Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

Can’t win two? It’s Larry Drew

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Milwaukee Bucks clinched the league’s worst record on Monday. They’ll go into next month’s Lottery with the best odds at getting the No. 1 pick. They’ll have a 25 percent chance at No. 1 and will have no worse than the No. 4 pick in the June draft.

Though the Philadelphia 76ers tied an NBA record with 26 straight losses between Jan. 31 and March 27, the Bucks managed to stay behind them in the standings.

How did they do it? Well, their longest losing streak of the season was only 11 games, but they never won two in a row. In fact, Monday’s loss in Toronto also clinched a little bit of history for the Bucks.

The Bucks are the third team in NBA history to play an 82-game season without ever winning two straight. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only two other teams to do it were the 1986-87 Clippers and the 2004-05 Hawks.

Amazingly, those three teams have something in common. His name is Larry Drew.

Drew and Mike Woodson both played for the ’86-87 Clippers. Woodson was the coach and Drew an assistant for the ’04-05 Hawks. And, of course, Drew is the coach of this year’s Bucks.

The 2011-12 Bobcats also failed to win two straight in the lockout-shortened, 66-game season.

Hat tip to Bucksketball’s KL Chouinard for noting the Drew connection.

Morning Shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs clinch | Durant studies Nowitzki | Wizards make dream come true | ‘Melo asks about Thibs | Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format

No. 1: Mavs clinch – The Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years. But they can breathe easier now after clinching one of the final two spots in the Western Conference playoff picture with a 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns. Despite the clinch, the regular season fight is not yet over for Dallas as it currently sits in the seventh spot, but could rise or fall to the sixth or eighth seed over the season’s final days. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on the clinch:

“It feels good to be back in the big dance,” said [Dirk] Nowitzki, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half. “That’s where competitors want to be — on the big stage in the playoffs.”

[Monta] Ellis had 37 points, including three 3-pointers in the third quarter when the Mavericks erased a 13-point deficit.

Nowitzki played the final minutes through a twisted left ankle, which he said hurt briefly, but he doesn’t expect it to hinder him moving forward.

The return to the playoffs is gratifying for all the Mavericks, but particularly Ellis and the veteran trio of Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

“We feel official now,” Carter said. “We’re back where we feel we should be. This is a tough bunch. We walked in the day before training camp and looked at all the talent and said: ‘It can happen.’ We knew it was going to be a bumpy road, but there’s so much talent in this locker room.”

For Ellis, it will be only his third playoff appearance in nine NBA seasons.

“It’s lovely,” he said. “We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us. We knew if we won, it was automatic.”

Said Devin Harris of Ellis, who hit 15 of 23 shots: “He’s missed the playoffs a whole lot. You could tell he wanted it. I’m happy for him. And happy for the guys that we really accomplished something.”

That much is true. Nowitzki, Marion and Carter had been used to being in the playoffs for most of their careers. To be back is meaningful.

“It’s big,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our franchise, it stands for winning championships. And you can’t win a championship unless you get to the playoffs. I don’t know who our matchup is going to be. It’ll be tough, whatever it is. But we’ll be ready.”

***

No. 2: Durant studies Nowitzki – If they stay in the seventh seed, Nowitzki’s Mavericks will most likely play Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. This matchup will feature two of the premiere talents in the game, but don’t be surprised if you see a few unique moves duplicated. That’s because Durant has taken to study the moves of Nowitzki, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reports:

Durant doesn’t often reveal much beyond what we can all see out on the floor, but he recently confessed that he’s been swiping liberally all season from the Dirk Nowitzki playbook all season.

Turns out that, since November, Durant has been working with Adam Harrington as his personal trainer beyond his daily duties with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which is the same Adam Harrington who briefly played alongside Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks more than a decade ago and has been studying the unorthodox coaching techniques hatched by Nowitzki’s longtime mentor and shot doctor from back home, Holger Geschwindner, ever since.

“It’s a lot more than just trying to copy the one-legger,” Durant said, explaining that he’s not merely focused on trying to mimic Nowitzki’s signature shot.

“Dirk’s got a lot of moves I’m trying to steal.”

Practice shots with both hands, off both feet and launched from a variety of stances and spins to improve footwork. Planting the heels and shifting smoothly onto the toes for better balance. Breathing techniques as the ball is released. Keeping the fingers wide, too.

Durant has been dabbling in all those Holger-centric areas of emphasis in his hourly sessions with Harrington, which typically take place in the evenings — home or road — whether it’s a practice day or after the Thunder fly into a new city on the night before a game.

Dirk, you see, is Durant’s favorite active player.

“It’s probably a tie between him and Kobe [Bryant],” Durant said after giving it some extra thought.

Yet there’s no disputing who’s the more natural role model for KD. It’s that 35-year-old, that 7-footer, who plays three hours away down Interstate 35 … and who just shot his way into the top 10 on the league’s all-time scoring charts in his 16th season.

You figure Durant will get there even faster at his current pace, given the insane levels of efficiency he’s hitting — sporting a PER of 30.2 for the season — and blessed with that extra dose of athleticism Dirk has always dreamed of.

Yet you can go ahead and give Dirk and Holger an assist or three in helping Durant navigate his path to that first MVP trophy. Harrington was predictably spotted sitting right next to Geschwindner, Der Professor, when the Thunder and Mavs dueled in Dallas in late March in a game the hosts eked out in overtime.

“I don’t know him so well,” Durant said of Nowitzki, “but I’ve always liked the way he goes about his business.

“And I’ve learned a lot from him by just studying the techniques.”

As if Durant, heading into a potential first-round matchup with Nowitzki’s Mavs, didn’t already have enough going for him.

***


VIDEO: Wizards sign Amaris Jackson

No. 3: Wizards make dream come true – Amaris Jackson is a 10-year-old who currently battles a rare type of cancer called renal cell carcinoma. She’s a huge basketball fan and her dream of becoming a professional basketball player came true on Saturday when the Washington Wizards inked her to a one-day contract. Brandon Parker of The Washington Post has more on this inspirational signing:

Ten-year-old Amaris Jackson, who is battling a rare kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma, signed a one-day contract with Wizards prior to Saturday’s home game against Milwaukee in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation. As part of her one-day experience as a Wizard, Jackson took part in the pregame shoot-around, visited the locker room and led the team onto the court.

