Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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.

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players – LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors pursuing Hinrich? | Gasol tunes out trade chatter | Wallace lays into Celtics after loss | Nuggets could save money on Gallinari | Horford opens up on goals, season

No. 1: Report: Warriors may be interested in Hinrich — With last night’s victory in Milwaukee, the Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league and are riding a 10-game win streak. But, as our own John Schuhmann pointed out in a conversation with GameTime on Monday night, all is not perfect, roster-wise, in Oakland. In particular, the Warriors are playing point guard Steph Curry and small forward/point forward Andre Iguodala an awful lot simply because the team has yet to find a capable backup playmaker. That may lend some credence to the report from USA Today‘s Sam Amick, who writes that Golden State could be interested in working a trade for Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich:

When news broke late Monday night that the Chicago Bulls had broken up their championship-contending core by trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the proverbial blood was in the water almost immediately.

Rival executives had been waiting and wondering whether the Bulls would have to go this route, to opt for Plan B because of Derrick Rose‘s second season-ending injury by finally succumbing to the league’s collective bargaining agreement by way of a money-saving deal. And so they did, taking on Andrew Bynum‘s contract for the right to waive him and sneak under the luxury tax that is so much more punitive than it has been in the past. The Bulls landed three draft picks in the trade as well (a first and two seconds) but the strong message had been sent that the Bulls’ shop may finally be open for business.

Bulls fans, players and most certainly coach Tom Thibodeau may be in mourning today, as Deng was a fan favorite and this is as tough as NBA decisions come. But this is welcome news for everyone else around the league.

So, what’s next? We shall see.

While forward Carlos Boozer could be waived via the league’s amnesty clause during the offseason as yet another way to clear the Bulls’ books, it appears point guard Kirk Hinrich will be drawing the most immediate interest when it comes to the Bulls’ possible next move. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are among teams that had been showing serious interest in Hinrich long before the Deng trade. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because trade talks are typically private.

Even with the Warriors’ current nine-game winning streak, they remain on the lookout for a point guard to play behind Stephen Curry. While small forward Andre Iguodala spends ample time as a playmaking point-forward and veteran Toney Douglas provides spot minutes, this is the void that was created when Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland as a free agent last July. Hinrich is certainly not the only possible solution on the Warriors’ radar, as they remain in the mix for Denver point guard Andre Miller as well.

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol not sweating trade talks — Before Andrew Bynum was traded to the Chicago Bulls early Tuesday morning (and, whom the Bulls cut a day later), his name was most closely linked with his former teammate in Los Angeles, Pau Gasol. For weeks, Gasol had to listen as his name was bandied about in the rumors for Bynum. But it wasn’t the first time Gasol has been in trade rumors since joining the Lakers and even though he dodged a bullet this time, Gasol is doing what he can to not worry about trade rumors, writes our own Jeff Caplan:

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

***

No. 3: Wallace lays into Celtics after loss to Nuggets — Small forward Gerald Wallace is the second-oldest player on the Celtics and seems determined to leave a lasting impression on Boston’s young core no matter what. Throughout the season, he’s been one of the most vocal members of the team — particularly when Boston isn’t giving a full effort — and was none too happy last night after the Celtics got waxed by the Nuggets in Denver, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Gerald Wallace has emerged as the Celtics’ voice of reason and biggest critic in his first season in Boston and once again he challenged the team following its embarrassing 129-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Denver canned 14 3-pointers, attempted 38 free throws and led by 22 points at halftime.The Celtics allowed 103 points through the first three quarters and looked discouraged and lethargic throughout the night.

“I’m very surprised. Right now, we’re the team that’s all talk,” he said. “We talk about how we want to get better. We talk about things we need to do to get better. It’s easy to go out and practice and do it. Practice doesn’t really apply to anything with making yourself better. When they turn them lights on, when it really counts, when it’s about the team and making the team better and trying to win as a team, we don’t do it.”

Jared Sullinger‘s evening exemplified that of his team. He was called for two flagrant fouls in a 23-second span and was ejected in the third quarter. Sullinger now has five flagrant points and would serve a 1-game suspension with his next flagrant 1 foul.

