Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Wiggins’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 196)

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Even though there are just a few games left in the NBA regular season, it’s time to make some decisions.

So while Sekou Smith lounges at the beach and our super producer Gregg Waigand is out stomping around The Shire, the Hang Time Podcast rolls on. This week, Rick Fox and I persevered and podcasted about the end of season awards. My vote is due soon, so we got into it and tried to figure some things out.

Who should be the MVP? Should it go to the best player on the best team? Or perhaps the best all-around offensive player? Does Steph Curry or James Harden have the inside track?

Does Andrew Wiggins have the Rookie of the Year award locked up?

How in the world do you sort out the All-NBA teams, especially the second and third teams?

Can we select someone to be the Sixth Man of the Year?

We got into all of this on this week’s Hang Time Podcast, and I haven’t even mentioned how we somehow got sucked into a Rick Fox Career Scoring Average vortex, which made me dig through the numbers and confront Rick with some hard truths.

And I didn’t even have to break this out…

Rick Fox, Skechers.

A photo posted by Old SLAM Magazine Ads (@oldslamads) on

All this and more in today’s Hang Time Podcast!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team …

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


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOWho has the inside track for Rookie of the Year?

> After a slow start (plagued by injuries) this year’s rookie class has shown some real promise late in the season. Name your 2014-15 All-Rookie first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

However, Wiggins, Mirotic, Payton, Noel, Clarkson is pretty much the order of how I’d vote for Rookie of the Year at this point. Wiggins hasn’t been playing for high stakes in Minnesota but he has done well all season and come out of his shell while being forced-fed minutes for a shaky Timberwolves squad. If the soft-spoken Mirotic were as cocky as he is quietly confident, he’d be unbearable, but he has let his game do some serious talking for the past month. Payton is fun to watch, an increasing dynamic player and so vital to Orlando’s rise. I put Noel after Payton mostly because the former had the “redshirt” year to acclimate to the league in all the off-court ways. As for Clarkson, he has seized an opportunity with a team that rarely has them available for young guys like him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel: Worth the wait for Philly.
F Andrew Wiggins: Living up to the hype.
F Nikola Mirotic: Becoming a closer for the Bulls.
G Elfrid Payton: Big hair, bigger game.
G Zach LaVine: Much more than a dunker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson over Jusuf Nurkic is a tough call for the final spot and could change if you ask again when the season is over. (It could change either way — maybe Nurkic moves back ahead if he recovers from the slump or maybe Clarkson makes it an easy call if he keeps playing this way.) It just happens to work out that the group is almost an actual lineup when the rules say pick the five best regardless of position. The only semi-conflict is Payton and Clarkson both primarily point guards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson.

I realize Clarkson is mostly a spring sensation but he’s been too impressive to ignore, so I put him ahead of Jusuf Nurkic. Wiggins will win ROY but if the season lasted another month he’d get some serious competition from Noel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Bojan Bogdanovic

My top five rookies, in order, though is Mirotic, Noel, Wiggins, Payton and Bogdanovic. The top four guys, in whatever order you want to put them, are pretty simple choices. I picked Bogdanovic (who ranks as one of the league’s most improved shooters since the All-Star break) over Jordan Clarkson because he’s played more minutes for a better team. Mirotic would be my Rookie of the Year, because he’s been an efficient and important player on one of the 10 best teams in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Zach Lavine

The first five of this year’s rookie class certainly took its time taking shape. But better late than never, and yes, I’m talking to you Nerlens Noel. The Philly big man joins Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine from Minnesota, the neck-bearded wonder Nikola Mirotic from Chicago and Mr. Hairdo himself, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton in my rookie fab five. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was an early fave but saw his season cut down by injury, a blow that doused water on the fire of this class from the start, along with the known injury to Philly’s other rookie big man Joel Embiid.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Jordan Clarkson
G Elfrid Payton

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Marcus Smart
G Elfrid Payton

To me, Wiggins is the Kia Rookie of the Year, for the way he’s played all season long and the improvement he’s shown and continues to show. Noel is right there as well, but he hasn’t had as much of an offensive impact as Wiggins. Mirotic and his beard have been terrific, pump-faking their way onto my team. So I guess that’s my front court, and in the backcourt I’ll pair Payton and Smart, who would actually be a pretty dynamic duo.


