Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in robbery | Payne steps up for OKC | Pistons know playoffs are long ways away | Rockets keep on struggling

No. 1: Reports: Knicks’ Early shot in early morning robbery — According to the New York Daily News, New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg as he was leaving a strip club in Queens. According to the report, Early was riding in an Uber cab when his vehicle was boxed in by three other cars. He was then surrounded by four to six people who robbed him of his jewelry and other items before shooting him in the leg. Here’s more information from Thomas Tracy, Rocco Parascandola and Dan Good of the Daily News:

New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg in an early-morning attack after leaving a Queens strip club, police sources told the Daily News.

Early was surrounded by four to six people wearing ski masks and robbed of his items and jewelry — including a gold necklace and gold caps on his teeth, sources said.

The shooting happened after Early left CityScapes gentlemen’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth Queens.

Early was reportedly in an Uber cab, about a mile away from the club, when three cars boxed in the vehicle.

He was shot once in the knee, police sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

Employees with the gentlemen’s club declined to comment when contacted by the Daily News.

The New York Post‘s Larry Celona and Natalie Musumeci also reported on the news, too:

New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot just after he left a Queens strip club early Wednesday, police sources said.

Early, 24, was held up by six thugs wearing ski masks just after walked out of the CityScapes gentleman’s club on 58th Street in Maspeth with a woman and got into an Uber cab, sources said.

The cab drove a short distance to Maurice Avenue before three cars boxed in the vehicle at around 4:20 a.m., sources said.

That’s when the band of ski mask-wearing men ordered everyone out of the Uber car and robbed Early of some jewelry and an undisclosed amount of cash.

During the stick-up, Early was shot once in the right knee, sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

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Kobe, Curry lead in initial All-Star voting returns

HANG TIME HQ — The All-Star Game may be heading north of the border this season, but in the initial voting returns, the West is winning.

The first voting results for the 2016 All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, were announced today, and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has a commanding lead in overall totals. Bryant has 719,235 votes in the initial returns, the most of any NBA player. Bryant, who announced earlier this season that this will be his final NBA campaign, is on track to make his 18th All-Star appearance.

The second-leading vote-getter early on is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who has 510,202 votes. Curry was last season’s leading vote-getter, and went on to win the NBA MVP award as his Warriors won the NBA Championship. This season, the Warriors have gotten off to an epic start, winning 27 of their first 28 games. His teammates Klay Thompson (4th) and Andre Iguodala (7th) are among the West’s leading guards, and Draymond Green (5th) and Harrison Barnes (14th) are among the West’s leading forwards.

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads the Eastern Conference with 357,937 votes, while his former Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade trails James by roughly 57,000 votes. Indiana’s Paul George (283,785), who missed most of last season after a compound leg fracture, trails only James among Eastern Conference forwards. Detroit’s Andre Drummond (148,278), averaging 18.2 ppg and 16.1 rpg, and who has never made an All-Star appearance, is currently in third place.

The 2015 Eastern Conference All-Star roster was dominated by the Atlanta Hawks, who sent coach Mike Budenholzer as well as four players (Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague). In the initial returns this season, only Millsap is among the Eastern Conference leaders, 13th among forwards with 10,501 votes.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 25


VIDEO: LeBron James on the Christmas Day matchup with Golden State

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs not poking the bear | Bulls’ tandem not matching up | Sixers get Smith back | Hawks looking at big picture

No. 1: Cavs not poking the bear — There are a few teams around the league that have challenged the Golden State Warriors with their words more than they’ve challenged them on the basketball court. And it’s clear that some bulletin board material has kept the Warriors motivated through a 27-1 start. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the first title contender that Golden State is facing this season, but they won’t provide the champs any more motivation than that. ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst writes how LeBron James and the Cavs have kept their words to a minimum in anticipation of Friday’s marquee matchup…

James has lightly touched on references to the Warriors this season as he has tried to inspire his teammates at times.

“We lost in the Finals, we didn’t win,” James said after a loss in mid-November as the Warriors were racing out to a 24-0 start. “And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are, so it shouldn’t be that way.”

But since then, James has avoided most references to the defending champions. If he has talked more about it to his team in meetings, it has stayed private. When asked how closely he watches the Warriors, as reporters probe for hints of obsession, James said he watches all games, and because he plays in the East he often watches Western teams, including the Warriors, after his team’s games are over. In other words, James is passing on offering up red meat.

