Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The kind of stat work that LeBron James is putting in of late is nothing short of amazing — to both NBA fans and to his contemporaries, too (see below). That’s one game you have to watch again just to soak in all the ways James is dominating the field during his run. But once you’re done with that, we’ll direct your attention to the Nuggets-Raptors game, which was solid in its own right. Neither team had a real solid grip on this one until the final seconds, when Rudy Gay nailed a baseline jumper over Corey Brewer to salt away the victory. Don’t look now, but Toronto is 4-2 in its Gay era and is 6 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for No. 8 in the East.
News of the morning
LeBron’s run wows ‘Melo | Randolph makes most of chance | Westbrook, Thunder steamed after loss | Fox questions Howard’s championship drive | Lillard bounces back nicely
LeBron’s stats run amazes ‘Melo — LeBron James has been simply dominant of late, scoring 30-plus points in his last six games while shooting 71.7 percent during that stretch. His fellow Olympic teammate, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, has been nothing short of wowed by James’ run, writes Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com. Apparently, Anthony is keeping tabs on what LeBron does each night:
“That’s crazy,” Melo said after the New York Knicks practiced on Tuesday. “What he’s doing right now is unbelievable. I mean, he’s scoring 30-something, 40 points in 11 shots, 10 for 12 and things like that. He’s on an incredible run right now.”
How has James been doing it? Primarily inside. In his five games before Tuesday, he was shooting a blistering 84.1 percent (37 for 44) from inside 10 feet, where 44 of his 77 shots have come. From 10 feet or beyond, he’s shooting 54.5 percent (18-for-33).
Melo said that when the opportunity presents itself, he tries to watch his buddies around the league, notably James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, to see how they’re performing.
“I don’t really watch too much TV, but when my friends are playing, I want to see what they’re doing, I want to see their games,” Anthony said. “Most of the time, they’re playing when we’re playing, so it’s kind of hard to watch. But when there are games like (this past) Sunday, when there are a lot of games on at one time, of course we’re watching.”
So what does Anthony think about James’ MVP chances?
“It’s early. It’s the All-Star break right now,” he said. “He’s definitely playing like a Most Valuable Player, so we’ll see what happens.”
Anthony himself is in the MVP conversation. His Knicks have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference (32-17) — behind the Heat (34-14) — and he’s averaging a career-high 29.0 points per game. He scored 20 or more points in 31 straight games and has two 45-point outings. He’s also single-handedly carried the team a couple of times down the stretch, such as Feb. 8 against the Minnesota Timberwolves when he put up 12 points in the fourth quarter en route to a game-high 36 points.
Anthony and James will team up Sunday in Houston for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Nuggets’ Randolph shines in opportunity — It wasn’t all that long ago that Anthony Randolph was viewed as a player destined for stardom in the NBA. He’s shown moments of on-court promise from his rookie days with Golden State to his time spent with the Knicks and Timberwolves. But Randolph can never seem to lock down consistent playing time and has yet to deliver on the stardom so many saw in him as a rookie. He’s getting minimal time in Denver this season, too, but stepped up pretty big last night in the Nuggets’ loss to the Raptors, writes Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post:
The forgotten Nugget. That’s what Anthony Randolph had seemed to be. He had played 122 minutes all season. But in Tuesday’s game, with four key players out, Randolph played 27. And there he was at the foul line with 42.6 seconds left and his team down one. On the road.
He made them both.
Yes, Denver lost 109-108 at Toronto, but Randolph’s efforts were valiant — 16 points, seven boards, a game-high three steals and a team-high plus-10.
“Anthony was the surprise,” coach George Karl said. “He played a game I thought we could win with him playing.”
The 6-foot-11 forward was on the court in crunch time. Yes, he made some mistakes. His defense was shaky at times. But he made a positive impact.
“We’ve seen it in practice all year, and today he got a chance to show it,” teammate Ty Lawson said. “He’s just versatile. … He can handle the ball, rebound, and does all the little things. (With injuries), there’s a lot of minutes out there, and he’s definitely hungry to get some. He can be a big-time player with an opportunity.”
Indeed, numerous Nuggets are questionable for Wednesday’s game at Brooklyn.