For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Kevin Garnett’s Return To Minnesota

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs And The Trade Deadline | Kevin Garnett’s ReturnBulls Without Derrick Rose



VIDEO: Kevin Garnett goes back to Timberwolves

> Kevin Garnett is back in Minnesota. Is this a feel-good move to brighten a dismal season, or is this a significant step toward making the Timberwolves a legitimate contender in the West for years to come?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Can I pick “C. Neither A nor B?” Actually, it might be a little of both A and B – it has been a miserable NBA season in Minny and Garnett, as a tone-setter and occasional blowtorch, can help to mold some of the Wolves’ young talent. But to me, this is about Garnett transitioning to his post-playing days, likely to buy a chunk of the Wolves’ franchise. And it’s about Flip Saunders solidifying his base, too, with his growing equity in the team. KG is one of Saunders’ “guys” and all signs point to them both presiding over what has been a country-club of an organization. Remains to be seen if they get the ultimate results on the floor, though.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comUnless a secret part of that deal to accompany K.G. back to Minnesota was Mr. Peabody and his Wayback Machine, this is nothing but pure nostalgia.  The significant step was trading for Andrew Wiggins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Feel-good. A lot of this will depend on whether Garnett retires or not, and whether he stays in Minnesota if he continues, but there is little chance to make any real impact in what remains of 2014-15. Maybe he reaches the young Wolves a little about a snarling attitude. That can be helpful. He’s obviously not in the picture for when they plan to become a playoff regular, though. At the same time, I don’t think the deal is about brightening a dismal season. While it would be a nice full-circle conclusion to his career, if this is it for KG, grinding out 20-something games isn’t an antidote for fans. Besides, Minny has some bright moments to brighten the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s totally a feel-good moment, nothing more. Garnett is too old to be a factor on the floor, and in terms of leadership, that tends to be over-rated, especially if the designated leader does a lot of barking but is unable to lead by example. I think the real impact of his arrival will be felt if he and Flip Saunders manage to buy controlling interest from Glen Taylor. And even then, the KG/Saunders group will need a deep-pockets guy, and that guy may want to call the shots, turning KG into nothing more than a frontman.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a feel-good move for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that KG can’t help. His offense has fallen off quite a bit over the years, but he can still make an impact on defense, where the Wolves currently rank last, both with his presence and his leadership. Gorgui Dieng, in particular, could really blossom with a mentor like KG.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comEasy. Even when young KG was in his prime in a Timberwolves uniform they were not a legitimate contender in the West, save for the 2003-04 season. So let’s not overstate the significance of KG’s return at this stage of his career. It’s a symbolic move that could lead to good vibrations in Minnesota if Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and some of those other youngsters take to the leadership and mentorship that is clearly on the way. KG learned from one of the best in Sam Mitchell when he was going through the same stage of his career. If he does half the job for the young boys that Mitchell did on him, this is a win-win for all involved.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is about turning Andrew Wiggins into a meaningful star who may benefit from a winning example in spite of his team’s losing record. If Garnett weren’t there, then who in Minneapolis would be showing Wiggins how to become a leader? The perception changes from pessimism to optimism that the Timberwolves are now headed in a constructive direction.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI tweeted the other day that I wish KG returning to Minnesota had some practical value, but instead it feels more like just a fun concept. Maybe he will provide a stern voice in the locker room, teach the bigs how to get away with things in the post, show the young guys how to take care of their bodies, and force the young players to make everyone wait 90 minutes after each game before coming out to talk to the media. But I don’t know if KG’s presence will ever pay dividends for this collection of players, as odds are by the time the young guys are old enough to make an impact, they’ll be somewhere other than Minnesota. But I bet they sell a lot of jerseys the next few years.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge and Celebrity All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Players should vote for awards | Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics | Union fires shot across NBA bow | Mason’s condition shows some progress

No. 1: Durant: Players should vote for awards — It’s Valentine’s Day, so you might want to send some extra flowers or candy to your nearest sports media person after Kevin Durant hurt their feelings on Friday. The Oklahoma City star took the occasion of the NBA’s All-Star Media Availability at a New York hotel ballroom to question the media folks’ credibility as voters for the league’s annual awards, such as Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com was among those to capture Durant’s critical comments:

“I think (the) media gets too much power to vote on stuff like that. Quite frankly I don’t think you really know a lot about as much we know about it,” Durant said when asked if MVP winners should be allowed to vote on the MVP like former Heisman Trophy winners are allowed to do with the annual award for the best college football player. “So we play against these guys every single night, we battle against these guys, we know what they say on the court, we know how they handle their teammates, we know how they approach the game, and our votes should count.