In the days leading up to the trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, James and his teammates have gone full cliché when it comes to this anticipated game, even with Irving returning from his knee injury in time to make the Cavs whole again for the first time since April. The same goes for coach David Blatt.

“There’s a lot of good teams in the league,” Blatt said. “Certainly, Golden State is one of the best teams, but they’re not all we talk about. You really can’t afford spending too much time thinking about what other teams are doing in the league.”

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No. 2: Bulls’ tandem not matching up — When you’re discussing the best backcourts in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls’ duo of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler has name recognition, but not much substantive evidence in a case for inclusion. Butler is one of the best two-way wings in the league, but Rose has struggled in his third season back since originally blowing out his knee. Rose has the fourth-worst effective field goal percentage among 209 players who have attempted at least 150 shots this season and his free throw rate is at a career low. Our Steve Aschburner goes deeper into the contrast between the Bulls’ “star” tandem and the one they’re facing on Christmas…

Then there is Chicago’s Butler and Rose, who ought to be a hybrid of Golden State’s backcourt stars and OKC’s nasty pair. One’s a former MVP, the other is an All-Star. They’re both capable of initiating offense and getting hot enough to carry a team through games, even for weeks.

But the two have taken turns more than they’ve meshed. Rose established himself before Butler arrived, then slipped into the background due to injuries. Meanwhile, Butler filled the Bulls’ void, providing as one of the NBA’s best two-way wing players what they were missing from their formerly explosive point guard.

Now that they’re both in the rotation and relatively healthy, fans at United Center have seen more chafing and dysfunction than chemistry and synchronicity. Butler recently called out new bench boss Fred Hoiberg for not coaching “hard enough,” with insiders suggesting he had Rose in mind as one of those cut too much slack. Rose, meanwhile, continues to get called out by pretty much everybody in Chicago for not being the player he once was, whether the surgeries themselves or a wariness of contact are to blame.

Durant and Westbrook are the best duo these days and, arguably, the best ever. When you look at their numbers in the seasons they’ve shared — 28.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 3.7 apg for Durant, 27.3, 6.9 and 3.5 for Westbrook in their eight seasons as teammates — a pretty good case can be made that they’re as dangerous as, or more so than, West and Baylor. Those two Lakers greats put up similarly staggering numbers across 11 seasons together: West 27.8, 6.1 and 6.2 to Baylor’s 26.7, 12.4 and 4.4

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No. 3: Sixers get Smith back — The first transaction of the Jerry Colangelo era in Philadelphia was the fixing of a mistake made earlier this year. On Thursday, the Sixers, desperate for help at point guard, traded two second round picks to New Orleans for Ish Smith, who Philly didn’t re-sign this summer. The Pelicans had signed Smith the day before the season started and, with their backcourt finally looking healthy, managed to turn that desperation signing into a couple of assets. Tom Moore of The Intelligencer has the story from the Sixers’ side…

It appears Jerry Colangelo has made his first moves since joining the 76ers.

The new Sixers’ chairman of basketball operations seemed to be the driving force behind trading a pair of second-round picks to the Pelicans in exchange for point guard Ish Smith, who played with the Sixers last season and is a favorite of Nerlens Noel.

To make room for Smith on the 15-man roster, the Sixers waived guard Tony Wroten.

Smith, a five-year NBA veteran, is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 assists in 27 games with New Orleans this season. He’s fifth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.42) and joins a team ranked last in turnovers.

Smith appeared in 25 games (14 starts) as a Sixer in 2014-15, averaging 12 points and 6.1 assists for Philadelphia. The team was interested in re-signing him, but he turned down more guaranteed money from other teams before eventually agreeing to a non-guaranteed league-minimum contract with the Wizards (Washington waived him).

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No. 4: Hawks looking at big picture — The Atlanta Hawks have already lost as many games between Thanksgiving and the All-Star break this season (9-5) as they did last season (36-5). They’re certainly not taking the league by storm like they did a year ago. But as our Sekou Smith writes, there’s no looking back in Atlanta and right now, the 2015-16 Hawks are beginning to find their way…

The win over Detroit marked a full circle turn for the Hawks, who couldn’t handle Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson during their surprising home loss to Stan Van Gundy’s upstart team on opening night. They handled the Pistons this time, outscoring them in the paint (56-52) and doubling them up in bench scoring (34-17), thanks in large part to Dennis Schroder’s 14 points.

