentucky.

The 6-foot-11, 228-pounder is slowly increasing his activity on the court and has yet to participate in five-on-five scrimmages. Minor back spasms held him out of Sunday’s open practice for Sixers Camps participants and their families at Haverford College.

There’s a thought that the franchise doesn’t want him on the court and would be content if he missed the entire season. In October, Sixers coach Brett Brown said Noel was not likely to play this season, something the team has stood by ever since.

***

No. 3: Bynum ready for work next week – The Indiana Pacers are mired in a slump right now, losers of four straight even though they are still sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings this morning. Could there be a remedy for their woes in the form of Andrew Bynum, the former All-Star center who has yet to suit up in a game with the Pacers? Could be. But he has to get on the court first. And Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star explains the Pacers’ plans regarding Bynum:

On Sunday, Bynum said that he hopes to be “cleared to play next week,” believing that he could be on the floor by Friday, March 14 when the Pacers play in Philadelphia. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the team planned to re-evaluate Bynum after the road trip.

“We’ll see after (Sunday’s) game goes and then we’ll probably meet about it (Monday),” Vogel said, “and try to come up with a firmer plan.”

Through his career, Bynum, a 7-0 center, has shown flashes of dominance but has also been limited with knee problems. Bynum, 26, began his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and started alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol when the team won its second consecutive NBA championship in 2010.

Last season, Bynum was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers then signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer. In 24 games this season with the Cavaliers, Bynum averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. Through Bynum said that he was “probably at 90 (percent)” at the end of his time in Cleveland, the team traded him to the Chicago Bulls.

After being waived by the Bulls on Jan. 7, Bynum took several weeks off before deciding to sign with the Pacers as a backup to Roy Hibbert.

Bynum has worked with the team’s training and medical staff to build up his knee strength. Over the past weeks, Bynum has slowly picked up more work on the basketball court and on Saturday he participated in a full practice that included 5-on-5 action.

“He looked good,” Vogel said about the Saturday practice, “and he looked like he can give us some short bursts.

***

No. 4: Durant could score more if needed – The Oklahoma City Thunder’s recent woes don’t include any individual struggles from Kevin Durant, who continues to light it up, win or lose. He could score more, according to Thunder coach Scott Brooks, if he wasn’t so focused on the team. Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the details:

“Let’s face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he’s scoring now, he really could do that,” Brooks said before the Thunder played the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. “His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does (are) all about the team.”

Durant entered Sunday’s game averaging a career-high 31.8 points per game, but his 5.5 assists per game are also a career-best mark for the seven-year veteran.

On Sunday he had a triple-double through three quarters and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in the Thunder’s 114-110 loss to the Lakers.

While Durant leads the league with 10 games of 40 or more points this season, Brooks said the rangy forward really stood out with his all-around game while Russell Westbrook was sidelined with a knee injury for two months.

“When he was out, (Durant) definitely had to continue to lead us,” Brooks said. “Not only on the court, but off the court. Just from the emotional standpoint of losing Russell, he had to wrap that type of stress around his game and continue to work our way as a team through that. It’s not easy losing players, (especially) a dynamic player like Russell is. But Kevin came in and led us.

“He improved his defense and his playmaking, the ball was in his hands and the decisions were more so in his hands and he did a good job with that. With adding Russell now, it gives us two dynamic players, and that’s better. That’s better for us because you can’t load up on one. The thing about KD, he knows that he has the ability to impact the game on both ends and he does it every night. The consistency level that he has, it’s remarkable that he’s so consistent every night.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant records a triple-double in OKC’s loss to the L.A. Lakers

***

No. 5: J-Smoove is dreaming of a reunion with Rondo – As seniors at Oak Hill Academy, Josh Smith and Rajon Rondo formed one of the most dynamic duos in the history of the boarding school/basketball factory. A reunion at the NBA level is not in the offing, but it’s also not impossible. Smith admitted to fantasizing about it, never mind that he plays for the Detroit Pistons and Rondo is under contract for at least one more season after this one in Boston. Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk.com connects the dots for you:

They watched film together. They walked to the gym together for extra workouts together. They played games together.

Could they team up again in the NBA?

“The conversation comes up,” Smith said. “We always tell each other how surreal a moment that would be, for us to be able to reconnect again in that realm. With the different free agencies that we both have, it could be far-fetched, but it could be possible, too.