“Our opinions should count. I don’t think you guys know as much we do, and I don’t see why you have more power than we do.”

Durant won his first MVP for the 2013-14 season, totaling 1,232 points in voting, including 119 first-place votes. The award is decided by a 124-member panel consisting of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. There’s also an NBA.com MVP fan vote that counts as one vote, making for a total of 125 ballots overall. The same panel of U.S. and Canadian sports writers and broadcasters also casts votes for the other awards, but the MVP award is the only one for which fans can vote.

Players are awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for each third-place vote, three for each fourth-place vote and one for each fifth-place vote.

“We really know these guys inside and out,” Durant said of why players should vote for the awards. “There are a lot of guys that deserve Defensive Player of the Year or Sixth Man of the Year but you guys (decide sometimes because) they are not the sexier names. A lot of people will see the names of these players and don’t look at the other guys that contribute to our game as well.

“You guys aren’t in the scouting reports, you’re not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player’s games. I don’t see why you have more power in voting than we do. We are out there on the court playing with them. We appreciate how you guys blow the game up and bring attention to the game but at the same time, to keep it pure, the players should have more say in that stuff.”

***

No. 2: Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics — For a lot of fans at Barclays Center in Brooklyn or viewing elsewhere, it probably took a moment to sink in that Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie participating in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday was on the right team. Wiggins played for the World squad, against the USA group of rookies and second-year players, because he was born and raised in Canada. He was feeling some maple-leaf pride after his swell performance, as chronicled by our man Scott Howard-Cooper:

Already at the forefront of Canada’s planned ascent on the global basketball stage — well under way with the recent influx of players in the NBA the last few seasons — Wiggins added to that with 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting to win the MVP award as the World beat the U.S. 121-112 on Friday nigh

Asked if he is looking forward to playing Team USA — the real one — in international competition, Wiggins said, “Definitely. That’s a game I dream of. And hopefully we can play in the Olympics.”

Pressed if he would play for his homeland this summer, in the tournament to qualify for the 2016 Olympics (as the reigning World Cup champion, the U.S. is exempt) Wiggins said, “Right now I’m taking it day by day. But it’s something I would love to do.” Coming attractions, indeed.

***

No. 3: Union fires shot across NBA bow — This is relative peacetime in the NBA, more than three years removed from the league’s last costly lockout, with a labor deal in place at least until July 2017. But businessmen and unions do what they do, so the National Basketball Players Association’s annual All-Star player rep meeting offered a glimpse into some jargon and rhetoric with which fans soon might become all too familiar. Our own Steve Aschburner explained a money issue that already has surfaced:

They’re here now, with the union’s rejection of two “smoothing” proposals from the NBA to manage the flood of new money from dramatically increased TV rights fees beginning with the 2016-17 season. Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s new executive director, said the team reps voted unanimously to reject both proposals during a meeting that included about 50 players.

What that could mean, if left unaddressed, would be an abrupt hike in the league’s salary cap from an estimated $68 million in 2015-16 to, say, $90 million for 2016-17. That’s when the new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal kicks in at nearly triple the current broadcast fees. Boosting the cap number that suddenly could make virtually every team in the NBA a bidder for the lucky free agents of 2016. Rosters could be entirely rebuilt, or completely destroyed, all in a few weeks time.

The NBA apparently had pitched two versions of a proposal to “smooth” that infusion of money into the system to avoid artificially bidding up salaries of the players who happened to hit the market that summer, at the expense of the majority who would remain under contract. By “smoothing” the increase — with the cap rising by lesser amounts, with the difference from the players’ CBA-guaranteed share of the league’s revenues divvied up proportionally among them all — those locked into contracts would benefit from the added cash.

But the NBPA’s economic consultants determined that a typical player would make less money overall by signing contracts into an artificially constrained salary cap (for example, $80 million vs. $90 million) while receiving “shortfall” checks, than he would signing a new deal without the smoothing constraints on the cap.