Jackson watched intently and excitedly from half court of the Wizards’ practice gym as the team walked through plays in preparation for Saturday’s game. When Wizards Coach Randy Wittman told the defense to set up in a 2-3 zone, Jackson whispered to assistant coach Sam Cassell that she knew what that scheme meant before pointing where each of the defenders should line up.

At the conclusion of the shoot-around, the players gathered around Jackson, who broke the huddle with a yell of “team.” The Takoma Elementary student then shot around with Trevor Booker and Martell Webster, who told Jackson that her left-handed shot looked better than Booker’s.

Jackson then proceeded to prove Webster right, draining a short jumper from the paint before Booker clanked the same attempt off the back of the rim.

“See, I told you, Amaris!” Webster said while laughing. “Book can’t shoot like you.”

Donning a No. 10 Wizards jersey with her first name on the back along with a red and blue hair ties to hold up her long, black pigtails, Jackson then took to the main court to do an individual workout with her favorite player, John Wall.

“It was fun . . . exciting, meeting all the players,” Jackson said. “It was awesome.”

After leading the team onto the court about 20 minutes prior to tip-off, Jackson was the first player introduced in the Wizards starting lineup, complete with her name and photo on the scoreboard. A few minutes later, she headed back to an office with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld to ink a one-day contract that made her the youngest NBA player in history at 10 years old.

“It was kind of a neat thing, not only for her, but it was kind of neat thing for our guys,” Wittman said. “Our guys I think had a special moment with her. So, that’s always good, to make sure you never take your eyes off the big picture.”

.***

No. 4: ‘Melo asks about Thibs – The Atlanta Hawks’ win over the Miami Heat secured them the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and officially eliminated the New York Knicks from playoff contention. This disappointing season has caused many to question whether free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony will remain in New York or bolt for a more attractive situation in, say, Chicago. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News reports that Anthony recently asked a  former Chicago Bulls player what it’s like to play for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and apparently that’s just enough juice to squeeze out a glass full of speculation:

Anthony’s interest in Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can be taken one of several ways. Anthony, who lives and breathes basketball, is merely interested in learning something about one of the NBA’s top coaches. In fact, Anthony will be working with Thibodeau, who was named to USA Basketball’s coaching staff last June.

Of course, Anthony’s impromptu background check on Thibodeau could also be his idea of due diligence since the Bulls loom as an attractive option this summer for the free-agent-to-be.

The Bulls are emerging as one of several teams, along with the Lakers and Rockets, who are expected to pursue Anthony if and when he opts out of his contract on July 1. The Knicks can still offer Anthony the most money, and [Phil] Jackson, the new Knicks president, is intent on re-signing the All-Star forward.

But with the Knicks getting eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night by virtue of Atlanta beating Miami, Anthony, now in his 11th season, is well-aware that the clock is ticking on his career. He won’t be in the playoffs for the first time and knows the Knicks won’t have cap space until next summer.

Anthony will have to decide if he wants to wait another year before Jackson can make a significant impact, or jump to a ready-made team such as Chicago or Houston.

When asked on Friday why the Bulls have survived losing key players while the Knicks haven’t, Anthony said: “I have no clue. Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of Gregg Popovich’s system.

“You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve had guys sitting out all season long, guys that’s been in and out of the lineups and they seem to get it done.”

Anthony flirted with the idea of joining the Bulls before forcing a trade to New York, which was his top choice all along. But the chance to play with [Derrick] Rose, Joakim Noah and Thibodeau may be too appealing to pass up again.

Another factor could be Thibodeau’s close relationship to Anthony’s agent, Leon Rose, whose longtime friend William Wesley represents Thibodeau. They all fall under the same CAA umbrella.

In recent weeks, Jackson has hinted that he doesn’t want to feel beholden to any one agency, and his comments have been viewed as a knock on CAA. However, the Knicks’ relationship with that agency was viewed as a strength last season when they were winning 54 games.

Also, Anthony and another CAA client, J.R. Smith, have both played at a high level over the last month as the Knicks kept their season alive.

Ultimately, Anthony will make the decision on his own, and the Knicks’ offer of $125 million may be too good to pass up. But with the Knicks’ coaching situation unsettled and the playoff chase over, Anthony may soon be able to answer the question of “What is it like to play for Thibs?” for himself.

***

No. 5: Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format – New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have plenty of time to make his desired changes to the league, and it appears he already has a few ideas of things which could potentially be improved. One of them, which he discussed during a San Antonio Spurs broadcast, is to shake up the current playoff format. Mike Monroe of The San Antonio Express-News has the full Silver quotes:

Conducting an in-game interview with Spurs broadcasters Bill Land and Sean Elliott during the telecast of Friday’s Spurs-Suns game at AT&T Center, Silver said the league needs to consider changes to the format that puts the top eight teams in each conference in the playoffs.

This season, that means one Eastern team with a losing record will make the playoffs while one Western team with at least 47 wins will be left out.

The Suns, who left Friday’s game with a 47-32 record after absorbing a 112-104 loss to the Spurs, would be third in the East with that record. The bottom four teams in the West all would have home court advantage in the East were the playoffs to begin on Saturday.

“I don’t know that there will be movement,” Silver said about changing the format. “My initial thought is we will take a fresh look at it. When these conferences were designed it was in the day of commercial (air) travel. It was very different moving teams around the country.

“In this day and age when every team is flying charter it changes everything. It’s one of the reasons we moved back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for this year’s Finals.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden collected 33 points and 13 assists to help the Rockets rally past the Pelicans 111-104. … Brandon Wright secured a Mavericks victory with this huge block.The Nuggets’ Evan Fournier proved that he doesn’t need to be standing to make a shot.

ICYMI: The Atlanta Hawks clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Miami Heat on Saturday night. This marks the seventh straight season the Hawks will be in the playoffs, which is the longest streak in the East. Point guard Jeff Teague joined the NBATV GameTime crew after the game last night to talk about what the clinch means to the team.


VIDEO: Arena Link: Jeff Teague

Anthony injury another blow to Knicks’ slim playoff chances

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards defeat the Knicks, 90-89.

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks’ playoff chances took three hits Friday night.

Blow No. 1: The Atlanta Hawks crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers, tying New York with 33 wins.

Blow No. 2: The Knicks lost a nail-biter to the Washington Wizards to fall two games behind the Hawks in the loss column. (Atlanta would have the tie-breaker.)