“Hey, Denver was doing everything the right way, so everything was going their way,” Wallace said. “The way we played, the way we play as a team, the things that we do, we don’t deserve to get the calls they got. They got them. Jared’s first (flagrant) was 50-50 and the second one, I’ve seen that play done 50 times, that’s my first time ever seen it called a flagrant foul. Everything was going their way, so why should get the benefit of the doubt? We’re not playing worth a crap anyway.”

The Celtics have dropped eight of nine games and have allowed 248 points in the past two games. Wallace said he is done with team meetings and gatherings to figure out the issue.

“Like I said, guys gotta look in the mirror man. It’s gotta be the individual. It’s gotta be timeout for I and what I can do to help us win?” he said. “What can I do to help the team win? What can I come out on the court and provide to make our team better? Right now it’s too much of ‘I,’ too many guys trying to do it on their own and in this league, that’s hard to do.”

Finally, Wallace said the Celtics have all the right answers in the locker room but they don’t translate to the court.

“We done met, we done talked, we done did everything, we done argued, fussed, complained, moaned, everything you can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter in here. It matters out there on the court. And until we can take all the talk and everything that we say in here and apply it to out on the court, it’s useless, it’s basically like talking to the wall.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

No. 5: Nuggets could save some money on Gallinari — Denver continues to wait for do-it-all forward Danilo Gallinari to return to the lineup. While there’s no timetable on his return, Gallinari is working out more and more as he continues to rehab his knee injury suffered late last season. The Nuggets would no doubt love to see him in the lineup again, but while he’s out, he could potentially save the team from paying some of his salary, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

As Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari continues to work toward a return from a knee injury, his time missed is approaching a level for which the team will get some of his money covered.

The magic number is 41. If Gallinari misses 41 consecutive regular-season games — and this goes back to last season — an NBA insurance policy will pay for part of his salary per game in every contest after that.

Gallinari has missed 40 consecutive regular-season games, dating to the final six games of last season, as he rehabs a left ACL injury. Starting Saturday in the Nuggets’ home game against Orlando, the insurance policy pays for 50 percent of his base salary per game, meaning the Nuggets will get about $61,800 covered each night he does not play until he returns. Gallinari is making more than $10 million this season, the second of a four-year contract.

“I don’t know how close he is or not,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “Obviously he would be a welcomed addition, but I’ll save my excitement for when it gets really, really close (to his return), whenever that is.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After several players were waived on Tuesday afternoon, there are roughly 20 roster spots open league-wide … Magic big man Nikola Vucevic has a concussion and is likely out for a week … The Rockets are reportedly trying to trade forward Donatas Motiejunas … Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets have received a $5.25 million disabled player exception for Brook Lopez

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: The Jazz’s Derrick Favors gives us a nice in-game demonstration of what the phrase “going up strong” looks like with this two-handed and-one mash on Kevin Durant


VIDEO: Derrick Favors dunks over the Thunder’s Kevin Durant

With Horford, Hawks Were Most Improved This Month


VIDEO: NBA Action: One-on-One with Al Horford

The List

Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December

Team Oct.-Nov. Rank December Rank Diff.
Atlanta -1.1 16 +8.1 2 9.2
Brooklyn -6.9 27 +0.7 11 7.7
Cleveland -8.8 28 -2.5 21 6.4
Milwaukee -11.1 29 -5.7 26 5.3
Oklahoma City +6.0 5 +11.3 1 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Context

This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.

The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.

Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.

The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.

Hawks 3-point shooting

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank
Oct-November 138 390 35.4% 16 27.0% 11
December 126 302 41.7% 1 31.3% 2

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.

Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).

Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.

While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.

Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.

The Video

Here are Millsap’s 10 3-point attempts against the Heat on Dec. 23, here are Jeff Teague‘s 15 assists against the Kings on Dec. 18, and here’s Teague’s game-winner in Cleveland on Thursday.

The bottom of the list

The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.

The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.

Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

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No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Kobe, Lakers Still Need Plenty Of Work




VIDEO: The Lakers cannot find the mark and get worked by the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You don’t need a CSI kit to figure out that these aren’t the Los Angeles Lakers of old. They look more like the old beat up Lakers right now, a team totally incapable of mustering enough healthy bodies, energy or effort to fight off an elite team, let alone a decent team like the Atlanta Hawks.

The mirage that has been the Lakers’ season thus far, with and without Kobe Bryant, is coming into focus now and it’s not nearly as inspiring as it might have seemed as recently as three weeks ago, when Mike D’Antoni was pushing buttons on a feisty crew of underdogs, yes underdogs, as they awaited Kobe’s return from Achilles surgery and the months of rehab that followed.