The NBPA also voted LeBron James onto its executive committee as first vice-president, teaming the Cleveland star with union president Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers to add heft to the hierarchy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com had more on that:

With Paul, James and new, aggressive executive director Michele Roberts, the union has loaded up with high-profile faces for a fight for a bigger portion of what could be a $7 billion revenue pie two years from now.

Just how big a role James eventually will play, though, is yet to be seen. He did not attend the meeting because he was committed to a sponsor’s event across town. He talked to various members of the executive committee over the phone and plans to meet with Roberts this weekend.

The union believes having James and Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star point guard, on the front line will increase the pressure, both publicly and privately, on owners.

“I cannot tell you how delighted I am; the union is supported by players across the spectrum,” Roberts said after leading a meeting of approximately 50 players, including All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.

***

No. 4: Mason’s condition shows some progress — In a perfect world, Anthony Mason, longtime NBA forward who had helped the Knicks reach the Finals in 1994, would have been a visible presence this week during All-Star festivities. Instead, he continues to fight for his life in a hospital bed after suffering what his former agent Don Cronson called “congestive heart failure.” But Mason’s condition had improved slightly by Friday, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

[Mason] has made “small, but real” progress the last two nights after being “near death” Wednesday, his former agent said.

“He isn’t out of the woods, but he’s had two good nights,” Don Cronson, Mason’s agent during his playing days, said by phone Friday night.

Cronson said he’s received updates from Mason’s family.

“It seems like he’s day-to-day now. Before it was hour-to-hour,” Cronson said. “Thankfully, the last two days have been better.”

The New York Daily News had more details of the events leading up to Mason’s incident Wednesday:

Before he was hospitalized, Mason, 48, was scheduled to attend a press event Wednesday at the Times Square Knickerbocker Hotel, where Mason’s former teammate, John Starks, announced his business partnership with the Zipway company. Cronson said he is sure Mason was preparing to be a visible presence during the NBA All-Star Game week in the Big Apple.

“This originally happened a week ago today,” Cronson said Friday. “(Mason) was in the hospital. I think he was having some discomfort, some kind of chest pain. One of his guys said, ‘You have to have yourself looked at.’ He goes into the hospital and the whole event took place there. I spoke to family members, and had he been in the (hospital) lobby as opposed to the third floor, where he was, he would have died. Fortunately, he was close enough to the emergency facilities that were brought to bear and saved his life.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers and Paul George let it be known last week that the All-Star wing player, out since Aug. 1 after suffering leg fractures in a Team USA scrimmage, planned to be practicing March 1. Now he’s targeting March 14 for a possible return to game action. … Washington’s John Wall has his eye on the All-Star MVP trophy and Magic Johnson’s single-game record of 22 assists. … Knicks boss James Dolan doesn’t quite apologize for tangling with an unhappy fan via email, but he knows he shouldn’t have done it. … If Jeff Van Gundy can air out the Bulls for alleged friction with coach Tom Thibodeau, it only follows that Stan Van Gundy can do the same with the Kings in their handling of Tyrone Corbin. … Anthony Davis isn’t participating, but he talked the other day about ways he hopes to improve and about NBA life in general. … Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousin concurs – George Karl is a good coach. … How Portland’s Wesley Matthews transformed himself from undrafted offensive liability to a serious scorer. … Atlanta interested in Gary Neal? The Budenholzer connection. … How could the NBA spruce up All-Star Weekend? Consider these suggestions.

 

Wiggins, Carter-Williams headline BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge


VIDEO: USA vs. World in new format for Rising Stars

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has always served as All-Star Weekend’s showcase for first- and second-year NBA players, using a variety of different formats from rookies versus sophomores to a fantasy draft.

This year, though, it’s us against them. No matter which team you’re rooting for.

This season, the Rising Stars Challenge introduces a new format, with players from the United States going against a team of international players. The rosters were selected by the league’s assistant coaches, with one ballot for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team also features a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.

This year’s edition showcases 10 of the top 15 picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, and all four participants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most represented team, with four Timberwolves split evenly between the two teams. The Utah Jazz will have three players involved, and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic each are sending two players.