Blow No. 3: Carmelo Anthony suffered a right shoulder strain that will likely affect him in the team’s final five games.

Anthony said that he actually hurt the shoulder in Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn, but the effects were clear on Friday, when he scored just 10 points and turned the ball over nine times, a total that doesn’t include a fumble on the last possession of the game, because J.R. Smith recovered the ball and missed the game-winner.

Prior to the game, Knicks coach Mike Woodson lauded Anthony for his consistency this season.

“He’s been there every night,” Woodson said. “I don’t think anybody can point the finger at Melo for anything. Everybody’s starting to come together, but Melo has been there from Day 1. His numbers have indicated that.”

Then Anthony played his worst game of the season. At one point, he was forced to call timeout because his shoulder “gave out.”

Anthony isn’t going to miss any time (x-rays were negative), but the Knicks have to worry about his effectiveness for their final five games, during which his streak of making the playoffs every season of his career will be on the line.

If the Hawks beat the teams behind them in the standings (Detroit, Boston and Milwaukee) and lose to the teams ahead of them (Indiana, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte), they will finish 36-46, and the Knicks would need to finish 37-45 to make the playoffs.

That would require a 4-1 record against the Heat, Raptors (twice), Bulls and Nets. New York has won 12 of its last 16 games, but is currently 4-7 against that group.

There are two small reasons for optimism. First, after their trip to Miami, the Knicks have four days off (an opportunity for Anthony to heal) before visiting Toronto on Friday. Second, their 24th-ranked defense might have finally come around, having allowed just 96.5 points per 100 possessions over their last four games.

Improved D gives the Knicks a fighting chance in these last five games, even if Anthony isn’t at full strength. It certainly gave them an opportunity to win Friday’s game despite his poor performance.

Alas, that one got away. And now the Knicks are in a real tough spot.

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks back in playoff race | Noah: Bulls won’t be ‘soft’ down stretch | Hollins ready to coach again | Noel readying for Summer League play | D’Antoni, Kaman bury hatchet?

No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:

Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.

The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.

“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”

Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.

Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.

Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.

“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”

Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.

The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.

Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Coach Mike Woodson talks about New York’s big win against Brooklyn

***

No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:

The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”

“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”

Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.

“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”


VIDEO: The Bulls pick up a win in Atlanta on Wednesday

***

No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again– Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.

“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.

“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”

Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.

“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”

Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”

Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.

“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.

“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”

The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.

In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.

There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)

“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.

“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.

“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”

After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”

Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.

Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.

Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?

“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”

***

No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League – If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”


VIDEO: Brett Brown talks about Nerlens Noel’s progress of late

***

No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in schoolDaniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coachDonnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next seasonGreivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?

You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.

And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried runs wild in Denver’s win over New Orleans


VIDEO: Paul George nails a stand-still 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt

Blogtable: Pacers, Heat … then what?

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: The rest of the East | The MVP of the Clippers | Phil Jackson’s debut



VIDEO: The Starters break down John Schuhmann’s weekly NBA.com Power Rankings

> OK, so it’s Miami and Indiana. How do you see the rest of the East shaking out?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No one should want to be No. 7 or No. 8, no matter how vulnerable Miami or Indiana has looked in recent weeks. That creates some serious pressure from down under in the East bracket even if the newly invigorated Knicks do not. Six games separate Nos. 3-8, which could make for a wild finish. But I expect the current order to hold. Toronto is the best of the bunch overall, followed by the ever-overachieving Bulls. Brooklyn and Washington each might think it is better off facing the Raptors, but then, there’s that nuisance of going back and forth through customs in a long series. Charlotte is just happy to be there and Atlanta, as the sub-.500 entry, is just lucky to be there. Viva la status quo! (Oh, and the Raptors, Bulls and Bobcats have the best chance of making upset mayhem in the conference semifinals, depending on matchups.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Since the Knicks have won six in row, we know from past experience that things will soon turn bad. I don’t expect them to creep into the playoffs just because of Phil Jackson’s Zen magic. The Cavs are also dead. So we have the eight teams. It’s only a question of the order. I could see the Nets beating out the Wizards for No. 5. But do they want to walk into a possible 4-5 first round meeting with the meat grinder that is the Bulls? I could really look forward to a first round series between the Heat and Bobcats. Charlotte is a team that finally has a purpose and a direction and Al Jefferson could make things interesting.

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Of course you have to be impressed with Toronto and the job coach Dwane Casey has done in the final year of his contract. And coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls, what more can be said about this group’s resiliency? But check out the Brooklyn Nets. Coach Jason Kidd has figured out a thing or two, not the least of which is how to stalk a sideline. The talent on this team has really shown itself since the calendar turned to 2014. Deron Williams has endured injury and struggle and is playing some of his finest ball of the season. Joe Johnson‘s been solid. Paul Pierce has seemed to finally embrace the journey. The addition of Marcus Thornton has provided a nice jolt. Put it all together and the Nets are a savvy, veteran ballclub that won’t wilt under pressure.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls get past the Raptors, the Nets get past the Wizards, and the Bobcats stay in the top eight. Most of all, I see the playoff group is set. The Knicks have some forward momentum so breaking in wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. But the jockeying will mostly be within, the order of the first eight. One of the subplots will be getting to at least sixth to avoid a 1-8 or  2-7 with the Heat and Pacers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Bulls have the easiest remaining schedule (they have six more games against the Sixers, Bucks, Celtics and Magic), so they should grab the 3 seed, with Toronto, Brooklyn and Washington finishing behind them in that order. There’s very little chance that Charlotte or Atlanta budge or win more than one game in the first round. Those 3-6 and 4-5 series should be a lot of fun (even though Bulls games are the ugliest in the league) and the teams with the experience (Chicago and Brooklyn) should have the edge. But I love that we have some fresh blood in there with the Raps, Wiz and future-Hornets.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams we’ll see in mid-April are the same eight teams that are occupying those spots today. New York and Cleveland had their windows of opportunity to catch the Hawks for that eighth and final spot in the standings (the Hawks lost almost every time they hit for the floor for dang near an entire month and still had a cushion). Whatever that 3 through 8 breakdown is at the end of the this regular season is almost inconsequential to me. In fact, I joked to Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox last week on the Hang Time Podcast that we should go ahead and play the No. 3-vs-No. 6 and No. 4-vs-No. 5 series, whoever matches up in those spots, give the Pacers and Heat a first-round bye and tell the bottom two teams that we appreciate all of your hard work but there is no need in you getting your noses bloodied merely for our entertainment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: One of the teams that is currently in the playoff picture — but only one team — will not make the postseason. I think Atlanta is due for a run, after their long losing streak, and even as well as Charlotte has played of late, my guess is they’ll hit a tailspin as we head down the stretch. Which means? That’s right, Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks will make a late push and qualify for the playoffs. They don’t have their own Draft pick anyway, so why not go all out?