“We’ve just been more consistent,” Kyle Korver said. ‘We played good in spurts in the early part of the season, quarter-to-quarter and game-by-game … but this is as close to a complete game as we’ve played in a good little while. We’re a bit more focused. We’re playing with more purpose. And we’re doing it for longer stretches.”

And yet they are still not playing with enough focus and purpose for long enough stretches to satisfy Mike Budenholzer, who insists his team still hasn’t quite put it all together.

“We’re getting closer to playing a complete game,” Budenholzer said. “I think we’re obviously getting closer to where we want to be.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Suns suspended Markieff Morris two games for Wednesday’s towel-throwing incident … Our Scott Howard-Cooper compares the Warriors to the Showtime Lakers … The final game on Friday is the final Christmas Day game for the all-time leading Christmas Day scorerThe Heat like each other … A quiet fourth quarter from Kristaps Porzingis may be a cause for concern for the KnicksThis isn’t a great time for the Bulls to be playing one of the league’s four best teams.

ICYMI: The Starters rank the top 10 plays of the season so far:


VIDEO: Top 10 2015-16 plays from The Starters

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

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No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

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No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

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No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Breaking down the parity in the East


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin’s 35 points lead the Hornets over the Raptors in overtime

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday put the Eastern Conference back over .500 (76-75) in games against the West. While the West has only six teams with winning records, the East has 10.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the second place Bulls from the 10th place Celtics in the standings. Teams Nos. 2-10 in the East all have 14, 15 or 16 wins.

That makes for a lot of good matchups between teams fighting for playoff position. And there are three of them on League Pass Friday night: Hawks-Celtics (7:30 ET), Raptors-Heat (8 ET) and Pistons-Bulls (8 ET).

Beyond the Cavs, no team has distinguished itself as a favorite to win a round or two in the playoffs. They all have reasons to believe in them and reasons to doubt them. Here’s a rundown of Teams 2-10 in the East…

20151218_east_2-10_over

Atlanta (15-12) has the experience. It was the No. 1 seed last season and is one of only two teams within the group that won a playoff series earlier this year. But the Hawks are 7-10 since Nov. 13 and have played the easiest schedule among these nine teams.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ BOS, 12/20 @ ORL, 12/23 vs. DET, 12/28 @ IND

Boston (14-12) has a top-five defense, has a point differential of a team that’s actually 17-9, and has played the toughest schedule among these nine teams. But they’ve actually played the worst defense (by a wide margin) in games played within the group. They allowed the Pistons, a bottom-10 offensive team, to score 119 points on Wednesday.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. ATL, 12/23 @ CHA, 12/26 @ DET

Charlotte (15-10) ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has played five more home games than road games. It’s also fair to wonder if Kemba Walker will continue to shoot as well as he has, having been the league’s worst shooter over the first four seasons of his career.
More vs. the group this month: 12/23 vs. BOS

Chicago (15-8) has the best record, but the seventh-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) among these nine teams. Ten of their 15 wins have come by six points or less, and they’ve been outscored by 41 points in their eight games against the other eight teams on this list, having lost three straight within the group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. DET, 12/28 vs. TOR, 12/30 vs. IND

Detroit (15-12) is 5-2 within the group after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics, but five of those seven games have been at home. Overall, the Pistons have been 9.3 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. Only Milwaukee (12.3) has a bigger differential.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ CHI, 12/22 @ MIA, 12/23 @ ATL, 12/26 vs. BOS

Indiana (15-9) is a top-10 team on both ends of the floor, is 8-3 (6-0 at home) in games played within the group, and has a point differential of a team with a 17-7 record, which would have them tied with the Cavs for first place in the conference. The Pacers certainly have the best resume of the teams on this list. But their starting lineup has been pretty bad, especially defensively.
More vs. the group this month: 12/28 vs. ATL, 12/30 @ CHI