Team USA is heavy on perimeter and wing players, including Utah’s Trey Burke, Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, and Orlando’s starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

The World Team will be heavy on big men, including Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Canada will be the most represented international country with Olynyk and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 13, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The head coaches for the 21st BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will be assistants from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will lead the World Team, and Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S. Team. The game will be televised live on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

USA Team
Trey Burke (Utah)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Zach LaVine (Minnesota)
Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Elfrid Payton (Orlando)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

World Team
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Dante Exum (Utah)
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Dennis Schröder (Atlanta)
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 18



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe has thought of retirement | Warriors bounce back | Wiggins keeps rolling | Embiid worrying Sixers | Marshall tears ACL

 

No. 1: Retirement has crossed Kobe’s mind — It’s the word that the rest of the world jumped to as soon as he went to the floor back in April 2013 with the torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s the word that he’s been pushing back against over the long, difficult months of recovery. But now with a 32-minute per game restriction and still the pain that comes with trying to be his old self, Kobe Bryant admitted to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that early retirement is a long-shot, but still a possibility:

“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.

“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.

Like an aging pitcher, he has been placed on a count, 32 minutes per game, which basically leaves him on the bench for one crucial stretch per night. Like a fragile relic, he also has been forbidden to play the second night of back-to-back games, which means he will miss at least seven more full games this season even though he’s not injured. There has even been talking of completely shutting him down in March if the Lakers fall completely out of playoff contention, which has essentially already occurred.

The most stunning part of these developments is that a man who has spent his entire 19-year Lakers career fighting to play every minute of every game — he even made two free throws after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, remember — has agreed to every current and potential restriction.
“I know everyone is surprised I’m not fighting all this,” Bryant says quietly. “But I’ve changed.”

***

No. 2: Warriors reclaim their identity in Houston — One night after they barely showed up to put up a fight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors exploded for a 38-point guard third quarter in Houston and put James Harden under lock and key in what was supposed to be a showdown between Western Conference powers. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, there was only one power on hand Saturday night and it was the league leaders:

Just 24 hours after the Warriors allowed season highs in points, field goals and field-goal percentage at Oklahoma City, they didn’t allow Houston to sniff those numbers.

Friday “night, we weren’t ourselves,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We weren’t focused. We weren’t locked in. It showed in the stats, and it showed in the score.”

With Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala back in the rotation, the Warriors returned to the tenacious switching and gritty rim-protecting unit that has topped the league in defensive rating for most of the season. Houston shot just 42 percent from the floor, and the league’s most prolific three-point-shooting team was limited to 7-of-23 from behind the arc.

The Warriors returned to moving with a purpose and unselfishly passing on offense, getting double-digit scoring from five players, collecting 32 assists and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor. Most importantly, they returned to looking like the best team in the league — moving their record to 32-6 while snapping the four-game winning streak of the Rockets.

“We just wanted to get back to our identity,” Klay Thompson said. “It felt good to get back to what we do best.”

Thompson continued his hot streak, scoring 27 points and becoming the first Warriors guard with five blocked shots in a game since Baron Davis in 2007. Curry overcame six straight generally poor quarters to light it up in the second half and finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

David Lee and Marreese Speights combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. The Rockets were led by Howard, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Thompson caused fits for James Harden, who managed just 12 points (4-for-15).

Wearing their slate-colored, sleeved jerseys — a Saturday tradition — the Warriors won their fourth straight against Houston — the first time they’ve done that since 2006-07 — and secured a season series road sweep of the Rockets for the first time since 1975-76.

***

No. 3: Red-hot Wiggins lights Timberwolves’ fire in Denver — He was feeling a bit under the weather, but that didn’t prevent rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins from continuing on his recent surge. The No. 1 pick in the draft bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to lead his Timberwolves to their second win three games in Denver and Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the details:

This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.

Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.

“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”

Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”

“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”

***

No. 4: Embiid’s conditioning, attitude have Sixers worried — Even though he has yet to step onto the court this season as he continues to rehabilitate from foot surgery, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has made quite a reputation for himself as a fun-loving guy on social media. But the team that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Is now concerned that Embiid is not taking his conditioning and his pro career seriously enough, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

“He’s a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life,” Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

“Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes,” Mbah a Moute said. “But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He’s a good kid, man.