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I think it will stay as-is, meaning that the Knicks won’t make it. The eight teams that are in there should stay, it’s just going to be a question of where they’ll all finish and who will secure third and fourth position –  and that hugely important home court for the first round. Charlotte and Atlanta seem to be the obvious candidates to finish in seventh and eighth, but the battle between Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn will be intriguing. Just 2.5 games separates those four teams.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: The Bobcats really played some good games after the All-Star break. Al Jefferson has reached his summit of career, and he demonstrated that he could play some solid defense, if the coach is able to establish an effective system. Maybe they could make a leap in the last month. The schedule of Brooklyn is better. So, if the Nets continue to embarrass their opponents, maybe it’s not so far away to see them eventually seize a home-court advantage in the first round.

Air Check: Honesty and emotion

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

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

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

This edition of Air Check features the unique styles of some former players at the broadcasting table.

Stealing a slam from ‘Nique

In a game last month against the Hawks, Paul George stole a pass and was all alone for a breakaway, right in front of the best windmill dunker in NBA history…


VIDEO: George Impresses ‘Nique

You don’t want beef with Dominique Wilkins, so George should probably just lay the ball up the next time he’s on the break against Atlanta.

On second thought…

The Sixers are pretty painful to watch these days, but you still have Marc Zumoff and Malik Rose to keep you entertained. This clip starts out with a pretty funny conversation about Eric Maynor‘s college stats (“I got no choice, man!”), and then gets hilarious when Rose describes Byron Mullens a little too generously…


VIDEO: Air Check: Zumoff and Rose

Mullens, who likes to shoot threes, is a 31-percent career 3-point shooter.

“Yeeeaaahhhhhh!”

Quinn Buckner kind of calls a Pacers game like he’s sitting next to you on the couch. Even though they can’t hear him, he’ll tell players what they’re supposed to do on certain plays and he’ll instinctively let out an “Ohhhh!” at a big moment.

No one got more excited about George’s in-game 360 when it happened, and Buckner had a similar reaction when George Hill hit a circus shot last week…


VIDEO: Hill Tosses in a Prayer

Fatherly pride

We couldn’t close this edition of Air Check without Sunday’s classic in-game interview with Joakim Noah‘s father, Yannick.


VIDEO: Classic Noah Interview

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Trail Blazers are more than just a two-man team | Shaw relished time with Vogel | Raptors weary of injuries | Heat forced to play waiting game with Wade

No. 1: Blazers more than a two-man team — The Portland Trail Blazers are riding the wave of a MVP candidate (LaMarcus Aldridge), a Most Improved candidate (Damian Lillard) and a Coach of the Year candidate (Terry Stotts) to one of the most surprising and impressive starts we’ve seen from any team in recent years. They have already equaled their win total from a year ago, after taking care of the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday. But they are more than just a two-man team with one of the hottest coaches in the game. The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman explains:

As the Moda Center masses gathered to watch LaMarcus Aldridge go head-to-head against Kevin Love and reignite the debate over which player is the best power forward in the NBA, a funny thing happened:
The Trail Blazers proved yet again they’re more than a one-man team.
With a difference-making outing from the bench, balanced scoring and meaningful contributions up and down the roster, the Blazers used a team effort to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 115-104 Saturday night at the Moda Center.
Oh, sure, Love and Aldridge had some sparkling moments and they provided enough highlights to satisfy a salivating sellout crowd. But their growing rivalry was more fizzle than sizzle as the Blazers (33-11) used a team-oriented approach to avenge a December defeat to the Timberwolves and equal the number of victories they had all of last season.
“One thing about LA — and we talked about it — the media and (the team) put more into it than he did,” Mo Williams said of Aldridge’s matchup with Love. “All he kept saying was, ‘Man, all I care about is the win. All I care about is the win.’ And I believe him. I thought he just came out and played basketball. He didn’t try to overdo it. He didn’t try to do too much. He wasn’t bigger than the game. I thought the game was more important than the matchup with him and Kevin Love.”
In the end, the Blazers won thanks to their bench, which outscored the Timberwolves’ second unit 34-15, and the sum of their parts rather than the talent of their All-Star. As usual, backup point guard Williams was at the heart of the Blazers’ bench, and he finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds during a flashy 25 minutes that featured behind-the-back passes, three-pointers and a relentless push-the-pace mentality.

***

No. 2: Shaw relished time with Vogel: – Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has nothing but love for his Indiana Pacers’ counterpart Frank Vogel. When you work as closely as they did, when Shaw worked as an assistant under Vogel prior to this season, a mutual admiration society (of two) can develop. And if familiarity with one another gives your current team an edge, as it perhaps did when the Nuggets snapped a three-game skid with a win over the Pacers, so be it. But the bond between these two men remains, regardless of the outcome of games. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more:

As the story goes, Shaw would indeed listen to Frank Vogel and join his staff as an assistant head coach. Shaw became an integral part of the Pacers, influencing their play and developing lasting relationships with players. Saturday, as the head coach for the Denver Nuggets, Shaw faced his former team for the first time and recalled how his time in Indianapolis influenced his current mindset as a leader.

“I was coming from Los Angeles to Indiana,” Shaw said. “I had to learn how to do things a different way under Frank Vogel and being a part of the group that he has now, and I watched some of those players grow.

“Frank Vogel is a great coach. He comes from a video coordinating background so he believes in watching a lot of video and that was different for me. We had to come in every day and get 20 minutes every day of watching videos. Just watching how he organized practices every day and getting prepared for games, I learned from him.”

In the summer of 2011, as Vogel sought Shaw to join the Pacers, he pitched the family-friendly suburbs but mainly the opportunity for a young assistant with high aspirations.

“I told him he was crazy to go to ESPN, he should come work for us,” Vogel said. “We’re doing special things. I knew he wanted to be a head coach, and I really felt like staying in the trenches was his best way to do that and not just staying in the trenches for anyone but for a team that’s really doing some special things.