Miami (15-9) ranks third in defensive efficiency and has the talent to be a top-10 offense if it gets its starting lineup on the same page. But the Heat have played a home-heavy schedule thus far and are 3-6 (1-4 on the road after Monday’s win in Atlanta) in games played within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. TOR, 12/22 vs. DET, 12/26 @ ORL,

Orlando (14-11) is another team with a top-10 defense and has won its last five games against non-Cavs East opponents. But the Magic have the ninth-best NetRtg in the East and have played the fewest games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/20 vs. ATL, 12/26 vs. MIA

Toronto (16-11) is one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) with three wins over the four best teams in the league (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), getting last week’s win over the Spurs without two starters. But the Raptors’ offense has been rather anemic in its seven games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ MIA, 12/28 @ CHI

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Three of these teams will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and at least two of them aren’t going to even make the postseason. Maybe at some point between now and April 13, it will get easier to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Scott’s job safe | Thompson continues development | Melo not getting calls | Jefferson suspended five games

No. 1: Report: Scott’s job safe After losing last night in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers’ fourth loss in a row, the Lakers dropped to 3-19 on the season, the second-worst record in the NBA. While it seemed likely that the Los Angeles Lakers, with their mix of youth and veteran talent, would probably have to be lucky to qualify for the playoffs in Byron Scott‘s second season as head coach, few people expected it to be this bad, this early. But according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Scott’s job is probably safe for the season

His star player has kept trying to fight Father Time with little success. His NBA lottery picks have accepted unexpected bench roles publicly, but admittedly expressed initial frustration.

He has also overseen the Lakers’ worst start in franchise history, a 123-122 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday at Target Center marking the team’s fourth consecutive loss as the Western Conference’s worst team.

But Byron Scott still has enough support from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss that he is expected to coach through the rest of the 2015-16 season, according to team sources familiar with the situation. With Scott signing a four-year, $17 million deal last summer, the Lakers plan to evaluate his future once the 2015-16 season ends, according to a team source.

The Lakers are not happy with the persistent losing, obviously. But Kupchak and Buss sympathize with Scott on handling what one team source called “a no-win situation.”

On one hand, Scott has felt pressure to handle Kobe Bryant‘s workload in his 20th and final NBA season. Scott remains mindful of Bryant’s struggles, averaging 16.2 points per game average on 30.6-percent shooting in 31.3 minutes per game. But the Lakers also want to play Bryant significant minutes out of reverence for his five NBA titles and to enjoy his farewell tour.

But out of respect for Bryant’s extensive accomplishments that have spanned five NBA championships and his current retirement tour, the Lakers have understood Scott’s tendency to lean on him heavily. They are also mindful of the challenge it takes to manage Bryant’s competitive nature. “I want him to enjoy this as much as possible,” Scott said of Bryant. “You’ve never seen him smile as much on the basketball court or talk to his opponents as much as he’s done the last two or three weeks. He’s at a very good place in his life and his career.”

On the other hand, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell represent the Lakers’ long-term future after they selected them seventh overall in 2014 and second overall in 2015. Russell posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 32 minutes against Minnesota. Russell added 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. But Randle and Russell both face learning curves with their development. Randle lacks consistency with his jump shot, while Russell has struggled on defense.

The Lakers have granted Scott the autonomy to coach his team without interference. But Kupchak and/or Buss will likely meet with Scott next week after the team’s eight-game trip to gain a better understanding of his thought process on how he will develop the team’s young players, according to a team source familiar with the situation.

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No. 2: Thompson continues development While the Warriors keep reeling off wins to start this season, Stephen Curry remains the headliner, drawing hundreds of fans each night just to see his warm up routine. But not far behind Curry in terms of popularity and skill is the Warriors’ 25-year-old shooting guard, Klay Thompson. As Thompson told Nima Zarrabi from SLAM, he’s continued evolving as a person while he keeps putting in work as a player

Despite his heavy off-court demand, the goal has not changed for Klay. He wants to continue to transcend his game — he’s only 25 and knows there is still plenty of room for growth. He is excited about working with new Warriors assistant coach Steve Nash to add new wrinkles to his arsenal.

“I worked out with him twice when I was in L.A. and learned a lot about what I need to get better at,” Thompson says. “We didn’t even shoot the ball that much — we did a lot of technical work on things like balance. He’s still in great shape and really gave me some great pointers on how to play at a lower level and work on my balance so I can be in a better position to make plays. I know how good he is going to be for me.”