As for Randolph’s explosion, Kenneth Faried can relate. The second-year forward seldom played a season ago until Nene got hurt. “The Manimal” came to be. No, I don’t expect Randolph to have a Faried-like impact, but for Karl, it’s all about who he’s comfortable throwing out there, and Randolph gave the coach some confidence going forward.
Asked about his teammate, Faried said: “He wanted to come out and prove he could play, and he did that tonight. He just has to get more selective with some of his shots, (I say) respectfully. Coming from a teammate, I know how Coach is. As a guy who didn’t play (and then) started playing, he’s just got to come out with energy and enthusiasm and pick his spots sometimes.”
Westbrook, Thunder show their frustration after loss — After storming off the court during a win over the Grizzlies a dozen days ago, Russell Westbrook drew some flak for both that action as well as his postgame interview with TNT’s Craig Sager. Famously, when Sager asked Westbrook a question he didn’t like, Westbrook responded with an “If that’s what you say, bruh,” that made its rounds on the internet as much as his on-court actions did. Westbrook was at it again after last night’s blowout loss in Salt Lake City to the Jazz which snapped OKC’s four-game win streak. The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry has plenty of juicy tidbits to share (see video here):
The postgame locker room was more lively than anything in the last eleven minutes of the 109-94 loss the Thunder took on the chin. Scott Brooks was brutally honest. Russell Westbrook lost his patience with the media. And Kevin Durant even tried to not be nice. It was all part of a strange night inside Energy Solutions Arena, where the Thunder’s four-game winning streak came to a sudden stop and the recent road woes reared their ugly head once again.
Westbrook simply walked off. The temperamental team captain got fed up with a reporter’s question and suddenly turned his back and ended the interview before walking away. The exchange was as follows. “Russell, did you guys lose this game, or did the Jazz win this one?” Westbrook: “Whaaaaat? Bro, what are you talking about, man? I’m out man. Y’all n***** trippin’.”
Westbrook’s sound bite was good for a quick laugh and easily makes his top three all-time interview quotes. But what was sad about the exchange is that everyone on the team, players and staffers included, simply supported him. They came to his defense even after he lost his patience, snapped on a reporter, prematurely ended an interview and used offensive language. It’s one of the reasons Westbrook will always be Westbrook. Nobody seems to hold him accountable, on the court or in front of the cameras. A pretty generic question, one that players get asked all the time in every sport, caused him to erupt. But by now, that behavior is just what you expect out of Westbrook.
Westbrook’s top three sound bites:
“No more questions for you, bro.”
“Whaaaaat? Bro, what are you talking about, man? I’m out man.”
“If that’s what you say, bruh.”
Durant picked up his 10th technical foul of the season tonight. It was pretty petty. But whatever. It happened with 6:06 left to play. Durant delivered a (sort of) hard foul on Alec Burks as he raced down the left sideline. It was enough to send Alec Burks “flying” into the first row of baseline seats. Durant received a flagrant 1 foul for the play and got hit with a technical for pushing Carroll when he walked in his direction and spouted off a few words. A light shoving match ensued and Durant and DeMarre Carroll picked up double technicals.
Durant moved into a tie for second place with his technical fouls, two behind leader DeMarcus Cousins. It puts KD six away from an automatic one-game suspension and prompted me to ask Durant if he will now be more mindful of his growing temper in the final 30 games. “I’m just going to keep being me,” Durant said. “I don’t give a damn. I’m going to just keep being me.”
Ex-Laker Fox questions Howard’s commitment — NBA TV analyst and Hang Time podcast regular Rick Fox, who, oh yeah, also was a key part of the Lakers’ three-peat teams of the early 2000s, had some harsh criticism for big man Dwight Howard on the radio. According to Janis Carr of the Orange County Register, Fox took to the airwaves to not only question Howard’s dedication to the Lakers, but also whether or not Howard wants to win a title or not:
The Lakers were back in town for about 24 hours after their two-week Grammy trip before their season was interrupted again by more negative comments, this time by former Laker Rick Fox.
Fox is the latest to single out Dwight Howard for much of the Lakers’ troubles. During a radio interview, he not only questioned Howard’s long-term commitment to the Lakers, but also the center’s dedication to winning.