“I’m always optimistic. I’m always thinking different scenarios. It could happen, but who knows?”

Smith said he and Rondo talk frequently and vacation together, but he adds, he’s happy with the Pistons and Rondo is still making his mark with the Celtics.

But if it were to happen, what would work?

The Pistons have previously shown interest in Rondoand there also has been Smith-to-Boston buzz. So, either player could swap teams.

If they were to join forces in Boston, how about Smith for Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace this summer? Then, the Pistons should have the cap room to make that deal, accepting Wallace’s toxic contract as a tax for upgrading – in age, fit and contract status – from Smith to Green.


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo and the Celtics dispatch Josh Smith and the Pistons

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony has not been consulted on the Phil Jackson business and has been kept in the dark about the Knicks’ future plans … Eric Bledsoe is ready to come back to the Suns … The Nets are down to just two (of their six) All-Stars and somehow, someway they keep winning … Are the Rockets the best team in the league right now? Our Fran Blinebury tackles that one

ICYMI of the Night: Move over Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Make room for in the annals of the Los Angeles Lakers for Jodie Meeks …. that’s right, Jodie Meeks, who showed up and showed out with 42 points in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder …


VIDEO: Jodie Meeks shreds the Thunder for 42 points

Have the Pacers lost their Edge?




VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s slump and the Pacers’ struggles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The playoff bid is clinched, locked up before anyone else in the league. Yet after five games in seven nights, there is suddenly a lingering fog surrounding the Indiana Pacers.

That brash, bruising, defensive-minded machine we saw before the All-Star break doesn’t look nearly as intimidating these days. That team that vowed to chase the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in an effort to play host a potential showdown against reigning two-time NBA champion Miami Heat in the conference finals, has been humbled lately with crushing defeats both at home and on the road.

The Pacers’ best players — All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert, as well as Lance Stephenson and David West — have all endured their fair share of struggles. Coach Frank Vogel remains as confident as ever, something you’d expect from a coach who understands that seeing the Pacers reach their ultimate goals is a painstaking process fraught with trials and tribulations. Vogel and his crew know that unmitigated attention to detail is required to overcome any adversity.

Still, it’s enough to make you wonder — have the Pacers lost a little bit of the edge that led them to the top of the standings? They were so good so fast this season that a bit of a letdown was inevitable. But it’s dangerous to play this game this close to the end of the regular season.

“Over the last 20 games or so, we just haven’t had our mojo,” West said after the Bobcats beat the Pacers Wednesday night in Charlotte on the back-end of a back-to-back. “We’ve got to change some things up because these last 20 games is going to be a battle.”

“Right now I think we’re on our downs,” Stephenson said. “We just got to get back on our ups, work together and play as a unit.”

The Pacers also have to return to the identity that led them to the top of the standings.

They were a defensive juggernaut to start the season, holding teams down in every facet and allowing just 90.3 points per game through All-Star weekend. In the nine games since then, they are giving up close to 100 points a night.

“We can’t get teams under control,” West told the Indianapolis Star. “Nobody’s afraid of us and we got to regroup. We got to get back to the basics. We got tough two-game trip out West and it’s got to mean something to us to go out and do whatever we have to do to win these games.”

The road trip he’s speaking starts Friday with a date with the Houston Rockets, who have the league’s best record since Jan. 1. Then comes Sunday’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks. They’ll be tested by two Western Conference playoff teams with the ability to make the Pacers uncomfortable in many different ways.

There is also a seven-games-in-11-days stretch looming at the end of the month, a grind that includes two games against the Chicago Bulls (home and away), road games in Memphis, Washington and Cleveland and showdowns with the Heat (March 26) and San Antonio Spurs  (March 31) that will shed more light on whether or not these Pacers are as ready for prime time as they appeared to be just a month ago.

Changes to their make-up (Evan Turner and, eventually, we assume, Andrew Bynum) will also force the Pacers to continue to tweak their chemistry. They have to be proactive in terms of how they make their own internal adjustments.

But when you build up the sort of reservoir of victories and the quality body of work the Pacers did out of the gate, it’s almost impossible to squander it now. A two-game tailspin can be survived.

If there are cracks in the foundation, though, you better believe the other contenders on both sides of the conference divide have noticed. And they’ll be sure to do whatever they can to exploit that in the future.


VIDEO: The Bobcats thumped the Pacers and shut down Paul George and Roy Hibbert in the process