“And the first phone call, the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Listen, we need to talk because we can really help each other.’ I was recruiting him to try and position himself but I really needed him as well.”

***

No. 3: Raptors weary of injuries, especially after big night from Ross – Terrence Ross enjoyed the finest night of his NBA career against the Los Angeles Clippers, albeit in a loss. But his 51-point explosion was directly impacted by an injury to the man who has been perhaps the Raptors’ most important player this season, DeMar DeRozan. Injuries, the great equalizer for any team, are a concern for a Raptors crew, GM Masai Ujiri in particular, that understands the greatest of plans can be derailed by the wrong player going down at the wrong time. Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star delivers the details:

A few weeks ago, GM Masai Ujiri was chatting about his short-term vision for this club. As you might expect, the short-term vision is all over the place. Everything depends on how they perform. He was certain about one thing.

“Injuries,” Ujiri said. “That’s what haunts me.”

Patrick Patterson had his nose broken by a Blake Griffin elbow. In a truly Raptor-y touch, Patterson was called for a foul on the play.

But he’ll be OK; and even if he weren’t, this team would survive.

However, without DeRozan, this is an untenable exercise. There can be no true tank now — it’s too late for that. But it would be a tank without volition. This team would get very bad, very quickly.

Nonetheless, DeRozan played 10 more game minutes. He came out before the end of the first half to get re-taped. He went for two more minutes in the second half before giving up.

“It’s a little painful right now,” DeRozan said, but didn’t seem terribly concerned. An X-ray was negative.

We’ll see in a day or two. If DeRozan plays Monday in Brooklyn, no harm. Even if he sits a game or two, no biggie.

But if this is the beginning of an extended absence, some hard questions will have to be asked about those 10 extra minutes, and putting this team’s leader in real jeopardy.

***

No. 4: Heat forced to play waiting game with Wade – Dwyane Wade isn’t the only NBA superstar whose injury issues have forced his team to adjust its long-term plans for this season. Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul have all missed significant time for their respective teams this season. But none of those other stars toil for the two-time defending NBA champs. And the Heat, with today’s Finals rematch with the San Antonio Spurs on tap, still don’t know what to expect from Wade. He might very well sit out again today. The Heat have no choice but to play the waiting game with Wade. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald sheds some light on the Heat’s plight:

If this were the postseason, then Dwyane Wade would be playing.

Wade has missed four straight games do to pain in his knee, and could miss Sunday’s game against the Spurs as well, but he indicated Saturday that he’s only missing games because, well, these games aren’t really that meaningful when weighed against protecting one of the best players in the NBA.

“The playoffs are different,” said Wade, who spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since scratching himself from the lineup last week. “If this was the playoffs, I wouldn’t have been out.”

Wade went through some of the Heat’s practice drills Saturday and worked on his conditioning in preparation for the Spurs’ first game at AmericanAirlines Arena since Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. A final decision on his playing status likely will not be made until about an hour before tipoff, which is set for 1 p.m.

“I don’t know,” Wade said when asked if he would play. “Today was a good day just being back on the court and [Sunday] we’ll see.”

Wade, who has missed 13 games this season, hasn’t played since scoring eight points in consecutive games against the Wizards and 76ers. Before that, he scored at least 20 points in 10 of 12 games. Despite the sudden drop-off in production and games on the bench, Wade wouldn’t call his latest block of rest a setback.

“At that time it was a setback,” Wade said, referring to a comment he made after playing the Sixers on Jan.17. “Now it’s not … At this point there ain’t no setbacks, it’s just what I’m dealing with.

“It’s what I’ve been dealing with all year. I don’t know how much back I can go, so it’s the same thing.” 


VIDEO: RAnother huge night around the league is captured in the Top 10 plays

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tom Thibodeau could care less about aesthetics. The Bulls coach only cares about winning games … Might Carmelo Anthony be ready for an encore performance against the Los Angeles Lakers today? Could be … Jazz rising star Trey Burke won the battle of young point guards and the game against the Wizards’ John Wall … Lakers forward Pau Gasol delivers some painful truths about his team and their season, to date …

ICYMI of The Night: You didn’t think Kevin Durant was done, did you? He earned a night off Friday and bounced back in the fashion you’d expect from a man who has been destroying the competition all season. The leading candidate for the MVP kept up his torrid pace in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers:


VIDEO: Kevin Durant makes it 10 straight games with 30 or more points while also notching a triple-double

Blogtable: Most Intriguing Team

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.


Questioning the Heat | Easy offense | Most intriguing team



VIDEO: Kevin Durant leads an OKC team that continues to intrigue

Which team do you consider the most intriguing in the league? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Forcing us to choose, eh? That’s hard (and good, for an NBA scribe). I’m intrigued by a bunch of teams. Miami, for its curious new vulnerability. Portland, for its surprising prime-time readiness. Brooklyn, for how it might go about salvaging this season. Golden State, for its energy and ambition and connection with its crowds. Minnesota, for spotting the field a half season. San Antonio, for any flare-up of Game 6 PTSD. The Miss Congenialities of the East (Atlanta, Toronto, Washington, Chicago), for the chance that one or more might actually assert itself. Heck, even Milwaukee, for how – with so many legit NBA players – it has managed to crater its way into the lottery lead. But forced to choose one, I choose Indiana. The Pacers are intriguing because they have it all, certainly enough, but will have accomplished nothing new if they don’t reach The Finals. Following Indiana now feels like tracking the Titanic – and scouting for the icebergs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m still intrigued by the raw potential of the Rockets when they’re at the top of their game. They’re 4-1 against San Antonio and Portland, two of the top 3 seeds in the West. I’m also intrigued by the Rockets’ ability to often play like they don’t know which end of the ball to bounce. Witness their 1-5 record against the Sixers, Lakers, Jazz and Kings. My gut says that as a lower playoff seed, they’ll be a dangerous and tough out in the first round, but simply don’t have the poise or smarts to go deep in the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comOklahoma City in a good way. They’re no longer the cute story about a bunch of young kids on the rise. This is about winning a championship with multiple story lines unfolding: Kevin Durant chasing his first MVP, Russell Westbrook overcoming three knee surgeries in eight months, a hand-built roster proving its deeper than any Thunder team before it, coach Scott Brooks proving he’s as good as his star players and general manager Sam Presti proving he can get it done by staying under the luxury tax and by being uncompromising in doing it his way.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Clippers as they walk the tightrope. Maybe they get to June, maybe they lose in the first round again. Neither would be a surprise. And not just a team where anything is possible, but real personality and fun to watch. Blake Griffin’s improvement on offense, DeAndre Jordan’s resurgence on defense, soon the return of Chris Paul and gauging his health, will Doc Rivers deliver — one storyline after another, all wrapped into a team with everything to prove when it matters.