“At the end of the day, it’s tough for him being in a situation where people can’t really see who he is as a person.”

***

No. 5: Bucks lose Marshall for season with torn ACL — The overachieving Bucks, who have already lost rookie Jabari Parker for the season, suffered another setback when it was determined that guard Kendall Marshall has a torn ACL and will be done until 2015-16. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the report:

For the second time in just over a month, the Milwaukee Bucks have lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall is the latest, having suffered the season-ending injury to his right knee in the second quarter of the Bucks’ victory over the New York Knicks in London on Thursday. Rookie forward Jabari Parker tore the ACL in his left knee Dec. 15 in Phoenix.

The diagnosis was confirmed Saturday morning after Marshall underwent an MRI, and he said he expects to undergo surgery in two to three weeks after the swelling subsides.

“I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something serious,” Marshall said Saturday as the Bucks returned to the practice court in preparation for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. ” I could feel it buckle, pop and it was a pain that I’d never felt before.

“I hate to see injuries in sports, period. Our bodies are how we make our money; they’re our job, they’re our profession. At the end of the day, though, injuries are a part of our profession as well.

“That’s part of the risk so you have to be understanding of that and understanding of the process and be ready to get back.”

The 6-foot-4 North Carolina product had emerged as the Bucks’ backup point guard, and was averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 assists — second on the team to Brandon Knight’s 5.1 — over 28 games. Marshall also had posted career bests of 45.5% shooting from the floor and 88.9% from the free-throw line while also connecting on 39.1% of his three-pointers.

The timing of Marshall’s injury couldn’t have been worse considering the team waived No. 3 point guard Nate Wolters on Jan. 9 in order to be able to sign forward Kenyon Martin. That leaves Jerryd Bayless as the backup with O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo as other potential ball-handlers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Austin Rivers on board, now the Clippers have their eyes on Tayshaun Prince…Now that he’s back in the lineup, it didn’t take long for Lance Stephenson to get right back to being Lance Stephenson... The Wizards big men show they can deliver too… Stephon Marbury says there was a time when he considered suicideKevin Durant made a dream come true for a young heart transplant patient.

ICYMI of The Night: Stephen Curry’s sick no-look pass demonstrates why he’s one of the best point guards in the game …:

VIDEO: Curry’s assist of the night

Hey, 19! Kids all right in Bucks-Wolves

parker

The Bucks’ Jabari Parker is second among rookies in scoring at 11.7. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Basketball fans had a full slate of college hoops games available on their cable and satellite systems Wednesday night. Or, if they preferred their competition a little younger, they had the Milwaukee Bucks facing the Timberwolves at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET on League Pass).

The game at Target Center almost deserved to have beer sales suspended in a nod to the tender years of the youngest Bucks and Wolves. In Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine of Minnesota and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker of Milwaukee, there likely would be four teenagers in the same NBA game for the first time ever. The two Bucks and Wiggins have been starting and, since LaVine has averaged 22.7 minutes in his last seven appearances, the odds were high that all four would be on the court at the same time.

Separately, the two sets of teammates had become the first players under age 20 to start for a franchise since Josh Smith and Marvin Williams did it for the 2005-06 Atlanta Hawks.

The game already had marquee power based on the matchup of No. 1 pick Wiggins and No. 2 pick Parker for the first time in a regular-season game. The two were on parallel tracks last season at Kansas and Duke, respectively, and were considered a coin-flip right through Draft night in June as far as NBA potential. Wiggins, acquired from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade, leads all rookies with a 12.5 scoring average. Parker is close behind, averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds to Wiggins’ 3.5.

LaVine was a raw, somewhat surprising lottery pick by the Wolves at No. 13 out of UCLA, and has averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent in 19.1 minutes. Antetokounmpo was a virtual unknown taken straight from Greece by Milwaukee with the 15th pick in 2013, but he has grown two inches since then and is averaging 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent.

A closer look at the pink shoes the Wolves will wear during Wednesday's game. (Courtesy of Timberwolves)

A closer look at the pink shoes the Wolves will wear during Wednesday’s game. (Courtesy of Timberwolves)

Both franchises seem delighted with their youngsters as the foundation of their rebuilding teams. But as far as the teenaged thing goes, it’s a one-and-done Wednesday; by the time Minnesota plays at Milwaukee on Jan. 9, Antetokounmpo (born Dec. 6, 1994) will already be more than a month into his 20th year.