These Lakers aren’t big enough, strong enough and don’t have enough of the star power they are used to (at least not healthy) to even utter the words “championship contender” right now. And it was all on display Monday night at Philips Arena, when the Hawks pawed at a listless and defenseless Lakers team early and then slapped them around after halftime before finishing with a season-high 114 points in the win.

They need work, and plenty of it, before anyone starts talking about them being anything but what they are at this moment, and that’s a flawed crew on the far side of the playoff bubble in the rugged Western Conference.

“That’s you guys talking about June,” D’Antoni said. “Right now we’re just trying to win a game.”

When Elton Brand swats three shots, before halftime mind you, as the Hawks’ frontcourt crew of Al Horford (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), Paul Millsap (18, nine and four steals) and Brand (eight points and seven rebounds to go along with his blocks) stalemate your frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill the way they did, it makes Kobe’s and hence the Lakers’ struggles understandable.

Sure, Bryant shot just 4-for-14 from the floor, turned the ball over way too much (five) and didn’t make up for it with another double-digit assist night, not with the Hawks’ energetic DeMarre Carroll doing his best Raja Bell impersonation for much of the night. But it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the sort of help that will allow him to work his way through these tough nights as he gets his body back into the type of shape he’s used to. He’s playing out of position at point guard, while Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all nurse injuries.

The Hawks didn’t have to say it but it was obvious, with Kobe as their point guard the Lakers are much easier to figure out than when he’s in his normal role at shooting guard. Kobe cannot take advantage of defenders in the post and work them around screens when he’s running the show, when he’s responsible for making sure Gasol, Hill, Jodie Meeks and others get into the flow of games.

“They were picking Kobe up full court and making him work,” D’Antoni said, “so we didn’t create any motion or movement or energy for ourselves. we have to make sure we continue to get motion.”

Bryant will be back at the controls Tuesday night in Memphis. He’ll have to drag his tired body back out on the floor on just a few hours’ rest and then chase Mike Conley around as best he can.

“The back-to-backs are always tough,” Bryant said. “I just have to get ready, I have to do whatever is necessary to get ready for the next night and get right back out there.”

That’s much easier said than done when your body betrays your natural instincts and the things you have conditioned it to do the past two decades. As Bryant admitted, this is a new process for him, trying to find his way back to normal from his injury. It’s not like anything he has dealt with before.

“Every night is like a different puzzle,” Bryant said. “So every night you have to try and problem solve.”

He also has to take mental notes of his own, as he’s learning what does and does not work for him on this journey back to the Kobe Bean Bryant everyone is used to seeing.

“It’s tough to say,” he said, “because there are certain things I feel like I can do and there are other things I can’t do, but I feel like they are coming. You have to be patient and keep your eye on the big picture and continue to work and get stronger.”

Kobe’s foot and ankle were immobile for so long that there is still some physical discomfort that he’ll have to endure until those issues dissipate.

“The next level of progression is playing these games when you sit back out, get back in, is keeping it loose,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. You increase the activity, the ankle gets used to it a little more.

“I’ve just got to keep my eye on the big picture and focus on getting better.”

That’s also why he’s not ready to panic about the Lakers’ 11-13 record nine days before Christmas. This is not the same train ride the Lakers were on last year, when D’Antoni, Gasol, Dwight Howard, Nash and Bryant couldn’t steer clear of the mess as they careened on and off the tracks nearly all season long.

Any rumblings about the Lakers’ front office pressing the reset button and making a trade to shake things up are things Kobe does not plan on worrying  about right now.

“That call is completely up to them (the front office),” he said of making a call on any potential moves that could be made. “As a player, you rely on experience and the years that we’ve had slow starts. I just try to stay focused on that. Last year, it was really, really dire straits. And this doesn’t feel like this is that type of situation. You know, I don’t really sweat it too much. There are certain things we can correct and fix and a lot of it starts with me and getting healthy. And I’ll get there. And I’ll be able to control things a lot more. But I don’t really trip over it much. As players we’ve got to stay focused on what we do, and management obviously has to do the same thing on their end.”

In the meantime, the Lakers would be wise to keep their heads down, keep working and pray for some good fortune on the health front. Who knows what else the next few weeks might bring?