Manu Ginobili (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Manu Ginobili (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Spurs. The way they lost The Finals still sticks in my head, so it must still stick in theirs. They’re back at the top of the Western Conference and are the only team in the league that ranks in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency, even though they’re playing without two starters. Manu Ginobili has looked like a totally different player than he looked like in June. Kawhi Leonard has been a disappointment in his third season, but still has the potential to be a star. Oklahoma City is a tough matchup for them, but they can still get back to The Finals, and it would be fascinating to see if they can get over that hump this time.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m partial to the Portland Trail Blazers, considering that they weren’t on anyone’s radar outside of the Pacific Northwest in training camp. I find myself making sure to get a power nap sometime during my day so I can make sure to stay up late enough here at Headquarters. Seriously, I don’t like watching them after the fact because there is too much high-quality basketball being played to miss it live. LaMarcus Aldridge is playing at a legitimate MVP level and Damian Lillard isn’t far behind most nights. That supporting cast strikes a really nice balance and Terry Stotts, in my opinion, has to be the frontrunner for Coach of the Year (along with Indiana’s Frank Vogel). The surprise factor, though, is what sets the Trail Blazers apart for me on the intrigue meter. It’s like NBA reality TV … the good kind (the non-New York kind). Who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story? You want to see how far this team can go.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I’ve kept my critical eye trained on Portland all season, because the Blazers have put together such a surprising start to the season. (Actually, at this point I suppose it’s more than just a start to the season. First two-thirds? What do we call this?) Yet lately there have been two teams I’ve been glued to on League Pass: Atlanta and Oklahoma City. Even without Al Horford, the Hawks have managed home wins against teams like Houston, Miami and Indiana, and they’ve been competitive in almost every game. They share the ball, capitalize on open space, rotate on defense, and basically stay in games with hustle and tough play. The Thunder, of course, were supposed to be a contender, but with Westbrook out lately, Kevin Durant is playing some of the best and most complete basketball I’ve ever seen him play, which is saying something, when you consider what he’s already accomplished. By the way? He’s still just 25 years old. Talk about must-see TV.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: The resurgence of the Brooklyn Nets has intrigued me. After a dismal start to the season they are now firing on all cylinders. They were hyped up to be one of the contenders to Miami’s throne in the East, and such a poor start was a disappointment to the fans in general. Can they keep up their high level of play or is this streak of great games an aberration?

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s a few but I’ll go with Phoenix. Ask me in a month and my mind might change. Will they make the playoffs without Eric Bledsoe? Do they even want to make the playoffs now? If they made one move and added a missing piece in the offseason, could they challenge? So many questions that need to be answered. They were viewed as intriguing-bad in the offseason but rookie coach Jeff Hornacek has turned them into intriguing-good.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: The Atlanta Hawks definitely look like they have the potential to derail Indiana’s or Miami’s postseason run, especially if Al Horford comes back for the playoffs. Mike Budenholzer is doing a fantastic job with a group of blue-collar, hustling players like the 2004 Pistons. They add a whole lot of intrigue to the Eastern Conference.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson challenges Smith to ‘be more of a pro’ | Prokhorov to attend Nets-Hawks in London | Report: Teammates tiring of Waiters’ actions | Cuban praises NBA’s transparency | Gasol, Henry a game-time decision

No. 1: Woodson issues simple message to Smith — If you aren’t aware of the recent misdeeds of on J.R. Smith, you haven’t been paying to the NBA as close as you should. Apart from last week’s $50,000 NBA-sanctioned fine for untying opponents’ shoes during free-throw attempts, Smith was benched for last week’s TNT matchup with the Miami Heat and saw his name bandied about in trade talks as well. Knicks coach Mike Woodson has grown frustrated with Smith and issued a simple challenge to him, writes Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com, after Smith chipped in 10 points in Monday’s overtime victory over the Suns:

“The bottom line is he’s got to be more of a pro and do the right things and just concentrate on playing basketball,” the Knicks coach said Monday. “That’s the name of the game, nothing else. You got to concentrate on your craft and what you’re being paid to do — that’s play basketball. … That’s all I want him to do.”

Smith has angered Woodson and many in the Knicks organization for his on and off-court transgressions this season.

Smith returned to the court against Philadelphia on Saturday and scored 14 points to lift New York to a 102-92 win. In Monday night’s 98-96 win over the Suns, he scored 10 points on 5-11 shooting from the floor.

Afterward, Smith said he’d learned a lesson from the fine and benching.

“Don’t goof around, I guess. Be serious. Be a professional. And just don’t take this opportunity here you have for granted,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in this world that want our jobs. You can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast.”

Woodson addressed the Smith incident for the first time on Monday. Smith said he spoke to the head coach on Friday.

“Bottom line is I expect J.R. to be a pro on and off the court and concentrate on playing basketball and that’s all I want him to do,” Woodson said.

Smith signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Knicks in the offseason, though he admitted last week that he is unsure of his future with the organization.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com last week that the Knicks have become increasingly frustrated with Smith’s on- and off-court transgressions and have in recent days begun exploring the potential trade market for him, though they realize it will be difficult to move him.

Smith can’t be traded until Jan. 15 because the Knicks are over the salary cap and Smith signed for more than 120 percent of his previous salary.


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses J.R. Smith’s actions of late and the Knicks’ improved play

***

No. 2: Prokhorov to attend Nets-Hawks game in London — Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has been largely absent from the picture this season. That is expected to change Thursday night in London, though, as Brooklyn “visits” the Hawks in a game at London’s O2 arena. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, if Prokhorov — who was reportedly last seen skiing in the French Alps with group of 20 women this month — attends, he’ll be speaking to the media in mid-season for first time since Avery Johnson‘s ouster last season:

Mikhail Prokhorov hasn’t been to a Nets game since the home opener on Nov. 1, but the Russian billionaire is planning to attend Thursday’s match- up against the Hawks at the O2 Arena in London, a club official confirmed.