Another factoid about the Bucks-Wolves game in Minneapolis: Minnesota players will wear pink shoe laces to honor Lula Hall, mother of forward Thad Young who died Nov. 13 after an 18-month bout with breast cancer.

 

“It’s one of those things, I urge all women to get breast exams and make sure you stay healthy,” Young told reporters Wednesday morning.

Blogtable: The summer of ’14

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


BLOGTABLE: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer



VIDEO: After a terrible summer, Paul George already is working toward his return.

> Outside of LeBron going home, what will you remember most about the NBA’s Summer of ’14?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Even though I only watched one replay, it’s going to be hard to forget Paul George’s shattered right leg, both because of how gruesome the injury was and what it instantly meant to the Indiana Pacers’ season and the Eastern Conference standings. It also re-opened a legitimate debate about the risks NBA players and their teams assume to prop up someone else’s money-making tournament. My runner-up? Waking up to Klay Thompson‘s remarkable importance to the Golden State Warriors — they refused to part with him for Kevin Love, after all! — or seeing that a lot of solid basketball people have overvalued him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The big swing and miss by the Rockets, who believed they were going to land free agent Chris Bosh only to be left at the altar when he chose to re-sign with Miami.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Honestly, the image that sticks with me most is the giant-sized poster of Carmelo Anthony wearing Jeremy Lin’s No. 7 plastered all over the Toyota Center. Lin, mind you, was still a member of the Rockets, and a pretty productive member, too. He had to go to make the money right if the Rockets were to sign ‘Melo, which obviously didn’t happen, and Lin ended up leaving anyway for the Lakers. It wasn’t the classiest of moves by the Rockets organization, but Lin’s subsequent outrage, real or not, also provided me with a good chuckle.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The rookie infusion. Maybe I’m too close because I cover the Draft, but the newcomers felt like a real burst of energy. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Doug McDermott, Marcus Smart, carryovers Nerlens Noel and Nikola Mirotic, and others. There was a buzz that didn’t exist the year before. Summer-league games in Vegas were crowded. Fans seemed interested.

Kevin Love (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kevin Love (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Unfortunately, it will be Paul George’s injury, and not just because I was 30 feet away. It was gruesome and it was on national TV. It took away a season from one of the league’s best young stars and it probably knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs. It was random and George got immediate medical attention, but even if the rules regarding National Team participation stay the same, it will be be on players’ minds whenever they’re asked to make that summer commitment.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I wasn’t sure the Kevin Love deal was going to happen over the summer, despite the constant discussion about it happening sooner rather than later. If the Cavaliers cash in and win a title anytime in the next five years the LeBron and Love moves combined will have been the touchstones for the summer of 2014,

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Perhaps this is a bit self-serving, but the new TV deals signed by the NBA with ABC and our parent company Turner have the potential to be significant. With the television contract revenue almost tripling, the luxury tax number should skyrocket. While this could also mean labor issues down the road, it definitely means the upper limit of the luxury tax should skyrocket. Yes, this means teams will have more room to spend more money, but it doesn’t guarantee instant success for capped out teams — teams struggling financially got into that position for a reason, after all.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: The Andrew Wiggins saga. When the summer started, he wasn’t even assured the first pick, as his performance in the NCAA tourney had some people doubting him. He ended up back to the top of the Draft, but then, after LeBron announced his return, immediately got thrown into a wild discussion about whether or not the Cavs should trade him for Kevin Love. Then he gets signed, then the rumours about the deal being done started spreading, then he finally gets traded. Five years from now, we might look at that trade a number of different ways — it could be the start of a dynasty for the Cavs, it could be the play that brought Minnesota back to life, it could be both, it could be neither. Also, there will forever be “what ifs” about what could have been if they never had traded Wiggins, if the Wolves had accepted Golden State’s offer, or Phoenix’s offer. Just a fascinating trade.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Yuki Togashi. The Japanese young point guard played four games in Las Vegas Summer League for the Dallas Mavericks. It’s the best topic in the summer of ’14 for NBA fan in Japan.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: David Blatt going to the Cavs (before LeBron), Gasol heading to the Bulls, Giannis Antetokounmpo playing as a point guard for the Bucks summer league team and of course, Kostas Papanikolaou signing with the Rockets! It was a full summer after all.