Thompson’s heard the whispers about teams attempting to mimic the Warriors’ style of play. The notion that teams across the League are planning to attempt more threes, play a little more “small ball.”

“People seem to think it’s easy,” says Thompson, who’s averaging 18.2 ppg through the Warriors’ ongoing and insane 23-game winning streak. “To play our style you really need to have five guys on the court that can shoot, pass and dribble. Not a lot of teams have that, you know?”

His growth as a player has coincided with his development as a communicator. Thoughtful and insightful, he has become a media favorite when it comes to snagging a quality quote.

It once seemed as if he despised having to talk.

“Ask anybody on the team, I said very few words here my first year,” Thompson says. “I feel a lot more comfortable around the facility and all the guys. Even with Bob Myers and our owners Joe and Peter — it’s easier to joke around with those guys being in my fifth year. But they really may have only heard me say 10 words my entire rookie year. It’s been a drastic change.”

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No. 3: Melo not getting calls Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has always played a physical style of basketball, which includes getting to the free throw line regularly. Except when he doesn’t get to the line: So far this season, Anthony is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game, a career low. And as Mark Berman writes in the New York Post, Anthony understands why he doesn’t get the calls he thinks he should be getting

A candid Carmelo Anthony explained his recent frustrations at not getting enough foul calls, saying he’s been told by referees he’s the most “difficult player” to officiate and vowing he will never flop.

Anthony, who had received a technical foul in two straight games before the Knicks’ 106-85 destruction at the Jazz’s hands on Wednesday, was in a five-game slump with his shooting percentage dipping to 40.6 percent on the season. He admitted his wife, La La, chastised him for yelling at female referee Lauren Holtkamp in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks.

“They just tell me I’m the most difficult player to referee in the NBA,” Anthony said at the morning shootaround in Utah before going 3 of 11 on the night. “I’ve heard that a couple of times. It’s unclear on who is creating the contact. My goal is to go to the basket. If I’m creating the contact going toward the basket [and] I get hit, it’s a foul.”

Anthony is one of the most physical drivers in the game, but said he feels he’s recently not being effective because he’s not getting to the free-throw line.

“I always get fouled,” Anthony said. “That’s what’s frustrating me. You play so hard, work so hard and don’t benefit from that. You look at other guys, you touch them and look at them wrong and get fouls. It’s a frustrating thing for me as a guy who likes to go to the basket, play in the paint. I like to play physical. It’s frustrating.

“I’m human,” Anthony added. “Those frustrations kick in at times, especially when you’re down there banging and know you’re getting banged on. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to play another way.”

So does he need to sell the foul more?

“See, I don’t know how to flop, that’s the thing,” Anthony said. “Nowadays guys know how to flop, get hit and put their head back. I don’t know how to flop. I won’t even look right trying to do that. I won’t even feel right trying it.

“A lot of times I get hit and I still continue to get to my spots just because I’m big and strong. A lot of guys get hit and they stop. I’m not saying they’re flopping, but they’re lighter than me. I can take a lot more physicality.”

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No. 4: Jefferson suspended five games The Charlotte Hornets have started to come together this season, winning three in a row and compiling a 13-8 record, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. But while their All-NBA center Al Jefferson has missed a few games with a calf injury, it was learned yesterday that he’ll be out a bit longer: The NBA announced that Jefferson will have to serve a five game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, writes the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell

“I’m a man and I have to take full responsibility for my actions,” Jefferson said during a media availability before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. “I have to ask for forgiveness and put it behind me and try to move on.

“Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked on your head for your eyes to open up; to handle certain situations.”

Jefferson said he was first made aware he had failed a drug test about two weeks ago. The league informed him and the Hornets Tuesday that the suspension was coming.

Jefferson becomes a free agent in July after the three-season contract he signed in the summer of 2013 expires. It is unclear how this suspension might affect the Hornets’ interest in re-signing him, but the team issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone Jefferson’s behavior.

“We are disappointed in Al’s decisions that led to this suspension. As an organization, we do not condone this behavior,” the team statement read. “We have addressed this with Al. He is regretful and understands that we expect him to learn from this mistake.”