Prokhorov has mostly been silent amid Brooklyn’s surprisingly bad start to the season, aside from preaching patience in an email exchange with The New York Times. The Nets are 15-22, but have won five out of their last six behind a stingy defense.

The last time Prokhorov spoke to the media during the middle of the season was just after firing Avery Johnson. He then spoke again to reporters at the press conference introducing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, reiterating his championship aspirations and expectations.

At the time, Prokhorov explained why Jason Kidd would make a good coach — in a way that only Prokhorov can.

“Maybe you do remember a film, ‘Top Gun.’ This film just arrived in Russia one week ago. I want to refresh your memory,” he said. “Tom Cruise plays Maverick, and he was a top pilot, he was a real leader. At the end of the day he made decision to be an instructor because it was the highest value just to be a leader. So Jason Kidd is our Top Gun. And he will do his best, I am sure, all his skills to elevate the whole team.”

Prokhorov, a 48-year-old bachelor, was reportedly spotted partying in the French Alps this month with a group of “20 women.” He’s also still involved in Russian politics and doubles as president of the Russian Biathlon Union, setting the bar at the Sochi Winter Olympics for his athletes to win “two or three gold medals …minimum.”

Since Prokhorov took over the Nets in 2010, he has pushed the idea that the Nets would become “the first really global team in the NBA.” They spent parts of training camp and preseason in China and Moscow during his first season as owner, and previously played two regular-season games in London.

Prokhorov has been pushing for a regular-season game to be played in Russia.

***

No. 3: Report: Teammates tiring of Waiters’ actions — The Cavs’ last game was nothing to write home about — a 124-80 loss in Sacramento that if it is not the low point of the season, it’s at least a contender for that dubious honor. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal termed it as one of the worst losses he’s seen the team suffer in the last four years and after the defeat, a topic he covered was that of Dion Waiters‘ play. Waiters finished with four points on 1-for-7 (including a 1-for-5 night from deep) in 20 minutes off the bench. His reported dust-up with teammate Kyrie Irving was a hot topic earlier in the season, but it seems now that grumbles are growing about Waiters’ shot selection and attitude, both of which are wearing thin on teammates:

When he was pulled from the game Sunday after throwing a bad pass in the first quarter, Mike Brown was visibly irritated with him and subbed him out of the game. Waiters was standing near half-court when he realized he was coming out and he threw his hands in the air out of frustration as if to say, “Why me?”During the next timeout, Waiters sat pouting on the bench while the rest of the team huddled together. Assistant coach Jim Boylan casually walked down and talked to him and soon Waiters joined the huddle. But it was still a bad look.When Waiters’ shot is falling, he can carry a team. When it’s not, he tends to shut down. He doesn’t defend, he gets careless with the ball … Players have quietly grumbled about Waiters’ act off and on all season, and those grumbles were growing louder Sunday night.

As one player put it, stars can get away with the stuff Waiters pulls on occasion, but Waiters hasn’t even established himself yet in this league, let alone carved out star status. The thing about him is he’s not a bad guy. He’s not a locker room cancer or a coach killer. He just sulks, pouts, broods … whatever word you want to use. And it has to stop if he’s ever going to reach his potential, because I believe he could be a very good player in this league. But he has to stop the nonsense.

***

No. 4: Cuban praises NBA’s transparency in officiatingPerhaps no owner in NBA history has been more adamant about challenging the notions and rules of NBA officiating than the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban. Throughout the years, Cuban has never been afraid to question (sometimes vehemently) the calls NBA officials make during the course of a game, even if it means paying a hefty fine for his outburst. Before last night’s game between the Magic and Mavs in Dallas, Cuban spoke with reporters and praised the improved transparency in officiating in the league. But, as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon notes, Cuban is still expecting more:

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban considers the NBA office’s willingness to acknowledge officiating mistakes that occur late in close games to be an encouraging first step.

But Cuban, whose crusade to improve NBA officiating has resulted in seven figures worth of fines during his 14-year ownership tenure, is asking for much more.

“I love the transparency,” Cuban said Monday. “Now if I could just get them to do the same level of transparency for the other 47 minutes and 55 seconds, I’d really be making progress.”

Cuban, whose team benefited twice in the last two weeks from last-second no-calls the league office later acknowledged should have been fouls, is lobbying for a list of blown calls to be published for every NBA game.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be done on a timely basis, Cuban said. He would strongly prefer that it would be done publicly, though.

“No one ever wants or expects perfection, but when you’re not transparent, people tend to think you’re hiding something,” Cuban said. “And I think that hurts us. That hurts just the connection we have with our fan base. That’s my opinion.”

Cuban isn’t nearly as critical of officiating as he used to be, in large part because of steps taken by the NBA office to address the issue. However, he will always firmly believe that poor officiating played a critical role in the Mavs losing the 2006 Finals. He was fined $250,000 after Game 5 of that series, when Miami’s Dwyane Wade hit the deciding free throws after a controversial foul call.

“After all this, I firmly believe that every 14 years it does balance out,” Cuban cracked about the two recent no-calls that benefited the Mavs.

Yet Cuban is completely serious about his concern regarding NBA fans’ lack of trust of referees, an issue that was especially sensitive in the wake of disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy’s gambling scandal. The desire to prove that the integrity of officiating in today’s NBA is beyond reproach is why Cuban argues the league would benefit from making every call subject to review publicly.

“Why not? What’s to hide?” Cuban said. “All you’ve got to do is just do a tweet search for ‘NBA refs’ during any multi-game night and it’s an interesting source of knowledge. I think the more transparency we have, the stronger connection we make with our fans.”

***

No. 5: Gasol, Henry a game-time decision for LakersFrom Kobe Bryant to Steve Nash to Pau Gasol and Xavier Henry, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup all season. Gasol left last week’s blowout loss to the Clippers with a foot injury and Henry has been out of the lineup since Dec. 29 (bone bruise on his right knee). Both players are on the mend and may or may not play tonight as the Lakers host the Cavaliers, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

The Los Angeles Lakers’ injury woes continued Monday as an MRI revealed Pau Gasol has a moderate strain of the flexor tendon of the big toe of his left foot.Gasol will be a game-time decision on for Tuesday’s game against Cleveland.

With Gasol out of Monday’s practice, the Lakers were down to eight healthy players for the session. Lakers assistant coach, Mark Madsen, and video coordinator, J.J. Outlaw, filled in to give the team enough bodies to field a 5-on-5 game.