Rubio wants Wolves’ leadership reins


VIDEO: Rubio breaks down the upcoming season in Minnesota

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Yes, his jumper needs work and that’s why the Minnesota Timberwolves hired noted shot doc Mike Penberthy to help Ricky Rubio. Shots can be fixed, but when it comes to enhancing a player’s leadership, outside of hiring a team psychologist — which the Dallas Mavericks do, the Wolves do not and more teams should — there’s really not a coach, a sage or swami to bring in for a quick “fix.”

Leadership mostly has to evolve naturally to develop the maturity, self-assuredness and self-confidence that emboldens one to direct others. In Minnesota, that job is on Rubio. The Wolves, sans Kevin Love, are his team.

Nineteen-year-old No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins might one day become the face of the franchise, but in this transition season, it is up to the young Spaniard, still a couple weeks shy of his 24th birthday, to manage the emotions of an intriguingly athletic squad of relative pups who are likely to go through this season riding alternating waves of fun and frustration.

“It’s a different team, of course, but we have to move on,” Rubio told NBA.com in a phone interview Thursday. “We have to step up, especially me as a leader, be more vocal. Our young guys, they need someone to guide them. I think we have a lot of vets here that can do that. Mo [Williams] is a great example. Me and Kevin Martin can do the same thing.

“What I’ve been doing, since I am young, is leading by example, practicing hard and doing everything on the court. I have to learn how to be more vocal. I’m not good at that and I have to improve.”

One key for Rubio is to block outside noise. At the team’s media day earlier this week he didn’t want to discuss ongoing contract negotiations because he thinks it affects him on the floor. Last year he grew weary of the media’s inquiries into an increasingly restless Love.

“Of course we had a lot going on last year and the media was talking, they were wondering if Kevin wanted to be here, blah, blah, blah, and that hurt the team and hurt himself,” Rubio said. “Now that he’s not here, the media’s not going to talk about that anymore. I think that’s going to be good for him and for us.”

With the Love chapter closed, Rubio, fully healthy and now more experienced as an NBA player, could be headed for a big year, the year everybody has been waiting to see. For critics who wonder why he’s yet to make an All-Star team, it’s easy to forget the turbulence of his first three seasons.

A terrific start to his lockout-delayed rookie season — 10.2 points, 8.2 assists — ended abruptly in Game 41 with a torn ACL in his left knee. He didn’t return until December of the following season, one which Love played 18 games and Rubio never truly bounced back from the devastating injury.

“It was tough for me, physically, but mentally. That hurt me,” Rubio said. “When you come back, you’re thinking you’re going to be back 100 percent; you’re not. You can be in shape after a tough injury like I had, but you are not in game shape. That comes with games and it took me time to realize that. I was playing and I was going home thinking about what’s going on with me and all this stuff. So it was tough, plus people talking made it even tougher. So my second year was tough.”

There again he references “people talking” about his performance. And maybe such chatter has played mind games with his shot, too. Still, his Year 3, although ending again with no playoffs amid a slew of close losses and Love’s declining interest, finished strongly, with Rubio playing as assertively as he has in the NBA. He’s carrying that confidence into training camp, understanding the new responsibility before him.

He is excited about the new makeup of the team and the up-tempo style it will play. Whether an extension gets done by the end of the month or he goes into next summer as a restricted free agent (Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher predicts the Wolves will trade him), Rubio says he believes he can win in Minnesota. He said he’s not putting that type of pressure on his young team just yet. But, he said, ending Minnesota’s decade-long playoff drought is his focus no matter how improbable it might seem in a rugged Western Conference where Phoenix and New Orleans appear next in line to challenge for a final playoff spot.

“I feel more mature. I’ve been through good things and bad things that helped me grow up,” Rubio said. “Every season you can learn a lot of things even if you don’t make the playoffs like we haven’t done the last three years. Every time you don’t make the playoffs, you have something inside that you want to prove again next year. So it’s growing up. It’s something that we have to be patient, take our time and make it.

“I want to put my team in the playoffs, so all I’m thinking right now is growing up with my team and being the best I can to help my team win.”

International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID — Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)