This is the second time in as many seasons the NBA has suspended a Hornets player. Last season the league suspended small forward Jeff Taylor 24 games after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in Michigan. Taylor now plays for Real Madrid in Spain.

Jefferson was arrested for driving under the influence in the winter of 2010 outside Minneapolis when he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves suspended him two games after that incident.

Jefferson declined to specify what the drug test revealed. A source familiar with the current situation said marijuana is the substance this time connected to Jefferson.

Based on wording in the collective bargaining agreement, a five-game suspension indicates Jefferson was likely already in the marijuana-related league protocol. Under terms of the CBA, a first violation places you in the league’s program. A second violation would result in a $25,000 fine. A third violation would result in a five-game suspension.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Joel Embiid sighting recently in Philadelphia … Kent Bazemore played the first half last night in Dallas with his shorts on backward, then hit a game-winner … Paul Pierce hasn’t made any decisions about his future … Gregg Popovich hates three-pointersReggie Miller on another great shooter, Steph Curry … The Pistons should be getting Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings back soon … The Pacers’ Solomon Hill may be on the trade blockNick Young joked that his defensive abilities are similar to Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” …

Blogtable: Thoughts on Budenholzer’s fine?

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


BLOGTABLE: Slowing the Warriors? | On Budenholzer’s fine … | What you’re thankful for this season



VIDEOMike Budenholzer gets ejected from the Hawks’ game in Cleveland

> Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer was fined $25,000 for making contact with an official. Was this punishment too much, not enough, or just right?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Not enough. When the established penalty for physical contact with a referee is suspension – from Gregg Popovich‘s one game for bumping Bob Delaney in 1993 to Jerry Sloan‘s seven games for a run-in with Courtney Kirkland in 2003 – it’s recklessly light to only ding Budenholzer’s paycheck. The Hawks coach might come across like straight-arrow Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days”, but on NBA sidelines he can become a fire-breathing, competitive madman same as his 29 colleagues. Mostly it’s a tough precedent for new NBA top cop Kiki Vandeweghe. What happens when it’s a player next time? Or when another coach does it with a little more force? Physical stuff with refs is a line that can’t be crossed, no matter how incidental or innocent it seems. We all remember Jason Kidd‘s accidental spilled soft drink on the sideline too. Uh huh.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’d say it was about right. The bump may have been unintentional, but the message has to be sent that no coach can be out on the court protesting to put himself in that position. Bud has apologized to referee Ben Taylor, so you move on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Not nearly enough if there was an intentional bump, but enough if the contact was incidental. The NBA ruled it incidental. While not touching an official is normally a rule without blurry lines, and understandably so, players and coaches can make unintentional contact. People lose their balance or trip. Coaches do too.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The punishment was right, because he made contact, but he only got one technical. As for the big picture, coaches do take liberties with their spot on the floor. Far too often, they take a step or two onto the court to call a play or chastise a ref and are rarely punished. I love the old line by John Wooden: “Show me a coach who feels the need to stand and yell the whole game, and I’ll show you a team that’s not prepared.”

John Schuhmann, NBA.comJust right. Budenholzer has to be accountable for his actions, and there’s too much complaining about officiating in the league. The immediate ejection was the right call, but the bump wasn’t malicious enough that it deserved another game away from the bench.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Just right. Perhaps it will remind some of the coaches around the league that all the bellyaching in the world does not change anything and only serves to infuriate the officials, bore the true fans of the game and take away from the beauty of a night at an arena. The whole routine has long been the theater of the absurd, if you ask me. And if it a team (like the Clippers) is not careful, fair or not, they develop an identity as a bunch of whiners. I understand barking at an official now and then. And I know there are times when a coach earns a technical foul for the greater good. But going overboard, even inadvertently, is a waste of time and costs good money.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com It was far too little. This should be a no-go, don’t-even-think-about-it area. Referees are right to be concerned by the precedent.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe punishment was just. While I’m sure he would never say so publicly, my guess is that Coach Bud would probably privately concede that the collision was in at least some part born out of frustration. And I understand why: No other team has played as many games as the Hawks thus far. Commissioner Adam Silver may have managed to eliminate a lot of four games in five days stretches across the NBA schedule, but the Hawks have already had one four-in-five and are started their second four-in-five last night. The schedule will even out at some point, sure, but right now, even this early on, the Atlanta Hawks could use a break.

Young Jazz still trying to turn corner


VIDEO: Derrick Favors powers Jazz to close road win in Atlanta

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Moral victories will sustain you for only so long in the NBA.

Sooner or later, signs of growth and glimpses of what could be have to backed up with something much more substantial than just the hope of what’s to come.

The Utah Jazz are living that reality these days. They are a team loaded with intriguing young talent, a group still trying to find its way together as they chart a course from the lottery to the playoffs while still working to shore up deficiencies on the roster and in their make up.

They shocked us with their work to finish the 2014-15 season, going 15-9 during the stretch run after the All-Star break, suggesting that this season might bring a true breakout effort from coach Quin Snyder‘s crew with a nucleus of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and defensive menace Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle of an improved frontline.

But the road has been a bit tougher than expected early on this season, courtesy of a rugged early schedule and the offseason loss of point guard Dante Exum for the season with a torn ACL.

That’s what makes nights like Sunday, when they outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 97-96 at Philips Arena to finally score a road win after three straight losses on a four-game trip, so sweet.

All that potential in action, and with a result to match. It’s all you can ask for when you’re trying to turn a corner. The Jazz sit at 5-5 after their first 10 games with every intention of living up to their own hype.

“I feel like we are ahead of where we were last year,” Hayward said. “We’re in a good place. I know that’s seems like a strange thing to say after you lose three in a row. But two close games and then kind of drained on that last one. But we are moving in the right direction. We just have more experience, another year with [Snyder] and all of the experiences from the tough games we played last year. We’re learning how to win games and trying to figure out where you can succeed in this league.”

Learning how to win games like this one will only help the Jazz in their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sunday’s win over the Hawks was their first this season in games decided by five points or less (they were 0-3 previously).

They shot a season-high 51 percent (39-for-76), outrebounded the Hawks by seven and Favors, an Atlanta native, led five players in double figures. Gobert recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with his three assists, three blocks and two steals as the Jazz finally put together a complete game against an elite opponent.

A little good fortune never hurts, of course. All-Star forward Paul Millsap missed a wide-open 12-footer in the game’s final seconds that would have won the game for the Hawks.

The hard work to get to that point, though, was rooted in the preparation for moments exactly like this one, Favors insists. And that preparation has been years in the making for the most experienced members of this Jazz team, where a 24-year-old, six-year veteran like Favors qualifies as an elder statesman.

“Everybody is more comfortable with the roles and guys are going out there playing with more freedom, without looking over their shoulder every time they make a mistake and worrying about the coach taking you out and crazy stuff like that,” Favors said. “It’s experience, too. This is my sixth year. Gordon’s been here six years. Most everybody else is in their second or third year. There is so much you have to learn. We’ve been through it as individuals. But now we have to go through some things together, as a group. And that’s what makes you stronger.”

This Jazz team still has glaring issues, of course, namely its struggles at point guard. Raul Neto is the starter and Trey Burke, a prized lottery pick two years ago, is the backup and playing well in that role.

But with the game on the line in the final four minutes Sunday, the Jazz worked without either one of them on the floor. It’s a formula they have been using all season, going with Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Hayward as the primary facilitators with games on the line.

It’s a dangerous way to play in a league where quality point guard play has never been more valuable. And when you’re a team attempting to make the leap from the lottery to the playoffs, it’s a potentially fatal flaw.

The Hawks played without their All-Star point guard Sunday night, Jeff Teague, who sat out with a sprained ankle. And they lost starting small forward and energy man Kent Bazemore when he turned his ankle with 2:20 to play.

But there’s no need to apologize for a little luck, not when every bit of it and every lesson learned along the way will be useful on this journey.

“It was very important. We were very close to winning the first two games of the road trip. We lost each game by a couple of possessions,” Gobert said of what the Jazz took away from these early lumps they’ve endured. “But we were able to win the game tonight. We want to make the playoffs, so we need to put some wins together.”

Playoff talk in November is just that, talk. And no amount of bluster, internal or otherwise, will fuel the Jazz the rest of the way.

“We know it was a trendy thing to talk about us expecting to be a playoff team and a team on the rise or this and that,” Favors said. “But I don’t think you can own any of that until you actually get there. So anybody talking about us turning a corner … we haven’t turned a corner until we make the playoffs.”