“J.J., we can sign him up for a 10-day [contract],” joked Nick Young. “And Mark, Mark’s coming out of retirement.”

Xavier Henry, who underwent an individual on-court workout Sunday for the first time since suffering a bone bruise in his right knee on Dec. 29, did not practice Monday.

Henry was originally scheduled to have his knee re-evaluated Monday, but that examination has been pushed to Tuesday, according to the Lakers. The Lakers host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think he’ll get the all-clear yet,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Henry. “They’ll want to get him on the floor and have him go through some stuff. Hopefully sometime soon, but [playing against Cleveland] would surprise me.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni addresses Gasol, Henry’s status

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The GameTime crew provides a great look at why the Knicks are off to a 6-1 January start … Hall of Famer Larry Bird used to do what J.R. Smith got in trouble for last week: untie opponents’ shoes at the free-throw line … Hall of Famer Bill Walton shares some odd comments about Gilbert Arenas during a Arizona-UCLA telecast … Mavs owner Mark Cuban reiterates that he is clearly not a fan of the Miami Heat … Celtics coach Brad Stevens used the Hack-a-Dwight strategy last night, but Stevens says he wouldn’t be upset if that practice went away altogether

ICYMI(s) of The Night: What did Marvin Williams ever do to the Denver Nuggets? After J.J. Hickson banged on him earlier this season, Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier got into the act last night: 


VIDEO: Quincy Miller goes strong to the hoop and dunks on Marvin Williams


VIDEO: Evan Fournier dunks on Marvin Williams

Hawks’ Teague Ready For (All-)Star Turn?




VIDEO: Jeff Teague does it all for the Hawks in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

ATLANTA – It’s a good thing Jeff Teague doesn’t have to rely on … uh, Jeff Teague to crank up the hype machine on his All-Star campaign. Because the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard would rather discuss anything but his obvious candidacy for one of those coveted spots on the Eastern Conference reserves list.

Make no mistake, Teague wants on that prestigious list. He makes that clear night after night during his fifth and finest season in the league. He’s just not willing or able to commit himself to the sideshow that is lobbying on his own behalf, which is actually pretty refreshing.

In an era when some players are busier on Twitter and other social media sites than they are on the court on a given night, Teague is decidedly frills-free in his approach to the game and everything else that comes with along with his status as the healthy face of the Hawks. Al Hoford, who was headed for his third All-Star nod before suffering a season-ending right pectoral muscle tear on Dec. 26, is physically unable to perform that duty now. That leaves the work to a committee headed by Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.

“I honestly don’t worry about that stuff,” Teague said before leading the Hawks past the Indiana Pacers to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday night at Philips Arena. “I just play, do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”

That shouldn’t be hard in an Eastern Conference All-Star landscape where Teague is the head of the snake of one of just three teams with a winning record (the Pacers and Miami Heat are the others). And with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams either injured or suffering through injury-plagued seasons, there is an opening for some fresh blood in the All-Star point-guard mix.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Teague’s work this season and said he’s absolutely on the short list of players that Eastern Conference coaches need to consider when filling out their All-Star reserves ballots.

“The history of the league has rewarded winning teams,” Vogel said. “He’s certainly and All-Star level, an All-Star caliber player. He’s having a terrific season and carrying the load now even more that Horford is out. And I know he is the focal point of our game plan every time we play these guys. They are spread out more and they have 3-point shooting bigs, and I think that just opens up the court for him to go to work and makes it more difficult to help. And he’s just growing, he’s developing and each year he’s gotten better. Like I said, he’s a terrific young guard.”

Seven months ago the restricted free agent wasn’t even sure he’d be wearing a Hawks uniform. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, where his former coach Larry Drew landed, and was prepared to start over in the Central Division. After spending his first four seasons here in Atlanta, with the team that drafted him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Teague was mentally prepared to start over if the Hawks didn’t match the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer.

Once the Hawks made it clear that they planned to rebuild with Teague at the controls, he was able to make peace with his situation and dive into the point-guard friendly system of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Atlanta’s new boss learned a thing or two about tutoring young point guards after helping mold San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker‘s game over the years.

“I’m happy to be here, I love Atlanta, the city … it’s perfect for me,” Teague said. “I’ve been here my whole career, so I was glad to be back. We’ve got all good guys, nobody looking for extra. Just all good guys working hard and trying to get better and trying to win. So at the end of the day, it’s a perfect environment for me.”

A perfect environment with the perfect coach. Budenholzer’s meticulous approach intrigued Teague. His collaborative approach also struck a chord with the extremely laid back Teague, whose easygoing nature should not be confused for any lack of desire or effort to try to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis.

“He pulls me aside all the time just to talk basketball,” Teague said. “I’ve never had that happen before. It’s just the perfect system for me, the perfect blend. And we’re all still trying to figure it out. As the year goes on I think we’ll get better and better at doing what we do.”

They’ll have to do it without the security blanket that Horford provided. Horford’s steady face-up game allowed the Hawks to lean on their “system” in the fourth quarter of games, to let Teague and Horford’s chemistry to shine through.

“We’re running the same stuff but it’s definitely different without Al,” Teague said. “In the fourth quarter we usually go the high pick and roll with me and Al. And that was real effective for us. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot with Pero (Antic) and Elton (Brand), so we’re all still getting adjusted, I’m still getting comfortable with those guys and learning where they want to be and where they like to get the ball in those situations. We’re still learning each other and still learning on the fly right now.”

Teague has already put in the necessary work to garner favorable All-Star consideration. He’s averaging career highs across the board, in points (16.9), assists (8.0), rebounds (2.8) and minutes (33.5).There is still plenty of work to be done, something Teague is the first to admit. His 3-point shooting remains streaky as ever, he made just 3-for-17 from deep in the five games prior to Wednesday night’s game.

Still, the overall strides made in his game from last season to this one are glaring and should not be overlooked when All-Star bids are discussed.

“I just know how valuable he’s been to us,” Budenholzer said. “He’s kind of that engine that gets us going. And any success we’ve had this year, he’s been a huge part of that, taking on the responsibility with the ball in his hands a lot and generating shots for others and for himself. I know there are a lot of good point guards, and I’m a little bit biased, but I think he deserves to be [on that list].”

At least someone is willing to lobby for Teague, even if he won’t.