“I would like to see more of the actions that tell me that winning is the most important thing to him, and him being a Laker and I don’t get that yet. I haven’t gotten that,” Fox said.
“Maybe in another city he could fool people with that, but unfortunately being in Los Angeles, you have got a legacy of great players who have shown the city what it looks like, what commitment looks like, what championship play looks like, what championship talk looks like.”
Fox said Howard feels entitled and wants to be the No. 1 option in the offense, much like it was when he was in Orlando.
“At the end of the day, he’s had teams where he has been No. 1 for a number of years and it’s led him to exactly what he has — which is no championships,” Fox said.
“He’s in a situation with guys who have won championships, who are pointing out to him that the way you are behaving is not championship behavior. Therefore you can either get in line and we can successfully accomplish something as a group, or try to prove the point that your way might be better.”
Lillard keeps getting the job done — Blazers rookie Damian Lillard is the odds-on favorite to take home the Kia Rookie of the Year Award and games like the one he had last night in Miami only bolster his overall case. Lillard struggled through a 1-for-16 night in Portland’s last game, a loss to Orlando, but as he’s done all season, rebounded from that performance with a solid night. He put up 33 points and was 10-for-18 from the field as the Blazers gave the Heat all they could handle before folding down the stretch. The Oregonian’s Jason Quick has more on the bounce-back performance of Portland’s burgeoning star:
After the worst shooting night of his career Sunday in Orlando – when he made 1-of-16 shots – the Trail Blazers rookie sensation on Tuesday stifled any discussion, any drama, any doubts about his rookie legacy. He made 10 shots. And 10 free throws. And scored 33 points against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
In other words, he did exactly what everyone in this organization expected.
“I wasn’t worried,’’ LaMarcus Aldridge said while pulling on his socks, which were no doubt bored off his feet. “He doesn’t lack any confidence. I knew he would come back tonight. When his first two or three went in, I was like, ‘He’s back.’’’
Where’s the fun in that, Kid?
How about some juicy shooting slump? Some defense you can’t figure out? Some chink in your armor? Something to get the locals riled up and talking.
No? All we get is this same steely demeanor? This composure befitting of a veteran? The same steady stare, which makes it impossible to determine whether you are having a good game or bad game? Whether the Blazers are winning or losing?
Surely there has to be a time, when the cameras aren’t around, and the doors are closed when you have lost it. When you have broken down. Gotten angry. Lost your composure. Tell us you are human. Tell us you are not unflappable. Tell us when the last time it happened.
“I really can’t remember,’’ Lillard said after taking time to think about it. “It was probably at my little sister or something. Of course you have little arguments with people about sports, and stuff, but I can’t remember I was legitimately upset or angry at somebody.’’
“I don’t know what you want me to say,’’ Lillard said, a hint of a smile emerging. “I’m not putting on a show. This is me. This is me all the time. I probably laugh a little more when you guys aren’t around, but that’s about it. J.J. (Hickson) here is always asking me what I’m laughing about.’’
Well, none of your rookie colleagues are laughing with you. You have never allowed there to be a Rookie of the Year discussion. Never. Not since that brilliant 23-point, 11-assist debut against the Lakers. How about inviting Bradley Beal to the table by having a bad week? Allow Andre Drummond to get some publicity. And why don’t you allow that poor Kia representative visit another city – perhaps New Orleans and Anthony Davis – to present the Rookie of the Month trophy?
This excellence of yours has become so … so … normal.
There has been no chance to poke holes in your game. No chance to analyze what teams are doing to stop you. And don’t you know you are supposed to be rattled by a bad shooting night? Doubt yourself? Show at least a hint of fear?
“After a game like the game in Orlando, I couldn’t wait to play again,’’ Lillard said. “I let that game go on the plane the night we left Orlando. Everything was normal. It’s not like I could go back and shoot those shots over again. All I could do was get to the gym the next day.’’
ICYMI of the night: Just when Timofey Mozgov thought it was safe to get some minutes again in the Denver frontcourt, DeMar DeRozan takes some of the wind out if his sails …: